Did you know that the average American household spends about $3,000 each year on dining out? While it's easy to order delivery, go to a restaurant or hit up the drive-thru, cooking at home is often the cheaper—and healthier—alternative.
One study revealed that Americans can save an average of $16 per meal by cooking at home. Another report found that those who cook at home tend to eat a healthier diet with less calories, sugar and fat. It goes to show that replacing just a few lunches and dinners with home-cooked meals is a smart move for your wallet and your health!
If you're trying to eat better while staying on budget, we have five quick tips to help you reach your goals:
1. Save time with meal planning
Think about which meals you want to make for the week. Find a few cookbooks and websites that have healthy, easy-to-follow recipes you like to be your go-to inspiration. “Theme nights" like taco night, soup night or pasta night can also make meal planning easy and fun. Don't have a lot of time to make dinner throughout the week? Try making freezer-friendly meals like veggie chili, casseroles or lasagna and reheating them later.
2. Make a shopping list
After you've decided on your menu for the week, make a grocery list – and stick to it! Look online for coupons or discounts for the items on your list. Heading to the grocery store with a plan will help you avoid overspending on unnecessary items.
3. Stock up on kitchen staples
Buying in bulk may help you save money on ingredients that have a long shelf life, such as:
- Olive oil
- Rice or quinoa
- Chicken or vegetable broth
- Dried beans
- Canned tomatoes
- Frozen vegetables
- Spaghetti sauce
These ingredients can be used to prepare many different meals, helping you make the most of your hard-earned money at the grocery store.
4. Eat seasonal produce
Fruits and veggies are an important part of a healthy diet, so be sure to incorporate them into your weekly meal plan. For the best taste and price, plan your menu around produce that's in season. Check out this seasonal produce guide to find out what's in season in your area.
5. Make enough for leftovers
Save even more time and money by repurposing leftover ingredients in new meals. For example, extra roasted chicken can be reused in sandwiches or tossed in a soup. Leftover veggies can be baked into a casserole or added to an omelet. Get creative in the kitchen, and don't be afraid to try something different!
More healthy eating advice
At Wright-Patt Credit Union, we're proud to partner with Local Matters, a Columbus-based, nonprofit organization with the mission to create healthy communities through food access, education, and advocacy.
Local Matters is committed to helping families shop for, plan and cook healthy meals on a budget. Through hands-on programming, they work with pre-schoolers through senior citizens to make food a focal point for community and health.
"Affordable, healthy cooking can feel like it's out of reach to anyone. At Local Matters, we work with kids, families, and individuals to develop the skills and knowledge we all need to make nutritious, affordable choices simple, fun, and delicious" says Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director with Local Matters. "One of my favorite tips is that frozen, canned, and fresh produce are all good options. The trick is to know which ones you're most likely to make - and incorporate those choices into your grocery shopping and cooking routine."
Fresh, frozen, and canned are all good options? Yes! Local Matters encourages shoppers to try different versions of vegetables and fruit and see what works best for them. Each option is packed with vitamins and minerals – nutrients we could all use more of.
If you opt for canned goods, Local Matters reminds you to check the sodium content. Too much sodium can be a problem, so be sure to rinse the contents thoroughly. A simple rinse should take care of much of the added sodium!
Small changes to the way we approach meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping can make a much larger impact on our health. Local Matters is committed to making sure those small changes are within reach to every member of our community.
For an example of the recipes Local Matters teaches in their programming, check out this delicious and nutritious stir-fry recipe:
Use ingredients you already have on hand, or try something below:
- Grains: brown rice, whole grain pasta or instant barley (pick 1)
- Protein: tofu, chicken, lean beef or shrimp (pick 1, dice in large pieces)
- Vegetables: carrots, bell peppers, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, zucchini or brussels sprouts (pick 3 – fresh, frozen, or canned! - , chop)
- Fruits: mango, pineapple or orange (pick 1 – fresh, frozen, or canned! - chop)
Then, pick one sauce below:
- Lemon Stir-Fry Sauce: 3 tbsp lemon juice + 3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce + 2 tsp cornstarch (stir together)
- Teriyaki: 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce + 1 tbsp brown sugar + 1 tbsp cornstarch + 1/2 tsp ground ginger (stir together)
Need more flavor? Consider adding: basil, cashews, eggs, green onions, peanuts, cilantro, garlic, ginger or hot peppers.
- Cook grains according to package directions. Set aside.
- Cook protein and veggies in 2-3 tablespoons of oil on medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Add sauce and bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 minutes. Add fruit, if desired.
- Serve over cooked grains.
If you try out this flavorful recipe, let us know on Facebook or Twitter. We'd love to see your culinary creations!
Looking for more helpful budgeting tips and tools? Check out Wright-Patt Credit Union's premade budgeting worksheets or Money Management, a free service available through Mobile and Online Banking.