By: Cassidy Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
“Eating healthy is expensive.” This is a commonly held belief of many, despite the numerous ways to eat healthy on a budget. One tip that I always present to consumers is to eat at home more often. Eating out can result in the consumption of extra fat, sodium, and calories which can lead to negative health implications including overweight, obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, not many restaurants provide the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains we need to ensure good nutrition. In addition to these less than desirable outcomes, eating out too often is a hard hit to your wallet.
If you go out for lunch Monday through Friday, you are likely going to spend at least an average of $8.00 per lunch. Over five days a week, that is $40.00. In one year, you will have spent a little over $2,000.00! Not only do you have to account for the $2,000.00 spent per year on restaurant food, but there are also the associated healthcare costs of the implications of those dietary choices.
You’re likely thinking, “Whether I buy food prepared by a restaurant or food prepared at home, I am spending money either way.” You wouldn’t be wrong with this statement. However, the price you pay per serving is far less when you prepare meals at home. In addition to paying less per serving, you also have the ability to include more nutritious ingredients in your meals such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and reducing the sodium content. When you prepare food at home, you are in control. You are also in control of the portion.
Portion sizes at restaurants have increased greatly overtime. Research shows these changes in portions at restaurants influence our portions at home, creating “portion distortion.” This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if we boxed up half of our food to take home with us or, better yet, cut back at other meals. When you eat at home, you are in control. A few tips for cutting back on portion sizes at home include using smaller plates and keeping the serving dishes off of the table. Rather than serve “family style,” prepare plates to take to the table. This will help keep the food slightly out of reach and require moving in order to get second portions. If you are still hungry after your first serving, wait five to ten minutes to allow your food to digest and your brain to signal that you are full. If you are hungry after waiting, focus on the vegetables for your second portions.
“I don’t have time to cook” is an additional defense I hear often. If you think you do not have time to cook, consider quick cooking methods such as grilling, stir frying, using a crockpot, steaming, and sautéing. These are methods I use often, and I can have meals ready within thirty minutes. Be sure to consider your schedule for the week. During the one or two nights you don’t have errands to run or events to attend, cook enough to get you through several days. What might this look like?
It depends on your preferences. You might choose to pre-wash and cut up your ingredients so they are convenient and ready to be cooked or you might cook once and place into containers to grab later. I always recommend to “fill the grill.” For example, grill a package of chicken breasts. You will have enough chicken for tacos, grilled chicken on a salad, chicken salad, chicken & veggie quesadillas, stir fries…you get the point- possibilities are endless. You can also roast a pan of vegetables per week, seasoning the vegetables at the end of the process. This allows you to divide up your vegetables and incorporate various seasonings so you do not get bored. You could even arrange different vegetables in sections on a sheet pan to have a variety of sides for the week. To roast vegetables, simply toss them in a little olive oil and your choice of seasonings, arrange them on a sheet pan so they are not touching, and roast for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Even non-veggie lovers will appreciate the caramelization of these vegetables!
If you are interested in learning more tips, tricks, and techniques toward eating more meals at home, be sure to stay up to date with Johnston County Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Programs. Visit www.johnston.ces.ncsu.edu for more information.