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Frugal and Healthy Meal Planning, Part 1

September 14, 2012

Saving money and maintaining food standards.  It’s a challenge, isn’t it?

It seems there are two kinds of books/blogs/schools of thought that pertain to feeding our families.  One is the super coupon diva who buys what the paper says is on sale.  If that’s CocoPuffs, then the family eats CocoPuffs.  You’ve seen the extreme of this on TV, of course.  Extreme couponers and sale shoppers who have ten years worth of ketchup in the garage.  Sure, they only paid $3.00 for their groceries, but looking at what they purchased, we don’t see any real food!

The other side is the super healthy family who is able to source all their food organic, sustainable, grass-fed and pastured.  Their diet may be impeccable, but their budget isn’t necessarily.

Where does that leave us?  We have a responsibility to do the best we can for our family’s health and wellness.  But, we don’t want to lay a burden too heavy on the breadwinner in the family.  How is my husband being overworked and stressed good for his health and well-being?

Therefore, we are embarking on a series of posts looking at how we balance our food standards and the checkbook.  Join in the discussion!

(Image source.)

The first step in frugal meal planning involves some introspection and perhaps some serious discussions with your family. The topic: Priorities.

1. Examine Your Priorities

We all have slightly different priorities in life and this applies to our food choices as well.

  • Does your family have special dietary needs such as gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, allergies?
  • Does your family have religious or philosophical considerations in your food choices such as being kosher, vegan, etc.?
  • Do you have particular health needs as it applies to food, such as being pregnant or breastfeeding?

One of our principles is that we don’t sacrifice our health or convictions for the sake of the budget alone.  Just because something is dirt cheap, doesn’t necessarily follow that we ought to include it in our meal plans.  Our health is worth a lot more than our money.

Example: One of our family’s priorities is meat.  We eat quite a bit of meat.  There are several reasons for this ranging from health (I tend to be quite anemic when not eating enough heme-iron) to cultural considerations.  As I’ve mentioned before, my husband is Mongolian and therefore, his “soul food” is meat.  We feel that understanding food in its broader context includes understanding what food communicates to us.  Meat communicates a bit of comfort and culture to us.  Because we eat so much meat, we have decided that this is one area where we choose not to compromise.  If the budget is tight we may choose to compromise in another area in order to save our grocery dollars for our meat.

For your family your priorities may be different–for example, if you drink gallons and gallons of milk, you will want to concentrate your grocery money there and skimp somewhere else.

2. Eliminate The Biggest Offenders

Once you (along with your family) have discussed what your priorities are, the next step is to identify the major health offenders in your diet.  Another example from our family is coffee.  Gana and I enjoy coffee every morning together and occasionally after dinner.  This could be problematic when one considers that coffee happens to be one of the most heavily sprayed crops, that we slowly drip water through.  A non-organic cup of coffee can contain quite a bit of pesticide residue.  So, we always purchase organic (and fair trade) coffee beans.  What are the potential biggest offenders in your diet?  Is it dairy produced with rbst?  Is it non-organic imported honey?  Is it corn or soy that may be genetically modified?  If you can’t afford to go all organic, at least tackle the biggest offenders in your diet.

Speaking of genetically modified organisms (GMO), it’s worth it to avoid GMOs whenever possible.  This means that most prepackaged convenience foods are out.  This step alone will save you money and you can pat yourself on the back for helping the environment as well!

3. Buy Quality; Reduce Portion Size

It’s certainly not a news flash that portion sizes are out of control in our country.  A single meal at some restaurants can easily feed a family of four.  We’ve become accustomed to cheap food in large portions.

  • According to the National Institute of Health, today’s portion of spaghetti and meatballs has 1,025 calories. This includes 2 cups of pasta with sauce and 3 large meatballs compared to 1 cup of spaghetti and 3 small meatballs 20 years ago.  Today’s portion has 525 more calories than a portion 20 years ago!
  • Twenty years ago a portion of french fries was 2.4 oz.  Today a portion is 6.9 oz!
  • Twenty years ago, a cup of coffee (with whole milk and sugar!) was 8 oz. and 45 calories.  Today’s mocha cup is 16 oz. and 350 calories!  That’s not including the little extras we use to doctor up our coffee such as flavored syrups, whipped cream and extra shots. (Source for all stats.)

