Guest Post by Cathleen Karlsson, SpouseLink.org Editor
QUICK TIPS FOR HEALTHY EATING
Before you shop…
A tight budget can make you feel like you can’t splurge or simply get what you really want, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Your first step in planning your food budget should be to consider what funds you have available to spend on food in the first place. Next, you need to think about how much you need to purchase the items each person in your family will eat throughout a week or a month. It’s important to be reasonable about the quantity of food you and your family members actually eat — and whether or not you are a family of snackers, grazers or 3-times-a-day full-meal eaters. Once you’ve determined those eating habits, you can apply your findings to planning your food-shopping budget, planning out your meals based on healthy recipes you’d like to create, and devising your grocery shopping list. Write the items on your list in order of the aisles at your grocery store. It will help you stay focused, speed up your store visit, and keep you from wandering from shelf to shelf looking for goods.
Once you’ve got it all sorted out, including taking note of what you already have available in your kitchen cabinets and fridge, make sure you eat something before you hop in the car and head out to the store. Shopping on an empty stomach can affect you in multiple ways: It can make you crave the foods you smell as you meander throughout the store; it can make you impatient and willing to grab whatever is within reach; and it can put you in a rotten mood that deters you from spending the extra time you may need to compare ingredients, prices and quality. Making decisions under those circumstances can blow not only your budget but also your pre-planned shopping trip if you end up buying things that were not on your list.
As you shop…
Even if you don’t like to clip coupons or research sales, you can still find bonus buys you weren’t expecting at the store. Keep an eye out for bargains in the aisles and use your store member card whenever you go through the checkout zone. Sometimes, the stores will automatically load discounts onto the card… plus, if the item is discounted for card members only, you will benefit from making the purchase. The trick is to make sure you aren’t swayed into buying something just because it is on sale or just because you get a card-member benefit. If there is a store brand that is being sold for less than the one that is on sale, by all means… skip the discounted item and buy the store brand.
Also, it may go without saying that buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season means you’re getting the best quality at the best price, but there is still some room for improvement here if you are only shopping at your local grocery store: Don’t forget about farmer’s markets! Not only will you be able to purchase, fresh-off-the-field, locally grown and sometimes, but not always, organic foods… you may also be able to purchase them at lower prices than the grocery chain stores can provide, especially if you hit the farmer’s market within the hour before it closes. You never know if a vendor will be ready to make you a better deal to help deplete their supply.
Meanwhile, back at the grocery store… be sure to stay away from the junk food aisles. This doesn’t simply mean to avoid potato chips, doughnuts and ice cream. It also means not to get caught in the trap of buying foods you crave, just because you know you crave them. Think of healthier ways to control those cravings before you buy. For example, if you love chocolate… skip the cookies and head for a chocolate bar that lets you break off a single square. For example: Eating 1 square of chocolate may have just 45 calories, compared to eating 1 chocolate chip cookie that contains 55. Satisfy your craving without caving.
Now, if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions — whether they are self-imposed or for health reasons — you may be in luck! Not only will you be able to save money that would have otherwise been spent on meat, but stocking up on grains and beans and other items that have a long shelf-life will elongate the time between purchasing them… and that translates to weeks’ worth of savings on those pantry staples.
But, if you do enjoy eating meat, even though it can get pricey, you can still cut costs by purchasing lesser cuts of meat, or by buying a reduced quantity of meat. Preparing a lesser cut of meat correctly will help disguise its lower quality. Preparing meals that incorporate a variety of ingredients — think: casseroles, crock pot meals, soups, stews, sandwiches, pasta, etc. — will help you fill up tummies without feeling like the meat is missing.
And, finally, buy in bulk. Or, more precisely: Buy as much as you can of the things you enjoy… at the lowest price possible. Just remember, of course, not to overbuy things you cannot use before they expire.
Now that you’ve considered your food expenses, planned out your meals, and bought a variety of healthy foods in the right quantities, it’s time to put them all away. Be sure to keep your kitchen pantry well organized by putting items that are already open or that will expire first up front. An easy way to remind yourself of what’s new and what’s not is to keep a bin in your pantry, cabinet, or fridge that says “Eat me first.” That will help you save money and minimize the chance of creating unwanted “science experiments” in the back of your fridge, or being disappointed when you find out your chocolate cake mix has passed its deadline date.
Another way to stay ahead of spoilage is to use your freezer wisely. You can add an “Eat me first.” bin there, too. And, of course, label and date everything you put into it — not just with the current date, but with the date you expect not to be able to use it anymore. For instance, if meats last up to six months in the freezer, put a six-months-from-now date on it so you know when to throw it away. You’ll also do yourself a huge favor if you position items chronologically to remove the extra thinking that may be involved in preparing your next meal at home.
Which brings us to the next point: prepping portions of each meal ahead of time. This is easier than it may sound, if you plan for it. Choose one morning, afternoon or evening as “Prep Time” each week and get in the habit of using that time to chop veggies, prepare sauces or set aside necessary ingredients in a dedicated “next meal” area. Even if you won’t be using the items till the end of the week, you will save yourself time and stress knowing all you have to do is assemble your pre-prepped items and pop them in the oven or a pot on the stove. Assemble as much as you can into freezer bags or plastic containers that can be labeled with details of the date, time and meal you will use it for. For example: “Sun., 5/1 – Shepherd’s Pie – Crock Pot Dinner”. You could even go so far as to add the next steps for the meal’s preparation, such as: “Heat on Low for 50 minutes. Top with mashed potatoes. Serve with salad and rolls.” The more thinking you do ahead of time — when you have the time — will help you stay on track.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR HEALTHY LIVING
The same types of tips above that you use for determining your spending and preparation of food can be applied to organizing and de-stressing your lifestyle. Here are some ways to keep you focused and feeling good:
When you’re on-the-go…
When you're at home...
The real key to living a good life is to see it as a good life and doing things that make you feel good — physically, mentally and emotionally. When you’re part of a Military Family, possibly making a PCS move and trying to fit into a new location every few years, it’s understandable that you might fall back on easy, simple, less-than-healthy activities to see you through. But if you create new, healthier habits for eating and experiencing the things around you, life may actually become even better than you imagine. It’s all about clear, positive thoughts and focused thinking on what you want out of life — for yourself and those you love. With that in mind, you can’t go wrong. And it doesn’t cost a dime.
AAFMAA is the longest-standing not-for-profit association that empowers current and former military with affordable financial solutions including, life insurance, investment management, and survivor assistance. AAFMAA is also the creator of SpouseLink, a free website for Military Spouses that was created to support, inform and inspire users with a variety of content–anything from pop culture to important Military information.