Every mom has a full plate: work, errands, chores, children. Her life can seem like a ride that never slows, let alone stops. Healthy food on the dinner plate helps fuel -- quite literally -- that never-ending ride. And if the food is reasonably priced, all the better. We spoke to blogger Erin Chase, founder of the $5 Dinners website and author of the $5 Dinner Mom cookbooks, to score some tips on how to make easy, nutritious meals on a budget.
Paying close attention to when things go on sale is key to saving money. Before heading to the store, log onto your local grocer's website or review the newspaper circulars for that week's specials. If you're crunched for time, Chase suggests picking up the fliers at the store's entrance to see what's on sale. "Look at the front page and plan to get those things," she suggests. "Those are the items that will be less than their normal cost."
Chop and Freeze
If an item you eat often is on sale, buy extra and freeze it. Many fruits and vegetables -- particularly those with low water content -- can be frozen, so don't hesitate to use your freezer to its maximum capacity. Chase recommends chopping the produce before storing it in airtight containers to be opened as needed. Having everything pre-chopped also cuts down on prep time. Frozen chopped vegetables work well in stir-fry dishes, stews, soups and chili. Frozen fruits are excellent for smoothies, baked dishes and easy desserts.
Shop the Perimeter
Any health enthusiast will tell you to avoid the interior aisles of your grocery store; that's where the frozen meals, sweet treats and salty junk food dwell. Avoid temptation by shopping the perimeter of the store, where the dairy, produce, breads and meats usually are located.
Check Unit Prices
"Pay attention to unit prices," advises Chase. In some cases, she says, buying two or three small units of an item is less expensive than buying the larger unit, while in others, buying the larger item is the cheaper choice. For example, a large block of cheese may be less expensive than buying the shredded, cubed or sliced options. "Buy the big block and do the chopping, shredding and slicing yourself," says Chase. For the record, cheese is another food item that freezes well.
Make a List
If you have the time and patience, make a grocery list before heading to the store. This gives you the opportunity to see what's already in your fridge or freezer and plan your meals around what's on sale that week. Additionally, following a list keeps you from making impulse buys or purchasing products you already have at home.
Check the Bakery
Since bakeries specialize in freshly baked goods, they must keep their products moving. "The stores bake too much all the time," says Chase. "They'd rather not throw it away, so always look for markdowns." Note that bread is another easily frozen item, so stock up and store for later if the price is extra low.
Avoid Brand Loyalty
Loyalty is a great virtue, but if you want to save money, it shouldn't apply to your shopping habits. For example, coupons always are available for yogurt, no matter what the brand is. "You can even get free products if it's a high-value coupon," says Chase. Coupons for frozen vegetables, eggs and other dairy items are widely available also.
Make Meals From Scratch
"Think of ways you can make a packaged [product] from scratch," advises Chase. "From scratch is -- 99 percent of the time -- cheaper and healthier for you." For example, instead of buying a packaged rice-and-vegetable meal or a frozen lasagna, make your own sauces and combine fresh ingredients for a less expensive, healthier -- and often tastier -- meal.
Wendy Rose Gould is a professional journalist who has contributed to "Glamour" magazine and the Huffington Post, among other publications. After internships at the "Indianapolis Business Journal," "Kiwanis International" and "NUVO Newsweekly," she earned BA degrees in journalism and philosophy from Franklin College in 2008. Gould specializes in lifestyle topics.