The Community Press

Eat better on a budget

January 20, 2022

If you’re anything like us, you make New Year’s resolutions like eating better and saving money with a lot of enthusiasm and follow them diligently for a couple of weeks. Then real life happens, and the resolution fades away. But eating well for less money doesn’t have to be intimidating—it can be a habit you build instead of something you feel guilty about letting slide come February or March.

Put your kitchen to work.
Food is one of our largest monthly expenses, and whether you’re eating out all the time or cooking gourmet meals every night, your restaurant or grocery bill can add up quickly if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re planning to make some changes in 2022 but you’re just not sure where to start, consider the following to help set yourself up for success.

Take stock.
Getting organized is often the first step for many people looking to overhaul their kitchen lives. But before you head out to buy fancy bins and gadgets to get your kitchen looking like a Pinterest photo, take an inventory of what you already have.

Go through every draw and cabinet and create a list of the pots and pans, utensils, and gadgets that you already own, as well as all of your dry and canned goods and your spices. Toss expired dry goods and spices and consider donating any utensils or small appliances that you have duplicates of or have never used. You’ll give yourself more space to work and be able to see what you have at a glance, rather than searching through piles of things just taking up valuable kitchen real estate.

Better batching.
Batch cooking is popular right now, and cooking one time for multiple meals can save you both time and money. Unfortunately, eating batch cooked meals can also become tedious, especially if you only eat the same couple of meals for several days in a row.

Instead of batch cooking full meals, consider batch cooking multiple ingredients that can be used in various dishes throughout the week. A rotisserie chicken can be used in many different ways, starting with roasted chicken and mashed potatoes for a weekend dinner and then making chicken enchiladas, stir-fry or BBQ chicken during the week using already-prepped leftovers. Roasting almost any vegetable, but especially broccoli, asparagus or Brussel sprouts, ahead of time makes a delicious side dish that is ready to reheat and go. These prepped veggies can also be added to many different recipes or become the basis of a creative salad to help make a healthy lunch or dinner in less time.

Look for sales at the grocery store and stock up, especially if you have room in your freezer, so you always have a good protein or vegetable source on hand for quick meals. Just make sure you use the frozen items—it doesn’t save money if you ultimately wind up throwing things away.

Eat less meat.
A great way to save money on your grocery bill is to reduce the amount of meat you eat during the week. Not only is it better for your wallet, but it is also better for the environment and gives you a chance to experiment with different protein sources like tofu, beans or tempeh.

If everyone in your family is a meat and potatoes kind of person, try to gradually reduce the amount of meat you have by offering more vegetable options as side dishes and making meat more a flavor enhancer than a main course. It may take a while to win over the holdouts, but stay patient. Make it a game to see how many new flavors your family can try each week. Let them decide on a new veggie they want to try and then get them involved in cooking it, so they have ownership of their food from the store to their dinner plate.

Use recipes as a springboard.
Many people new to cooking tend to treat recipes as rigid rules that you can’t break. Experienced cooks and chefs learn to take recipes or cooking techniques, like sauteing or braising, and experiment with different combinations until they find something they like.

Instead of getting locked into a recipe’s ingredients list, consider adapting it to what you already have on hand. Instead of a meat-heavy dish, try substituting canned beans or tofu and see if it makes a difference, or use the frozen vegetables you already have in the freezer instead of buying a new-to-you fresh vegetable that you may only use in one meal and let the rest go to waste. Meals don’t have to be complicated to be delicious and nutritious—with the right plan in place, cooking can be affordable and a great way to reconnect with your family. Give it a try: balancing daily nourishment with fun in the kitchen. Because we all need to eat!

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