The Busy Family’s Guide to Eating Healthy on a Budget

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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 times 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, which 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 timesaving 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 in 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 meal planning, children, even picky eaters, are a lot more likely to eat the food that is prepared!

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, 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. 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. 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!

Eating in Saves Time & Expense
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, that adds up to over two hours. This takes 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 occasionally eat out, look for restaurant coupons, free meals for kids (see Carolina Parent’s Family Meal Deals Directory), 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 meal times quality time talking with each other about the day’s positive events.

Cindy Saleeby Goulding, MS, LPC, NCC, CPT, CWC

Author of “Healthy Weight: It’s a Family Affair”


Categories: Healthy Families Expert Advice