Sometimes we have the best intentions to follow a healthy eating plan, but when we go to the store and see one fresh yellow pepper is $3 and a pack of lean chicken breasts are over $10 – the dollar menu at the local fast-food joint starts to sound like a good idea. But, healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some tips from Weight Watchers to maximize your food budget while still providing nutritious, yummy meals:

Set A LimitFirst, identify the amount of money you are comfortable spending on food each week. Next, develop a list of staples for weekly purchase, such as skim or low-fat milk, whole-grain bread, fruits and vegetables, and lean cuts of meat. Then, remember to add some of your favorite foods to ensure you are not denying yourself – one of the keys to healthful eating for a lifetime. Use the remaining dollars to purchase additional foods for a balanced diet on a day-to-day basis.

Plan Ahead – Plan your meals for the week ahead, mapping out what entrées and side dishes you and your family will enjoy. Visualize the whole day as a nutritional package and each meal as a working unit. Once you’ve decided on the week’s feasts, develop a list and stick to it, focusing on sale items and those with coupons.

Choose Convenience Foods Carefully – While packaged meals can be a lifesaver after a busy day at the office, be careful. Oftentimes, “convenience” foods are more expensive and laden with hidden calories, sodium and other preservatives. Instead, create your own convenience foods. Purchase the ingredients separately, which will reduce your cost significantly, and prepare meals on Sunday. Next, package them in handy, portion-sized containers.

Find Fresh Alternatives – When your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season, save money and time by heading to the canned foods aisle for meal favorites such as asparagus, green beans, and peaches. The items you don’t find there will most likely be in the frozen foods section that can provide you with everything from berries to broccoli.

Brown-Bag It – Brown-bagging your lunch requires a little more effort, but with the right contents, it is both healthier and cheaper. And, packing lunches for you and your family gives you more control over the nutrients in your lunch. Go for a well-rounded meal – use whole-wheat pitas or wraps instead of regular sandwich bread and include lots of fresh fruit or raw veggies. If you choose to eat out for lunch, make sure it’s as a treat, and not a necessity.

Watch Your Portions – Your budget and pantry can be devastated by portion sizes that are too large. By monitoring the portions you use in meals, you can stretch your food throughout the week and consume healthier meals.

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