5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier

October 11th, 2011 by Dionna | 39 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Feed with Love and Respect, Homey Goodness, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting

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Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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One of the biggest things that changed financially when we became parents did not have anything to do with cloth diapering or breastfeeding or medical bills, the change was related to our eating habits. Before Kieran, we ate out more often, ate processed, pre-packaged meals much more frequently, and generally did not think very much about what we put into our bodies. With a baby – and a newly signed will – our decisions about how we were treating our bodies became much more important to us.

We do not have the money to eat local, organic food with every meal. Nor (to be quite honest) are we quite motivated to do so yet. But we have improved our eating habits for a multitude of reasons. We want to live longer and healthier lives for our children, and we want to give our children good role models so that they will grow up eating a healthy diet.

But eating homemade, healthy meals can be difficult with young children and a busy schedule. And it can be expensive if parents don’t take time to plan ahead. Too often we will come home from a long day and have no motivation to prepare a healthy meal, or we go to the store with cranky kids and little time and do not make wise spending decisions.

To combat the temptation to grab fast food or to fix something that is not particularly healthy, I’d like to share five energy, time, and money saving tips I’ve learned. Please share your own tips in the comments!

1. Meal Planning. Just Do It.

Think of how many meals your family eats a week – about 21, right? Now think of how nice it would be if you only had to think about what to feed everyone once a week (or every two weeks or longer!). When you meal plan, you take away the time, energy, and stress of daily wondering what to prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Added bonuses? You save time and money at the grocery store, because you stick to a list and can plan meals around sales.

If you’re new to meal planning, here are some great sites and articles that will help you get on the right track:

9 Tips to Successful Menu Planning from Simple Bites

A Basic Guide to Menu Planning from Simple Mom

Meal Planning Tips and Such from Meal Planning 101

Menu Planning: Save Time in the Kitchen from Organized Home

Tips on Meal Planning from Meal Planning Mommies

2. Invest in a Deep Freeze and Cook in Bulk. It’s Worth It!

We bought our deep freeze about two years ago – it was $100 on craigslist, barely used, and spacious. I think it has been one of my best buying decisions in the past two years. There is something strangely satisfying about walking to the deep freeze in the morning, taking out a healthy meal that I made three months ago, and thawing it out for dinner. Also satisfying is preparing a meal and making a double (or triple or quadruple batch) and packaging the extras up to freeze – I know I’m making something healthy our family will eat, I’m saving the time and energy of cooking (and cleaning up from) that same meal on several different occasions, and I’m using up ingredients that might otherwise languish in my refrigerator. Buying and cooking in bulk can be especially cost-effective when you see something on sale – get enough for a few meals and take advantage of the low cost!

Here are some sites and articles that give tips for bulk cooking as well as good recipes to try:

A Beginner’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking from Fractured Frugal Friends

Assembly Cooking for Newbies from Wise Bread

Freezer Cooking 101 and Printables from Money Saving Mom

Freezing and Food Safety from USDA

Freezing Food Guide from HelpWithCooking.com

Learn Once a Month Cooking in 7 Easy Steps from Frugal Mom

Make Ahead Freezer and Cooking Recipes from The Recipe Link

Make Ahead Meals from Cooks.com

OAMC/Freezer/Make Ahead Recipes from Food.com

Once a Month Cooking from About.com

Start Small: Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking from Organized Home

3. Always Have Easy Go-To Favorites On Hand.

For those times when you don’t have anything planned and you forgot to pull a meal out of the freezer, have a few go-to meals ready in the cupboard. Think easy and simple: spaghetti, chicken stir fry, {insert your favorite quick and dirty meal here}. Here are a few sites with ideas for easy recipes:

Over 100 Quick and Easy Recipes from The World’s Healthiest Foods

Over 100 Easy Quick and Easy Healthy Foods from Lifehack

Quick Fix Meals – 30 Minutes or Less from FoodNetwork.com

4. Make Friends. Cook with Friends. Enjoy Time with Friends.

There are some dinners when it would be nice to have help on hand to prepare them – homemade pizza, lasagna, casseroles – things with lots of ingredients. Why not make it an evening in with friends, have everyone bring a few ingredients, then assembly line your products? Everyone takes home several meals to freeze, you don’t spend hours in the kitchen alone, and you have help cleaning up. Cooking with friends for the win!

5. Organize a Meal Exchange.

If you don’t have space to actually cook with friends, organize a meal exchange. Everyone commits to making enough meals for the other people in the group, then you meet at a designated time to exchange meals. So you arrive with four freezer bags full of chicken enchiladas, and you leave with a batch of homemade soup, some stroganoff, fixings for meatball subs, and a meatloaf. You could also organize an exchange specifically for people with similar food sensitivities, if that is an issue for you. Get creative – you’ll expand your family’s palate and save on time in the kitchen!

What has your family done to eat healthier while maintaining your food budget?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon October 11 with all the carnival links.)

