“Eat a balanced diet” is one of the simplest pieces of health advice that medical professionals dispense on their patients. For the most part, it just means “eat a wide variety of items without an excess of any one item or type of item.” In other words, don’t live on a solely cheese-based diet.
It’s pretty sound advice, too. If you’re consistently getting a variety of fruits and vegetalbes as well as a reasonable balance of proteins and carbohydrates and good fats, you’re probably meeting all of the nutritional needs of your body.
Simply by meeting all of the nutritonal needs of your body, you’re taking one solid step towards minimizing your health care costs, so eating a balanced diet is good for your finances in that way. Of course, the savings goes beyond that, too.
As mentioned before in this series, one of the most powerful techniques for saving money at the grocery store is to utilize the grocery store flyer for your shopping. Simply take your store’s flyer, plan your meals around the items that are on deep discount at the store, make a list based on that meal plan, and head to your grocer.
From just the level of that grocery store visit, you’re going to save some cash. You’re buying groceries on sale, which means that you’re getting your food at a relatively low cost.
However, grocery foods don’t have the same items on sale every single week. They rotate the items on sale pretty regularly. One week, you might find citrus fruits on sale. The next week, the big sale item might be cabbage and kale. The week after that, asparagus is on a steep discount. One week, you’ll find chicken breasts on sale, but the next week, the big sale item is fish.
If you follow that rotation, you’re guaranteeing yourself some rotation in your diet.
Of course, simply buying the items on sale and preparing them the way you would everything else isn’t the best option. One of my uncles used to cook almost everything he ate in the exact same fashion. He’d just get some oil boiling, toss the item in a bit of flour, toss it into the boiling oil, scoop it out a few minutes later, and eat it. It seemed like he did this with every meal.
Another friend of mine would simply cover anything she bought with marinara sauce and eat it with pasta. It seemed as though she was eating what she called “pasta bowl” every single meal.
Instead, it’s worthwhile to seek out new recipes and preparations. Try looking for recipes that include two or three of the items on sale in the same meal. Since the items on sale will change all the time, you’re bound to get some unique mixes every week. You might find yourself making a citrus salad one week and a glazed grilled salmon the next.
It’s also worthwhile to have some “modular” meals in your repertoire. By “modular meals,” I mean recipes that can easily be modified by swapping certain ingredients around. You might have a recipe for a casserole that uses a certain amount of a protein, a certain amount of two vegetables, some rice, and some chicken broth. You might make ratatouille all the time, which uses whatever vegetables you can find (for the most part). You might make shepherd’s pie, which also uses pretty much any vegetable you can find. You might just make a beef vegetable soup in your crock pot once a week.
The key is to take advantage of the breadth of items you can get at a discount. If you’re constantly using a variety of items from sales, you’re going to naturally have a varied diet, which not only saves you in the short term with a lower grocery bill, but helps in the long term with your health and nutrition.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.