The holidays are filled with all sorts of ways to treat ourselves and others well. Hopefully, you’ve managed to find time to make sure your Military Family is having a happy and healthy season. If you’re struggling, we’ve got a few ideas for you — from healthy foods that will nourish you inside and out to healthy activities that will keep your mind and body strong.
But, let’s face it, life will always be busy — no matter what time of year it is. There will always be kids’ soccer games and ballet recitals to attend… work schedules and hobbies to pursue, and everything else you manage to squeeze into your day. The trick is to find a way to have it all — good, quality, healthy food and fun for your busy Military Family. So give yourself the gift of health and happiness, at a price you can afford, and without the usual stress.
Quick Tips for Healthy Eating
Before you shop…
- Plan your food budget.
- Plan your meals.
- Create your shopping list.
- Eat something.
A tight budget can make you feel like you can’t splurge or simply get what you really want, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Your first step in planning your food budget should be to consider what funds you have available to spend on food in the first place. Next, you need to think about how much you need to purchase the items each person in your family will eat throughout a week or a month. It’s important to be reasonable about the quantity of food you and your family members actually eat — and whether or not you are a family of snackers, grazers or 3-times-a-day full-meal eaters.
Once you’ve determined those eating habits, you can apply your findings to planning your food-shopping budget, planning out your meals based on healthy recipes you’d like to create, and devising your grocery shopping list. Write the items on your list in order of the aisles at your grocery store. It will help you stay focused, speed up your store visit, and keep you from wandering from shelf to shelf looking for goods.
Once you’ve got it all sorted out, including taking note of what you already have available in your kitchen cabinets and fridge, make sure you eat something before you hop in the car and head out to the store. Shopping on an empty stomach can affect you in multiple ways: It can make you crave the foods you smell as you meander throughout the store; it can make you impatient and willing to grab whatever is within reach; and it can put you in a rotten mood that deters you from spending the extra time you may need to compare ingredients, prices and quality. Making decisions under those circumstances can blow not only your budget but also your pre-planned shopping trip if you end up buying things that were not on your list.
As you shop…
- Look for sales and sign up for member cards.
- Buy store brands, not name brands.
- Buy in-season fruit and vegetables.
- Stay away from junk foods.
- Buy lesser cuts of meat.
- Stock up on grains and beans.
- Buy in bulk, comparing unit prices.
Even if you don’t like to clip coupons or research sales, you can still find bonus buys you weren’t expecting at the store. Keep an eye out for bargains in the aisles and use your store member card whenever you go through the checkout zone. Sometimes, the stores will automatically load discounts onto the card… plus, if the item is discounted for card members only, you will benefit from making the purchase. The trick is to make sure you aren’t swayed into buying something just because it is on sale or just because you get a card-member benefit. If there is a store brand that is being sold for less than the one that is on sale, by all means… skip the discounted item and buy the store brand.
Also, it may go without saying that buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season means you’re getting the best quality at the best price, but there is still some room for improvement here if you are only shopping at your local grocery store: Don’t forget about farmer’s markets! Not only will you be able to purchase, fresh-off-the-field, locally grown and sometimes, but not always, organic foods… you may also be able to purchase them at lower prices than the grocery chain stores can provide, especially if you hit the farmer’s market within the hour before it closes. You never know if a vendor will be ready to make you a better deal to help deplete their supply.
Meanwhile, back at the grocery store… be sure to stay away from the junk food aisles. This doesn’t simply mean to avoid potato chips, doughnuts and ice cream. It also means not to get caught in the trap of buying foods you crave, just because you know you crave them. Think of healthier ways to control those cravings before you buy. For example, if you love chocolate… skip the cookies and head for a chocolate bar that lets you break off a single square. For example: Eating 1 square of chocolate may have just 45 calories, compared to eating 1 chocolate chip cookie that contains 55. Satisfy your craving without caving.
Now, if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions — whether they are self-imposed or for health reasons — you may be in luck! Not only will you be able to save money that would have otherwise been spent on meat, but stocking up on grains and beans and other items that have a long shelf-life will elongate the time between purchasing them… and that translates to weeks’ worth of savings on those pantry staples.
But, if you do enjoy eating meat, even though it can get pricey, you can still cut costs by purchasing lesser cuts of meat, or by buying a reduced quantity of meat. Preparing a lesser cut of meat correctly will help disguise its lower quality. Preparing meals that incorporate a variety of ingredients — think: casseroles, crock pot meals, soups, stews, sandwiches, pasta, etc. — will help you fill up tummies without feeling like the meat is missing.
