Growing up, you probably weren’t the one doing most of the grocery shopping or cooking. But now that you’re on your own, it’s important to learn these skills so you can eat and live healthily.
The first step to cooking for yourself is planning. Define a monthly budget for yourself that allows you some money for eating out and some money for groceries.
As you balance your budget, remember that meals made from scratch often have better value than fast food and have the potential to be much healthier.
The next part of planning is deciding what meals you’d like to eat on nights that you cook. A balanced meal should be made up of mainly vegetables, with a serving of whole grains and protein.
If that sounds boring, remember that the recipes can be as simple or as complex as you want. Pick up some cookbooks or search online for recipe ideas. It’s good to have a few simple go-to recipes, but don’t be afraid to get creative sometimes.
Using your weekly meal plan, you can now make your grocery list. Include the ingredients you will need for dinners, but also make a note of breakfast items and sandwich ingredients. These make for easy and inexpensive meals on the go. Leftovers can also make great lunches.
There will probably be nights that your schedule is just too tight to allow you to cook dinner. On those nights, it can be tempting to turn to fast food or to skip having a real meal altogether. But rather than sacrificing good eating habits for the sake of convenience, try thinking of ways to accommodate both needs.
Instead of going to Chick-Fil-A when you find yourself hungry on a tight schedule, consider buying your “emergency meals” in advance. For example, Whole Foods and Central Market both have a wide variety of freshly made, ready-to-eat meals (as opposed to frozen meals that contain preservatives). Pick up a cooked chicken breast and pack it with salad greens and dressing for an easy, healthy dinner on the go.
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to hit the shelves. Be diligent about sticking to your list, and try to stay within your budget. Be on the lookout for sale stickers and coupons, and remember to compare prices on different brands.
While it’s important to look for opportunities to save money, you don’t want to sacrifice quality. As a general rule, try to avoid foods that are high in sodium, fat, sugar and artificial ingredients. You want to focus mostly on fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, with a little meat on the side. A whole foods diet is relatively economical compared to buying more processed food items.
For simple budget-friendly recipe ideas to get you started, visit http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/budget_cooking.