Eating Healthy for Less

Angela Charlton R.D.-N.'s picture
By Angela Charlton... on April 21, 2020

For many of us right now, saving money and limiting trips to the supermarket feels more important than ever.

Still, eating well is just as important—for both our physical and mental health

Making your food dollars go a little further needn’t be an exercise in austerity.

With a little planning, some smart shopping and a few tips for minimizing food waste, you and your family can enjoy a balanced and budget-friendly diet (and still have fun with it, too).

Cook With Leftovers in Mind
We’ve all gone searching around our refrigerator for a last-minute meal, settled on some soup or stew from the night before—and then noticed it was even tastier than it was when it was fresh off the stove!

Some foods really do hold up well as leftovers and can even benefit flavor-wise from reheating. By planning deliberately for leftovers, we can cut money, grocery trips and time from our weekly meal plans.

Foods that taste great when reheated include:

  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Chilis
  • Braises
  • Burritos

And, don’t forget you can freeze foods like casseroles, soups, sauces and even muffins!

You can even make big batches, portion out into individual containers and then reheat as needed. 

Food leftovers stored in stacked glass containers.
Use glass containers or mason jars, so you never forget about those leftovers in your fridge again!

Make Things Clear
Who isn’t guilty of occasionally forgetting about that extra helping of pasta we “saved” in the back of the fridge?

To avoid accidentally wasting food, try storing leftovers in clear glass containers or mason jars. That way you’ll always know exactly what ready-to-reheat foods you have at your fingertips!

Have a Leftover Buffet
What to do at the end of the week if your fridge is still full of leftovers?

Toss what’s left into your nicer dishes, line them up on the counters and invite your family to your home buffet for a fun (and frugal!) alternative to the favorite restaurant you may be missing.

Tips for in the Grocery Store
One of the biggest reasons we spend more money than we meant to at the supermarket—or that we find ourselves making another trip after we were just there—is the lack of both a meal plan and a shopping plan.

But, you can put an end wasted money and wasted time with just five easy shopping steps:

1. Review recipes and take a quick inventory of what you already have on hand before you start your grocery list
2. Plan your weekly menu with a priority on foods that offer good leftover and/or freezing potential
3. If you’re not using a pickup service, organize your grocery list by store section to avoid running back and forth from one end of the store to the other
4. Make sure to include some versatile, long-lasting and healthy pantry staples like beans, whole grains, no-salt added canned vegetables and tinned meat
5. Buy perishable foods like fresh meat, eggs, dairy and frozen foods last to reduce the amount of time they spend at room temperature

Keep in mind, there is no need to stockpile months’ worth of food!

It is recommended to have about two weeks’ worth of food on hand in case of an emergency. (This would also be helpful if you must self-isolate for two weeks, if you or someone in your household tested positive for COVID-19.)

But, storing more than two weeks’ worth is unnecessary. It can put a strain on your budget and may cause you to waste food if you can’t eat all of it as quickly as you thought. 

It can also make it difficult for others—who may not be able to afford to stockpile—from getting what they really need!

Open microwave above a stovetop.
For food safety, most leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Store Food Safety  
As a rule-of-thumb, most leftovers should be finished within three to four days of cooking and reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Milk, meat, bread and produce will all last longest when stored according to a few simple guidelines. 

Milk:

  • Store milk at around 37 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Keep toward the back of the bottom shelf of your fridge (where it’s usually coldest)
  • Return promptly to the fridge after pouring yourself a tall, cold glass

 Meat:

  • Freeze fresh cuts of meat you don’t plan to eat within a day or two of buying
  • Wrap meat in plastic wrap before freezing if you’ve already removed it from its original packaging
  • Don’t re-freeze meat—the quality will suffer from moisture loss

 Bread:

  • Keep bread on your counter for 2-3 days
  • Avoid keeping in the refrigerator, where it can degrade faster
  • You can freeze bread if you aren’t ready to eat it within a few days of purchasing

 Produce:

  • Pack fresh, raw fruits and vegetables in some plastic wrap or a zippered freezer bag with the excess air pressed out before freezing
  • Try blanching veggies before freezing to help preserve their texture, color and taste
  • Keep herbs fresh longer by placing in a glass of water with a paper bag over them
  • Preserve herbs by drying them in a sunny window (or freezing just like you would other produce, if you don’t plan to use as garnish)

Combine the ideas above with some of your own creativity in the kitchen and your family can eat just as well as ever!

In fact, you may find these tips so useful that you’ll want to continue them—even after these hard times are done.
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Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., leads our Community Health and Outreach nutrition team and is a regular contributor to Carilion Living. Join her online for Wellness Wednesdays, a series of free, 30-minute webinars on eating well during uncertain times.  

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