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A tale as old as time? Struggle to try to eat healthy food without spending your entire paycheck on a single shipment of groceries.

Dr. Amy Blunsettfirst Kinesiology A teacher at Missouri State University, gives insight into how to optimize your budget and find healthy alternatives at your local supermarket.

Blunsett asks the question, “How many times have you sat with a bag of apples and accidentally ended up in one sitting?”

It’s hard to keep chewing on nutritionally dense food compared to a bag of chips or even two liters of soda.

The problem is that most snack foods are chemically engineered to encourage non-stop eating.

Wear blinders while shopping

Blunsett notes that people often get tired of trying to buy only what counts as healthy food.

This can lead to a return to bad habits.

The key to maintaining a healthy diet and budget? Don’t pressure yourself to drastically change everything at once, Blunsett recommends.

To get started, she suggests thinking ahead and sticking to a pre-written list.

“Plan ahead! Pair the meals you want with the ingredients you already have at home,” she said.

“Make a list of the things you need. Try not to be tempted by the inner aisles of the grocery store, which tend to be greedy snack foods.”

But what if you could avoid temptation altogether?

“We are seeing a slight uptick in online grocery delivery services or express delivery services, and that can be very beneficial for mindful shopping,” Blunsett said. “This eliminates buying foods at the last minute just because they look good and only cost a few dollars. This adds up quickly.”

When you stick to your plan and prioritize nutrient-rich foods, you eat better and spend less.

Look for fresh, frozen or canned foods

Blansit suggests switching to fresh foods and eliminating packaged foods. If this is not possible, the next best option is frozen and then canned.

“Our society tends to think of a meal as a big piece of meat, a baked potato, and then maybe a little salad,” Blunsett said. “Actually, one chicken breast can be divided into four people. Pair it with beans, brown rice, and other things.”

She recommends finding several nutrient-rich foods that fit within your budget to satiate your food cravings:

  • Nuts and seeds.
  • legumes;
  • All grains.
  • Leafy vegetables.
  • fruits and vegetables.

You can help eliminate food waste

A happy side effect of meal planning and buying only the foods you need?

Much less food waste.

“Many people over-buy and overcook and discard food at the end of the meal,” Blunsett said.

She added that there is a stigma surrounding food waste that we must work to resolve.

If we keep track of the amount of food we buy and eat, it makes us responsible for the food that is wasted.

For those concerned about spoilage and wastage of fresh foods, Blanchett said, freezing is a great alternative.

How does the dollar stretch?

For people who live off food stamps or paycheck to paycheck, “There are programs and options that highlight nutritionally dense foods,” Blunsett said.

If you have the opportunity and funds to buy in bulk, do so. Load your freezer every month with frozen proteins and plan according to your meal schedule. This saves money as well as time, Blunsett said.

Another option for dining well on a budget is to take advantage of the discounted rates that are included with a Sam’s Club or Costco membership.

While the annual fee may be more expensive than some can afford, Blunsett suggests splitting the membership with one or more other families.

Putting a meal plan into action

“I sympathize with working parents who are nervous about not eating at the table until 8 p.m., which they use as an excuse as they drag their way through the drive,” Blunsett said.

“However, if they plan in advance, the meal can take less than 30 minutes to come together.”

It’s important to be forward-thinking, Blunsett said. If you make time to plan your meals, you don’t have to worry about that later.

Stop what you’re doing and give yourself some time to look at the pantry and freezer.

Then follow three simple steps:

  1. Beware of filling foods in your diet.
  2. Make a basic meal plan for the week and use it while grocery shopping.
  3. Be patient with yourself and keep doing your best.

“No one can achieve perfection right away. Do what you can and don’t get discouraged,” Blunsett said. “The important thing is to be consistent with trying—and that’s what will create better habits.”

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