Maintaining Your Family’s Healthy Diet on an Anemic Budget We all want our families to be as healthy as they can be, but in these days of rising food prices and falling wages, just how do we accomplish that?
There are no quick and easy fixes; it takes making some (possibly unpopular) changes, tackling some tough choices and engaging in strategic planning.
Trim the Budget The first step is to evaluate what your family eats and how much you are currently spending on those foods. Note carefully each item the family consumes. Allow columns for price comparisons by type (example: fresh produce versus canned fruits and vegetables) and by brand. Sort out by categories of foods such as “staples/essentials”, “snacks/junk food”, “special occasion foods”. Don’t forget to include “fast foods” in this budget evaluation; if you spend money on it and eat it, it is part of the food budget.
Work first on identifying foods that can be eliminated from the family diet. Junk foods and fast foods should be the first items on the chopping block and if not completely eliminated, then reduced to infrequent “guilty pleasure” indulgences. Salty, sugary snacks and beverages can be swapped out for healthier and less expensive choices. Not only is junk food/fast food unhealthy, it is always more expensive than simpler basic snack options. If the fast food/junk food addictions cannot be totally severed, try offering homemade versions of fast foods, prepared in a more healthful manner.
It is very easy to shop out of habit, to go for the quick and convenient over what might be the healthier option simply because we are not shopping mindfully—with our focus completely upon our food shopping and making healthy choices. It is important to have grocery lists to avoid impulse buys on grocery shopping excursions. One should never shop for food on an empty stomach—you will buy more when you are hungry, and usually not choose the healthiest options.
Try to buy bulk whenever possible, substantial savings can be found in buying foods that are not prepackaged and branded. Not every food is suitable or available for buying in this format, but whenever possible and where available take advantage of the cost savings.
Choose fresh foods over canned, packaged or frozen whenever possible. Most frozen food items are high in sodium and other forms of prepackaged food may be laden with unexpected sugar. Fresh vegetables and fruits in season will always be less expensive than frozen, packaged and canned counterparts. Prepare for late fall and winter when fresh produce becomes more expensive by stocking up packaged versions when on sale. Try to buy no sugar added and low sodium canned, packaged and frozen foods whenever possible.
If you aren’t already a coupon clipper, learn to be. Make it a habit to look for and use coupons (hard copy or digital). Scour the grocery store circulars and websites for sales and competitive pricing between stores. Loyalty programs at grocery stores often present cardholders with unbeatable deals and point bonuses, sometimes even dollars back on purchases.
Monitor your pantry, refrigerator and freezer for foods near their freshness expiration to avoid wastage. If you routinely end up with left-overs that are never touched again, learn to cook food in amounts that are precisely calculated to what your family will actually eat at a meal. When you do have leftovers, make a concerted effort to use these items first before cooking another meal; get creative with the way you recycle the left overs—via casseroles, soups and stews.
Don’t forget to budget for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and the food-centric holidays! Expect some less than healthy holiday indulgences; get back with the program after the holidays are over.
Encouraging Healthy Food Choices Fruit juices are often considered a healthy alternative to sugar based sodas, but the truth is that most store bought fruit (and vegetable) juices are just as sugar laden as their soft drink counterparts—even the 100% “natural” options. Also, fructose is just sugar in another form. Juice is better consumed from a fresh squeezed state with no sugars added and as an occasional treat rather than a daily beverage. Encourage the family to drink more water; if the blandness of H2O is an issue—enliven the taste with just a splash of fruit juice or a slice of fresh lemon or lime.
For any lifestyle change to be effective it must not be too dictatorial, always aim to study your family’s food likes and dislikes and capitalize on them. What healthy foods do they enjoy? What will they categorically refuse to touch? Food preferences must be taken into consideration for your new budget/health strategy to stand a chance, especially with kids.
Make the “let’s eat healthy project” one that involves the whole family. Unilateral decisions are rarely popular, not even with the other adults in the family group. Do research online by visiting nutrition websites that offer tasty recipes and healthy menu planning advice.
Remember that visual presentation of food is just as important as flavor, aroma and nutritional content. If you have youngsters who are picky eaters, make a conscious effort to find ways to prepare foods they would otherwise run from in a more appealing manner.
Don’t be afraid to make healthy food playful! Put an edible face on a stuffed tomato; make a big yellow caterpillar out of an ear of corn.
Remember to work the rainbow into fruit and vegetable choices. Teach kids that not all vegetables are green and yucky tasting. Opt for fresh and raw vegetables whenever possible rather than overcooked traditional veggie dishes, many kids will happily consume vegetables raw that they’d refuse cooked.
Remember too, that small steps can result in big changes over time. Phase in changes gradually rather than abruptly for best success. The sooner you can save money the better of course, but it takes time and patience to get the family on the road to a healthier lifestyle.