Eating healthy while on a budget has not only become more desirable, but also more difficult. New research comes out each year showing the benefits of power foods in different combinations, urging people to eat enough fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins each day. However, two things stand in the way of a healthy diet: lack of time, and lack of money.
As our lives become busier and busier, stuck in an endless balance between work, family and friends, we have little time to invest in the kind of cooking that produces truly healthy food. Shopping takes time as well, and money – which is why so often, takeout for dinner seems like a cheaper option than buying tons of ingredients. It’s faster to buy a Big Mac on your way home from work than spending hours toiling in the kitchen on a recipe.
As a result, many people find it nearly impossible to eat healthy, easily and affordably – which is where a cheap, nutritious, once-a-week cooking plan comes in. The concept behind this strategy is that few people have the time to cook every single day. Instead, it’s possible to spend several hours each weekend (often a Sunday afternoon or evening) preparing all of your meals for the next week, so that each day the food is ready to grab and go.
This strategy has several benefits: the first is that you eat your own food, prepared in the healthiest possible way with the freshest ingredients, every day instead of reaching for the phone to order pizza just because you don’t have time to cook. You can also influence the meals of your family this way, extending healthy habits to your spouse, partner, kids, parents or siblings. The second benefit is that you don’t wear yourself out with trying to cook every night, even if you think that you have the time, and can instead focus on other aspects of your life that contribute to wellness, such as exercising and getting enough sleep. Then come the monetary benefits: cooking once a week allows you to save money by buying a bulk amount of ingredients instead of purchasing separate items for each meal.
So how would you actually create a game plan where you can turn this strategy into a reality? Start by finding recipes that can be prepared ahead of time and last for the week ahead – for example, roasted vegetables. Once you find a recipe that you will enjoy, find others that utilize the same ingredients and similar cooking methods, so that you can bundle them together when preparing your food for the week.
When selecting ingredients, consider the five major food groups – fruits, vegetables, dairy, carbs, and meat/protein – and pick out items that will provide you the most vitamins and nutrients for the quantity you’re getting and price that you’re paying. Some so-called “superfoods”, such as kale, are a great value in both departments; if you don’t know how to incorporate them into your cooking, there are numerous recipes you can find online to get started. You should also consider value – for example, don’t buy a tiny amount of one ingredient for an exorbitant price that’s listed in one recipe and never used again. Get items that you’ll reuse for different recipes and can eat throughout the week.
You can also achieve the same goal by mixing and matching health carbs with vegetables and proteins. For example, you can slow-cook chicken or pork and prepare bulk amounts of rice, pasta or quinoa for the week ahead. Then, when eating dinner each night, simply choose a carb base and add your prepared meat or vegetable topping for a healthy and delicious bowl that takes minutes to serve.
When actually cooking the food, find a solid chunk of time that you don’t mind spending in the kitchen. Cooking for several hours at a time can be exhausting, so keep yourself comfortable with good shoes, a relaxed atmosphere and even some fun music. Keep track of how much food you make, as leftovers can only last so long and you don’t want to make too much.
Remember that just because you are using a limited batch of ingredients for a number of meals doesn’t mean that you have to eat the same thing every day. From varying your carb sources to using different spices for different days I recommend Flavor God. They’re Paleo Friendly meaning there’s no additives or allergens , you can add variety to your life and keep things interesting every day.
After you’re done cooking, make sure to let everything cool off, then seal it in airtight containers and refrigerate properly. This is especially important for food that you’re going to consider eating later in the week, as you want everything to be safe for consumption!