(ARA) – What do time and money have in common? They’re worth a lot, and we could always use more of each. Between managing a packed schedule and trying to stretch every dollar, getting a healthy meal on the table may seem impossible. Smart planning and shopping can make it easier on any budget, so mealtime can be nutritious, tasty and stress-free to prepare. Consider these five tips to plan and prepare quick, nutritious and affordable meals:
- Plan ahead: Studies show one-third of Americans decide what to make for dinner at the last minute, which can lead you to choose less-than-healthy foods. Plan your meals ahead of time and go to the supermarket with a shopping list, so you avoid impulse buys. Stick to your list and budget.
- Go online to find quick recipes: The Internet offers countless places to find recipes the whole family will enjoy and tips to cut preparation time. Search for recipes that use ingredients that are affordable and easy to prepare. Consider searching for recipes on sites like Mealtime.org and AllRecipes.com.
- Keep frequently used ingredients in your pantry: Canned tomatoes, beans, tuna and other foods can be stored in the pantry until you’re ready to prepare a quick and delicious meal. Another plus: A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences shows canned foods help families meet their dietary goals for key nutrients, often at a lower cost-per-nutrient than fresh or frozen varieties.
- Look for meals that can be prepared in advance: Cook ahead on days when you have time or double-up on recipes of your favorite soups and sauces; freeze half to use on one of those especially time-crunched weeknights.
- Explore protein alternatives: Traditionally, meat has been at the center of America’s dinner plate, but that can be expensive every night. Experiment with non-meat proteins, such as beans, seafood and soy-based foods and try “no cook” meals like salads. Combining seasonal fresh produce in a green salad with affordable protein-alternatives, including canned beans and tuna, helps stretch the food budget and add critical nutrients.
Use these tips to help your family get the most nutrition from every meal by making smart choices from every food group. Remember, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that a healthy, affordable diet should include all forms (canned, fresh, frozen and dried) of fruits, vegetables, beans and seafood. Consider comparing the overall value of fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same vegetable or fruit to decide which best suits your family’s needs.