Setting up a food budget is never easy - especially if you are trying to accomplish two objectives: eat healthy and save money, at the same time.

Sometimes when shopping for healthy food, parents despair. The healthier foods are often more expensive. For example, eating fresh fruits and vegetables seems like a must, but they can be pricey, especially in the off seasons. Bakery products can create the same dilemma, with whole grain breads costing more than other, less healthy versions.

But you don't have to sacrifice your goal of a healthy diet when the budget is tight. Here are some tips:

Have a veggie night

One or more nights per week, try a vegetarian dish. The meat portion of a meal is usually the most expensive, so this tactic can be great for your pocketbook. Vegetarian dishes are usually healthier, too. Recipes and ideas for these abound online. Don't automatically assume you will have to sacrifice taste or that your kids will refuse to eat a vegetarian meal. After all, most kids love non-meat dishes such as macaroni and cheese.

Make meals from scratch

Usually, you have to pay extra for pre-packaged, heavily processed food. Not only is such food more expensive, it's less healthy. And don't think you have to be a slave to the stove in order to make a home-cooked meal. Some scratch meals are time-consuming, but many recipes are quick to make, cheap and healthy.

Planning

With a little bit of forethought, you can create very budget-friendly and healthy meals by buying and cooking in bulk. For example, you could cook a whole turkey when it's on sale (or even two, if you have the freezer space) and use the meat for several meals. Turkey is tasty in casseroles and on sandwiches. Even the bones can be cooked to create a delicious broth, forming the base for a turkey-vegetable soup. Similarly, when ground beef is on sale, buy a large pack or two and brown it all at once. Having cooked ground beef on hand will speed up the process of making a from-scratch meal.

Watch for waste

When you finish a meal, think about how the leftovers can be used as part of another meal or as a snack. Many people have great success with "planned-overs," where you purposely buy and cook more than is needed, as described above. You save both money and time by purchasing in bulk and cooking all at once.

With a careful eye on waste and buying frugally, you can improve both the health and cost of your food. Take just one idea this week and put it into action. Next week, choose another. No need to instantly convert your family to meals of brown rice and beans! Step by step, you'll be closer to your goal of a healthy and frugal food budget.

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