FEATURE — Most of us have had times in our life when money was tight. Unexpected bills, vehicle repairs, medical debts or losing a job often lead to a financial crisis. For many families, the first place to cut back is the food budget.
Even in hard times, it is important to eat healthy. How do you eat right when money is tight? Read on to see what Mary Anna, our Create Better Health ambassador in Millard County, has to say about her experience cooking on a budget.
A few years into our marriage, my husband and I had a steady income, but it just barely paid the bills. After all our bills were paid, we had $100 left for food. This was in the early 1990s and food prices were less then they are now, but that $100 had to last four or five weeks. That meant I had $20 to $25 a week for groceries for two.
Here are a few things I did to save money and stick to my budget.
I looked at the store ads to see what was on sale, planned my menus and wrote up my shopping list. I wrote out my check ahead of time before going to the store, and I did not take any other form of payment.
I also took a calculator and weighed my produce so I knew exactly how much everything would cost before I got up to the checkout stand.
I kept basic pantry supplies on hand like flour, sugar, spices and canned goods. When shopping for meat, I would buy the family pack and then bring it home to divide into half-pound packages. I kept what I needed for a few days in the fridge and froze what we would not use right away. We did save a little money for case lot sales so we could stock up on canned vegetables, canned tuna, rice, pasta, flour, spices and sugar.
I kept to a very basic shopping list. Generally, on my list would be dried beans, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, bananas, milk, eggs, butter, meat (hamburger or chicken) and sometimes, bread. I often made bread from scratch.
We also grew a garden and had an apple tree in our yard. We harvested our garden and bottled tomatoes and applesauce and froze shredded zucchini and bell peppers. I would often create dishes from what I had on hand. Going out to eat was almost never done.
Even though money was tight, I never felt deprived. Since then, I value the knowledge I learned, as it has served me well during many phases of life. In the Create Better Health class I teach, I offer the following tips:
- Menu planning is important. Plan to prepare and eat foods you already have at home first.
- Know how much money you have to spend on food. Include WIC vouchers and SNAP benefits. Sign up for those programs if you are low-income and qualify for them.
- There are food pantries around to help if you need more help. Learn their hours and where they are located.
- Make a shopping list based on the money you have to spend and what foods you will need. Shop with a list and stick to it. Eat before you go shopping!
- Look at the store ads for what is on sale.
- Put a little extra cash aside for case lot sales. Stock up at the best price possible.
- Buy only the amount of food you can use before it spoils. Remember, frozen, canned or shelf-stable foods last longer.
- Use MyPlate as a guide to eat healthy.
When money is tight, focus on making low-cost recipes. You might be surprised to find that some of the simplest recipes are the most tasty. A favorite low-cost recipe of mine is taco soup; find it here.
This recipe calls for plenty of canned goods. Canned goods are an economical way to fill your pantry, especially if you stock up during case lot sales. Dry beans, although they take a little more time to prepare, are even more economical.
If you don’t have room in your budget for ground beef, use chicken breasts or canned chicken. You can also leave the beef and chicken out completely. With all those beans, you’ll still get plenty of protein per serving.
The recipe lists a few extra ingredients as toppings. If you don’t have room for them in your budget, don’t fret. The recipe is delicious even without them.
If you’d like to try making your own taco seasoning from scratch, click here for a recipe. Two tablespoons of the homemade mix is the equivalent to one store-bought packet.
When your grocery budget is tight, put Mary Anna’s advice and expertise into practice. With a little time, preparation and smart shopping, you can still put a healthy meal on the table. For more tips to eat right when money’s tight, click here.
Written by CANDI MERRITT and MARY ANNA HENKE, Certified Nutrition Education Ambassadors.
This article originally appeared Sept. 23, 2020 on the USU Extension Create Better Health blog.
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