One way to create a healthier diet for both your budget and your body is Menu Planning. It can help you maximize your food dollars while preparing nutritionally balanced meals. At first glance, it may seem too time consuming to plan so far in advance, but the benefits are well worth the time spent. In the time it takes waiting for pizza delivery, you could have a full week’s meals planned. No extravagant supplies or special skills are necessary; all you really need is paper and a writing implement.
Create a Healthy Plan
The first step in Menu Planning is to take 15 - 30 minutes each week to plan your meals for the upcoming week. Here are some tips for creating a healthy plan.
- Look through your favorite recipe books or magazines to incorporate some new healthy recipes to try each week. You may find a new favorite and alleviate boredom from eating the same thing all the time. Be sure to write down the book or magazine the recipe came from, including the page number, so you can easily find it when it is time to cook it. Or simply copy it into your own recipe book.
- Include snacks in your planning as well and make them healthy choices. This way you won’t be tempted to hit a vending machine for a bag of chips or a candy bar when you get an afternoon desire for a snack. Apples or other fruits are easier on the budget and supply your body with a sweet treat as well as vitamins and nutrients.
- Check out your weekly grocery store sales flyers and coupons to see if you can take advantage of these money-saving sales, as well as buy staples when they cost less.
- Take time to plan each meal so that you can also maximize the use of any leftovers for lunches the next day or freezing for future use. Bulk cooking is another low-budget strategy that can come in handy when funds for food are low. If you cook foods in large batches and freeze what is unused, that meal can be used in the future, eliminating the need to spend more money and time later on. Look over your plan and be sure to incorporate the recommended daily servings of vegetables, fruits, beans and healthy grains into your meals. Planning helps you to ensure that you get food from all the food groups in the proper amounts for your body and lifestyle. Eating more of these foods will lead to a healthier you as well as save you money because these foods usually cost less at the grocery store.
- Knowing what you are going to eat in advance also helps to alleviate the stress of figuring out what to cook for dinner and also helps to eliminate trips to the drive-thru or for take-out.
Your Grocery List
As you are creating your meal plan, write your grocery list at the same time. Be sure to check your pantry for items you may already have or often used items that you are low on. Try to include everything you need, so you only have to visit the grocery store once a week. One visit will help to eliminate the need to go to the store for “just one thing” which usually results in a few unplanned extras, including unhealthy impulse snacks.
One important aspect of making menu planning work for you is to stick to your list while in the store. This is easier said than done since grocery stores spend lots of time and thought on product placement to get you to spend more.Try to eat a small meal or snack before your grocery visit so that you won’t be tempted by impulse items. It may also be helpful to organize your list by sections of the store so that you can get everything you need in that section, avoiding zigzagging back and forth trips through the store. If you don’t have to go down a particular isle, skip it. It will save you time, keep you from browsing unnecessary items and keep you from succumbing to any of the grocer’s marketing tricks in that aisle.
Reuse your weekly menu plans. After you have created a few weeks' worth of plans, you may find it helpful to keep them in a file where you can access a week at a time. This can be helpful when you simply don’t have time to sit down and plan. Keep a grocery list with each menu as well, so that you can just take it and go.
Keep a running list of grocery items that you run out of. Either use a magnetic refrigerator list or keep a piece of paper when you can easily get to it. Everytime you use the last of something, write it down. This will help you stick to your list when you do your shopping and only make one grocery visit.
Be flexible with your menu. If you’ve had a really terrible day, and it’s within your budget, getting take out or dinner once in a while won’t ruin your healthy diet. The same goes for your list. If you see something you know you will use that is a great deal or if you forgot to add an important often used item, go ahead and get it.
If you need some help building a well-balanced diet, there is no longer the need to try to decipher the food pyramid. The USDA has its own free menu planner online called MyPyramid. It gives you a meal plan based on your calorie needs and takes into account dietary restrictions you may have.
If you need some help on meal planning, Menus4Moms.com is a site that offers menu planning services, but they also have a free e-course about menu planning.