The cost of food is usually a substantial item on a family monthly bills list. For working parents with dependent children it’s very difficult to minimize that cost. Even if parents succeed at minimizing it, it’s usually at the expense of the quality of meals: children end up eating more TV dinners because they are quick to prepare and appear cheap, but eating food full of fat, sugar and sodium can’t be very good for your health.
If you spend one month on an “organized shopping” assignment, purchasing food in bulk, visiting local farmers markets and freezing food, you’ll see that all those cheap TV dinners aren’t so inexpensive. You’ll also save by not throwing away so much food (which is what many households do).
The problem with so much strategy is that working parents don’t have time for that. Or do they?
Save Time and Money By Being Better Organized in the Kitchen
Making a weekly or monthly meals calendar doesn’t really take that much time. You can do it on your way to or from work, during lunch breaks, etc. It’s probably easier to make a weekly plan, but that means going to the store four times a month. Once or twice would probably be better, if we’re talking about economizing on time as well, not just money.
The list should not include things you may or may not use. However, if you’re among those people who suddenly one night at 1 am feel like making lasagna, you should definitely equip a part of your pantry/refrigerator with things that can come in handy on such (hopefully rare) nights. By all means, have a section filled with treats. But only if you can control yourself and use it sparingly.
Once the list is ready, go shopping for larger amounts of food – fresh veggies, fruits, meat, dairy, eggs and other items needed for cooking healthy meals.
Then you have to sacrifice one weekend day to prepare a couple of meals in larger quantities that you can freeze in smaller portions. But then you’re free during the working week, when you can just defrost food and have a healthy meal in minutes.
A Few Rules for Freezing Food Properly
Yes, there are rules for how to properly freeze food, but most people are already following them. For example, it’s better to blanche a lot of veggies before freezing them. You can blanche broccoli, spinach, carrots, asparagus, but no need to blanche tomatoes. Blanching is a process of quickly boiling vegetables, and then quickly placing them in very cold water. This process helps stop the decaying process in the freezer.
Another rule is to keep food in air-free packaging. If you have vacuum-seal bags, they are perfect for veggies, meat, cheese and other types of food. If air gets in, the food can get air burned and decay faster.
Keep the freezer set at zero degrees and don’t overload it.
Now all this work falls apart if you don’t label your food using adequate freezer labels. In some cases you may use plain self-adhesive paper to label your meals, but regular, uncoated paper often peels off in cold storage conditions. The safest thing to do is order inexpensive blank freezer labels that will adhere to freezer packaging as long as needed. That’s an important thing to consider because some types of food can stay in the freezer for as long as 9-12 months, and if the labels peel off and get mixed up with other labels in the freezer, it’s impossible to remember whether the label-less packaging is still good for consumption.
This frozen food calendar is a neat reminder of how long many food items can be kept frozen. It also tells you which foods do not behave so well in the freezer.
There’s a persistent myth that frozen food is not as healthy as fresh food. This can be quite the opposite. In stores you often don’t know how long fruits or vegetables have been kept there, while the usual practice with frozen food is to freeze fruits and veggies right after harvest, at the peak of their ripeness. The food does deteriorate even when frozen, but at a much slower pace. So if you eat it a few months after freezing, it will still be packed with nutrients.
Hopefully this will inspire you to gain control over your family’s nutrition that is so commonly a burning issue in many households.