MyplateWhether you are newly struggling to make ends meet during a global pandemic or are familiar with the battle of prioritizing food amongst other daily living costs, shopping for both nutritious and budget-friendly meals can become an arduous task. Although it seems difficult, this article breaks down the basics to eating well and doing it on a budget.

The easiest way to eat a balanced meal is to consider the USDA’s MyPlate. MyPlate is a balanced-eating concept that helps you visualize serving sizes on your plate without the hassle of “counting your macros” or dealing with tricky, time-consuming calorie logging.

Non-Starchy Vegetables: Make your mom proud by finding ways to include this food group on your plate! Non-starchy veggies are important because they are essential for daily fiber and have a great range in vitamins and minerals! They are also a great food group that fills you up without a major deposit in your daily calories. All greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes and tomato products, the squash family, peppers, and more are all considered our non-starchy vegetables. The goal is to have three or more servings of vegetables a day, so get creative on how you can include them into your meals and snacks.

Fruits: Part of the carbohydrate family, fruits are great for your something sweet in the day, as well as providing more fiber (if you leave the skins on), vitamins, and minerals! Bananas, apples, oranges and their “cutie” counterparts, pears, cherries, the berry family, mangoes, peaches and nectarines, watermelon, pineapple, kiwis, and other exotic fruits count towards your recommended 2+ servings a day.

  • Saving on Produce: Be honest with yourself. This sounds weird, but over-buying produce at the store can end up leading to a lot of food waste (and $$ waste). Consider what you will realistically eat throughout the week and if you feel like you didn’t buy enough, then you can always go back! Another trick is to buy frozen. Stores have plenty of varieties these days and they can last a very long time in your freezer. Don’t have freezer space? Canned fruits and vegetables are still viable options, just be sure to drain and rinse your food before eating it to rid of any preservative salt or sugar left behind.

Grains & Starchy Vegetables: Believe it or not, it is recommended that 45-60% of calories come from carbohydrates. Carbohdyrates provide glucose for brain function and are our preferred fuel source, at all times. Aim to make at least half of your grain intake whole grains for a boost of soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Grains such as, wheat, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, oatmeal and quinoa are easy go-to’s to start to increase whole grains. Starchier vegetables like peas, potatoes, and corn also fit in this category and can be swapped in for whole grains as part of a meal for a change of pace.

  • Carb Savings: Luckily, grains are a fairly cheap product across the board here in America. Finding the pasta, rice, or other grain of your choice will be easy! Similarly, potatoes are a cheap buy at the store. However be mindful of pre-packaged potato products for added salt and fat content.

Proteins: Most animal products are considered to be a strong protein source. Imagine the array – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, any and all seafood, milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt. If you’re more of a Meatless Monday or dedicated vegetarian/vegan, there are still options for you! Soy products, aka soy milk, tofu, tempeh and edamame, are great sources of protein, but so are most beans and lentils.

  • How to Save: Beans and lentils are very cheap canned or dry and can help you space out your red meat consumption. Canned/packaged fish is also fairly dollar savvy, including bulk frozen fish packs. I also recently found out that tofu is quite cheap, around $2 a pack for about a pound, which could last you around a week!

Dairy & Other Beverages: Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese can be a great source of nutrients for us – they have Vitamin D (something many Americans are deficient in) as well as calcium to help build strong bones, and they also possess a strong carb:protein:fat ratio that can help promote recovery after a good workout. However, if you cannot tolerate or choose not to have dairy in your life, you can still get your calcium and vitamin D from fortified non-dairy milks and yogurt. However, many alternative milks lack the same level of protein as dairy milk, so be sure to include the protein options listed above to supplement.

  • How to Save: Wondering how you can save on dairy? It’s hard to come by milk that will be on sale, but look for clearance yogurts or cheeses that might have expiration dates coming soon. Also, if you’re an avid flavored milk drinker, consider buying syrups or powders instead of buying pre-mixed drinks. Non-dairy products (alternative milks, yogurts, cheeses) are going to be more expensive, than dairy. Be mindful of how often you like to consume these products and do the math to see if that is something you can work into your budget.

Wondering what an RD2Be spends on groceries? I usually try to keep my budget between $25-30 a week. I also keep other costs down by, eating out around once per week, avoiding liquor costs, and making sure I clear out most of my pantry and fridge before meal planning for the next grocery trip. Below is a grocery list and meal plan for around a week’s worth of food.

Grocery List

Non-Starchy Vegetables* 2 Bell Peppers
2 Frozen Packages of Broccoli
Zucchini & Yellow Squash
Fruits* Frozen Mixed Berries
3 Avocados
1 Package Cherry/Grape Tomatoes
Grains & Starchy Vegetables Whole Wheat Crackers
Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Proteins 3 Cans of Tuna
Dairy & Alternative Products 1 Gallon of 1% Dairy Milk
Pantry Items** Banana Peppers
Greek Yogurt
Spaghetti Sauce
Herbs & Spices

*Another way to save on produce is to look for seasonal products. Items listed in these categories are seasonal summer products.

**Items that may last over a week and do not contribute to weekly budget price.

Meal Plan

Breakfast: Mix together frozen berries, greek yogurt, and milk for a smoothie! To break up the smoothie monotony, I also like to use my eggs and chopped cherry tomatoes as an omelette.

Lunch/Dinner: For my lunches, I would make my very own tuna salad! Instead of mayo, I mix the avocado with my tuna and add the cherry tomatoes and banana pepper for flavor and veggies. I add the whole wheat crackers as a tool to scoop up tuna salad and add some carbs to my meal. As for my dinner, I cut down prep time by batch cooking a huge pot of spaghetti. I boil my whole wheat pasta and then add it to spiralized zucchini and yellow squash noodles that I cook in a skillet. As a side to my spaghetti, I usually warm up my frozen broccoli. Throw it all in my reusable containers with a splash of spaghetti sauce and they are ready to go for the week!

Snacks: Although granola bars are convenient snack items, I like to prioritize my vegetable and fruit servings as my top snack choices. For this week’s grocery trip, I would chop up my bell peppers into snackable strips and pack those in my lunch box. If you can splurge, I usually like to add hummus or a little bit of ranch dressing to dress them up.

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