There is a Middle Ground
It's Not Just the Money
I'm always looking for the best deals but that doesn't mean I buy crappy food just because it's cheap. While I certainly enjoy dining out or bringing home takeout, those meals have to be few and far between. Besides, as I learn and gain better preparation and cooking skills, some of the recent meals I've made I feel are as good or better than restaurant quality. I'm not knocking a great meal out, and I used to scarf down an entire fisherman's platter (when I weighed 40 pounds more), but right now, I have to focus on what's best for me and my budget and stay on track to keep off the excess weight.
Don't Shop Their Way
When shopping, I don't shop the way most people do. I have my running shopping list but my basic rule is to buy items only when they go on sale if possible, and they do that in almost predictable bimonthly cycles. My commute allows me flexibility in-store choice, so I can hit the sales each week at multiple locations. Here in Southeastern Massachusetts, my choices are plentiful, with around a dozen local and national chains in our area including Big Y, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Shaw's, Trucchi's, Hannaford's, Market Basket, Target, Roche Brothers, Aldi, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I generally shop the first four mentioned, mostly for variety and price, with Big Y my recent favorite. Many people have their favorites like Walmart or Market Basket, touting their "low prices", but when you dig deeper, the everyday prices on some items are more than that average price elsewhere.
That's why I shop the sales. I don't clip coupons as I find that the vast majority of coupons are for junk food and frozen concoctions full of sodium and fat. I do download the app for any store where I shop because that's where some of the loyalty pays off. Big Y for example, has insider deals with 20 to sometimes 40% off as an unadvertised deal. My favorite deal is the buy one, get two free on my favorite coffee beans, Eight O'Clock. Stop & Shop has similar deals, but not as good as Big Y in my experience.
Bring on the Meat
Because I'm a meat-eater, I always check out the meat section in almost every store I visit. I tend to shop the perimeter of the store, first buying my breakfast fruit and making my way around. Another thing I do is use all my available freezer space. This strategy is twofold, I am not afraid to buy last day meat products that can easily be frozen until I'm ready to use them. I also tend to cook several days' worth of meat and sides on the Sunday before my work week, so I can easily assemble quality meals that aren't junk food. Because refrigerated meat has a pretty firm expiration date, it's important to be aware of just how long the "deal" has been in your fridge. I recently forgot about a $4.00 roaster chicken and it was nasty by the time I got to it the next week, hence the freezer method. Lesson learned.
Keeping Your Cool
Less is more
Sugar was another staple I looked at in my daily diet. I love my coffee, but I haven't been able to get used to drinking It black. I used to use those prepackaged "creamers". Actually, "Non-dairy creamer" is an oxymoron. How can it be called anything close to cream if it has no dairy? Vegetable oils, usually palm kernel or coconut oil - give "creamers" that creamy look, feel, and flavor but don't be fooled, some of them are the very definition of a chemical shit storm. If you really can't live without the hazelnut of vanilla flavoring, consider making your own. The life you save may indeed be your own. Now I've cut myself down to a level teaspoon of minimally processed granular sugar and a splash of whole milk. You may notice in my writings, that I shy away from any and all sugar substitutes and what I call fake fats (low-fat or non-fat) Do some basic nutrition research, then look at your cart and see what you've been buying that can be substituted for a better option. One exception I go by is if a product is made with low-fat milk as opposed to fat substitutes, I may opt for that. String cheese and sour cream come to mind.
Save it For Later
Get out the Virtual Cookbooks
It's all in Your Head
Making changes doesn't mean suffering, in fact, my choices and variety are almost endless and I don't have to spend a ton to get higher quality food. Incorporating better ingredients, a learning experience and making it fun isn't a bad thing. Starting with small changes, anything is possible. Just don't call it a diet. ;)