Two major obstacles to overcome when following a nutrient dense diet are time and money. In fact, we could go as far as to say these are major obstacles in most facets of life! I don’t claim that it won’t be more expensive and take more time to eat a healthy diet than it does to eat a poor one, but there are a lot of helpful tips that will help narrow the margin. Here’s my best advice on the topic!
RULE #1 – PLAN
Meal plans seem like a chore at first, but they do get easier. You may even find a few that you like and just rotate through them each month. If you know what you’re cooking ahead of time, you will waste fewer ingredients, you’ll know when to defrost what and you’ll get dinner on the table faster each night. Always do a quick check in your freezer and pantry before choosing the week’s meals.
RULE #2 – BATCH COOK
This one isn’t so much a rule, but an option when you know your week is extra busy or you just prefer to do all your cooking ahead of time. When you’re going to batch cook, there are a couple rules to follow that will make it go more smoothly. First, choose meals based on preparation method. If every meal you plan on making needs to be cooked in the oven, the amount of time you spend in the kitchen that day will increase dramatically. Instead, choose one crock pot meal, one oven meal and two stovetop meals. You will also want at least one or two meals to be freeze-able so that they are fresh by the end of the week when you plan on eating them. For example, here are four meals that, as a group, meet these criteria:
- STOVETOP: Ground Beef with Peas and Carrots
- I usually serve this over sweet potato or rice and add extra vegetables such as spinach
- STOVETOP: Paleo Pad Thai
- You’ll need a Spiralizer for this one,but don’t worry, I think you’ll use it often and it’s under $30
- When including this recipe as part of a batch cook, either eat it for dinner that night, or just make the sauce. The ‘noodles’ should be prepared fresh.
- CROCK POT: Slow Cooker Chicken
- This is a good one to go in the freezer
- OVEN (and a little time on the stove top): Shepherd’s Pie
- This is also a good one to freeze
RULE #3 DON’T WASTE LEFTOVERS
Don’t let leftovers go bad in the refrigerator! Plan a day into your meal plan where you clear out the fridge, eating all the leftovers.
(A secret in my house: most leftovers become a delicious new meal if you top them with a fried egg, over easy) Still have leftovers? Freeze them while you can and pull them out another week when you’re short on time.
RULE #4 BUY INGREDIENTS, NOT PRODUCTS
When you’re buying ingredients, you’re also stocking your pantry for the next week. This is especially true for recipes that you like and decide to repeat – you’ll already have most of what you need in the pantry and will only have to buy the fresh ingredients.
RULE #5 USE CHEAPER CUTS OF MEAT
Slow cooking a bottom round roast will make it soft enough to use in recipes that call for more expensive cuts. Not to mention, the fattier cuts of meat offer nutritional benefits that the lean ones don’t (see previous post here).
RULE #6 ADAPT RECIPES
You don’t always have to follow a recipe exactly. For example, if a recipe calls for sage, you can often use marjoram or rosemary instead. One of our recipes calls for Creole seasoning. Rather than buying a jar of it, I google a recipe to make my own and choose a few of the main spices that I already have. I use this as a guide and typically use a blend of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, basil, salt and pepper.
RULE #7 USE THE DIRTY DOZEN AND CLEAN FIFTEEN LISTS
Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, get the conventional version of foods on the Clean Fifteen list, but always go organic for ones on the Dirty Dozen list.
RULE #8 EAT COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF VEGETABLES
There’s no getting around it – high quality meat is expensive! Keep your bills down by including more veggies in your meals. You can make many meat-containing recipes cheaper simply by using a little less meat and a little more plant.
RULE #9 CHECK OUT THRIVE MARKET
Thrive Market is an online grocery store (for non-perishables) that describes itself as ‘Costco meets Whole Foods online.’ You pay $60/year for a membership, but shipping is free when you spend over $49 and I have yet to find a product that’s cheaper at Whole Foods than Thrive. Not only that, but for every paid membership, Thrive donates one to a low income American Family.
Have any tips that I haven’t mentioned here? I would love to hear them in the comments section!