Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar and Eat Well

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By Peggy Jo Goodfellow, Arizona Farm Bureau

Sometimes the hardest thing about cooking is deciding what to cook!

Menu planning can save hours of time, energy, money, and headaches. There are many different ways to plan your menus, but my view is that any way is preferable to no way! For one thing, if you write down what you’re eating you tend to skip the fast food junk on the way home because you’ve already planned a meal. You’re saving money and your health at the same time. Also, if you write your plan down, you can see that you’re not eating chicken five nights a week or rich foods every single night. Writing it all down makes this happen!

The Benefits

  • You can extract a grocery list from your menu choices.
  • Because you buy only what you need, less food is wasted.
  • You know with plenty of notice what’s for dinner – no more frantic 5 p.m. craziness.
  • Cooking is more enjoyable, because odds are you’ll be more prepared.
  • You’ll have more variety, because you’ve planned it.
  • It’s healthier, because it cuts down on drive-thru runs.
  • It’s cheaper, too, because you’re eating out less, you can menu plan around your coupons, and you can intentionally cook with seasonal ingredients.

Tips to menu planning

  • Regularly inventory your pantry so you know what you have.
  • Plan a menu for at least a week at a time. It’s really up to you and the needs of your family. For help on a week’s menu go to Arizona Farm Bureau’s “Stretch Your Dollar Menus.”
  • To make it fun for the family, pretend you’re creating a menu for a restaurant but that only has one menu item per night. The kids should love this! (Special note: To keep it simple and avoid complicating the menu, only do this for one night.)
  • Reserve one night a week for a repeat item…hamburger or taco night.
  • Work in a mixture of fruits and vegetables for a healthy balanced diet.
  • Rotate menus and repeat once each month.

Set up a plan for variety, such as:

  • Fish
  • Pasta or rice based
  • Poultry
  • Eggs or cheese
  • Beef
  • Beans
  • Vegetarian

Creating a template to fill in forces you to be a bit creative and keeps your menus from being boring or repetitive. Look at the weekly specials at the grocery store and plan accordingly.

You can find some new recipes at fillyourplate.org to keep the creative juices flowing.

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