We wrongly believe that healthy eating is reserved for rich people. It is not the case! With proper meal planning, you will be able to cook and eat healthy meals without breaking the bank. Who wouldn’t like to cut down on their food expenses so that they can afford other little pleasures?
Throughout this document, you will find tips to plan your meals and save money while cooking at home. In fact, when you go grocery shopping without a list, you can spend up to 40% more! So, what are you waiting for to try integrating the following 10 tips in your everyday life?
1. Plan your meals in advance
Before planning your meals for the week, take a look at your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Dress a “to use” list of foods. Start planning your recipes around these foods so you have less to buy at the grocery store. Ingredients can easily accumulate, so you’ll save a lot of money using them rather than throwing them away or buying extras.
When thinking about the menu for the week, include at least one meal that you know by heart (or almost). This way, you will be much more motivated to cook rather than ordering take-out.
2. Invest in a slow cooker
If you prefer not to worry about cooking, a slow cooker can quickly become your new best friend. You can cook an unthinkable number of recipes using a slow cooker. You would simply have to do a little research on the Internet to find them. If you didn’t know, you can program the slow cooker in the morning, let the food simmer for a few hours, and then a nice hot meal will be waiting for you when you’ll return home.
3. Create your own condiments
Creating your own condiments is super easy and will save you money. It can even become fun if you put a little creativity into it. By doing a quick search on the Internet, you can learn how to make your own sauces (curry, Thai, spaghetti), dips (hummus, ranch, cheese, tzatziki) and several types of dressings (Caesar, Italian, ginger)! You can even make your own ketchup! Check them out and give them a try as you go.
4. Buy in larger quantities
Meats, ready-to-eat meals, canned foods, and all non-perishable and long-lasting items are good bulk purchases. Items such as toilet paper, paper towels, laundry and dish detergent, trash bags, and coffee (if you drink it regularly) can also be purchased in bulk to save some money. You will need to invest more at the beginning, but you will be saving money in the long run.
However, avoid buying large amounts of perishable foods that you won’t have time to eat before they go bad. Large packages of strawberries or avocados are cheaper per unit, but it’s only a good deal if you eat them all. Unless you have a large family, enjoy making your own preserves or like to cook large quantities and freeze the leftovers, you will risk wasting food in the end.
You can also share the surpluses with your friends and family. Arrange a way to split the bill evenly or take turns at buying certain foods.
5. Top 10 most affordable foods
Try incorporating these 10 foods into your meals if you haven’t already. They are nutritious, delicious, and affordable at the same time!
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Dried and canned legumes
- Canned tomatoes
- Pasta and grains
- Canned tuna
- Rotisserie chicken
6. Substitute meat a few times a week
Not only does a vegetarian diet have many health benefits, but it also saves a lot of money! A vegetarian spends at least $750 less on food than a meat eater each year. By simply adapting a few meat-based meals for vegetarian alternatives, you’ll start to see a difference in your monthly expenses. You don’t have to become completely vegetarian overnight.
Start by substituting a few meals during the week or by cooking recipes that contain 50% meat and 50% plant-based products (such as lentils, nuts, legumes, seitan, tofu, tempeh, and many others!). For example, if you are cooking a meatloaf, you can substitute part of the minced meat with beans. If beans aren’t your thing, you can learn to sauté mushrooms so that they taste and have a texture similar to meat. What a treat!
7. Use the ingredients in their best-before order
We’ve all thrown vegetables away because we haven’t used them soon enough. It is estimated that preventable food waste costs the average Canadian household more than $1,100 each year. These losses are bad for your bank account and the environment.
So, if you are trying to avoid food waste and save money, you must consider perishability! To help you determine the shelf life of most vegetables, refer to the table in the PDF guide.
8. Gradually incorporate your leftovers
Rather than eating the same food three days in a row, try incorporating your leftovers into new recipes or serving them with other foods. For example, you can add your leftover cooked pasta in a frittata, use your roasted vegetables in a spaghetti sauce, flake your fish and mix it with some mayonnaise to create a sandwich filling, etc. If you ate chicken with rice for supper, use the chicken to make a Caesar salad for dinner the next day. There will be an amalgam of flavors to make you forget that you are eating leftovers.
Proper meal planning is like assembling a puzzle. Try to avoid choosing recipes that are too different from each other. Otherwise, you will be buying a lot of different ingredients. Instead, try selecting a first recipe and then a second one that contains similar ingredients. For example, if the first recipe calls for cooking rice, try to find a second recipe that uses leftover rice. This way, you will cook once and enjoy it twice!
Remember that most meals keep perfectly well in the freezer and will save you time on busy days.
9. Organize your recipes in an application
It is very tedious and annoying to constantly dig through cookbooks, recipe sites, Instagram posts, Pinterest boards, etc. to plan meals each week. What you need is a way to regroup all your favorite recipes together in one place. Fortunately, there are several apps that can help you do this. Options such as Pepperplate, Paprika and Plan to Eat allow you to save all your recipes by copy-pasting them or by installing a bookmarklet on your browser. In addition, they will generate a shopping list for free from the recipes you have selected. Go have a look!
10. Buy products in season
With world trade, some foods are available in stores year-round. However, non-seasonal products are more expensive. Even through it might seem like a few extra pennies, at the end of the year, those pennies will turn into dollars you’ll wish you had put aside. Indeed, when fruits and vegetables are in season, they flood the market, thus leading to lower prices. So, feel free to refer to the PDF guide to take advantage of the best deals throughout the year.
Leroux, R. (2014, February 22). Fruits et légumes du Québec : quand sont-ils disponibles? Protégez-Vous. https://www.protegez-vous.ca/sante-et-alimentation/tableau-des-disponibilites-des-fruits-et-legumes
Live Green Toronto. (n.d.) Food Waste. City of Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/recycling-organics-garbage/long-term-waste-strategy/waste-reduction/food-waste/
Tips for Cooking on a Budget. (n.d.). Cook Smarts. https://www.cooksmarts.com/cooking-guides/cook-on-a-budget/how-to-meal-plan-on-a-budget/
Top 10 Budget-Friendly Foods. (n.d.). Cook Smarts. https://www.cooksmarts.com/cooking-guides/cook-on-a-budget/top-10-budget-friendly-foods/
Adina Elena Vladulescu R.N., P.Dt. – Earthy Dietitian
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