Economical, healthy, easy and homemade: Plan meals and shop smart

New Year’s resolutions for changing eating habits to save money, eat better, and get more from home require new strategies.

The beginning of the new brings assessment of the past and resolution to change habits for the future. When these resolutions involve changing habits around food and eating or other lifestyle changes, making a strategy is a good way to make progress toward your goals. First and foremost, understand that change is a process with different stages. When you are ready to start changing, here are a few strategies you can employ to prepare for changing your eating habits whether you want to save money, eat more healthfully, prepare more food at home, or manage your time to be successful at these goals. Other tips on nutrition can be found from Michigan State University Extension. First, think about planning your weekly meals and shopping based on that plan. In the second article in this series, you can learn about making shortcuts for yourself and cooking in larger batches.

Meal planning

Make a plan for your week that accounts for real life. If you have a go-to easy meal, give yourself permission to fall back on that easy meal once a week. Whether that involves going to a restaurant or a bowl of cereal, you can plan that for a night when you have evening activities or as a back up for when your plan falls through. Your plan should include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the week. Make sure to factor in leftovers as an option so you aren’t wasting food. Think about ways to balance your meals with servings of fruit, vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates. Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables so thinking about ways to add them from fresh, canned and frozen sources is important. Meal planning takes time but it can also save time and money and reduce stress that you may feel around making a change in your life. There are great articles about meal planning here (planning meals for a busy family), here (involving kids in meal planning), and here (plan ahead for healthy and affordable meals). Think about the recipes you’ll be using to cut down on trips to get additional ingredients during the week. Select recipes that will help you maximize success – economical, healthy or efficiently prepared – plan for all three!

Shop smart

Now that you have your plan created, you can make a shopping list with help from store circulars and recipes. Why is a shopping list important? Because it allows you to control the amount you’ll spend at the grocery store and allows you to avoid expensive and tempting items that are available on impulse. Remember to think through breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks when planning for the week. You may need more carrots if they are going to be in a recipe and a snack! Make sure you buy a variety of fruit and vegetables and that you plan to eat them so that you get the most benefit for your money. Your shopping list may be informed by store advertisements which may come by mail or be available from specific stores via their websites. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to comparison shop with other stores and farmers markets! Here are some hints for shopping with a meal plan and using a list to save money and save time. Remember to shop sales for staples that are shelf stable like dry beans, pasta, canned, and jarred items. Also think through spices, cooking oil, vinegars and pantry items like flour and sugar. Also look for frozen items that you can use in your recipes.

With these strategies, you can be successful making changes. In the second part of this series, you’ll learn about saving money by buying items when they are most abundant-like fresh corn during the summer- and preparing them as meal shortcuts or by cooking in quantity so that you’ll have a headstart on meals through the week. Even putting one of these efforts into effect will help you save time, money and effort. Michigan State University Extension is committed to help individuals and families improve their lives. Reaching goals for changing eating is a great way to get started on a better 2017. 

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