Back in January, I shared the importance of eating with the seasons. With an emphasis on winter produce, we covered what seasonal eating is and why you should eat with the seasons. Now that spring is here, it’s time to add more variety to your plate. Think: Fewer root vegetables, more strawberries, and lighter herbs, like dill. With a few simple swaps in your basket, you’ll be more creative in the kitchen. Meaning—new recipes, fun flavors, and an array of vitamins and minerals. In today’s article, you’ll learn how to create healthy meals with pantry staples. The goal is to use what you have on hand to make delicious, flavorful dishes.
Creating meals with pantry staples
How to begin? By spring cleaning. In the process, you’ll likely find a box of pasta or a bag of rice that is almost expired. Great! Use any grains or legumes as the base for a spring-inspired dinner. Whether you’re in a time crunch or feel overwhelmed by your soon-to-expire pantry items, simple recipes are the solution. Using pantry staples—like chickpeas, beans, and rice, along with frozen vegetables and meat—you can build an impressive dish with minimal ingredients. Plus, using your pantry items will save you a trip to the grocery store (thus keeping your budget in check).
Is buying in bulk worth it?
Speaking of creating meals with pantry staples, let’s talk about buying food in bulk. There are pros and cons to this, of course, so it ultimately comes down to your lifestyle.
Pros: Buying in bulk tends to work well when you’re purchasing items with an extended expiration date (think: canned soups, tea, oats, etc.). From a financial perspective, this is cheaper. After all, when you buy a large quantity of peanut butter at Costco, for example, the price of the individual units are typically lower. If you live in a household with many people, buying in bulk makes sense. Furthermore, buying in bulk can reduce the energy footprint required for packaging, as it reduces the amount of materials needed in the first place. More on that, here.
Cons: That said, bulk items take up more space. Additionally, it’s more common for these ingredients to go to waste because of the sheer amount of the product. Bottom line—take a look at how much you’ve spent on groceries in recent months. Compare this to a general idea of how much food you’ve had to toss or compost. Maybe, some things are better purchased in smaller quantities.
how to eat healthy on a budget
There are a variety of ways to stick to your budget while still creating nutritious, flavorful recipes. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to keep your grocery bill low while still fueling your family with nutrient-dense food. Ultimately, it comes down to planning, comparing options, and knowing what’s the best bang for your nutritional buck.
Planning your meals can help you avoid buying packaged items you don’t need or fresh veggies that might go bad. Meal planning also helps you avoid eating out on a regular basis. Find a couple of recipes to make (breakfast, snacks, and dinner sides), check your pantry to see what you already have on hand, then make your grocery list. By planning, you’ll spend less money and waste less food.
Between e-commerce stores like Thrive Market and Brandless, it’s always helpful to spend a few minutes comparing prices. You can also sign up for grocery store apps (like Sprouts) to see what’s on sale. Doing a bit of homework can help you stay within your budget. Another way to compare is by thinking about serving size.
Buy in Bulk
Speaking of sweet potatoes, buying in bulk can be more economical. In essence, buying in bulk is cheaper because it costs the manufacturers less to sell the item in larger quantities (see above!). I love buying ingredients like nut butter, lentil-based pasta, olive oil, and organic meat at Costco. Some of the cheapest ingredients to buy in bulk are beans, rice, frozen vegetables, and bananas.
Emphasize Whole Foods
As a helpful rule, first shop the perimeter of the store. This will make you more likely to fill your cart with fruits, veggies, and protein. In other words, whole foods. While processed foods tend to be less expensive than most fresh foods, that is because the U.S. government subsidizes the producers of those main ingredients (i.e. corn and wheat). In turn, that helps keep crop prices low. However, processed foods and many packaged foods have added sweeteners and higher fat content, along with sodium and other preservatives. Whole foods, on the other hand, contain a vast array of nutrients—like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, that your body needs to function optimally.
Shop the Frozen Section
Typically just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, frozen fruits and veggies are less expensive and available year-round. Picked and packaged at their height of ripeness, freezing seals in nutrients (and flavor). With the shelf life being much longer, you can prolong the frozen fruit or veggie’s use. Frozen produce is usually sold in large bags, allowing you to use only what you need and keep the rest in your freezer.