COMMUNITY HEALTH RESOURCE: Funds or food? Why not both? | Lifestyle

Inflation has hit American households hard, with rising prices for housing, gasoline and just about everything in between. This includes one of, if not the, most important commodity for your home: Food. For most of us, our biggest bill outside of housing costs is our grocery bill. Even though it’s so high, the grocery bill is also the one we can have the most control over. It can be stressful to see your food costs increase each week and feel powerless. Using coupons, shopping sales, and buying in bulk are great places to start saving, but the most impactful savings can start right at home without adding to our already busy lives.

PLANNING AND PREPARATION

The terms “meal planning” and “meal preparation” can seem daunting to people who are new to the concepts. Meal planning simply means deciding what you’re going to eat in a certain period of time. Going to the grocery store with a plan of attack will ensure you know exactly what your household needs. It will also reduce food waste on items that you have good intentions of using but may instead be sitting there, completely forgotten, in the back of your fridge.

Cooking a meal is the act of preparing the food from that meal for a later period of time (eg cutting produce ahead of time, marinating meat, rinsing rice). Working ahead of schedule and having some of the ingredients ready for the meal makes it easier to execute the meal later. Another benefit of meal prep is that it makes meal planning less daunting. When some of the work is already done, it’s harder to say, “Let’s just get takeout!” after the long, hectic days that so many of us live. When you go to cook your food, you will be so thankful.

COOK ONCE, EAT TWICE

Repeat after me: Leftovers are your friend.

The whole process of putting food on the table (shopping, cooking, cleaning, repeat) can be exhausting. Emphasizing always having a plan for leftovers can reduce the burden of cooking while saving money. Whether you want to save leftovers for lunch the next day, have leftovers for dinner, or store leftovers in the freezer for food down the road, these are great options! You can store food in your refrigerator for about three days and in the freezer for up to six months.

If that sounds boring to you, redirect your leftovers! Be creative and find ways to bring them to life. Treat your leftovers as individual ingredients: What can you do with that cooked chicken? Add it as a pizza topping, put it in a wrap, put it on salad greens.

If you’re having trouble, try to look at the dish you’ve prepared as individual ingredients rather than as a whole. Turn your leftovers into a new and exciting adventure for your taste buds. You’ll waste less food and your wallet will thank you.

THE FREEZER IS YOUR FRIEND

Hairdressers are magic. Not really! They are the only thing that can freeze time. Freezers tend to be underrated and underutilized, and they create a wealth of additional ways to save money. Storing food items that may be close to expiration (produce, protein, grains) is a great way to make sure you don’t waste your already paid for food. Another option is to buy already frozen foods (eg fruit, vegetables, meat) to extend shelf life and therefore reduce food waste.

Whole foods that are frozen have comparable, if not healthier, nutrients than their shelf-stable counterparts. Fresh produce is picked, packaged and transported and can lose nutrients, while frozen produce is frozen quickly and can retain most of its nutrients. Buying frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to always have produce on hand and reduce your bill at the checkout.

FULL DESCRIPTION OFTEN

Do you have a fridge, freezer and/or pantry? Probably. In this case, inventory should be taken often to ensure that you rotate what needs to be eaten and only buy things that you actually need. A great way to lower your grocery bill is to use items you already have. So many of us forget to check these areas and take the “start over” approach to meal planning when we probably have some things to use at home. Use those canned beans, that frozen meat, that lettuce that’s a day old from wilting. If you always keep a running inventory in your head, it will force you to use the groceries you have, save space, and reduce your grocery costs. You might even get more creative in the kitchen!

REDUCE DISCRETIONARY BUYING

Discretionary food purchases can be viewed through the lens of “fun” food: things like snacks, desserts, convenience items, and specialty items. These purchases are definitely nice, but probably not worth the cost or the impact on your health. There is a time and a place for these purchases, of course! But they don’t have to take up a good chunk of the grocery bill. Try to limit these food items as much as possible to make sure you don’t go overboard on things that don’t particularly fit into your budget or add to the lifestyle you’re trying to lead.

Food is one of the biggest categories in our budget and luckily we can make the biggest impact. As a daily staple, get creative and take back control of your grocery bill. Taking these suggestions into consideration and reevaluating how you manage your meals can stretch your budget, increase your time, and ultimately improve your quality of life.

Anna O’Keefe, RD, CDN, is a clinical nutritionist at Orleans Community Health. Community Health Resource is a monthly informational feature from health care providers at OCH/Medina Memorial Hospital.

Anna O’Keefe, RD, CDN, is a clinical nutritionist at Orleans Community Health. Community Health Resource is a monthly informational feature from health care providers at OCH/Medina Memorial Hospital.

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