Preparing is key to eating healthy on a budget

Preparing meals can help stretch your food dollars further.

Children can help with the food prep process. Assign them a job suitable for their age and skill level.

Children can help with the food prep process. Assign them a job suitable for their age and skill level.

Preparing meals at home instead of eating out is one way to stick to a food budget. When you have a busy schedule filled with work and family obligations, preparing meals at home can be challenging. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2011 report, it takes about one hour to prepare a meal and clean up. When you are short on time, it can be tempting to eat out, which can quickly spend your food budget. There are steps you can take to make meal preparation an activity that will fit into your busy schedule and help you stay within your food budget.

As you plan your meals for the upcoming week, find different ways to use fruits and vegetables throughout the week. If green beans are on special at the grocery store, use them one night as a side dish and the leftovers later in the week in a casserole or soup. Take leftovers for your lunch or plan a “leftover night” when you know you won’t have time to cook.

Prepare dried beans in batches to freeze in recipe-sized portions (1-2 cups), and use them as a source of protein instead of meat. Plan occasional “no-cook” meals such as salads and sandwiches, which kids can help prepare without using a stove. When you do have extra time, pre-cook meals to make available when you are short on time. Prepare double or triple batches of soups and casseroles and freeze in meal-sized containers or individual portions for lunches or dinners. Invite family members to help in meal preparation. Even children can help by tearing lettuce or bringing you ingredients you need for cooking.

Sticking to a food budget is easier when you plan, purchase and prepare your food. Find the steps that work best for your life, and enjoy eating meals you have prepared using the healthy, low-cost options you purchased.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes in your community that teach tricks and tips for eating healthy on a budget. For more ways to eat healthy on a food budget read Purchasing is key to eating healthy on a budget.