With many of us currently trimming expenses, our food budget is often the first place that takes a hit. The Food Marketing Institute reports that seventy-one percent of us are cooking at home more and eating at restaurants less, and “home cooking has fewer calories and more nutritional value than foods purchased outside the home.”

While we may be eating more at home, the reality is that the comfort foods we crave (i.e. potato chips or ice cream) do not provide the nourishment we need to stay positive. They may be high in calories but are low in nutrients. Nutrient for nutrient, these comfort foods just don’t deliver the most value for our hard-earned dollar.

The stress hormone cortisol makes people crave foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Think about it: how often have you turned to your good friend ice cream after a long, stressful day? On the other hand, when we don’t eat enough food, we can experience blood sugar fluctuations that can cause mood swings, fatigue, poor concentration, and other negative consequences in the short term and greater health problems, like hyperglycemia, in the long term. The good news is that with some creative shopping and a little planning, we can make wholesome, highly nutritious food that also satisfies the soul.

6 Ways to Recession Proof Your Food Budget

1. Support Local with Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)

These are small independent farms. You can buy a share in a farm, which supports a local farmer. They will deliver fresh produce to your door all summer long! Locally grown foods are better for the environment (fewer planes and trucks spewing pollutants and carbon) and for our health (fewer post-harvest preservatives and pesticides). Farmer’s markets and farm websites are great resources for ways to cut back on eating out. Strawberries and basil are incredibly cheap in season. Consider freezing so that you’ll have organic throughout the year. This last August, I was able to buy a bushel of organic basil for only twenty dollars and was able to make fifteen cups of pesto for a savings of fifty-five dollars.

2. Pull a Jamie Oliver

Jamie was named “The Naked Chef” because he taught the masses that the secret to easy gourmet food was done by stripping down ingredient lists. When you buy high quality staples like olive oil, grains, and rice you can transform these basic ingredients into all sorts of soul satisfying creations. Jamie never substitutes high-quality staples for cheaper ones because he wants your home cooking to be as pleasurable and fulfilling as any restaurant meal. If you really can’t cook, you may want check out some great online resources, like Kris Carr, The Natural Cook Studio, and Meals That Heal.

3. To Meat or Not to Meat

The lean cut of meat can feed a family for days. Grass-fed eye-round is only eight dollars a pound compared to expensive organic cold cuts at fifty-four dollars a pound. For those on a really tight budget, you could go meatless for a few meals a week. The most expensive items on most organic shopping lists are the meats and cheeses. By eating home cooked meals with lots of beans, peas, and lentils as well as a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, pearl barley, and buckwheat, you ensure a nutritious balance and a budget-friendly price. Consider eating a bean dish mixed with a grain like rice—a perfect vegetarian protein option you can cook for less than three dollars a meal.

4. Create a Menu Plan

The average household wastes fourteen percent of the food they buy. If you spend a hundred dollars a week, then you may have just thrown out the equivalent of three homemade gourmet lunches. By planning out your meals, you only shop for the fresh items you need for the week. Any extra portions can be frozen right after you make them so they avoid being leftovers in the back of the fridge. When you plan meals, make sure you include enough foods from each food group. Pay special attention to serving enough vegetables and fruits in family meals. If you plan before you go food shopping, you will know what you have on hand and what you need. Also, shopping from a list helps you avoid expensive “impulse” purchases.

5. Cook from Scratch and Host a Potluck

Buy ingredients in bulk. Organic millet is only a dollar a pound, so anyone can afford a few essentials. You will slash your grocery bill this way. Become friends with your crockpot. By cooking soup and using mason jars, you can make a tasty organic lunch for two dollars a jar! Recently, I have hosted four potlucks (a party where everyone brings a dish of food to share) for the same cost as one expensive meal out, and the best part is the richness of community. It is so fun to turn off the TV and socialize.

6. Know What Is Critical to Buy Organically

While organic food sales have slowed, the organic marketplace is still growing, leading to continued benefits for our soil and water quality and those of us who prefer food without pesticide residues and added hormones, genetic modification, and antibiotics. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it is often difficult to buy everything organic. The environmental working group has made it easy to know what are the most important things to buy organically. Check them out at www.ewg.org. If you can’t afford something organic, just remember to peel it because much of the pesticides are in the skin of the fruit or veggie.

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts The Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her first book, Meals that Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process. Check out more amazing recipes, nutrition tips, and her Anti-Inflammatory Quick Start Program at www.juliedaniluk.com and follow her on Facebook at Julie Daniluk Nutrition and on Twitter @juliedaniluk.

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