"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." - La Rochefoucald
We spend much of our waking lives thinking about food. We devote time to preparing food, buying food and worrying about how food affects our waistlines. What we don’t spend enough time thinking about is the role food plays on our emotions, our stress levels, our overall health, and our budget. Well, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in because we're going to talk about everything (almost) you need to know to start getting your nutritional game on point. We'll look at:
- The relationship between food and stress
- Protein (both meat and non-meat sources)
- The little ways you can save on your food budget (that will add up to great savings)
- Meal planning (so you can organize and apply a little mindfulness to meeting your nutritional needs)
- The hidden cost of junk food (and it's probably not one you've thought about!)
- Buying in bulk to save money (so you can afford that quality nutrition)
- Creating an evergreen pantry (so you can pull it all together)
Ready....let's do this
Only...it's going to look like this
FOOD AND STRESS
The right amount and combination of food can not only provide energy and satisfy our taste buds, it can also reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Food influences our moods, our sleep patterns, and our cognitive abilities.
Food can act as a natural medicine that alleviates or even prevents some of the negative health effects of long-term stress.
Choosing a diet primarily based on whole foods and limiting refined foods, especially sugar, helps reduce symptoms of anxiety.
While protein is an important part of a balanced diet, consuming too much protein in your daily diet could be negatively influencing your mood and increasing stress and anxiety levels.
Conversely, a low-protein, carbohydrate-rich diet (full of starches, vegetables, and fruits) results in the highest levels of serotonin in the brain, because fewer large-molecule amino acids are competing with tryptophan to enter the brain. For you this means less hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and insomnia-provided you eat that healthier diet. https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/health-science/common-health-problems/depression-and-anxiety/
Meats are a great source of protein but can also be high in saturated fat and calories. Additionally, many health professionals recommend restricting the intake of red meat.
So it's a bit of a balancing act. We need protein, but we need to choose our sources, and our serving sizing wisely.
If you are looking to reduce, or eliminate meat from your diet, but not ready to take the vegetarian route, fish is an excellent source of protein. Additionally, many fish sources are a rich source of healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
We often forget that, in addition to meat and fish, there are plant-based sources of protein such as nuts. Nuts, in addition to being delicious, have the added benefit of being high in fiber
No matter which source, we get our protein from, whether it's meat, fish or plant-based, calories still matter.
Let's look at some ways to burn the calories from our most commonly selected forms of protein:
SIMPLE WAYS TO SAVE ON YOUR FOOD BUDGET
Do you have a budget? I mean an honest to goodness budget where you consistently calculate your expected income, determine your household expenses and monitor/adjust/balance the flow on a regular basis? If you are like 2/3 of Americans, the answer is "no."
The good news is that, no matter what your income, if you do not have a budget, you probably have more money than you think. The bad news is that, no matter what your income, if you do not have a budget, you are probably spending more money than you think.
And the combination of overspending and the feeling of not knowing where your money is going is a wonderful recipe for financial stress.
So, let's do a little "food budgeting 101"
Every budget has two basic categories on the expense side: fixed and controllable. Fixed items are those that are basically going to remain the same month after month - rent or mortgage, car payment, student loans. Controllables are items that you have the ability to - well, control. And, no surprise, food costs are actually one of the biggest controllables in our personal budgets.
Here is the easiest way to start to "controlling" your food budget. Beginning on the 1st of the month save every single receipt spent on food items. Whether it's a $1.99 cup of coffee, a restaurant meal, a pizza delivery or a grocery store trip; if you spent money for it, record it. Now check what you are spending your money on consistently (at least twice a week). Start with the small items - that's where you can make the biggest impact with the least effort.
When I first made out my own personal food budget I noticed that I was spending $2 every morning to buy coffee. Doesn't seem like much, but that $2 a day adds up to $ 730 a year! When I realized that I was blowing almost a grand a year on coffee, I purchased a coffee maker and a year supply of filters (total cost $14) and a giant insulated travel coffee mug. Now I buy a bag of Seattle's Best coffee and a giant container of creamer every three weeks for about $10.00. I get the same value (delicious hot coffee every morning) but after the initial $14 investment, it only costs about $170 a year. That's a saving of $560 a year.
The "little things" we overlook can often carry a hidden, but hefty, price tag over the long run.
Coffee may not be your thing, but maybe your list will show you how much you are spending hitting the vending machine a couple times a week for a bag of chips or the coffee shop for a muffin. For every food dollar spent outside the grocery store, check out how much that item is costing you over an annual period. You then can make the decision to either eliminate that item - or explore ways to keep the item but pay less.
Bottom line: if you are looking to save money, the absolute starting point is finding out exactly where your food dollars are going and asking yourself - how much am I REALLY spending and how can I get the same value for less money? The answer might surprise you.
Having a practical weekly meal plan is essential. Having both the "right" foods on hand, and a simple plan for the ways you will prepare them is one way make sure we don't just think about eating healthy - we actually do it! And having a meal plan removes the daily "what's for dinner?" stress.
Meal planning is also the most effective way to
- minimize food waste
- help you reach your budget goals
- save time at the grocery store
At first, it can seem a little overwhelming to come up with an entire week's worth of meals at one sitting. But, after you've done it a few times, it's easy peasy.
Begin your plan with a quick inventory of your kitchen so you know what you already have on hand, what items you need to use before expiration and what staples you may be low on. Next, you realistically access how much time you are going to have (and are willing to spend) on meal preparation on each day.
