It’s really easy to look at healthy eating as an expensive venture. You obviously have to grocery shop at places like Whole Foods, buy expensive superfoods, and spend all your money to make sure everything in your cart is organic.  It can also feel impossible to eat all of the food you buy before it goes bad.  So all of those expensive, organic superfoods wind up in the trash rather than on your table.  It’s just easier to rely on the convenience foods you know and are cheaper, right?

Well, that’s not totally true. You can still have a healthy diet, save money, and cut down on food waste.  The one big tool you can use to keep your diet healthy, your costs down and lower the amount of food waste in your home is a simple one to implement daily.  Meal planning.  If you just take one or two days and plan out your weekly meals, you can make sure that you are getting in healthy meals and saving money.  Here are a few ways to meal plan that will keep you fueled and your wallet happy!

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1. Make A Menu/Grocery List

If you don’t already make a list before you go grocery shopping, start doing that immediately!  If you don’t know what you need, you can end up wandering the aisles and throwing whatever sounds good at the moment into your cart.  Usually, those items aren’t fresh fruits or vegetables, and they end up being more money than you would like to spend.  So start making a list of food that you need so you have a guideline once you get to the store.

While you’re making your grocery list, make a rough menu for the week as well.  Plan out the meals that you would like to make and then add the items, you don’t have to your list.  Aim to have bigger meals that rely on fresh produce at the beginning of the week.  That way you can use the produce before it goes bad and you will have leftovers (more on those later!) for lunches.  Make dinners that rely more on pantry staples, like soup or pasta, later in the week.  Just taking a few extra minutes on your list by making a menu can save you money and help you use your food wisely.

2. Embrace Leftovers

Leftovers are going to be your food budget/waste best friend.  Instead of buying more food for lunches throughout your week, plan to make your first few dinners a little larger and use the leftovers as your lunch.  Now you’re not wasting any food, and you’ve cut down your food cost by doubling up on a meal.  Don’t worry if you have more leftovers than you think you can eat.  Just portion them out into containers and freeze them.  Now you have a meal that you can pull out whenever you’re pressed for time or totally out of food!  Speaking of freezers…

3. Let Your Freezer Be Your Best Friend

Many times the freezer gets forgotten.  Most people just use it to keep their frozen treats cold and leave it at that.  The freezer is an AWESOME tool when it comes to saving money and cutting down on food waste.  If you’re super busy, and weeknight meals need to happen in a flash, spend a day making dinners for the week and throw them in the freezer.  You can pretty much freeze anything, and it really makes a different in your food budget.

4. Shop the Sales

Most grocery stores have an online or paper sale flyer.  Use these to your advantage!  Before you go grocery shopping see what produce is on sale that week.  Build your meals around the items that are cheaper that week.  This technique will have you eating seasonally which is good for your health and your wallet.  Foods that are in season are at the peak of their nutritional profile as well as being cheaper than other produce that isn’t in season.

Also, if your store has a bulk section, take advantage of that.  This allows you to buy items like grains, flours, nuts, and seeds in the amounts that you need.  If you only need a little for one recipe, you don’t have to waste money or food on a whole container.  If you do need a lot, bulk options usually are cheaper than the regular choices.  Just make sure to double check, so you aren’t spending more than you want.

5. Shop With The Dirty Dozen

Yes, organic is better but unfortunately, not everyone can afford all organic all the time.  If you can’t afford to buy organic apples but can afford conventional apples, that’s ok!  A conventional apple will always be better than a package of processed food in the end.  If you can afford some organic food, try to get the things that are on the dirty dozen list.  Food like oranges, avocados, bananas, and other produce with a peel or thick outer layer tend to have less pesticides, and you can get the conventional versions.  Just try to focus on the fresh produce you can afford and don’t stress if it isn’t organic.  You’re doing the best you can to feed you and your family well, and that is more important than an organic potato.

So, take the time each week to do a little meal planning.  It will help you use all of your food before it goes bad, buy only the things that you need, and keep you on track with a healthy diet.  Just a tiny step like this can lead to big, and better, changes in your healthy lifestyle!

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Image source: Gronsaker/Wikimedia Commons