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life… — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth – Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family’s realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the “real cost” of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here’s why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw’s Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she’s made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget – and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma’s Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen’s monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she’s lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children’s financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family’s lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she’s willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me … a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old’s learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It’s Not a Baby Crisis. It’s Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • “Making” Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There’s a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters… But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive…Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living – and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems — Sarah at Parenting God’s Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family’s finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn’t always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family’s approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.

39 Responses to:
"5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier"

  1. Great tips! We’re not into meal planning for ourselves (for my 1st child yes, we used to do that when he started his solids) and right now with a 2.5 yr old toddler and a month old baby, I’m finding it difficult to even have time to do much. Am going to bookmark this post and get back to this!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      The nice thing about meal planning is that it should *save* you time in the long run! Plus you can find lots of sample weekly menus online, so it might make it easier to use those as guides at first. Good luck Jenny!

  2. Phoebe @ Little Tinker Tales   phoeberobinson

    There’s some really great ideas here. I’ve thought about doing batch cooking for a while now but you’ve spurred me on – I think I’ll be investing in a deep freeze for the garage! And I’ll definitely be perusing those links later on for more good ideas and inspiration.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thanks Phoebe! Amy (from Anktangle) was here this week, and she is going to look into a deep freeze after seeing how much easier it made life for me ;) They are pretty awesome.

  3. Melissa   vibreantwanderer

    This is great advice. Thanks, Dionna! Meal planning is one thing I need to do more of. Things are so much easier when I take that time! I used to organize a weekly get together with friends to make a couple of meals for the week – it made cooking so enjoyable.

  4. I like the tips! The meal planning is definitely one of those things that really help us. Then we have purpose at the grocery store. Instead of walking around aimlessly.

  5. Claire   lactatinggirl

    Love this post!

    I really need to get back into the habit of meal planning. I love it when I do it, but then I forget to make a new weekly sheet or I end up not being able to make the planned dinner that night and it throws everything off. I think I just need to be more thorough when planning and that will help a ton. I’m going to start again today!

    I also love the tip on the deep freezer. We bought a 25 cubic feet one (yeah, it’s huge!) and filled it with local meat. I almost never buy meat at the grocery store (though I need to get another half pig, so I’ve been buying bacon lately) so I don’t have to worry about sales or anything like that. I did the math when I bought our first half cow and it ended up being about the same price as buying the regular stuff in the grocery store, but I get the added benefit of knowing there’s no hormones, antibiotics, etc. and that kind of meat costs A LOT more in the store!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      We’ve bought pork from a local farmer before, but never beef – I just haven’t found a good enough deal, b/c our deep freeze isn’t big enough to really go bulk, KWIM? But I agree – if you have the space, it’s usually a great idea!!

  6. Gaby @ Tmuffin   tmuffindotcom

    This is such a good reminder that eating at home and cooking from scratch saves so much money. Every once in a while, if I’m not organized about my weekly cooking, the evening rolls around and I say “screw it” and go to the local burger joint. $20 later, I’m like, “Really? For burgers and fries?”

    I have a problem where I like to dive into deep projects head first. So meal planning and bulk cooking seems so daunting to me.

    But we painted a small strip of the wall in our kitchen with chalkboard paint, and if I think of 5 meals to make on a particular week, I write it up there. That’s enough to keep me on schedule, use up what I have in my fridge, and save money (and keep my brain freed up. If I try to remember what I planned, I always forget.) Meal planning doesn’t have to be an involved process. You don’t need to try out new recipes. Just think of what you have, what you can make, and write it down. Start small.

    Now I have to take my own advice and try the same thing for bulk cooking. I would LOVE to grab a meal out of the fridge and do absolutely nothing else!

    • Holly N.

      Great idea about painting a strip of the wall with chalkboard paint. That is really great! Thanks!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      omg Gaby I am the SAME way about saying screw it and eating out (and then regretting it). I think I need a support network of people so we can keep each other accountable for meal planning, etc.!

  7. Laura   LauraBangerter

    Hmm I’ve been wanting to get a freezer for a long time now…

  8. Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com   littlegreenblog

    I agree having kids makes you re-evaluate a whole bunch of stuff including staying healthy! I’ve never got on with meal planning, much to my dismay, but I’m convinced I would love to have a go at once a month cooking.

    I guess I would add buying seasonally to your fantastic list; that way you can make use of gluts while they are cheap and fill up the freezer :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Very good idea. I’m getting ready to buy a whole bunch of apples – organic local apples for something like .50/lb!! So we’ll be trying our hand at canning applesauce. Mmmm! I could also get sweet potatoes cheap cheap cheap, but I’m not sure how to can/freeze those . . .

  9. Thanks for all the resources in one place!!! Great post!

  10. Gretchen   ThatMamaG

    Deep freezers are the bomb! We got ours on Craigslist too and it has been one of our best purchases.

