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Plan Healthy Meals On A Budget – It Can Be Done!

You might go to the grocery store with an organized list that contains only healthy foods, separated by geographic location in the store. You might have a large wallet of coupons, armed with all the discounts you spent hours scouring through advertisements for, or you might be like me, the poor soul who seems to always end up at the store with an empty stomach, no list, and no plan.

Is there any hope for us to leave with nutritious foods and meal plans—and stay on budget while we do? Read on is you’re a believer.

Before heading to the grocery store it is helpful to make a meal plan for the week. Write down what dishes you will prepare for each meal on each day of the week Look through your cupboards to inventory what you are already have and then make a list of anything else you will need. Organize your grocery list by the way your grocery store is set up. This will help you know what to pick-up in each section and help you avoid the tempting seasonal or sale displays along the way.

Another great way to stay within budget and still eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables is to buy “in-season.” That means that from April-0ctober there is an abundant produce section to choose from. If you buy fruits and vegetables only when they are in season, it will not only save you money, but the produce will taste better. For a complete list of Virginia’s in-season fruits and vegetables, visit www.vdacs.virginia. gov/vagrown/pdf/producechart.pdf.

Buying lean meats for every day of the week can take up a large percentage of your weekly food budget. An easy way to reduce your spending on meats is the “Go Vegetarian” one night for dinner each week. Substitute inexpensive beans, eggs, or peas for your protein. You might try to prepare a vegetarian chili, red beans with rice, or baked eggs with zucchini and peppers. Try stretching your recipes for burgers or meatloaf by adding brown rice or mashed black beans. You may even have enough meat left over for another recipe for next day!

Here are some other tips for how to have healthy groceries on a budget: use coupons only for items that you need or use frequently; make 100% juice last longer by diluting it 50/50 with water; pay attention to the “unit price” listed on the store shelves; try to buy produce fresh, frozen, or canned—whatever your budget can afford; cut back on soda pop—it is a huge drain on the wallet—event if you just cut it out once day a week; only walk down aisles that contain items on your list.

For more information on this and other nutritious topics, contact your local Virifinia Cooperative Extension office or visit www.ext.vt.edu. The Family Nutrition Program is part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension and they offer nutrition education programs for limited-resource families in Virginia. If you are interested in having a program where you are or would like to volunteer, contact Pauline Stokes at pstokes@vt.edu.