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Eating Healthy on a Budget

How To Cut Costs While You Shop Without Sacrificing Health

Your children are hooked. The lure of fun, artificial colors, sugary tastes and the promise of greasy fats and carbohydrates reel them in. Temptation calls to your children as you high-tail it past the snack aisle, the cereal aisle and the candy aisle.

You know your family cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle if you are feeding them these types of foods. As a parent on a budget, you know there must be cheaper and healthier alternatives. So how do you win the battle of preparing simple, healthy meals for your family while on a budget?

"Feeding a family tasty, home-cooked meals on a budget can be challenging, but it can be done," says Michelle Jones, publishing editor of BetterBudgeting.com.

Fast food may seem like the cheaper way to go for parents on a tight budget, but it really isn't. Nor is it very healthy. Surprisingly, healthy foods can be less expensive than some junk foods. Making simple changes not only can trim the amount of money spent on food but can become healthier alternatives your family will enjoy.

"A bag of apples can cost less than a container of ice cream," Jones says. "It just takes time for kids and their parents to adjust to a healthier way of eating." Jones also suggests switching to more filling, whole-grain breads and drinking water instead of sodas. These simple steps can save you a few dollars each week.

Buying in-season produce is another useful tip to eating healthy on a budget. Oranges, for example, are cheaper during the winter. Berries are cheaper during the summer and can be purchased frozen year round.

"Canned fruits (packed in juice) and vegetables these days are healthy," says Diane Peck, a registered dietician at Albertson's in Fort Worth, Texas. "They are processed differently and retain a lot of their nutrients." Peck suggests rinsing canned fruits and vegetables to get rid of excess syrup and sodium if needed.

Growing your own vegetables is another great money saver. Sarah Allen, a mother of one from San Antonio, Texas, did just that. "I grew three tomato plants and two bell peppers in pots in my back yard last year," she says. "I had fresh produce all summer, and it only cost me about $10 for the original plants."

Staying away from prepackaged food saves money, too. "Families will often discover it costs less to eat healthy because there's not as many prepackaged foods finding their way into the grocery cart," Jones says.

Take Time to Save Time

Preparing ahead of time before you grocery shop also will help save you money. "Take the time to plan out at least a few meals each week before you leave your house for the grocery store," Jones says. "Look at sale flyers, and then make a brief list of what you can make for dinner each night." Check your pantry and refrigerator. You'll probably find that you already have several side items to go with your meals.

"We buy what's on sale and plan our weekly menus around those items," Jones says. "I look at the grocery flyers each week and decide which meats and produce I'm going to buy and which sales I can pass on ... I select some additional healthy items that might not be on sale but are necessary for a balanced diet, such as salad, nuts, yogurt and milk."

Erica Montanye, a mother of one from San Antonio, Texas, does something similar. "I shop at least once a week and get items to make meals for that week," she says. "I also take advantage of store coupons."

Using a calendar is another good way to plan your meals. "Calendars have multi-purposes," Peck says. "[They] help you plan meals, decide what you'll buy and keep you from making the same meal over and over."

And you shouldn't shop hungry. Making a list on a full stomach will help you cut down on that grocery bill.

Keep Them Happy While You Shop

Shopping on a healthy budget can be overwhelming, especially if you have children in tow. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to shop without your children. So what can you do?

"I've developed a plan for when my children are with me," Jones says. "I remind them ... that they can choose one item they'd like to buy ... [A]fter they choose that item I remind them they can only have [that] one item."

Another step you can take is to prepare a snack for your children before leaving home. This works well for toddlers. The snack can be dried cereal or raisins. Also allow one toy for the trip to help keep your children preoccupied while you shop.

Making a Smooth Transition

Make the transition to healthier eating smoother by allowing your children to choose some of the foods your family eats. This can be an exciting adventure for your family.

"Get your kids involved in the meal planning process," Peck says. "Ask them what they want to eat." You can give your child a choice of, for example, strawberries or bananas. Peck also suggests letting your children choose a fruit or vegetable they've never had before. This is a wonderful benefit because it helps them discover new foods on their own. Just remember – make it fun!

Involving your children in meal preparations is also beneficial. Toddlers can help make a salad by tearing lettuce into little pieces. Older children can grate cheese or carrots. Allowing your children to assist in the kitchen during meal preparation helps them take an active role in the transition to better eating.

"We have our children take turns helping put groceries away, get items needed for meal preparation, make drinks and set the table," Jones says. "We're trying to teach them that it takes a lot of time and preparation to feed our family and everyone can help out. It's part of being a family – we're here to serve each other."

Tips to Help You Save

Keep these tips in mind to help save money:

  • Prepare home-cooked meals.
  • Drink water instead of sodas.
  • Buy fresh, in-season produce.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables are healthy and can be rinsed.
  • Grow your own vegetables.
  • Prepare a grocery list before you shop to help save you time in the store.
  • Use a calendar to help plan your meals weekly.
  • Get your kids involved in preparing family meals and have fun.

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