Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
Bethany Schindler, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Perry County, University of Missouri Extension
With the school year in full swing, many of us are thinking about how to provide healthy, timely and inexpensive meals to our families. Between football practices, volleyball games, band performances, club meetings and all the other school related activities, we often find ourselves in the drive-thru lane at the nearest fast food chain. While dining out every once in a while is fine, hitting the drive-thru most nights of the week shouldn’t become a habit. When you do this, you are not only consuming excess calories, fat and sodium, but you are also missing a great opportunity to bond with your kids in the kitchen.
A better option is to take time each week to plan quick, healthy and easy-to-prepare meals. Here are a few tips for budget-friendly, time-friendly meals:
- Choose one day a
week (Saturday or Sunday works well) to do menu planning. Set aside
time that day to look for recipes and plan meals for the entire week.
- Consider making
your own meal system. For instance, Mondays are Mexican, Tuesdays
are Italian, Wednesdays are crock-pot meals, etc. Create your system
based on the wants and nutritional needs of your family. Also,
remember to include a night for leftovers so you don’t waste food or
- Be sure to
consider the nutritional quality of your meals while you are
planning. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Frozen
vegetables are a great alternative to fresh vegetables when they are
not in season, and are fairly inexpensive if purchasing the store
- Before planning
your meals and hitting the grocery store, inventory what you have on
hand. Check your pantry, garden, freezer and refrigerator for food
you can use that week. This will save you money at the grocery store
and reduce the amount of food that goes bad.
- Buy items at the
grocery store that are on sale that week. Some items you are looking
for may be on sale, and others may not. You can do a few different
things when what is on sale doesn’t match what you planned on
making. You can choose a different recipe to fit the sale items or
you can substitute. For instance, if you are planning to make tacos
but chicken is on sale instead of ground beef then make chicken tacos.
- Look for the “Manager’s Special” or reduced items. Many of these
items are a few days from their expiration or “best if used by”
date. You can usually save a substantial amount of money if you
purchase these items and work them into your meal plan. Meat such as
ground beef or chicken can be put in the freezer for later use. Milk
is also an item that is reduced for quick sale. You may be skeptical
of keeping it after the “best if used by” date, but it can be safely
stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days past the date on the
carton. Buying sale items that are close to expiration can be a big money saver
and is certainly worth it for
those families who will use it quickly.
- Use coupons! These
little pieces of paper are making a comeback in a big way. Weekend
newspapers, websites and in-store displays can provide you
with coupons for a wide array of items. If you do clip coupons,
review the coupon policy for the stores where you shop. Match the
coupons up with sale items in your store to increase your savings. Some
stores will double
coupons up to .50 or more. Some stores may also match the price of a
sale or coupon that is being offered by a competitor (be sure to
bring that coupon or store ad with you). If you don’t use coupons, consider giving
it a try. You may be able to purchase items for your menu that you
otherwise wouldn’t because of the price.
- It is well known
that the foods commonly known as being healthier are often more
expensive than their less healthy counterparts. When planning meals
and shopping, choose the healthier options when they are on sale or
if you can afford the extra. Opt for the whole wheat pastas instead
of regular varieties, or the Greek yogurt for more protein instead
of regular yogurt. By doing this, you will increase the nutritional
value of the meals you plan and prepare.
- After your grocery
shopping, take time to do any prep work you can in advance. When it
comes time to prepare the meal, you will be able to throw things
together in no time. For example, most vegetables can be washed and
cut in advance. If you buy extra meat while it is on sale, cook and
cut the meat to your liking before freezing it in order to save time
- Also, consider
using items that can be prepared once and used twice. Use the extra
grilled steak or chicken from one meal in a soup, salad or casserole
later in the week. Shred extra beef roast prepared in the
crock-pot for BBQ sandwiches or pot-pie on another day.
- If you simply cannot avoid the drive-thru during the week, help your children pick healthy options and be sure to model that behavior as well. Grilled chicken, salads, fruit and milk are some of the healthier options now being offered at many fast food chains.
Last update: Tuesday, September 10, 2013