Finding nutritious foods that fit your budget and health goals can feel overwhelming and time-consuming, but it's entirely possible to load up on quality options each week without breaking the bank or losing your sanity.
Here’s how to set your food budget, plus four simple steps to help you design a cost-efficient weekly meal plan.
How Much Money Should You Budget for Food?
The first logical step in learning how to master a nutritious meal plan on a budget is to determine what your ultimate food allowance should be. This amount can vary based on individual income and lifestyle factors such as where you live, how often you eat out, and your personal nutrition goals (along with any additional family members you plan to feed).
You can estimate how much you should be spending on food each week using the national average — $690 a month, or $173 each week — or by calculating how much you are currently spending on food, including restaurants, and adjusting accordingly.
You can also set your food budget using your weekly salary. According to recent statistics, most Americans spend about 10% of their income on food. For example, if your household salary is $8,000 a month, your monthly food budget would be $800, or roughly $200 per week.
How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
When thinking of eating healthy and organic foods, clean eating often comes to mind, along with the many pricey health food trends on the market. It's no wonder that eating well is attributed to spending more money. But you don't have to sacrifice nutrition for dollars.
Optimum nutrition is less about the bee pollen powder or açaí berries you snagged from the store, and more about finding basic and nutritious foods that fit your personal health and training goals.
This typically means loading up on simple, whole foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes, and cutting out heavily-processed foods that are high in added sugars, fats, and artificial ingredients.
Eating at home more, shopping sales, and buying in bulk are a few incredibly easy and common approaches to saving money each week. However, these are really only step one in the process. You still have to understand how to plan and prep your meals for success each week.
Fine tune your meal prep skills and you’ll often find yourself shredding fat, eating better, spending less hard-earned money, and decreasing food waste in the long run. No more buying bagged salads and chicken every week at the store just to toss them in the trash when they inevitably go bad in the fridge.
Here’s your go-to guide for mastering nutrition and your food costs each week.
1. Stop Eating Out
The majority of your food spend is likely going toward takeout and restaurant meals, including your regular gourmet coffee purchases.
Sure, the occasional coffee with coworkers doesn’t feel like a big deal, but you might be surprised to find out how much you’re actually spending (not to mention the calorie counts you're racking up in the process).
Taking control of your nutrition with more home cooked meals is the most efficient way to cut costs and eliminate less healthy food choices.
Pro tip: Set a budget and routine for eating out and try to stick to it. And while you’re at it, track it each week to hold yourself accountable.
2. Plan Your Menu in Advance
Having a solid plan is of utmost importance, and this goes beyond just making a shopping list before you hit the grocery store. Meal planning is a crucial tool in designing a meal plan that fits your taste, health, and wallet.
Take some time each week to think through what you want to eat in advance. Scour the web for recipes you like and check your pantry and fridge to see what you already have on hand.
Write it down, day by day, creating a weekly meal plan or schedule to follow. Then, build your grocery list off of this.
Pro tip: Use recipes that share ingredients and seasonings so you don't have to buy more than you need.
3. Keep It Simple
You know your culinary skills better than anyone, so don’t kid yourself. Gourmet, made-from-scratch recipes always sound great on Sunday, but you're probably not feeling it as much when you're exhausted mid-week.
Set yourself up for success with the easiest meal prep recipes you can dig up. Even if this means eating the same things all of the time, at least you're building a healthy habit and sticking to your plan.
Opt for easy-to-cook vegetables like green beans, broccolini, zucchini, and salads over options that require a lot of prep work (peeling, soaking, etc) and a longer cook time. And don't shy away from some already-prepped options like canned and frozen foods. (Just be sure to double check the label to ensure it's meeting your nutrition standards.)
Pro tip: Frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans, and brown rice all tend to be low-cost and can help you cut down on food prep time at the same time.
4. Eat What You Like
Get to know healthy food staples that work for you and stick with them. If you don’t enjoy the dishes you’re eating, there's little chance you're going to stick with eating them.
This includes seasonings, sauces, and cooking ingredients like olive oil. Find affordable protein staples that you can regularly enjoy like baked chicken thighs or lean ground beef patties, and then pair them with new side dishes each week to keep things interesting.
Pro tip: Greek yogurt can be used as a sour cream or cream substitute, a high-protein snack, and the base for many homemade dressings.
5. Master Portion Control
The better you get at preparing a meal plan that matches your nutritional needs, the less food you tend to waste, and — ultimately — the better results you see.
To become more efficient, learn how many calories you should be eating each day and how much food that actually translates to. You should also get familiar with food portioning tools like measuring cups, spoons, or even a food scale. Then, build your meal plan and shopping list around the quantity that you actually eat.
Pro tip: Use a food tracking app to learn your calorie goals and track your daily intake to see how well you’re doing overall.
This article was originally published on TrifectaNutrition.com.