And, finally, buy in bulk. Or, more precisely: Buy as much as you can of the things you enjoy… at the lowest price possible. Just remember, of course, not to overbuy things you cannot use before they expire.
- Keep your pantry up to date and organized.
- Use your freezer.
- Prepare the parts of your meals ahead of time.
- Prepare your meals at home.
- Eat a variety of cuisines.
- Repurpose your leftovers.
Now that you’ve considered your food expenses, planned out your meals, and bought a variety of healthy foods in the right quantities, it’s time to put them all away. Be sure to keep your kitchen pantry well organized by putting items that are already open or that will expire first up front. An easy way to remind yourself of what’s new and what’s not is to keep a bin in your pantry, cabinet, or fridge that says “Eat me first.” That will help you save money and minimize the chance of creating unwanted “science experiments” in the back of your fridge, or being disappointed when you find out your chocolate cake mix has passed its deadline date.
Another way to stay ahead of spoilage is to use your freezer wisely. You can add an “Eat me first.” bin there, too. And, of course, label and date everything you put into it — not just with the current date, but with the date you expect not to be able to use it anymore. For instance, if meats last up to six months in the freezer, put a six-months-from-now date on it so you know when to throw it away. You’ll also do yourself a huge favor if you position items chronologically to remove the extra thinking that may be involved in preparing your next meal at home.
Which brings us to the next point: prepping portions of each meal ahead of time. This is easier than it may sound, if you plan for it. Choose one morning, afternoon or evening as “Prep Time” each week and get in the habit of using that time to chop veggies, prepare sauces or set aside necessary ingredients in a dedicated “next meal” area. Even if you won’t be using the items till the end of the week, you will save yourself time and stress knowing all you have to do is assemble your pre-prepped items and pop them in the oven or a pot on the stove. Assemble as much as you can into freezer bags or plastic containers that can be labeled with details of the date, time and meal you will use it for. For example: “Sun., 5/1 – Shepherd’s Pie – Crock Pot Dinner”. You could even go so far as to add the next steps for the meal’s preparation, such as: “Heat on Low for 50 minutes. Top with mashed potatoes. Serve with salad and rolls.” The more thinking you do ahead of time — when you have the time — will help you stay on track.
Finally, make sure you consider a variety of cuisines to make that will help you keep your weekly menu-planning fresh and inspired. And, by all means, save and re-purpose your leftovers. Grilled veggies that were used for fajitas on Tuesday night can be re-used on Thursday night for stir fry. Baked potatoes from Wednesday can be sliced and cooked in a skillet to make home fries on Friday. Navy beans, macaroni and ground beef from Monday night can be transformed into a soup you can serve with grilled cheese sandwiches on Saturday night. And on and on.
More Tips for Healthy Living
The same types of tips above that you use for determining your spending and preparation of food can be applied to organizing and de-stressing your lifestyle. Here are some ways to keep you focused and feeling good:
When you’re on-the-go…
- Know where you’re going, how long it takes to get there and how long you will be there.
- Plan and prep snacks that will keep your stomach happy so it won’t sour your mood.
- Stash “extras” in your car — a few snacks, water bottles, first-aid kit, roadside tools, and money (keep it in a secret hiding place).
- If you’re not going in your own car, keep a few bare-minimum needs on you. A pocket-sized pack of peanuts can feel like a lifesaver when you are in a strange place and have no control over when you’ll have your next meal.
- Sitting at a stoplight? Do a few neck, chin, arm and foot exercises.
When you’re at home…
- Work in a little exercise between daily chores and tasks. For example:
- Loading the washing machine or unloading the washer? Turn it into a routine — bend over, touch your toes, and reach for the clothes pile between your regular bend-and-stuff action. Or, as you take each item out of the machine, raise it in your arms over your head before you fold it and put it in your basket.
- Sip coffee, tea or hot cocoa in a chair that overlooks a park. Watch one of your favorite movies. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take a bubble bath. Apply a facial masque. Take a nap. Take time for you. Give others time to themselves.
The real key to living a good life is to see it as a good life and doing things that make you feel good — physically, mentally and emotionally. When you’re part of a Military Family, possibly making a PCS move and trying to fit into a new location every few years, it’s understandable that you might fall back on easy, simple, less-than-healthy activities to see you through. But if you create new, healthier habits for eating and experiencing the things around you, life may actually become even better than you imagine. It’s all about clear, positive thoughts and focused thinking on what you want out of life — for yourself and those you love. With that in mind, you can’t go wrong. And it doesn’t cost a dime.
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