I’m going to lay out for you how I eat organic Paleo meals and a 32-ounce green juice for about $5 per meal, $15 a day, or $450 per month (without the juice, it's about $300 per month organic, $225 a month non-organic). At first glance, you may think this is expensive, but I’ll bet if you start looking at your supermarket costs and restaurant bills, especially if you’re buying high-quality foods, you’ll be shocked at what you spend: $4 for a coffee, $8-12 for a green juice, $15 on lunch, $20 on dinner. It all adds up, and fast!
Your only possible objection to eating at home could be time, but I spend an average of 15-25 minutes a meal in the kitchen, with cleanup, meal planning and grocery shopping all factored in! This is less than you would spend running through the drive-thru.
Here are five tips to help you eat healthy without breaking the bank or throwing away hours of time:
1. Plan ahead, or you'll set yourself up for failure.
Planning your weekly meals is essential if you want to waste less food and avoid last-minute convenience food trips. Look to the week ahead: How many activities or nights planned out do you have? Do you need to bring food for any of them? How many lunches will you need to prepare ahead? How many nights will you be arriving home late and need a meal that's mostly ready to go? What days do you have time for batch cooking and grocery shopping? I like to use an old-fashioned calendar and mark these down, then use about two hours on a Saturday or Sunday for meal planning and a big supermarket trip, then an additional 3-4 hours to do cook one big batch of food for the week. I also do another smaller shopping trip midweek for the rest of my fresh meat and produce, and another shorter batch cooking night that takes about two hours.
2. Choose your recipes wisely.
When choosing the meals I’m making for the week, I always ask: Can I make this in a large batch and freeze a portion for later? Does this have lots of unnecessary steps? Can a portion of this be made ahead of time for a quick last-minute meal? Can I make the entire dish in less than 15 minutes? Does this call for strange or expensive ingredients? If I can’t answer YES to at least one of these, I don’t make it, unless it's for a special occasion.
3. Know your supermarkets.
Most people waste so much time and money at the supermarket! If you don’t already, spend an hour learning exactly where all of the organic and fresh food stores are in your area and where to source the best meat, fish and local produce at the lowest price. I have a Whole Foods right down the street, but if I bought everything there, my monthly food bill would be double. I buy organic meat, sale items for pantry items, and a couple other specialty items at high-end health food stores, find some of my staple pantry items at Costco, and buy my produce at the farmers market, a farm stand, or through a CSA.
4. Cook in batches.
The idea here is to select meals that you can make in big batches so you can have a couple days of leftovers, and also freeze smaller portions in the freezer for nights when you have no time to cook. Think broadly about batch cooking. You can freeze soups, chili, casseroles and crock pot creations, cookie dough, pizzas, muffins, quiches, pancakes, and sauces. I love glass Pyrex containers with the plastic lids as they go from fridge to freezer to oven to microwave.
5. Fall in love with your food processor.
Many years as a private chef have taught me that how you cut your produce can make or break your efforts to make a fast meal. I also don’t recommend the pre-cut convenience veggies: you start losing nutrients as soon at the veggies are cut, and they're much more expensive per pound than their whole alternative.
Instead, I love using my food processor; if the food isn't something I can cut with a food processor, I always ask: what’s the fastest way to cut that? For example, you can cook your winter squash and potatoes, then cut them, instead of peeling and cutting them up when they're raw and hard. So much faster! I also LOVE chopping veggies up into really small pieces in the food processor and hiding them so the kids will eat. This works really well with sauces, meatballs, and chopped salads.
If you’re looking for a little more guidance, I have a great free guide that will tell you what to put in your pantry, the essential kitchen tools you need, and simple ideas to make every meal of the day more exciting without a bunch of extra work.
May you be inspired to get in the kitchen and eat around the dinner table tonight!