...because we all have our motley moments!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Financial Fun: A Healthy Budget

Not too long ago I started having some health issues that made me rethink the way I live-- especially the way I eat. In misguided attempts to save money, I was feeding myself and my family food that was sub-par as far as health goes. It has taken a while, but I have found that it is still possible to provide healthy meals in our household, even though we are on a strict budget. I have a budget of $300 a month ($350 a month when there are five shopping days).

  • I had to sacrifice junk to get the good food we need. We may not have "fun" foods like chips and soda, but we have a produce drawer full of colorful fruits and veggies, and a freezer full of lean meats. Our pantry is full of good stuff, too.
  • I have "magic numbers" when I shop. Teresa taught me this a while ago--she only buys produce when it is $1 a pound or less. This saves money, and most of the time the produce at that price is what is seasonally and locally available, which makes it even better. I will go a few cents over, but that's it. The same goes for meat. I know I can get fresh chicken tenderloins at Sam's Club for $2.17 a pound, and I won't pay more at the grocery store. If necessary, I buy lots at SC and freeze it so that we always have lean meat for meals. This week boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound at Publix, so that is certainly an acceptable purchase.
  • I stock up on dry goods and other non-perishables only when they are on sale. I can buy whole grain pasta at two boxes for $1.39 about every six weeks. I buy it then and only then, and I buy enough to make it to the next sale.
  • I create a detailed shopping list before I go to the store so that I know exactly how much I'm spending ahead of time. If I'm over budget, I edit the list. I keep a running total on my calculator at the store to be sure I'm not surprised at the check out. I only spend the money budgeted for that trip. Period.
  • I weigh the produce before it goes into the cart. If I don't weigh it, I won't know how much it will cost.
  • I don't meal plan, but I do have a plan for what I buy so that I know it will be eaten. For example, not one person in my household eats carrots or celery regularly. I don't buy them anymore. I used to because they're "healthy," but that only served to enrich the compost pile. If I buy an ingredient we're not accustomed to having, I make a plan for it's use before it comes home.
  • Ready for the paradox? I buy the best. I never want a meal in this house to be a disappointment compared to an unhealthy meal. Spending a few bucks more on good food that will be eaten is much better than spending a few less bucks on food we will avoid until it needs to be thrown away. Like carrots and celery. :)
  • I ensure that what I buy will be eaten. More on budget friendly kitchen organization next week. :)
I'm sure you have some great advice on this subject, and I'm always learning, so let's hear it!


Bryssy said...

Another great post, Rachel! I do meal plan, but in a very basic way.

I do 5 or 6 days of dinner plans during the week and I plan 1 month at a time because I purchase most of our meats from SHARE.

Day 1: Pasta Dish
Day 2: Stir Fry
Day 3: Chicken or Pork Chops & Veggies
Day 4: Mama's Tired (Mac & Cheese, grilled cheese sammys or something else simple - sometimes cereal)
Day 5: Pizza
Day 6: Egg Dish - often strata, omelet, or "eggs in a frame"
Day 7: Leftover Buffet (if necessary)

I keep my plan simple and I try to keep the cost of the main dish at or below $3.00. Sides include whole grain brown rice, sweet potatoes, and veggies of which we have 1 or more. Most leftovers go to work with daddy - any leftover veggies that aren't eaten are added to our pizza or pasta sauce.

I also keep my staple - Special Salad - which can be breakfast, a salad, snack or dessert! My kids can eat their weight in it and it doesn't make me feel at all bad.

The recipe is easy:
1 small container of low fat or fat free cool whip
1 container of fat free cottage cheese
1 package of sugar free jello (my kids like pink - aka cherry) but any flavor works
1 can, drained of pineapple or other fruit (oranges, bananas, peaches are all good)
(optional - a handful or more of nuts - your choice)

We call it "Special" because if we called it "Cottage Cheese Salad" no one would eat it! :-)

Rachel said...

That's a great menu plan, Bryssy--I get so caught up in details that I get frustrated and don't follow through. Maybe your simple plan could make me into a meal planner yet! Thanks for posting the Special Salad recipe--I had already forgotten about it, and I'm so glad you reminded me! It sounds like the perfect summer staple for us!

Bryssy said...

No problem, Rachel. I can't do specific planning. We also don't necessarily eat the menu in that order, it's just a general list for the week. And, it's pretty easy to keep track of.

