NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle says she was just like the rest of when it came to ordering takeout during the pandemic — she did it often! And while getting to-go meals was a great way to support struggling restaurants during the quarantine, it's now time for us to start looking at cleaning up our spending — and our diets.
For her On the Money TODAY segment, Ruhle spoke to Leanne Brown, author of "Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day," to find out some ways we can keep the meal service going at home without spending a ton or sacrificing good taste. It is possible to eat well on a budget, it just takes some planning and a little insider info.
According to Brown, the first thing you should do is make sure you have your basic pantry staples on hand. "You've got to have pasta, rice, lentils, various kinds of beans, canned tomatoes, oatmeal," she said. Those, along with a oil or butter for cooking, eggs, citrus and garlic can get you started. "Your world is open with all of those," she said.
Ruhle said that it was those pantry items, along with long-lasting vegetables like butternut squash, that got her through the task of what felt like cooking "58 meals a day" for her family.
"I know you say lots of people can cook, but they don't want to, so how do they get started?" asked Ruhle.
While Brown acknowledged that cooking can feel like a chore sometimes, she stressed that it's really a gift you give yourself.
Here are some of Brown's top tips for eating well while staying on a budget:
- Don't buy drinks: Those $9 smoothies and $4 coffees should be the first thing you cut when you're looking to save some cash. Instead, try making a smoothie at home. Brown suggests looking at the displays in the produce section for what's on sale. Her current favorite — mangos!
- Think beyond meat: Meat can be very expensive but there are other smart and inexpensive ways to get protein in your diet, from eggs and beans to peanut butter.
- Eat the same meals: Having a menu can be extremely cost effective. Brown suggests buying an item such as oatmeal and eating it every day but switching up the toppings, such as cinnamon one day and blueberries the next to keep things interesting. Another tip — buying those fruits and veggies frozen can be a great way to save money and you'll still get all the health benefits. Bonus: those veggies are often already chopped up for you!
- Know when to buy in bulk: Brown says those "building blocks of your meals" such as rice and pasta that you or your family eat all the time should be bought in bulk whenever possible.
- Budget your snacks: Instead of buying those expensive pre-packaged snacks, buy or make something versatile such as popcorn and portion it out.
Brown also suggests making a one-pot meal at least once a week which will give you leftovers that you can refrigerate or freeze for later. Her biggest tip is to start with small changes so you don't get overwhelmed. Before you know it, you may find you actually like cooking — and your wallet will appreciate the effort, too.