Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
Bethany Bachmann, 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 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 several 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 money.
- 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 brand.
- 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 later.
- 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
- 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: Monday, August 31, 2015