Is Cooking Healthier Meals Practical for the Busy, Budgeted Lifestyle?

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Answered by: Michelle, An Expert in the Healthy Living 101 Category
Cooking healthier meals needn’t be a weekend luxury or the domain of the financially fortunate; anyone—from the weariest mother to the busiest corporate executive—can cook nutritious, delicious food. Likewise, making small changes to your food lifestyle is not just affordable, but cost-saving, too. By following one or all of the tips below, you can transform your relationship to food.

Ditch Prepackaged Food. At first glance, prepackaged dinners or meal components seem practical. In most cases, they’re inexpensive, and they all claim to make your life easier. These days, most brands even offer whole grain or reduced-calorie variations. But don’t be fooled: most prepackaged food is high in sodium, brimming with artificial ingredients, and marked up in price. With some changes to your grocery list, and a little forethought, you can reproduce your favorite prepackaged meals healthfully and for a fraction of the price.

If you adore chicken and rice, don’t buy it in a frozen box. If you love spaghetti, forget the canned variety. Use that money to purchase whole foods in bulk form and transform your budget in the process. For the price of that frozen chicken and rice, you can get enough real brown rice and chicken for several meals. For the price of that canned spaghetti, you can afford twice as much of the real thing.

Make a Menu. Anyone can make a menu. You can scrawl it on a napkin at lunch; you can tap it into your phone on the elevator; you can compose a mental menu as you drive the kids to school. Relish the meals to come, and be ambitious—don’t sell yourself short with prepackaged options; aim for your favorite meals in home-cooked form. When you decide to make cooking healthier meals part of your life, the biggest hurdle is often ideas, not chewing and swallowing. A menu relieves that burden and enables you to grab the goods from the fridge and get moving. Additionally, knowing what’s to come allows you to prime your appetite and heighten satiety.

Make a Grocery List. To change how you eat you must change how you buy. Many of us squeeze trips to the grocery store between other scheduled activities. We don’t know what’s in the cupboard and fridge; we don’t know what we’ll need for the week ahead. Instead, we race down the aisles and buy on impulse. Ditching prepackaged food and knowing your menu, however, make trips to the grocery store shorter, organized, and less costly to our wallets and health. You know exactly what to buy, and how much. And by only buying the food you need, you reduce temptation to eat poorly during the week. A drive to the store versus a trip to the cupboard might make you rethink that candy bar.

Cook in Advance. This final step makes cooking healthier meals practical for the busy mom or beleaguered careerist. Most foods take as long to cook in bulk as they do in individual portions, and most foods taste just as great prepared in advance as prepared fresh. It’s as easy as tripling the amount you prepare and freezing the extra portions. If you prefer, freeze the extra portions before cooking them so you can toss them in the oven or pot for an extra fresh meal later. Cooking this way also limits food waste, which in turn, spares your budget.

Healthy cooking requires diligence—nobody changes his or her relationship to food overnight. But preparing healthy food doesn’t have to tax a schedule or empty a wallet. These changes empower individuals from all walks of life and all financial realities to take control of their diets.

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