MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- It's the beginning of the New Year, and resolutions abound for many. Losing weight, exercising more frequently, and eating more healthfully are common goals. What if you could do all of the above and save a few dollars at the same time? This January, consider the following strategies from TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, to create flavorful, nutritious meals that won't hurt your wallet.
Eat in more and out less
While they require more planning, home-cooked meals are an excellent way to minimize your grocery bill, and they are typically healthier than the options you may find when dining out.
Double or triple your recipes and freeze leftovers in individual containers to eat throughout the week.
Make at least one meal a week meatless. Choose recipes that utilize beans (canned or dried) and grains, which add a boost of nutrition.
A meal planning chart or simple shopping list for the week are great tools for the budget-minded, health-conscious consumer. Knowing what you already have in the pantry and what you intend to make ahead of time reduces impulse spending, saves time, and improves the nutritional value of your meal.
Take part of one day a week to plan the upcoming week's menu. Search "meal planning charts" online for a variety of templates and convenient shopping tools.
Include meals that will "stretch" more expensive food items, like stews, casseroles, and stir-fries.
In addition to reviewing weekly store circulars in advance for sales, check the back of your grocery receipt for additional coupons. Also check online for coupons, simply by searching for the products that you use and visiting the manufacturers' websites.
In addition to shopping at grocery stores, consider local markets, dollar stores, and shopping online, if available in your neighborhood. For the best deals at the market, look for reduced produce or end-of-the-day specials. Many online grocery services offer discounted or free shipping if you spend a minimum amount, and you'll be more inclined to stick to your list and avoid splurging on unnecessary purchases.
Some other suggestions include:
Only shop once a week. This makes it easier to avoid unnecessary purchases and encourages you buy only what you need for the weekly menu.
Have a snack before you visit the grocery store. Shopping on an empty stomach can lead to impulse buying.
Shop alone, to prevent family members' impulse selections from ending up in the shopping cart.
"Shop the perimeter" of the store, remembering that the least healthy and most overpriced packaged foods are concentrated in the middle aisles.
Look high and low (literally) on store shelves to find generic items from store brands, which are often less expensive than, but identical to, name-brand items, which are placed at eye level on shelves.
Buying "economy" or "family size" containers is sometimes a better buy -- if you truly eat all of the food in the package. If it spoils and has to be thrown away, it may just be a waste of money. Select large packages of meat, poultry, and fish, and place them in separate freezer bags at home for each meal. Non-perishable items like canned food, cereal, soup, and nuts are a good choice.
Avoid purchasing "convenience" foods, like single-serving snacks, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, and instant rice. Buy a larger-sized container and portion out your own snacks, cut your own produce, and spend a few minutes cooking the rice. These efforts may take a bit of extra time up front but will ultimately save you dollars.
If fresh fruits and vegetables are cost-prohibitive, try the frozen or canned versions made with "100% juice" and "low sodium," respectively. Frozen produce is often flash-frozen at the source, locking in nutrients. Rinse canned vegetables before cooking to further reduce the sodium content.
TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. Founded more than 65 years ago, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind. TOPS promotes successful weight management with a "Real People.
Real Weight Loss." philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise, and wellness information. TOPS has about 170,000 members -- male and female, age seven and older -- in nearly 10,000 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.
Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is affordable at just $28 per year in the U.S. and $32 per year in Canada, plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, view www.tops.org or call 800-932-8677.