Here is some positive, helpful tips for feeding your family a healthy diet without breaking the bank.
* Stick to whole foods: Fruits, veggies, meats, nuts, beans, and simple grains. Buying prepackaged foods is more expensive and less healthy. You can make a great meal with rice, steamed vegetables and beans for a fraction of what you would spend on frozen pizzas, and your meal is much more balanced and nutritious.
*Reduce meat consumption: Protein is good and fat is good, but try to include more protein-rich foods that are non-meat (dairy, nuts, beans). Meat isn't cheap and replacing a few meat meals with vegetarian will not only help your budget, but will help reduce carcinogens (those chemicals that cause cancer), increase your vitamin and fiber intake, and help give you protein with healthy fats for satiety.
*Buy frozen fruits and vegetables: Frozen fruits added to yogurt make great smoothies, go well in baked goods and even fruit casseroles (yes, recipes soon!). Vegetables can easily be added to pasta, casseroles, pot pies, and more. Just drain frozen fruits and veggies well before cooking with them or adding them to foods. Frozen fruits and vegetables also last longer (no need to waste foods due to spoilage), and are often less expensive.
*Read the store flyer/Go with the sales!: Check the store flyer before heading out to the grocery store (many online now) and look to see what *whole* foods are on sale that week. Come up with some recipes (try the library for good cookbooks) that use those ingredients. However, keep in mind that many prepackaged items on sale are usually high in refined carbohydrates (something you want to avoid). So use the sale prices that are for meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains, but not so much for the bags of potato chips and pretzels.
*Ask friends to share in wholesale (Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's) shopping: Food can be much cheaper at a wholesale store. The problem is that many can't afford to dish out the upfront cost of investing in high quantity food purchases. Get a network going (FB friends perhaps?) to see if anyone would be interested in buying bulk together. Split the grocery bill and you stay within your weekly budget and weekly food amount, and get a deal on the foods you buy!
*Don't be fooled by labels such as *organic*, *all-natural*, "healthy*, etc…: Despite what you may hear from various scuttlebutt, there is very little difference between organic and non-organic. Organic foods are not pesticide or chemical free, as you may think, they too are raised with chemicals (unless it is a local farm, perhaps). The difference is that the chemicals used in organic farming come from natural sources whereas conventional farming allows for synthetic chemicals (visit Berkeley.edu for more information on this topic). There has been much hype about this, but nutritionally speaking, an organic chicken has the same nutritional value as a non-organic chicken (as has been shown in many scientific studies). If you have other reasons for buying organic (such as environmental concerns, ethical issues, etc…) then by all means buy organic, but simply from a nutritional perspective, don't think that you are doing your family a nutritional disservice because you don't spend $7 a pound on organic meat.
* Increase fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, decrease the refined carbohydrate snacks: This is a tough one for many because sale items are usually on the latter group, and many people have become used to buying a lot of *white flour* products over the years due to their inexpensive price. Whole foods can be just as inexpensive and much healthier, the trick is to know what to do with them. Instead of potato chips, try tortilla chips with a fruit salsa. Have peanuts or peanut butter and trisquits for a snack instead of granola bars. Small substitutions and increasing food groups is easy enough to do and will help boost the nutritional content of the foods you eat.
*Get meats from a local butcher, wholesale club, or small grocery store: Often meat may be of better quality (taste, tenderness, fresher) from a local butcher, and also at a lower cost! You just need to take a few minutes to search your area for a good butchery.
*Less variety at once: People eat more when they have more to choose from (and spend more!). Make one big meal to last a few days or one big bag of grapes to munch on for a while. When you go grocery shopping the next week, choose different foods. Let your variety go from week to week, not day to day. A lot of food gets wasted when you buy too much at once. Just remember variety of food groups is more important than variety within each group (at least per day). Weekly variety is sufficient.
*Keep it simple!: If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to keep it simple. Your food doesn't have to be elaborate, cooked for hours, or beautifully prepared. Throw some ingredients together and make hundreds of salads, or eat your food fresh and plain. Its healthier and cheaper!