A mountain of colossal bags of chips surrounded by foothills of soda bottles: This is the altar that welcomes shoppers in just about every supermarket across the country.
The chips...are right there...and they're on sale. So easy. So cheap. Temptation rises. We've all been there.
Making healthy choices can really difficult when you're awash in a sea of processed foods but with some simple tips and tricks, you can avoid the bad stuff—and save money.
1. Home is where the health is
Cooking at home is one of the top things you can do to trim the fat from your food budget. Restaurant and fast food meals can really add up, and they’re often high in sugar and trans fats. At home, there are no surprises—you decide what goes into your food.
2. Get ahead of the curve
Plan your meals for the week ahead. When you think about ingredients and shop specifically, it’s easier to stay on track and be less susceptible to constant indulgences and the instant gratification of fast foods and processed snacks.
3. Make a list, and stick with it
Before you head to the grocery store, make a list of the ingredients you need, and stick to it. This tunnel vision will help prevent impulse buys and keep you focused on making healthy choices. Also, don’t shop on an empty stomach. Greasy potato chips can look mighty good when you’re starving.
4. Make a beeline for the produce section
When you hit the grocery store, check out the produce section first and load up the cart with vegetables and fruits. Then, shop the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find most of the other whole foods. You might find you don’t even need to spend a bunch of time aimlessly perusing the actual aisles in the middle of the store, which can be a danger zone filled with processed foods. Instead, you can shop for non-perishables right here.
5. Change with the seasons
Buy seasonal produce whenever possible. In-season fruits and vegetables are more flavorful, more nutritious, and super abundant, meaning it’s the most affordable time to get them. And when unusual fruits, vegetables, and herbs pop up at the farmers market or produce section, you just might be inspired to pick up a pluot and expand your horizons, adding nutritional and flavor variety into your diet. Can’t lose!
6. Buy food that does double duty
Stock up on foods that can play multiple roles in your meals. For example, plain or Greek yogurt can double up as breakfast and as a condiment—swap out your sour cream for it and reap the probiotic benefits of better gut health. Olive oil can be used for healthy cooking as well as a homemade salad dressing base. Double-whammy!
7. Make vegetables and fruits your MVPs
Fruits and vegetables can be your most valuable players in the kitchen. Just think of the tomato—the base in some of our favorite comfort foods like soup and spaghetti. In fact, all kinds of veggies can be pureed to create some insanely flavorful sauces, from tart to sweet to savory.
Or, take a melange of fruits and veggies and blend them into a smoothie—instant, drinkable vitamins and minerals, and you don't even have to sit down to ingest them.
And let’s be real—meat is expensive. You don’t actually need to eat that much to be satisfied. Treating lean meat as a side dish and vegetables as the main will go a long way in saving you cash. Of course, you can even pack your plate with as many vegetable dishes as you can conjure up in one sitting—variety is the spice of life, right?
8. Get down with beans and grains
Anything you want to save for later—foods that might go bad, school lunches for the week ahead, leftovers—just freeze it. This will help you cut back on wasted food and save you time during the week. One cool trick to try is to pour little portions of pasta sauce into ice cube trays—plop those babies on top of pasta in a container and it’ll melt by lunch time. Freezing farmers market produce can also preserve vegetables and fruit at the peak of their flavor and nutrition.
10. Everything but the kitchen sink
Make vegetable-rich one-pot meals. They’ll save time and give you tons of healthy leftovers, which you can freeze.
11. Make broth, not waste
Save your residuals from meat and vegetables like bones, onion tops, carrot ends, even wilted vegetables, and brew your own batch of broth. Simply store the leftover pieces in the freezer until you’ve got a few cups. Once you do, just add water, boil, and simmer on low heat for a few hours. Some ideal vegetable broth ingredients can be olive oil, coarsely chopped onion, carrot, crushed garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. For chicken or beef broth, just add chicken or beef bones to that recipe. Boom. You’ve managed to make the most of what would have been pure waste, and you’ve got an excellent cooking base to work with.
12. Keep your portions in check
We Americans are notorious for our heaping plates of food. Limit your portions to normal sizes. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and save tons of money in the long run. Help yourself by using smaller plates. Adopt this attitude when you eat out, too—those loaded appetizers and main dishes are perfectly shareable (and it's cheaper, too!).
Photo credit: Alicia Cho