Health Doesn't Happen By Accident

From Guest Blogger: Tiffany Edwards
I was a twenty-year old bride eager to occupy the kitchen, even if I didn’t have a hot clue where to begin or what to do. Here I am, twelve years later with six hungry mouths to feed on a single income. My number one goal is to be healthy and not to go broke doing it. I write to you not as one with a lofty education, stellar credentials or a gourmet kitchen. I come simply because I want to people to know that eating healthy on a budget is not only possible, but enjoyable.
While there are endless ideas concerning healthy eating and money saving, I have chosen my top five tips. No two situations are the same, so modify as needed. Although much may be different, one thing is the same: we must make healthy choices in order to live healthy lives. Here are five ways that I try to do just that:

1.) Have a plan
Healthy eating and healthy money habits don’t happen by accident. Healthy choices are things we do on purpose to benefit our bodies, families and communities. Shopping on a budget and eating healthy meals are things that can’t happen unless we make a plan.
Here’s how to do it:
  • find a few recipes. Call a friend, peruse Pinterest, check out a cookbook from the library. Find recipes that fit your budget and schedule, and write them down.
  • make a menu. I plan my menu for two weeks at a time. I do this with my calendar in hand so I can see what is happening in life and what I need to plan meals around. You can do your menu for one week at a time or one month at a time, whatever you prefer. Arriving home late with hungry kids and no dinner plan is never fun. Planning ahead will keep you away from fast food and often prevents overspending.
  • make a shopping list. I am a person that will go into a store and come out with $100 worth of condiments and a half gallon of ice cream if I don’t have a list. I will have a little of this and a little of that, which leaves me running to the store to get the one more ingredient I need for dinner. Then I buy another $80 worth of ‘good deals’... You get the picture. Take your menu and make a shopping list. Shopping lists save so much money if you stick to them.
2.) Shop sales
I was standing in line as the woman in front of me was checking out. The cashier rang up a bag of oranges. She was alarmed by the high cost and asked the cashier to check the price. He verified the cost and she shrugged as she put them in her bag. I had purchased the same produce at a different store twenty minutes before for a fraction of the cost because they were on sale. I knew this only because I had looked at the sale ads and made my list (and my menu) based on what was on sale.
I understand this can mean shopping at more than one store, and for many that is a challenging task. There are days I do and days I don’t because life is always different. I will say however, that if you want to eat healthy and save money, the best option is to shop multiple stores to capitalize on the sales.
Notice that I didn’t mention coupons. I don’t have an issue with coupons and I will use them as often as I can. Many times however, if you are not careful, coupons can cost you money. I will see a coupon for a product that I don’t typically buy, but because I am saving thirty-five cents, I clip it and spend the $3.25. Also, coupons are typically for name brand items when often, the generic brand, which is comparable in quality, is still significantly less. While this is not true for all coupon situations, be careful of coupons as you don’t always come out ahead.

3.) Stack your meals
One of the first things I did when we got married was find women I could learn from. My friend Cristy had two children and a full-time student for a husband. She knew how to cook and she knew how to save. She introduced me to a simple concept that literally changed my life: stacking meals.
I remember her showing up at my house with a whole chicken. What in the world are we going to do with that? I wondered. She explained the concept of boiling a chicken until it fell apart. We added the wilted celery and the forgotten onion from the dark corner of the fridge. We added the wrinkled carrot, a few bay leaves and enough water to cover the chicken. We turned it on medium and let it simmer itself to perfection. After letting it cool, we removed all the chicken, shredded the meat, discarded what was unwanted and transferred the broth to glass bowls to put in the freezer. I then planned two or three meals that used shredded chicken (chicken pot pie, a chicken salad, chicken soups...the possibilities are endless!) I also used the chicken broth for recipes calling for chicken broth. The first time I got three meals out of a $4 chicken, my life was forever changed.
Watch for sales on whole turkeys, hams or chickens. Roast, bake or boil. You can freeze what you don’t use right away if you want more diversity in your menu than eating chicken for three nights straight. This works for veggies too! If you enjoy basil, but find basil to be expensive, buy it and plan several meals that call for basil. This concept works with any ingredient.
4.) Avoid pre-made meals, snacks and drinks
As I navigated the aisles of my local grocery and writing this article in my head, I was asking myself what I did differently than others that allowed me to feed a family of six on a meager budget. I observed other carts and other shopper’s choices and there was one major difference I saw: I don’t buy snacks. Boxed ones that is. I don’t buy soda or pre-made beverages. I don’t buy the pre-made pot stickers or expensive microwave popcorn. I buy a limited amount of breakfast cereals and avoid things like breakfast bars and instant oatmeal packets. These things add up really, really fast.
These choices are often high in sugar, sodium, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and more. Purchasing a bag of old fashioned popcorn kernels and popping them in your own pot at home is much healthier (you choose the amount of oil you add) and so much cheaper! It only takes a few minutes longer. Pop some extra and put it into small containers for an easy snack or lunch addition. Cheap and healthy.
We have a saying on our house: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry. Snacks are not only expensive, they are often unhealthy. Take a bag of baby carrots for example. A bag of baby carrots will sell for around $2 while a bag of chips or box of crackers will cost $3 or more. Not only will the carrots benefit your body, brain and waistline, they will also benefit your checkbook. Save your money, boost your health and avoid the junk-food aisles.
5.) Do ahead
I understand that being healthy, making a plan and shopping multiple stores require more than intentionality, they require time. I understand that cooking a balanced meal and having healthy snacks available for growing kids with busy schedules requires a lot of time. Because I understand this, I not only plan ahead, I make ahead.
Take a Saturday morning or a Wednesday evening to brown meat, chop veggies, make granola (super easy!) or shred cheese. Purchasing things like pre-made bacon or shredded cheese only adds cost to the product and often sacrifices quality. Spend less and purchase the block of cheese or the pound of bacon to prep ahead of time and freeze what you don’t plan to use right away. You can boil a dozen eggs, peel them and put them in a well-sealed container. They will keep several days in the fridge. Easy snack. Healthy breakfast.
Buy a five pound bag of carrots and a bag of celery. Wash, peel and chop. Place them in a container, add a little water (to avoid drying) and just like that, you have a vegetable side for dinner, a lunch addition or an easy snack. Healthy and usually less than $5.
Plan ahead by planting a vegetable garden -- in containers on your porch, in a small patch of soil, or in a community garden. A few weeks or months later, you'll reap the benefits in extra veggies for meals and snacks.
Thinking ahead and acting ahead is a huge stress reliever. It will not only save you money, but you will stay healthy in the process.
Here’s to saving money and eating well!

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