Since we are still technically in the winter season, it is more difficult to find fresh produce right now. This can make eating healthier a bit more difficult, and sometimes more expensive. But, there is a great way to use what you’ve already got to eat healthy and still not break the bank.
Pantry Clean Out
Most of us have a lot of extra food floating around our pantries and freezers that we have forgotten about. We had good intentions when we initially purchased these items, but for one reason or another they just got pushed by the wayside.
This is the time of year to dig all of those items out and figure out what to do with them. I call this a Pantry Clean Out and it’s one of my favorite things to do.
Throw Away or Donate
I begin the process by throwing things out that simply cannot be used anymore. Doing this gives you a better inventory to work with, so you can really see what you have, that is still viable.
Things to look for that could be thrown out, or donated, are:
- Anything you bought but never ate – that’s a good sign that it is not something in your wheelhouse. These would be donated items.
- Anything expired – obviously, these items would be thrown away. But, I usually keep items that have longer shelf lives, such as dried rice and beans, much longer than the expiration dates. I am comfortable with this, but a lot of people aren’t. So use your best judgement on these items.
- Junk food – you know what these items are! They can be donated or tossed, depending on the expiration date and state of the item.
Once you have tossed or donated the superfluous items in your pantry and/or freezer, then the next step is to take stock of what you have left. Some things to look, and hope, for in your cache are:
- Dried Rice or Beans
- Whole grain bread (gluten free or not)
- Flaxseed – I keep mine in the freezer because it reduces the oxidization and keeps the Omega 3 potency higher for longer.
- Pasta – preferably whole grain whenever possible (but work with what you’ve got)
- Frozen fruits and veggies – variety of berries, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, rainbow carrots, beets, brussel sprouts, asparagus, squash, grapes, peppers, etc.
- Frozen Meat – preferably local farm raised pork, chicken and grass fed beef or wild caught fish (it is best to get these when they are in season with your local farmers and then freeze what you don’t use for the off-season)
- Dairy Free Beverage Options – almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, coconut creamer, coconut yogurt, gelato (the “milks” can be put in dry storage so you don’t have to worry about them going bad as fast)
- Whole Grain Crackers
- Whole Grain Chips
- Baked Chips
- Organic Almond or Peanut Butter
- Variety of Salsa
- Healthy Oils – such as olive, coconut and grapeseed
- Tea – tea has more antioxidants and health benefits than coffee
- Variety of Nuts
- Dried Fruit
- Prepackaged Dinners – these are not my preference for a healthy meal. But if you happen to have some, with a fairly decent ingredient list and a lower sodium level, then you might as well incorporate them into a meal.
These are just a few of the options for what you might find, but it is a good jumping off point.
Incorporating Different Foods for Health
Once you have taken stock and know exactly what you have, then it is time for the real fun to begin! Get creative and figure out what you can use your “superfluous” items for that you wouldn’t have necessarily thought of at first glance.
- Can you create a casserole of some sort with dried rice and beans?
- What about tossing some frozen meat and a plethora of other ingredients and spices into a slow cooker to make a savory meat dish or soup?
- Can you bake a pie out of frozen fruit?
- What about having a loaded baked potato night with some of that frozen meat or the rice and beans?
- How about creating a stir-fry with frozen veggies, olive oil and spices?
- Can you create a smoothie out of frozen fruits and veggies? Throw some ground flaxseed in for extra protein, fiber and Omega 3’s.
- The possibilities really are endless!
When you get creative with what you have, you end up spending less money overall also. Since you already have the bulk of the ingredients just sitting around going unused, you can potentially come in under budget during these off -season months.
But, there are a few tricks to purchasing more nutrient dense, healthier foods and still keep within your budget. Such as:
- Downloading apps from your favorite grocery stores (I personally love the Lidl, Target and Whole Foods apps)
- Downloading and checking the Ibotta app for any additional money back on items you were already planning to purchase
- Get the Receipt Hog app for cash back on most of your receipts. This is one of my favorites!
- Shopping the sales and coupons before you go to the store
- Checking Amazon for their pantry items that are non perishable that can be shipped directly to you (and then using the Ebates extension, if it is applicable, to that category)
- Check around for a local CSA (this will give you a wide variety of fruits and veggies throughout the year to experiment with and diversify your diet)
- Go vegetarian at least three days a week and those days that you eat meat limit it to one meal a day
- Cook staples in bulk one day a week and then utilize them throughout the week in different dishes to save on cooking time. Freeze what you don’t use within that time frame to use at a later date.
These are just a few of the ways that we keep our grocery budget in check during the off-season for our overall optimal health.