Feeding your family a healthy diet can be more expensive than a diet made up of fast food and take out but it also doesn’t have to break the bank.
According to a January 2018 report by the United States Department of Agriculture, feeding a family of 4 a healthy diet can cost between $129 and $296 a week yet it may not be that much more expensive. In fact, according to a December 2013 meta-analysis published in the journal BMJ, the healthiest types of diets like those rich in fruits and vegetables, fish and nuts cost only $1.50 more per day than unhealthy diets made up of processed foods, meats and refined grains.
Whether your family’s food budget is tight or you have a bit to spare, here are 10 ways to make the most of it.
1. Pay Attention To Portions
In the U.S., our portion sizes are double—sometimes triple—the size of normal, healthy portions. Not only can overeating lead to weight gain and serious health conditions for you and your kids, it can also cause you to spend more money on food.
When you dish out food, pay attention to portion sizes. For example, a 3-ounce piece of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Instead of making meat the main portion, fill up half your plate with vegetables and think about meat as a side dish.
2. Eat Less Meat
When it comes to meat, eating it everyday can get expensive especially if you purchase organic and grass-fed varieties.
Make Meatless Monday a habit every week or swap beans, legumes and vegetarian dishes for meat a few times a week to cut down on your food bill.
3. Carve Out Time For Prep
Pre-chopped and spiralized vegetables, pre-made salads, cut up fruit and canned beans make home cooked meals faster and easier but they’re also more expensive.
If you’re looking to stretch your family’s food budget, spend some time on the weekends or at night to pre-chop ingredients, assemble salads and soak and cook beans.
4. Buy Store Brands
When you purchase healthy food staples like rice, quinoa, vegetable stock and canned salmon, compare brands. Generic and store brands will usually be more affordable than national brands.
5. Shop Big Box Stores
Large retailers like Target often sell healthy food at significantly lower prices than grocery stores. I often pick up yogurt, bread, canned beans, salmon and sardines, chia seeds, nuts and almond milk.
6. Make a List and Plan Ahead
If you go grocery shopping without a list, you’re more likely to buy items you don’t need and spend more.
Before heading to the grocery store, look through your refrigerator, freezer and pantry and make a list to ensure you buy what you need. Meal planning a week’s worth of dinners can also help you make the most of your food budget.
7. Shop In Season and On Sale
When you purchase fruits and vegetables that are in-season, the food will be fresher and more affordable. Also, scan the grocery store circular for sales and stock up and freeze what you don’t plan to eat that week.
8. Minimize Food Waste
Food waste is a huge concern in the U.S. with Americans throwing away half of all produce each year.
To cut down on food waste, re-purpose leftovers into school lunches or freeze them for another night. If you have small amounts of odd vegetables but not enough for an entire meal, mix them into a stir-fry or blend them into soup. Small amounts of leftover fruit can be thrown into a smoothie or frozen as snacks for your kids.
9. Plant a Garden
If you have space, consider planting a garden which is an easy and enjoyable way to stretch your family’s food budget while also teaching kids where their food comes from. If space is limited, use a few planters for herbs.
10. Upgrade Dessert
Instead of offering packaged pudding, cookies or ice cream for dessert, make dessert healthy and more affordable. Make batches of chia see pudding, oatmeal energy bites or dried fruit alone or dipped in chocolate.