The Man With The Plan (aka, you)
The most undervalued and overlooked trick to eating well on a budget is planning. I know it sounds cliched, but I practice what I preach. I plan my meals for the week, taking into account the weekly specials at my local Harris Teeter, using recipes with overlapping ingredients, and (gasp!) planning ahead of time how to use the leftovers. Below are some tips to help you stick to a budget while eating delicious, healthy meals all week long.
“We’re having leftovers again?!” Leftovers get a bad rap, and I myself have been guilty of pushing them to the back of the fridge to make myself feel better about ignoring them. However, if you prepare ahead of time to repurpose those leftovers before they even exist, they won’t feel like leftovers at all. A good way to do this is to plan a “garbage” meal towards the end of the week. Did you use grilled chicken, tomatoes, chicken stock, and veggies in various other meals during the week? Plan to have some brown rice pasta with chicken and veggies on Thursday night to use up all of the leftovers! Got leftover meat, vegetables and herbs? Throw them all in a pot together to make a soup…the options really are endless.
Resist the urge. If you’re anything like me, you stalk your favorite food blogs, frequent the online cooking magazines, and covet new delicious-looking recipes. And when you find a particularly drool-worthy one, your first instinct is to race to the grocery store to buy all 20 ingredients, then jet home to grill, bake, roast, or saute them immediately. Well…don’t! Print out those highly-coveted new recipes and tuck them away in a binder (I use a plastic 3-ring binder – like the kind we had in grade school, except I’ve replaced the professions of love for the youngest Hanson brother with measurement conversions). Then, when the main ingredient of one of those I-can’t-wait-to-make-this recipes goes on sale, you can scoop it up and try the dish without compromising your budget.
Use an actual meal planner. I bought this “What to Eat” notepad at Anthropologie last year (then promptly lost it in a move), and to my unending joy, just recently found it! This is the easiest meal planner you could imagine, and even takes into account snacks. Plan out your week, then make your grocery list so you end up with exactly what you need; nothing more, nothing less. Plus, having it all laid out like this will help keep you honest (and by keep you honest, I mean keep you from ordering a $20 takeout meal in a panic of “I don’t know what to cook for dinner and am so hungry I could DIE”).
Be the master of your (ingredients’) destiny. Don’t feel like you need to have different main ingredients in every dinner for the week. Plan to buy two proteins and several veggies and get creative with your cooking! Grilled shrimp over spinach salad on Monday will have a much different feel than shrimp burgers with a side of sauteed garlicky spinach on Wednesday. As long as you have a couple grain staples, like brown rice and quinoa, and a well-stocked spice rack, you can create a great weekly menu without breaking the bank and buying 50 ingredients.
Read my blog. No elaboration necessary.