  11. Alicia C.   amccrenshaw

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
    I really needed the links you’ve included in this post… I always plan on planning our menus, but never really get around to it. I’m going to be planning out huge once-a-month shopping trip this weekend. That gives me just enough time to check out the links to easy recipes and meal planning, which means no excuses this time! LOL

  12. Amy   Amy_willa

    Wow, Dionna! What an awesome set of resources and ideas (as if I have learned to expect anything less of you, wonderwoman!) <3

    I have definitely bookmarked this post and some of the links to read another night. . . thanks for pointing me in the right direction to organize my batch cooking and learn how and what to freeze!I was just wondering the other night about this very thing. . . and lo and behold, you wrote about it!

    Meal exchanges – now there's an awesome idea! I'll have to organize one with my friends – and I'll be sure to blog about the result!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      You know, I haven’t actually done an in-person meal exchange myself – I need to organize (and blog about) one too!!

  13. I *really* need to get back to *cooking* in the first place… then maybe I could plan some meals. :-P

    Let’s see, today I’ve eaten: a PB&J on wheat (surprise, surprise, right? I eat it for breakfast at home, too), a frozen chimichanga, and a grilled cheese sandwich. Hey, I did COOK the sandwich myself! I even made a couple for Elmo!! :-D

  14. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    Great ideas, Dionna! I really need to do more with meal planning and using the freezer. I’m happy that my daughter is much better about that than I am! We did enjoy potlucks fairly often when my kids were growing up, and I’ve always been good about making enough for two meals. Now I just need to get a bit more organized about it all. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Potlucks – meaning you just cooked whatever you could throw together? Sounds like a “clean out the fridge” day here :)

  15. I have just started to bulk cook and find it is paying off buy having healthy meals available. Once you start it gets easier.

  16. Amy   anktangle

    Great ideas, Dionna! I’m going to try my hardest to get Jaymz on board with getting a deep freeze. Before you know it, I’ll be able to reheat eggs and blueberry pancakes for breakfast, too! =P

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Dude – I wish you could eat flour, because the pumpkin waffles I made this morning were to.die.for. I wonder if you could use rice flour. . .

  17. Terri   onelovelivity

    Thanks for the link to the quick and easy meals which was EXACTLY what I wanted this evening. I’m trying meal planning but I am itching to try new things rather than just the tried and tested recipes the kids love! I cook fresh everyday because our freezer is small and electricity prices are too high in Dominica to even contemplate feeding another machine! Sometimes I squeeze in an extra batch of cooked lentils but never a whole meal. Also defrosted veggies are never appetizing to me. Ultimately I have to add a number 6 which is to find someone else to cook a meal for me without any obligation to return the favour! Ok I’m hopping off to those quick and easy meal suggestions and seeing what I can fit into the meal plan!

  18. Arpita of Up, Down & Natural   UpDownNatural

    This is great Dionna! I have to admit, I too used to think that eating locally and organic seems like so much work, not to mention expensive! When we first started TTC I slowly was realising that it was worth it, and once I started meal planning it did start working out! It’s much nicer to just wonder what to eat once a week rather than the “What am I going to make for dinner tonight” which inevitably leads to just throwing something easy (and not nutritonal together!)

  19. Thanks for the super useful links! I really like the World’s Healthiest Foods, but I’ve never tried their quick recipes. Duh!

  20. Kelly   BecomingCrunchy

    Love all these tips Dionna! Especially the one about keeping favorites on hand… I actually do menu plan quite a bit, but I can’t count how many times I’ve come home from work and just not felt like making what I had planned. That usually ends up in a call for delivery, but if I had something really easy that I knew I’d always be in the mood for actually in the house, I might actually start limiting some of those takeout calls. :)

    Looking forward to checking out all these resources too – thanks!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I am bad about keeping easy stuff on hand too, but tonight I did manage to talk Kieran into oatmeal for dinner instead of going out, so that was a success ;)

  21. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    These are excellent tips. I especially like the deep freeze tip! I’m going to keep my eye out for one on craigslist and Freecycle. I always make double the amount of food for dinner, but we always eat it for lunch. I like the idea of freezing it for future dinners too.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Freecycle! I never thought about using that – our Freecycle list always frustrates me, because it seems like there are people who pounce on *everything* about 1 minute after it’s posted. Craigslist has always been much more forgiving.

  22. Yep, I totally totally agree with you here. I swear by your first three (love love love the freezer, for sure!) I’d love to do some meal swaps but I’d need to track down folks with similar allergies — not impossible at all, but a bit more work!

  23. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    We (well, I) plan our meals in advance, but so far that hasn’t resulted in any clever budgeting. A couple other carnival posts have given me ideas about how to take that next step, though.

    And yes, bulk cooking! That’s going to be how I make lotsa “fast food” for the winter months. Too bad we have no place for a deep freezer.

    And thanks for all the links!

  24. damir   damirbutkovic

    Hey Dionna,

    I do love your approach, I do agree that you will save a lot of time by eating healthy. Money too for sure when you count in how much people spend to lose that weight gained by junk food.

    Not to mention health implications.

    Cheers,

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