There seems to be a mass misunderstanding among Americans that cheap food cannot be good for you. If you watch TV commercials, you will see what I mean. I can go down the street to Taco Bell and get a “value” meal for $4. Or I can go over to McDonald’s and get a Mini Meal for $3. I’ve heard personal stories on TV from people struggling with obesity: “My mom tried to do her best, but we were poor so we ate a lot of fast food.”
What?!?! We don’t eat fast food because money is tight! Not that we would eat much of it if we had more money. But the point is that I can feed my family a healthy meal at home for a lot less than at a fast food restaurant. Three or four dollars doesn’t sound like that much for a meal, but multiply that times five, add sales tax (9.25% where I live), and it would cost us $16.39-$21.85 to eat one meal at Taco Bell or McDonald’s.
When I am planning my meals, I try to aim for $5 per dinner—for the whole family. While this sounds almost impossible, it isn’t so bad if you follow a few simple rules.
- Use meat sparingly. Better yet, cut it out and replace it with other sources of complete proteins (e.g. grains and legumes, eggs).
- Cook more than you need. If you’ve prepared a freezable meal, divide it up into useable portions for another night’s dinner or another day’s lunch and keep it in the freezer to reheat when ready. If the meal you prepared will not freeze well, eat the leftovers another night or pack them as lunches.
- Buy plain, dry ingredients. Dried beans are much more economical than canned beans and don’t contain all the added salt and sugar (yes, they add sugar to canned beans). Regular rice, white or brown, costs a lot less than processed minute-type rices or bagged or boxed rice mixes. Dry pasta is cheaper than refrigerated.
- Use frozen vegetables. Vegetables mainly come fresh, canned, or frozen. Of these three options, canned is the most expensive and the least nutritious. The canning process causes the breakdown of nutrients. And unless you are buying fresh produce from a farmer’s market or farm stand or are growing your own, frozen vegetables are more nutritious than “fresh.” Frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of being harvested. This stops the breakdown of nutrients. They are also usually cheaper than fresh vegetables and are much easier to store and keep on hand.
- Plan your meals. By planning your meals ahead of time, you can make meals that use the same ingredients so nothing goes to waste and you need to buy less.