Tips for Healthy Meal Planning on a Budget

Posted by Princess Eva Angelica On 8:17 AM
    As a young woman living in Washington DC, working a full time job, maintaining a social life, and taking time to care for myself, I sometimes find there are not enough hours in a day. Health is so much more important than the food we eat; it is about taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. The key component that helps me get by is planning ahead. Planning appointments and work, planning time to workout and see my friends, and planning my meals. When I know I have healthy, nutrient dense foods that also taste great, and are already planned and prepared, the week can bring all sorts of new twists and turns and I know I will be fueling my body well. Meal planning does take some time, but once it is created, you do not even have to think about it. Plus, you don’t have to stop for fast food, or eat the same boring meal each night. I’ve learned a lot over the past year about meal planning for healthy foods that do not cost a fortune and I thought I would share them all with you.

1)      First, map out your week. Know which nights you will be working late, what appointments you have, and what night your child has practice. Once you know what you week looks like it will be easy to fit meals into your schedule.
2)      See what coupons you have, and what sales are in the paper so you can plan your meals off of this.
3)      Keep your freezer organized by labeling and dating whatever meals or food items you have saved. For information on what foods can be frozen and to determine their storage time, visit the USDA Freezing and Food Safety Fact Sheet. Use what you have to help plan your meals for the week.
4)      Now it is time to come up with your meals, using a few main items in various ways, keeping in mind lunch and dinner. Here are some examples.
a.       Ground Turkey Meat. This same healthy, protein can be used to make turkey chili for dinner one night and 2 lunches, turkey tacos, and turkey burgers.
b.      Chicken. Prepare chicken breasts to be used in stir fries with brown rice and vegetables, grilled chicken parmesan, homemade chicken salad served with crusty bread.
c.       Eggs. Make a savory baked egg dish with spinach, feta, and garlic and serve it with a salad. This could last 2-3 nights and eggs are very inexpensive.
d.      Pantry Items. Chick peas and beans are a great protein source and can easily add bulk to salads, healthy canned soups, and make great side dishes.
e.       Side dishes are next. Buy frozen vegetables to create a side dish in 2 minutes. Brown rice can be made in bulk on cooking day, or purchase the microwaveable bags for simplicity. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and can be prepared in the microwave in 5 minutes.
f.        Have some quick meals you can pull together in between. Grilled paninis can come together in minutes, English muffin pizzas with vegetables are kid friendly, and Greek salad wraps are unique and healthy.
5)      Take advantage of spices. A chicken and vegetable stir fry can be a completely different dish with a dash of cumin one night, and rosemary the next night.
6)      Now think of Breakfast and Snack Ideas. String cheese, fruit, chopped vegetables and hummus, and nuts make a great snack. Buy things such as nuts in bulk and fill in your own reusable bags with a single serving.
7)      Fill in the gaps. Consider what spices, pantry items, and other staples you need to round out your list.
8)      Write down what meals you will be having which night, including breakfast and lunches. Save the roast for a lazy weekend day, and schedule English muffin pizzas on soccer night. Remember which meals will make enough for leftovers. Hang this on your fridge so everyone can see the menu for the week.
9)      Grocery Shopping. Take your list and stay focused. Try not to go hungry or distracted so you can stay true to the list you have worked so hard on.
10)  When you come home from the store, portion out your snack bags and wash and chop all your vegetables before putting them away. Make whatever you can that day, such as the turkey chili and refrigerate or freeze it in individual containers depending on which night it will be served. Bake all your chicken before wrapping and freezing it so you can just reheat it on a late work night with frozen vegetables and rice.

 
Remember that no matter how busy you are, your health and eating great food are a top priority. You can have gourmet, home made meals with just a little planning on the weekends. Save money and feel better both physically and mentally knowing you have a plan.

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