So...let's get started.
Dinner is the meal, especially if you are feeding a family, that takes up most of our time, energy and money.
We'll create a sample meal plan for dinner, assuming a budget goal of $56 for three people, and based on a week where 30-45 mins is the desired time from prep to oven to table.
First, create a basic outline of what you want each of your meals to contain for the next seven days. Let's go with each meal having a main dish and one or two side dishes
Our sample menu looks like this:
When thinking about the inclusion of a particular item of food, consider first and foremost, how many ways it can be used that week.
As you can see, Monday's baked chicken and Tuesday's meatloaf can also become chili, tacos and/or stirfry later in the week.
And, if you examine which veggies are used in each meal, you'll notice that I'm primarily using the same veggies - just prepared different ways for different meals.
Meats (if refrigerated not frozen) are best used within three/four days of cooking and most cut (fresh) veggies within seven days. That means planning dishes like a stirfry/soup/stew/casserole toward the end of the week will ensure that none of your prepped veggies and/or cooked leftover meat goes to waste.
A meal plan, if properly outlined, will give you enough flexibility to creatively modify your meals without extra time, money or stress.
THE HIDDEN COST OF JUNK FOOD
"I can't afford to eat healthy"...
People always point out that junk food is cheaper than fresh produce. And I say "yep, that's legit." I can walk into my local grocery store and buy a family size bag of potato chips for $2.50, but a bag of 16 apples will cost me $4.00.
But, let's really look at it.
Now, I like potato chips as much as the next girl, but there is not a darn thing I can do with a bag of chips but eat too many at once and hate myself in the morning.
But that bag of apples that cost a dollar fifty more? There are 16 apples in that bag and I can grab a couple for snacks, chop a couple to add bulk and variety to a basic salad, slice a couple more into rings sprinkled with nutmeg/cinnamon for a flavorful meat topping, stuff the core of a few and bake for a bomb side dish, puree a few and combine with a small amount of sugar for alternative pancake topping, and still have a few left over for quick and easy tarts.
So, unless you can use that $1.50 you saved to buy pancake syrup, a salad ingredient, a side dish, a meat topping and a dessert, you haven't saved any money.
Ideally, you can create your meal plan and shopping list based on already having a well-stocked kitchen.
That means...buying in bulk.
BUYING IN BULK
Here's the beauty of buying in bulk:
- Your overall food cost will be lower than if you purchased the same items on a weekly or bi-weekly basis
- You will ultimately save A LOT of time in reduced shopping trips
- If you're like me and HATE going to the grocery store, especially at the last minute or after a long day, you can totally avoid that particular bit of stress
So, let's keep it simple. The food items you want to think about when making bulk purchases:
If it's an item that you know you will use on a regular (i.e. daily, weekly or at least bi-weekly) basis, it get's a green light. If it's only going to sit in your freezer or on a shelf for 12 months, no matter how good the price was, it was wasted money and time.
Think Ease of Preparation & Storage
Bulk purchases should not only be easy to store but should require minimal preparation before storing. If you are not an experienced canner, then it's probably not a good idea to buy that bushel of tomatoes!
Think Seasonal for Produce
Although you can buy pretty much any fruit or vegetable year-round, you'll get the best value, in terms of nutritional quality and price, by buying local produce in season.
A good start is to plan two seasonal trips purchasing vegetables such as kale, collards, winter squashes in the late fall/winter and fruits such as berries and peaches in the summer.
Buying in bulk should following the "Three R's":
I didn't follow the "Three R's" when I first started buying in bulk and building my own pantry many years ago. The result was several...interesting...meals.
There is a natural consequence of buying in bulk. Eventually, you find that you have created a well-stocked "evergreen" kitchen/pantry!
And, having an evergreen pantry is not just for folks with large families - it's the ideal situation even if you are a party of one. Not only are you going to save money and time, reduce your stress and find it easier to meet your nutritional goals - having an evergreen pantry means that you also have an emergency food store on hand - without the emergency shopping!
If you live in an area with severe seasonal weather conditions, you’ve probably experienced the joys of the last minute “stock up on food” run to the grocery store. Long lines, inflated prices, half-empty shelves, and wrestling that 80-year-old lady for the last jug of milk.
Personally, I’ve lived through everything from hurricanes in Florida to black ice in Tennessee to blizzards in Chicago. And, no matter the state, I know I'd much rather be at home sipping on a hot mug of cocoa while everybody else is out wrestling over that last jug of milk!
CREATING AN EVERGREEN PANTRY
If you have the right combination of items on hand, you can actually prepare at least 100 different meals, from breakfast to dinner entrees to desserts to snacks to soup.
If you're wondering how you can bake without eggs - flax seed meal is both a nutritious and delicious substitute for eggs!
THE BOTTOM LINE
A little meal planning, bulk shopping, and strategic pantry building are a few of the key ways we can make sure we are on top of our nutritional game without straining even the strictest budget.
READY TO EXPLORE MORE?
- TIPS TRICKS & TIMESAVERS FOR SUMMER COOKING
- ANTI STRESS DIET
- STRESSED AND ANXIOUS? USING CAST IRON COOKWARE MAY HELP
- Is Eating At Night Bad For You?
- Is Chocolate Really Good for You?
- Nourishing body and soul – healthy southern cooking
- Emotional Eating-The Brain/Mood/Food Connection
- 4 daily fruits for weight loss
- How Skipping Breakfast Can Ruin Your Day – Before It Even Starts!