I tried more specific planning but it was too involved for me to keep up with. This lets me make a monthly list that I can modify as SHARE, weekly sales and such come out and doesn't mess me up.

I stay messed up most of the time anyway!

Lindsay said...

I came here and posted a reply yesterday, but just realized that it never posted.......that's annoyting.

In a nutshell....I just get the weekly add for the grocery store I like to shop at, which is usually Winn-dixie. Then I see what they have for sale that month, and decide if I need it or not. I have a list on my phone of the basics we need every 2 weeks, and put those to lists together to form my grocery list for the week.

I don't meal plan per say, but I do have a list of "meals that I have ingrediants for" on my fridge. So each morning I look at that list to see what I need to pull out of the freezer to thaw for dinner. I have to have meat at every dinner (per my diet, and for my husbands "high motabalism" diet). So I try to not have the same type of meat twice in a row. For example, chicken on Monday, Pork on Tuesday, Beef on Wednesdsay.... I have pretty much cut out all side dishes now. So we just eat meat, a veggie, and fruit for dessert. That alone has saved me money.

Rachel said...

Lindsay, I think that you eating meat, a veggie, and fruit is a key point in this--usually the simpler a meal is, the less it costs, and the healthier it is. Big recipes are expensive and usually contain unhealthy ingredients.

Your approach to meal planning is basically what I do. I have ingredients on hand that I can turn into dinner very quickly, as long as I've remembered to defrost the meat! Another nice part of that is that my husband is able to make dinner himself in the event that I'm out of the house. Meals are rarely complicated!

Karly said...

Rachel, can you give some examples of what meals you serve during the week? I am still trying to figure out how to eat healthy on a budget, and I am finding it difficult. Of course, the cost of living up here is insane!! But I think I could be spending less than I do right now.

Bryssy, I am totally going to make that "special salad"! It sounds delicious!! I think I could eat my weight in it, too. Ha!

I also make a list of dinner possibilities when I get home from the grocery store, and I choose from the list what works for our schedule day-to-day. I think I could be better of about making a plan before I go to the store though.

Rachel said...

Karly, I rarely make "recipes" around here--like Lindsay, we have very simple meals. I grill chicken breasts (that I buy for 1.99 a pound), microwave the steam-in-bag veggies without sauce (that I buy several bags of when they are on sale), and serve it with a salad. I like whole-grain couscous, too, because it is so easy and fast to cook (I stock up on that when it's on sale). Another trick I use is I bake a 9x13 pan of brown rice (not the quick cooking kind--the long-cooking kind is healthier and costs much less) and I serve it all week. It's an easy go-to side.

The secret to getting the cost down for me is knowing what we are "allowed" to eat (in other words, what is healthy for us) and finding the best deals on that. When I started investigating what I was buying, I found it was pretty easy to cut costs by weeding out the junk and unnecessary stuff. I still allow for treats, but only after I have bought nourishing food and I know that there is money left in the budget for them.

On another note, I have a horrible secret--I don't miss an episode of Wife Swap. Tonight's swap involved a family affected by unemployment, and they claimed that they could not eat healthily because they didn't have the money. Their diet included chili cheese fries, processed "cheese," pizza, and other sickening foods. They claimed they couldn't afford fresh veggies and fruits. Trust me, the money they must have been spending on that...stuff would absolutely have bought better food. When it comes down to it, I truly believe it's a matter of priorities and paying attention at the store. End of rant. Did anyone else see that show?

Lindsay said...

Here are some typical meals at our house:

Hamburgers, and Corn on the Cob

Sloppy Joes (to use up the buns) with Green Beans (my recipe: 1 jar chili sauce mixed with 1 lb lean ground beef)

Grilled Chicken (with whatever seasoning I'm in the mood for), and a side salad..which can be turning into chicken salad.

Jalepenio chicken (1 chicken breast sprinkled with cheese and a diced jalepino) the kids don't get the jalepenio...my favorite. With Brocoli

Ham with a sweet potato and a salad for me.

Pork chops and Carrots

Spaghetti and a salad

Smoked Sausage, Greenbean and Potatos...mixed together, we ate this all the time growing up. (I don't eat the potato)

You get the idea. It's really a meal, and veggie. Nothing fancy, no recipes. And I always have fruit on hand too.. Applesauce, oranges, apples, melon, grapes, strawberries......