Though I do try to organize my meals for the week, I have to admit that I hate having my weekly meals completely planned out ahead of time. I completely respect the idea of Sunday meal prep and following a plan, but two things about the practice bother me. Reason #1 it slightly grosses me out to prep food on Sunday that I plan to eat on Friday. Sorry. I just can’t handle my lunch sitting there that long. Reason #2 What if I don’t want the exact same meals 4 or 5 times that week? What if I get to my Tuesday dinner meal and I can’t face the idea of chicken breast? What if I want salmon that day? To most of us (myself included) ‘clean’ eating or at least healthy eating can sometimes feel like restricting. It shouldn’t of course. It’s good for us and will in theory give us energy and slim down our bodies and supply important vitamins and nutrients (blah blah blah). But sometimes, it just feels like very little fun. It makes you immediately feel like you can’t have what everyone else is having. So on TOP of that nagging feeling of deprivation, why would you make yourself feel like you MUST have the turkey meatballs you prepped on Sunday when your body is craving a healthy alternative (salmon)? It just makes you feel even more deprived!
I like variety. I like to eat things that make me feel satisfied, not just full. And having a little choice in what I can eat that day gives me satisfaction.
Instead I try to spend time on Sunday thinking of recipes that I might want to try that week, and that also may use 1 or 2 of the same main ingredients. That way I don’t need to buy 354 different items when I go grocery shopping that week (killing my budget). And I can make some of the items in larger batches for multiple meals.
For instance, I may sit down that week and think about how much I love roasted vegetables. Love um. Think they taste better than vegetables any other way. So why not stick to something that really satisfies me, but can also be low cal and nutrient rich? I may plan on making roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots and cauliflower as a side to salmon or steak for dinner one night. I’ll then make enough to have leftovers to top a green salad or a quinoa bowl (whatever I’m craving) with roasted veggies the next day. See? Best of both worlds. Limiting waste and prep time.
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to make the most of your food and avoid waste! My quick list of Kitchen Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget – Waste little. Spend less.
A few of my favorite things to buy and freeze are:
- Multi grain bread – I always take a peek at the discounted bread shelf at the supermarket when I shop. It’s hit or miss of course. But usually every other trip I can find great loaves of multi grain bakers bread discounted to $1 or less (so much better than paying $3.99 for a loaf of bread don’t you think?). I’ll grab it when it’s on sale, then slice it (if it’s a baguette or loaf) and throw it into individual freezer bags for future use (usually a couple of slices per bag). Whenever I want bread with a meal I’ll take out a piece and toast it or throw it in the microwave. Can’t taste a difference. Also try this with: Naan bread, pita pockets, bagel thins, english muffins.
- Lemons – I love to slice lemons and put them in my water, but I typically end up using about half of the lemon, then it gets shoved in the back of the fridge and forgotten about until it’s brown and sad and unusable. My new solution? Slice half of the lemon and store in a Ziploc or airtight container in your fridge for every day use. Take the other half, slice and freeze on a cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes, then toss into a freezer bag and store for future use (flash freezing first on a cookie sheet will keep them from sticking together as a big clump in your baggie). Use the frozen lemons in water or to cook with future meals! Also try this with: Limes, ginger, herbs (freeze as ice cubes in water).
- Meat – The cop and I buy meat in bulk and then freeze individual portions in freezer bags (or if you have a seal a meal – lucky you!). We’ll buy loads of chicken, steak, ground beef and ground turkey at Sams’ club or at a local grocery store whenever it’s on sale and then freeze in single or double portions to be used throughout the month. This way we aren’t eating chicken for 3 days just because we bought the value pack.
- Fruit – I tend to buy fruit and eat it for a few days, then go on to a new flavor or item. The result is random leftover items like sad squishy strawberries, soft clementines, brown bananas and wrinkled blueberries sitting in the bottom of our fridge. Whenever I see that produce is starting to fail (look at it.. it has about a day left) I quick toss it into the freezer in a freezer bag. Get to it before it goes bad! Frozen fruit is great to toss in your morning oatmeal, use in baking muffins, or for smoothies. Same goes for that sad wilted spinach you bought a week ago.
Buy What’s on Sale and in Season. We know this rule, but tend to forget it. Yes that strawberry, watermelon feta salad may look great on Pinterest, but if berries and watermelon aren’t in season chances are they will be a. overpriced and b. lack great flavor. Stick to what’s in season. Always peruse the local grocery ads before thinking about your meals for that week. Try to craft meals off of what is on sale that week! It will force you to be creative but also save you some cash. Stock up on frozen veggies when they are 10 for $10.
Learn the tricks. Did you know strawberries stay fresh longer if you rinse them in vinegar before storing in the fridge? Or that a slice of purple onion in the container can keep avocado green and fresh after slicing? Spend a little time doing research on what keeps food fresh in the fridge and on your counter! It may save you loads.
Eat What’s Cheap. This one’s pretty simple. We all know that rice and beans are cheaper than steak. Baby carrots go for about a $1 a bag when they are on sale. Much cheaper than red bell peppers. Canned tuna is great to mix in as a lunch or dinner alternative to chicken or salmon. It’s the little things! Now I’m not telling you to eat rice and beans every day. But mix them into your week! If you are looking forward to steak for dinner you may not mind a bean burrito for lunch. It won’t seem like cheap eating if you don’t force yourself to stick to beans only day in and day out.
Don’t Eat as Much. Simple right? This one is pretty smack you in the face obvious. If you aren’t eating as much (i.e. less snacking, smaller portions) you won’t be buying as much. Which means you’ll save money. If you aren’t eating as much your calorie intake will decrease. Which means you’ll work towards that weight loss goal you’ve set for yourself. This one is probably the item I struggle with the most, but I need to be mindful of each day. I don’t need to have snacks between every meal. I don’t need to finish the entire piece of salmon (just because it’s a portion size to the company doesn’t mean it has to be a portion size for you!). I can cut that giant chicken breast in half and save the leftover to top a salad tomorrow. Simply watching your portions and not buying the snacks you mindlessly crunch away on (for me it happens in the afternoon and in the evenings) will mean that you have less to buy. Serve all of your meals on a salad plate (the medium sized one) instead of a dinner plate. Buy a lunch box that promotes portion control (I use Laptop Lunches). Close the kitchen after you’ve had dinner and maybe (not every night, only when you are hungry) a small snack. Start setting new normals for yourself.