Healthy Meal Planning on a Budget
By: Deena Attia

Is anyone finding it difficult to put together healthy meals? I can relate to your struggle. When I was younger, my mom did her best to teach me how to shop for groceries and get the most bang for my buck. It seemed like it should be a simple skill to master since I watched her shop every week and whip up fantastic meals for us. However, when I moved out on my own and went grocery shopping for the first time, I was disappointed in my shopping skills. I ended up spending way too much money just to have a few snacks and maybe some breakfast each day.

I’ve gotten better at shopping for food and saving money, especially since it’s just me at home now. I have a few favorite stores that I love to shop at, including Trader Joe’s, Publix, and The Fresh Market. Trader Joe’s has great prices and quality products, plus their customer service is top-notch. Publix is another great option, especially when they have sales that match my preferences. Their BOGO deals are also helpful for saving money. The Fresh Market has a lot of quick dinner options. Ways to save and make life easier is to get the Little Big Meals which can feed a family of four for just $25. I also like their rotisserie chicken meal with sides and corn muffins. Their deli case has some amazing veggie-packed sides that I like to add to mixed greens with the chicken for a filling and satisfying meal.

Here’s a sample grocery list including items you can use multiple ways to get you through the week:

  1. Plain Greek yogurt-use for breakfast, make a parfait with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Also, can be used as sour cream for savory dishes.
  2. Potatoes- any variety. The small red potatoes for breakfast dishes or roasting. Sweet potatoes and baked potatoes can be stuffed with meat and veggies for a main course. Sometimes I use sweet potatoes for a dessert.
  3. Sourdough bread- One of the healthiest breads to buy and easy to bake at home can be used for avocado toast, sandwiches, and French toast.
  4. Eggs- A highly versatile food to be eaten throughout the day. It’s super-fast and easy to whip up a couple of eggs and toast for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Make a veggie quiche to provide quick meals for part of the week.
  5. Bananas- Aside from being a great grab-and-go food, you can add to a smoothie or smear a little peanut butter and a shake of cinnamon, and you have breakfast, snack, or dessert.
  6. Tomatoes- So many ways to use the many varieties. Make a salsa at home and add onions and hot peppers. Salsa can be used to top any savory dish and replaces a salad dressing with lots of flavor and no fat.
  7. Chicken- Another highly versatile item to be used any time of the day. Chicken thighs cook up very fast, are less expensive, and are packed with essential nutrients. Chicken breasts can be cooked for the week and used in many recipes for fast protein.
  8. Stir-fry veggies- Peppers, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and onions are a staple that will carry you through the week. Mix some chicken and stuff a baked potato with cheese and Greek yogurt, and you have a super easy lunch or dinner.
  9. Frozen fruits- No fuss food to add to smoothies or to yogurt for dessert with a dash of cinnamon and drizzle of honey. Frozen cherries are my favorite. It fools my mind into thinking I am eating ice cream. No worries about the fruit spoiling in the fridge.
  10. Oatmeal- No need to buy the box of oatmeal already flavored. The plain oatmeal cooks quickly in the microwave, and you control the sugar and the toppings. I love to make my own peanut butter and jelly oatmeal. I add a teaspoon of peanut butter and fresh berries or a spoon of jam and stir. Oatmeal can also be used in smoothies and other recipes too.

This is a short list of basics that I find useful for meal planning for me. Don’t forget it is best to buy produce that is in season and shop by what is on sale if you like those items. Often sale items are not what I prefer since I don’t buy a lot of processed food and snacks.

I love the idea of having a small garden! If you have the time and interest, it can be a great way to save money and add fresh flavors to your meals. Your choice of cherry and big tomatoes, peppers, basil, mint, and rosemary sounds like a great combination. I bet your caprese salads will be delicious!

I’ve discovered that keeping a list of essential kitchen items has helped me eat healthier, reduce food waste, and avoid the stress of deciding what to cook. It’s amazing how having a few key ingredients on hand can make meal planning and preparation so much simpler. I highly recommend creating your own list of kitchen staples and incorporating them into your routine!