Dinnertime on Thursday night and there's nothing to eat at home.|
What's more, your wallet is as depleted as the cupboard, so going out for pizza isn't an alternative.
If this is becoming routine, you may need to brush up on mealtime economics so you can keep your cupboard full of ingredients for a healthful diet.
This is a two-step process.
You need a plan for shopping as well as easy-to-follow tips for good nutrition.
To be a dollar-smart consumer, see what foods you already have on hand, then look for and shop the supermarket sales, says Jody Gatewood, assistant state nutrition program specialist, human sciences extension, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Schedule your purchases into menus for one, even two weeks, so you're not running to the supermarket every day after work to get supplies for dinner.
In fact, the less often you shop the better to avoid overspending, according to Gatewood.
MyPlate, a graphic that divides a dinner plate according to how much you should eat from each food group, can inspire healthy eating. The nutrition guide from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits; one-fourth with protein and one-fourth with grains with a glass of milk on the side (visit: choosemyplate.gov).
Start with vegetables and fruit.
"When people look at eating healthy being too expensive, one of the first things they consider is that fruits and vegetables are too expensive," says Isabel Maples, registered dietitian, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson.
Not so, says Maples, offering suggestions to save on produce:
-- Eat fresh in season for the best prices and quality.
-- Don't be a snob about fresh, however. "People have this 'perfection nutrition' mentality, that only fresh fruits and vegetables are suitable. Frozen at peak vegetables are healthy," says Maples, in the Washington D.C. area.
-- Include canned vegetables and beans in your shopping list, choosing no-salt added versions when available.
Protein is another part of the plate that needn't be pricy, especially if beans are on the menu.
"I'm always encouraging people to try beans," Gatewood says.
Use half as much beef as you would in a stew or soup and stretch the dish with beans.
Serve chicken or ground beef and bean tacos or beef and bean chili.
When you're using ground beef in tacos or a similar dish, buy the cheaper beef with a higher fat content and drain off the fat.
"You don't have to buy the most expensive lean ground beef. Even for meatloaf. Bake the loaf on a rack in a pan so the grease can drain down," Gatewood says.
Don't overlook other economical, non-traditional protein foods for dinner.
Eggs are a bargain, says Barbara O'Neill, Ph.D., financial resource management specialist, Rutgers, The State University, of New Jersey, New Brunswick campus.
Quinoa, which is often served as a grain, is a low-cost protein.
And you don't have to look too hard to find canned tuna on sale. Stock up when the price is right, O'Neill says.
Grains are usually the more economical part of the plate, unless you buy seasoned mixes. Add your own spices and herbs to side dishes for a fraction of the cost.
Whole grains, like brown rice, provide more nutrients than their refined counterparts and may be no more expensive.
For more economical meals, becoming a smarter shopper and avoiding food waste, a new budget version of MyPlate offers great tips. Visit choosemyplate.gov/budget/index.html.
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