A easy way to be able to afford to eat healthier food is to reduce one’s portion size to what was the standard 20 years ago.  You may find this difficult.  If you’ve been used to eating a 12 oz. steak at dinner, it may be difficult to think of only eating 3 oz.  If you’re used to eating 2 cups of ice cream, if can be challenging to stop at 1/2 cup.  Here are a couple tips:

1. Eat more slowly.  It takes 15-20 minutes for your stomach to send the single to your brain that you are full.  Therefore, if you eat very quickly, you are apt to overeat.  SLOW DOWN.  Chew thoughtfully.  Take your time.  This way, by the time your stomach singles your brain that you are full, you still have food on your plate!

2. Gradually reduce portion size to retrain your stomach and brain.  Here’s a little inspiration from the Orthodox Church:

Here is a good example, taken from Greek Monastery Cookery by Archimandrite Dositheos, about when he was a novice monk:

When it was time for dining, he [Abba Dorotheos] said to him: “Eat and get full. Then just tell me how much you ate.” When he ate, he came up to him saying: “I ate one-bread- and-a-half.” (The weight of one-bread was four liters.) Then he said to him, “Do you feel well, Dositheos?” He answered: “Yes, master, I feel well.” He asked him: “Maybe you feel hungry?” He answered: “No, master, I don’t feel hungry.” Then he said to him, “Good. Then from now on, eat one-bread-and- a-quarter of the second bread. Break the other quarter into two, eat one piece, and leave the other.” He did as he was told. Then he asked him again: “Are you hungry, Dositheos?” He answered, “Yes master, I’m a bit hungry.” A few days later, he asked him: “How do you feel, Dositheos? Are you still hungry?” He answered: “No, master. I feel very well, thanks to your prayers.” He said to him, “Then omit the first piece of the quarter, too.” He did again as he was told. Again, a few days later, he asked him: “How do you feel now? Are you hungry?” He answered: “I feel well, master.” He said to him: “Break the other quarter of the bread into two. Eat one piece, and leave the other.” Again, he did as he was told. So, with God’s help, he gradually came down from six liters to eight ounces only. (H/T Rita Madden)

3. Eat nutrient dense food.  Rather than trying to fuel your body on junk, give your body what it is really craving–macro nutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals).  This is easily done when we eat real food instead of junk food, fake food, and fast food.

4. Eat with thankfulness.  Thank the Lord for every bite.  Be aware of how that food made it to your plate–from seed and farmer to kitchen and table.  When you think about it, it’s quite a process!  Likely many people and elements have had a hand in providing you with food.  So, don’t waste a bite in hasty chew-and-swallow. Enjoy and savor.  You’ll likely eat less.


What are your family’s priorities when it comes to meal planning?

(Linked to Frugally Sustainable and Tiny Tip Tuesdays)

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Serena Abdelaziz permalink
    September 14, 2012 3:43 pm

    It’s funny we were just talking about this the other day with our food budget and I refuse to skimp on milk. And almost all of our chicken is from Trader Joe-hormone free. I would love to go all the way….but we cannot.

  2. September 15, 2012 8:10 pm

    Love it! I will be looking forward too read part II.

  3. knifty mama permalink
    September 15, 2012 8:38 pm

    going cow dairy free is important and i’ve been doing smoothies in the morning with raw eggs, so high quality eggs are very important. plus they’re great protein and WAY cheaper than red meat 🙂 red likes his red meat so we went in with his sister on a 1/4 of a grass-fed cow, making it like $5.50 per pound for all cuts…roasts, ground beef, filets. not bad considering it’s no less than $6 per pound for just ground beef.

  4. Chelsea Wipf permalink
    September 16, 2012 6:31 pm

    looking forward to this series! our income was slashed quite a bit this year, and our way of eating (all organic, pastured, grass-fed) had to stop. we are still mostly eating only whole (meats, veggies, fruits) foods, but all the organic, pastured, grass-fed had to go unfortunately. our 3 month old daughter seems to be gluten sensitive as well, so we unfortunately had to cut out all those super cheap bread fillers(made from sprouted spelt bought in bulk, or soaked porridge). so, i am looking forward to any tips you might have!

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 20, 2012 10:09 pm

      What would a 3 month old baby be getting gluten in? Certainly not breast milk. I know my children are a lot older now but I know they were not eating any grains at 3 months.

  5. September 21, 2012 8:54 am

    Great tips! Another one for portion control is to use smaller plates; the same amount of food looks like more on a smaller plate.

    My family spends less than average on food, using your strategies and also timing our purchases to sales and coupons. There are a few “treat” foods that I’ll buy only when I can combine sale and coupon, but I pass up a lot of coupons because I’m not willing to feed my family those foods.


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