September 25, 2011

Eating Well for Less

Eating well and not saving money are two ideas that seem to contradict. Fruits and veggies, extra lean meats, and organics all come with heftier price tags. Domingo and I haven’t mastered the balance yet – I don’t even know if it’s possible – but we have found little ways to save while still eating well.

Fresh Vs. Frozen:
Our first strategy is to buy frozen vegetables. A few studies have found frozen vegetables are typically no worse than fresh. They’re frozen at the peak of freshness, which helps lock in nutrients. Of course, the way they’re frozen (and the way their cooked) influences how many nutrients you can absorb from them.

While the typical recommendation is to buy in-season vegetables fresh, and off-season vegetables frozen, we always have our staple frozen vegetables (corn, peas, broccoli, etc) all year round. They last longer that way so we can stock up on sales, we always have vegetables, and no excuse to go without. On sale, a generic bag of veggies is usually only $1.20, and last for 2 meals. We still buy fresh for vegetables that just don’t taste the same frozen (ie asparagus.)

Using the same logic, we buy frozen meats as well. A bag of Tilapia can cost $8, and last for three dinners. Fresh, the same price would fetch only enough fish for one meal, and we’d have to buy it that day or the day before. Major inconvenience. We also have options for a super quick healthy meal for very busy days – just throw a meat in the oven to bake, steam a vegetable and done. Combined with half a bag of veggies, and we have a healthy, easy, no fuse meal for two for just $3.27!

We will also buy refrigerated meet in bulk, and throw it into the freezer. We’ll buy ground turkey and shape it into patties for burgers. It’s cheaper than buying pre-shaped patties, and we can make them as thick or as thin as we like. We can also freeze them individually, and thaw only what we need each meal.

Pick your healthy battles:
I love the idea of organic, but only buying organic and free range is expensive. We only purchase organic milk. I find a huge difference in taste between organic and non-organic. I can drink a glass of organic milk, but non-organic has a chalky taste. We also found organic milk lasts a lot longer. It may cost twice as much, but it lasts long enough for us to consume it all. I will never go back to non-organic milk.

Veggies and fruits are a different matter. I considered only buying organic for the dirty dozen, but I can never remember which fruits and veggies are on the list. However, sometimes organic can actually be cheaper. Since our grocery store tends to stock up on Sunday, they sometimes have sales to turn over stock. Our current philosophy is to buy organic when it’s close in price or cheaper than regular. This afternoon I bought organic spinach for my strawberry and spinach salad. I figure any vegetable is better than no vegetable, and some organic is better than no organics.

Have a Plan:
We’ll plan three or four meals for the week. By knowing what we want to make over the course of the week, we reduce the number of trips to the grocery store (and any impulse purchases.) We’ll also put meals back to back that use the same ingredients. For example, tonight is taco night. We’re making 3 lbs of meet (waaaay more than the two of us can eat.) Tomorrow we’ll make chili with some of the left over meet, and meaty spaghetti sauce with the rest which will be frozen for future meals.

Left-overs, Left-overs, Left-overs. Most recipes are designed for families, you can cut down on the ingredients, but then you’re using half a pepper and the other half is wasted. We have a couple recipes that reheat very well, and will deliberately make a double batch so we have easy lunches and dinners. It’s especially great for busy weeks where we would otherwise be springing for take-out.

Like I said, we haven’t mastered the art of saving while grocery shopping. Our food bill is still high. You can’t eat $3.27 meals every day – or at least we can’t – it gets boring! But I’ve noticed our grocery bill has dropped some since we’ve started doing all these things, and any savings is better than no savings.

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