COVID-19 seems to have played havoc with our eating habits – and our grocery bills. Yashmitha Padayachee has tips for how to keep both on the straight and narrow.
Has everyone noticed that the ‘lockdown grocery bill’ made it seem like you were running a B&B for a rugby team in your home? We all knew exactly what ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ was feeling when she went to the cupboard. It seemed like you just spent a small fortune on a trolley full of food, but somehow there aren’t enough ingredients to make a single decent meal. Let’s talk ‘trying to maintain a healthy meal plan in the time of COVID.’
Ensuring your family has a well-balanced healthy diet is a battle for the ages, with a new set of hurdles at every turn, from advice and recommended power foods that are constantly changing, not to mention the ever-changing palate preferences of various family members, to the fluctuating costs and availability of products.
Healthy eating is not an easy battle, but one worth pursuing. With current economic, transport and travel constraints, getting your family what they need might prove even trickier, yet the importance of your family’s immune levels and wellbeing should be a top priority.
Let’s look at a few points to keep in mind that will help keep your grocery budget on a healthy track during these trying times.
Wake up and smell the routine
Your family should have a good eating routine and it is important to stick to it. The occasional late breakfast turned brunch causes no harm, but drastically altered meal-times and additional snack times will wreak havoc on your pocket and health. This has been exceptionally difficult to do in the current circumstances but is a must in order to control both expenditure and food intake.
On the same note, what we eat for each meal is equally important. Breakfast should be nutritious and filling. Starting the day off with a nutritional porridge or fruits should be the norm. If the kids are not keen on fruit, there are some amazing DIY food art tips available online. Again, there’s no denying the ‘treat factor’ in a good old fry-up breakfast or breakfast for dinner, but let’s not make a habit of it.
Waste not, want not
First and foremost, don’t fall into the bulk buying trap. While bulk buying can ‒ in many cases ‒ save you a pretty penny, be smart about which products you choose to buy in bulk. Long life and non-perishables are a definite thumbs up, whereas fresh produce and spoilable items shouldn’t necessarily be bought in bulk.
We’ve all seen the memes about kids eating four bananas in one day, then finding them absolutely revolting the next. And while, yes you can make some more pandemic banana bread, this won’t be applicable to all your fresh produce.
If you want to purchase a few extra items to limit store trips, investigate how to best store each item to increase their shelf life. Similarly, if you want to bulk buy treat items, you need to be sure that you and your family have the resolve to not eat a months’ worth of chips and biscuits in a week. Nothing looks more tempting than a bale of cheese and onion Cheetos in the middle of the night.
The ‘waste not’ theme extends to prepared and cooked meals as well. While cooking a little extra is a big thumbs up for that one night when we just eat leftovers, we don’t want to end up discarding uneaten food due to spoilage.
A general shopping tip is to not do grocery shopping while hungry, because all sorts of unnecessary things find their way into the trolley.
A goal without a plan is just a wish
If you want to feed your family healthy meals on a budget, you need a meal plan. If deciding what to eat a week in advance is not for you, at the very least decide on what meals will be in the weekly pool. The exact meal you choose can be decided on the day, or the night before.
If you shop weekly, you’d need a rough idea of meals for the week, and if you shop monthly, you would need the same for the month. This sounds simple enough, but can be very easy to lose track of, especially under more stressful shopping conditions.
For example, if you cook a mince dish once a week and shop monthly, you should ideally have four packs of mince in your trolley. Keep calm, make a meal plan, and write out a shopping list according to that meal plan.
As a bonus, many stores have their own personalised loyalty cards, that give you access to certain in-store deals. These coupons and store specials are vital in helping with your budget.
Some additional tips to keep in mind
- Grow your own veggies. We aren’t all gifted with green thumbs, but it would be a fun family project to try and get a mini vegetable garden going. If it fails, then so be it, but if it thrives, then you’ve got salads for free forever.
- Besides the environmental factors against too much packaging, there is also an economical factor. Buying individually wrapped green peppers is going to hit your wallet harder than the ‘pick and weigh’ variety.
- Buy in season. While most of our favourite fruits and vegies are available year-round, it’s worth paying attention to which products are in or out of season, as this affects pricing. If a fruit is being sold out of season, it will cost considerably more than when they are in season.
Remember you are what you eat, so try not be fast, easy, cheap or fake.