When you have an unpredictable work schedule, a healthy, budget-conscious diet can be difficult to maintain. Add in the pressures of traveling and moving frequently as a consultant, and the challenge becomes even greater.
Since I’m always on the move and live alone, traditional money-saving tips such as buying in bulk often don’t jive with my lifestyle. So when I go to the grocery store, I’m intent on making every purchase count.
After running up quite the take-out bill (and gaining five extra pounds) last year, I gave myself the challenge of spending $40 or less each week on healthy, well-rounded groceries. The budget includes all breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Monday-Friday. And most weeks, I can make it happen — with room to spare.
What tips have worked best for me?
1. Plan each and every meal.
Although it takes an extra half an hour each weekend, I sit down and write out what I plan to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks every day during the coming week.
My number one principle when meal-planning is that any ingredient purchased must be used in multiple recipes. And since I know exactly what meals are on deck for the week, I can write down the precise amount of produce I need, meaning less food waste. My indicator of a successful grocery week is an almost-bare fridge and produce bowl on Sunday morning.
2. Build meals around inexpensive ingredients.
Whole wheat pasta, quinoa and brown rice are all inexpensive, healthy ingredients that often go on sale. I bulk up my meals with these items and swap out the vegetables, meats and sauces. All of these items can be frozen effectively, which cuts down on my meal prep time for the week and helps me resist expensive, preservative-laden frozen dinners.
3. Shop in season and on sale.
Eating healthy, balanced meals is a priority for me during the week. Unfortunately, most traditional coupons are for highly processed or otherwise unhealthy food, and buying organic or sustainable products is often pricier than traditional options.
Luckily, budget-friendly shopping is still possible. While preparing my meal plans, I examine the weekly ad for my local grocery stores and try to build recipes around produce on sale. I buy in-season items whenever possible, and head to the frozen aisle for the other stuff. And I will occasionally use coupons when they’re available for basics such as bread, dairy products and coffee, so I always do a quick search of free online coupon sites before my shopping trip.