By Ashley Koff, RD, Calmful Living Nutrition Editor
Affording better nutrition can sometimes feel challenging. Why fresh produce at times costs more than, say, a box of cereal, is perplexing. But with some kitchen savvy and these tips, you can get better nutrition without breaking the bank.
Don’t pay someone else to assemble your food, most days.
I am not suggesting to scratch-cook everything, but I am suggesting you don’t pay someone else to assemble your food, most days. The amount of money we pay for someone else to prepare food—like the ready-to-eat foods in grocery stores or even at better-quality fast-food places—really adds up. Additionally, many of these prepared foods contain ingredients to “stabilize” and retain freshness that you would not use at home and that do not contribute to better nutrition. We have more control over quantity, quality and nutrient balance when we assemble our food at home.
The freezer is one of the greatest health-enabling, budget-saving places in your home. Buy in bulk to save on freezer items. Once or twice a month during sales, load up on frozen organic vegetables, quality sources of protein (animal or vegetable) like burgers (turkey, wild salmon, buffalo, grass-fed beef, rice, quinoa, sunflower), organic nuts and seeds, and organic fruits. Frozen food is as fresh as if not fresher than the stuff in other parts of the store, and you don’t have to deal with a short shelf life.
Time-Saving, Health-Gaining, Budget-Making Cooking Tips
- Use spices when you cook or marinade versus bottled sauces. Spices go a long way—usually we need just a pinch—and deliver health and flavor benefits on a par with or far exceeding what’s in a bottle.
- Defrost on your way out the door. As you make or grab breakfast, grab a bag of veggies or a piece of fish from the freezer and put it in a bowl in the fridge. It will be defrosted and ready to go when you get home. If you don’t end up eating it, you can always cook it two to three days later.
- Overcook—not the food, but the quantity. Make all the chicken sausages or veggie burgers at once. That way you have some for breakfast the next day, as well as the ones that went into your soup, or to add to a salad or a weekend egg scramble or even a DIY pasta sauce. Make several portions of grains and beans at one time. If you are taking the time to cook, cooking more (quantity) doesn’t add any extra time and will save you time later.
Shop Better; Shop Online
These days, shopping online may include a delivery fee, but when you look at your time saved, your gas money, as well as the prices, it can often be an overall resource win, especially for your staples.
Your favorite brands frequently offer coupons full of discounts and even free products for following them on social media or via their e-newsletters. Take a look at recipes from Manitoba Harvest, Nature’s Path, Earthbound Farm, Natural Vitality and Truebroc.
Yeah, this one is pretty straightforward. As we clarify and start to eat proper portions, an awesome thing happens—we have more for later. I love leftovers. I recreate them into something else most of the time to avoid being uninspired by having the same thing twice in a row. And leftovers save time and money, even if you have something new and your leftover becomes a nutrition pit stop for another family member or you swop with a work colleague.
Get Mad Skills
- Menu planning: Over the last two decades, chefs, home cooks and even college students (as patients) have taught me the time-/money-saving and better-nutrition, taste-enabling wins of menu planning. When planning a menu, consider: How many different ways can I use an ingredient? How much can I lessen decision fatigue (which can lead to poor food choices) by knowing what’s on my menu? How much more focused and efficient—time- and moneywise—is my grocery store experience when I have a menu prepared? The answer is . . . it’s an epic difference.
- Cooking: From television to the Internet, there are shows and videos that you can watch and do demos along with to acquire basic to professional skills. There are nonprofits that teach cooking skills on a budget (they may include menu planning as well, per the point above), and often there are local schools, chefs or home cooks who can do private cooking lessons. You don’t need to master all cooking, but you can learn how to prepare a few dishes so they taste great and thus become a guarantee of a great nutrition pit stop, which is also a time and money saver.
Reality Check—Life Happens
There will be days or nights when you get ready to eat food but simply don’t have time to cook. It’s more than OK to order takeout. It’s great to enjoy someone else doing all the work. Just try and have it happen only once a week or so.
Ugly fruit and vegetables in the produce section are just as tasty and nutritionally worthy once they get inside your body. They often cost less too. Pick them and blend or bake them, and enjoy saving money as well as delicious, nutritious food. Sometimes your grocer or farmers’ market attendant will make deals on ripe or “ugly” produce.
Ashley Koff, RD
Ashley Koff is an internationally renowned registered dietitian on a mission to improve the health of people across America and beyond through raising public awareness of the value of quality eating. Visit her site at: www.ashleykoffapproved.com