As each New Year rolls around, the two most common resolutions are to "lose weight" and "improve finances." Unfortunately, those goals can sometimes seem to conflict, and the resolutions are abandoned by March. The good news is you don't have to wait until New Year's Day to make a change and having a healthier waistline and a healthier bottom line can go hand in hand.
The most common advice for losing weight is "Eat less, exercise more." That's a start, but healthier eating is a lifestyle change, just like becoming more frugal. And although "Spend less, save more" is a good start toward being more frugal, we usually need more specific strategies to make it work. The same is true for changing our nutritional habits. So, here are some of the strategies our household has found for tackling both lifestyle changes at once.
Avoid Convenience Foods
Not only are they more expensive, but they also tend to contain astronomical quantities of hidden fats, sugar, and salt. Sure, you can include those things when you're cooking from scratch, but at least it's much harder to fool yourself. When you make your own foods, you give yourself a chance to make smarter choices about nutrition as well as cost.
The ultimate convenience food is eating out. In general, it's also the most expensive in terms of calories as well as dollars. Although most of us enjoy eating out socially, it takes a double toll when we do it too often.
Whether you plant an acre or just a few pots on the patio, growing your own food provides triple benefits. Your grocery bill goes down, your nutrition improves, and you get the added bonus of increased activity. Make the most of your efforts by preserving as much as possible to carry you through the colder months.
Even in the smallest apartment, you can at least plant a windowsill herb garden. Fresh herbs can be rather expensive when purchased at the supermarket. Instead, snip them in your own kitchen to provide a burst of low-calorie (or no-calorie) flavor that costs just pennies.
Eat in Season
Whether you garden or not, at least choose to buy local produce and fresh foods when they're in season. They'll be at their lowest price of the year and at the peak of taste and nutritional content. If you buy local, you'll also be supporting small growers who pay attention to quality. In addition, you'll be providing yourself appealing alternatives to more expensive, higher calorie foods.
Make Your Own Stock
All the TV chefs talk about it, but who has the time? Just about anyone does! It takes no more time to toss those veggie peels and onion tops into a freezer container than it does to toss them in the trash. Drop in a leftover ham bone or chicken wing, if you like. The next time that you're home for a couple of hours cover the whole thing with water and simmer until it smells really good. You don't have to babysit the stuff; just check the water level now and then. Strain and refrigerate, skim any fat after it cools, then freeze in small quantities.
Why bother? Homemade stock is virtually free, since it's made from ingredients you'd normally throw away. But, it's also practically calorie-free (if skimmed) and packs a rich punch of flavor, which makes it a wonderful substitute for butter, oil, and other high-cal ingredients in your favorite recipes. If nothing else, it'll make your next vegetable stew taste so good you won't be tempted to have a cheeseburger instead!
Reduce Meat Consumption
Meat is usually the most expensive part of the grocery budget, and it's also usually the highest in fat. You don't have to become a vegetarian, but most of us can cut the amount of meat we eat and still enjoy the taste.
If you're not careful, meatless meals can still be both expensive and high-calorie, especially if they contain lots of eggs and dairy products. Instead, try substituting beans and other plant proteins. They're naturally low fat and normally very inexpensive. When you do include meat in your meals, make sure you buy lean cuts. They tend to be easy on the budget as well as on the waistline. Simply reduce the quantity you use by incorporating them into nutritious soups, stews, casseroles and stir-fries instead of serving them alone.
Practice OAMC Cooking
While we don't always have time to do a full month's meals at once, cooking in bulk and freezing for later has become an important strategy in our two-career household. Those evenings when we come home late and exhausted are the most tempting times to blow our budget and our waistlines. If we've planned ahead and made wise choices, we can pop something out of the freezer that is nutritious and inexpensive. And, at our house, that's a much more appealing option than sitting in a fast food line or waiting for pizza delivery!
Buy in Bulk
Especially if you can't find the time for OAMC cooking, keeping the pantry well stocked can make a world of difference. When you buy in bulk, you have the opportunity to find the best prices. As a bonus, you also have the chance to make smart food choices that will last for a while.
When your pantry is stocked with a variety of nutritious ingredients, you'll find it much easier to talk yourself into cooking a healthy meal, even if you're tired and hungry. That's good for your pocketbook and for your waistline!
Plan for Portion Control
Those second and third helpings pad your grocery budget as well as your waistline. To minimize the temptation, package bulk purchases in smaller containers as soon as you get home. Put away the excess in hard-to-reach storage space or freeze it, leaving only a reasonable amount at hand. You'll have to think twice before digging out the rest when you're in the mood to binge.
At mealtime, many recipes yield enough for leftovers. Put the extra food directly into the fridge or freezer before serving. That way there will only be enough on the table to satisfy everyone without tempting them to take seconds and thirds. Most of us won't go back for more if we have to reheat it from the fridge or freezer.
Trim Down Holidays and Celebrations
Sounds a little "cheap," doesn't it? It's not! Many of us celebrate everything from Christmas to family reunions by loading the table with high-calorie (and somewhat expensive) dishes. It's not necessary, though. Most of your friends and family would probably agree that they'd also like to cut calories and costs.
When you plan for the next get-together, enlist everyone's help in making fewer dishes, focusing on better nutrition. You'll probably be surprised by the positive response.
If you're afraid this idea will make your celebrations seem a bit meager, try focusing on other ways to bring the family together and make new traditions. Go caroling one evening at Christmas. (Or, if you have a voice like mine, just gaze at the lights!) Make an annual Thanksgiving trip to a museum on free night. Arrange a touch-football game or Frisbee toss for the 4th of July picnic. And for reunions, what could be better than home movie night? Kids and adults alike will begin to look forward to these traditions even more than a loaded table.
Institute Family Dinner Time
Last, but certainly not least, make it a priority to have sit-down meal time each evening. Due to hectic schedules and the lure of television, many of us have gotten into the habit of "grazing" from the time we get home until bedtime. Having a family dinnertime brings everyone to the table and establishes the time to eat. That saves money and calories.
More importantly, family dinnertime is a connection for which there is no substitute. The people around your dinner table are the ones who benefit most from your frugality and your health. If nothing else, that daily reminder can be just enough motivation to keep you going when the going gets tough!
I wish I could say that these strategies have made me a svelte size 5 with a grocery budget of $15 a week. They haven't. (At least not yet!) But, they have definitely improved the way I feel about my family's health, both physical and financial. And isn't that the most important lifestyle change of all?
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