Cooking Healthy Family Meals on a Budget
Preparing healthy family meals on a budget can be daunting. Here are 7 tips to feed your family healthy meals -- without breaking the bank.
You want to feed your family healthy meals, but your wallet sometimes disagrees. However, "nutritious" doesn't have to equal "expensive" when you're searching for healthy family meals on a budget. "I often hear how unaffordable it is to eat healthy food on a tight budget," says Heather McCurdy, creator of frugal foodie site Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. "I have actually found the reverse to be true. By using frugal tips and staying organized with a meal plan, my family eats very healthy on just over $400 a month for a family of five."
There are many ways to prepare healthy family meals on a budget -- here are seven ideas to get you started:
- Keep an Eye Out for Meat Sales
Sign up for coupon mailing lists or flip through your local store's weekly ad to stock up on meats when they're on sale. For example, Shari Lynne, creator of Faith Filled Food for Moms, once ordered 40 pounds of chicken breast at a discount. Besides freezing some of it "as is," she made four different freezer meals. You can precook chicken, shred it and freeze it for easy meals later, like this healthy chicken burrito bowl. You can do the same with ground turkey -- brown it when you come home from grocery shopping and freeze for easy meals like these tacos or meatloaf ideas.
- Cook in Bulk
Buying meat and veggies in large amounts often means you pay less per pound. But when you buy perishables in bulk, cook in bulk, too. Freezer meals may take some time to prepare and cook, but having a stocked freezer saves you time in the evenings and prevents you from grabbing fast food out of desperation. Try this chicken, mushroom and wild rice casserole (swap in brown rice for a fiber boost) for a freezer-friendly option. You can even have your kids cook on their own with age-appropriate recipes!
- Salvage Wilted Vegetables
Some fresh produce wilts very fast, and you might be throwing your money away. To make the most of your cash, use everything you buy (unless it's moldy)! If it's bad, toss it, otherwise, throw your less-than-fresh carrots, asparagus and mushrooms into this filling veggie soup. Better yet, chop and freeze unused vegetables before they go bad, so you can use them at a later time.
- Use Meat Alternatives
Meat can be one of the most expensive items you buy, so stretch out your supplies by mixing in some vegetarian options. Instead of using the full serving of meat in your next casserole, McCurdy suggests "using precooked beans or finely chopped mushrooms" mixed with the meat to bulk up your meal. By buying a little less meat, you'll notice real savings over the course of the year.
- Save With Stock
When making rice, soup or sauces for your family, skip the store-bought stock. Instead, make your own. You can make your own veggie, fish or chicken stock by simply tossing inedible trimmings you normally throw out (like carrot peelings and chicken bones) into a pot of water with some seasonings. Drain everything through a strainer and use the liquid as a stock. You'll get the same flavorful base, but without the preservatives in store-bought versions.
- Buy Cheaper Cuts
Lynne suggests skipping the expensive cuts of meat, and instead add extra flavor later in the cooking process. Lynne says, "You can grab a cheaper steak and use marinades and meat tenderizer on it to make it almost just as good as a great big T-bone steak!" Store-bought marinades are often laden with sugar, so make your own. This lemon-herb marinade features fresh rosemary, garlic and heart-healthy olive oil.
- Cook from Scratch
To save money, learn how to make your own marinades and sauces. This way you can also determine the amount of sodium and fat in them, which makes them healthier for your family. "When you cut the boxed foods and start cooking your meals from scratch, you will find that you are able to get so much more for your money," McCurdy says. "When you cook your own foods from scratch, you will be cutting out the sodium and preservatives that are found in boxed, convenient meals. You may think that using a boxed meal is quicker and easier. Once you start making your own, you will see that cooking from scratch is just as easy!"
And check out how to
Make a Healthy Grocery List Through Weekly Menu Planning
Stephanie Glover is a freelance writer who lives outside of Philadelphia.
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