In spite of horrifying documentaries like “Super-Size Me” and statistics about the effect of hyper processed food on our health, fast food corporations like McDonald’s continue to earn billion-dollar profits, year after year. All in all, the average U.S. family of four spends nearly $240 a month eating out, according to Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross of “Cheap. Fast. Good!”
We’re not pointing fingers, but chances are your family eats out more than you would like. Of course, we all know that eating in is much less expensive than eating out, even if you’re buying Happy Meals for a dollar a piece. Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes, “In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyper processed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9.” You can further reduce the cost of this meal by omitting the bacon, using dried beans, and substituting carrots for peppers. Combining inexpensive ingredients to make a great, filling meal, could save you a pretty penny in the long run.
To start saving up on groceries, try experimenting with some of these cheap meal ideas:
- Soups and stews are easy, versatile, tasty, and extremely inexpensive. Buy off-brand stock that’s low in sodium and rich in consistency, and stock up on canned ingredients for soups when they are on sale. Canned chicken and beef broths can be replaced with the cheaper alternative: bouillon cubes in warm water.
- Save money by making certain grocery store items on your own at home. There are many ideas for what you can make at home in Jennifer Reese’s book, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.” In this book, Reese explains from first-hand experience that cooking some items at home can be very cost effective and she includes the recipes. Make your own sauces, like barbecue sauce, ketchup, and vinaigrettes. All you need is a decent food processor to make sauces at home. If you’re a fan of expensive, organic granola, you can save big by making it at home instead of buying at the store. Granola is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, it lowers cholesterol, and a few dollars spent on rolled oats will feed you for breakfast for a week.
- Invest in a crock pot to cook inexpensive cuts of meats to tenderness. You can also make your budget-friendly and filling soups and sauces in your crock pot.
- Logically, if you’re budgeting you should always keep your eyes peeled for cheap ingredients. Generally, the cheapest fruits for their amount of nutritional value are apples and bananas, while cabbage and carrots are the more inexpensive of vegetables. Buy your produce seasonally, too. Seasonal produce is fresher and cheaper.
- Rice and beans combine to make a complete protein when served together. If you’re strapped for cash, meals including rice and beans are your best bet for an incredibly cheap meal.
Take all of these cheap meal ideas into consideration when you’re heading to the grocery store and making meals at home. Trust us, the savings will add up before you know it. With a little creativity and some practice in the kitchen, you’ll be whipping up inexpensive culinary delights for many dinners to come.
In spite of rising numbers of health issues in America and health messages to use less salt in our diets, 9 out of 10 people consume more than the recommended amount of sodium each day, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And we can’t just blame fast food restaurants for our stratospheric sodium intake. The way we cook, (with plenty of salt, butter, sugar and other not-so-healthy ingredients) is directly affecting the health of parents and children alike. Instead of loading up your homemade meals with unhealthy ingredients, try cutting sodium, fats and sugars at the source, while you are cooking, especially in the frying pan!
Take these tips into account next time you’re cooking a meal for your family:
- Try baking instead of using a frying pan. Baking usually requires little to no added fat in a dish. You can bake anything from lean meats to veggies and seafood.
- Broiling and grilling your food allows the fat to drip away from the food, thereby minimizing the amount of oils in your food.
- Pick a high-quality, nonstick pan so that you don’t have to use a lot of butter and oil when you cook. Use low-sodium broth or cooking spray in some recipes in place of oil to minimize calories.
- Whole wheat flour can replace half of the called-four flour recommendation. According to MayoClinic.com, whole-wheat pastry flour works well in softer products like cakes and muffins.
- Replace all white breads and starches for whole grain. When you’re shopping for your pastas and breads, make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat flour” to assure that you’re getting a 100% whole wheat product. Whole wheat, in its original form, is a great source of dietary fiber and magnesium.
- Try finding healthy replacements for side dishes that you love. Instead of indulging in french fries, bake sweet potatoes to make sweet potato fries.
- Use spices instead of salt in some recipes. Cumin, rosemary, lemongrass, anise, thyme, cilantro, and cayenne can all add extra flavor into a dish, without making a meal’s sodium content soar.
- In many recipes, aside from baked goods, applesauce can be used for half of the recipe’s butter recommendation. You can also find butter spreads that don’t have Trans fats.
- You don’t always have to load up your pancakes with syrup! Try using fruit purees instead of maple syrup on you and your family’s pancakes so you can eliminate some unhealthy sugars from the meal without sacrificing taste.
- The MayoClinic recommends reducing the amount of sugar in recipes by 1/2 and, instead, intensifying the sweetness by adding spices, like vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon.
- Substitute eggs with egg whites or an egg substitute. You can make a delicious three-egg-white omelet without high cholesterol levels.
- Try to avoid prepared desserts and pie fillings and make your own at home. Store-bought prepared desserts often have higher levels of sodium.
- In many recipes, agave syrup, honey, or sweeteners can be used in place of sugar. Honey, in particular, is sweeter and denser than sugar, so less of it can be used. Additionally, honey is minimally processed and less easily converted to fat stores than sugar.
Take these healthy meal ideas into account next time you’re preheating the oven or turning on the burner. When you use healthy tactics in your cooking, you’ll feel better, and look better, too! Implement your new healthy meal ideas into your old recipes for a healthier family and a healthier you.