The Busy Family’s Guide to Eating Healthy on a Budget
Even when you have the best intentions to eat at home and make something healthy for your family, life often gets in the way. Whether it’s after-school activities, unexpected events or just feeling tired after a full day of work, those good intentions are often overtaken by fast and convenient (and often unhealthy) choices to eat out. Another big temptation with eating out is choosing foods that are on the value menu, which can be high in fat, carbohydrates and sodium and offer very little nutrition value.
Here are some ideas to help a busy family eat healthy and save money!
Use a slow cooker/crock pot. Not only can your children easily get involved in the meal planning and be creative with preparing meals in a slow cooker/crock pot, but if you are on different schedules, each of you can eat when you get home and be guaranteed a hot and healthy meal. Choose simple foods like baby carrots, tiny potatoes, beans, corn, lean meat, and low-fat sauces that are hearty ingredients for the slow cooker, and they can easily be thrown in the pot with little or no preparation. Even if you forget to thaw the meat or vegetable, you can still put it in the crock pot for time-saving measures. You can season the meal with healthy spices and herbs to add variety to the flavor.
Plan the meals ahead of time and make it a family event. You can make grocery shopping a fun event for your family with the right creativity. If your children are younger, choose a grocery store that has shopping carts for little ones. This way, they can help pick foods like fruits and vegetables. Help younger children pick foods by playing a game, like “Pick a fruit that starts with the letter A.” This gives them structure, and they learn names of the fruit. They may even pick a fruit you haven’t tried in the past! When they are involved in the process of meal planning, children are a lot more likely to eat the food that is prepared, even picky eaters!
Buy foods in bulk to save money, and look for weekly specials. You can stock up on foods that are on sale and freeze them for future meals. Planning ahead also includes preparing meals for the week. After shopping for the week’s meals, you can pick a day of the week that is most convenient for you to prepare a few meals, and get your family involved in the process. Kids love to help out in the kitchen. You can purchase colorful and animated kitchen supplies to make meal preparation fun for kids. Give them simple, short and safe tasks to keep them interested and engaged. You can then freeze the meals for the rest of the week so you can just “grab and go.” This planning helps prevent you from eating out or choosing unhealthy snacks from the vending machines or stores. Keep in mind that junk food can be expensive!
Studies show that, often, it takes more time to eat out at a restaurant than to eat at home. By the time you drive to a restaurant, wait for a table, order, eat and leave, you may have spent more than 2 hours, which is longer than cooking a pre-planned meal at home. Families tend to make healthier food choices when eating at home, and it’s definitely less expensive.
If you choose to eat out occasionally, look for restaurant coupons, free meals for kids, and order a to-go box when the food arrives, so you can make another meal out of one. This not only saves money but also saves a lot of extra calories in one setting.
Eating at home and planning meals ahead of time can save you a lot of money and time, and can also offer you healthier food choices in a relaxed setting with your family. Enjoy those family moments together and make mealtimes quality time talking with each other about the day’s events.
Cindy Goulding is a licensed professional counselor as well as a health and wellness coach and certified personal trainer. She is the author of Healthy Weight: It’s a Family Affair. Her website is victoriousmcg.com.