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Shopping, food planning can be challenging for everyone

People sometimes think that being a dietitian makes eating healthy automatically easy for me.

It doesn’t. I struggle with the balance of budget, time, availability of products, etc. We all have challenges to eating the healthy way we want. That is life. Sometimes, though, challenges lead us to new and creative ways of accomplishing our goals.

Take the recent closure of Mega Foods. Until that happened, I had my food budget and shopping down to a comfortable science. It allowed me to be efficient and creative and enabled our little family and guests to eat fresh on a smaller budget.

That all changed! I either had to shop closer at a more expensive grocery store or drive another 45 minutes to bulk stores (and of course, no one store had 100 percent of what I wanted).

I was spending more time shopping, and more money without even getting all the products I wanted. I felt like I couldn’t nail anything. I wasn’t prepared to increase my food budget, I didn’t want to give up on my fresh cooking and I hated the idea of driving a lot more in this season of a baby and a puppy.

After listening to my complaints, my friend Jennifer gave me a book explaining the concept of “once-a-month cooking.” The idea seemed simultaneously daunting and appealing. Once-a-month-cooking means that you cook 30 dinner entrees in one day so that you don’t have to stress about them during the rest of the month.

All the cooking, planning and budgeting necessary to prep for this endeavor felt over the top at first. The fact that when you are done you know what is for dinner, have minimal prep and mess, and take fewer trips to the grocery store did, however, make it rather attractive. It would make it easy to be ready at the drop of the hat when meals were needed for friends and family.

It seemed like a lot of work. I would need to alter my monthly cash flow and be far more prepared with menus and time management. It was worth a shot because I needed to change something.

I decided to modify the whole idea of cooking dinner entrees once a month. If my goal was to get what I needed, reduce the number of longer trips to the store while saving money and time in the kitchen, then I would need to do some serious planning.

I decided to plan a month’s worth of menus and do a Big Shopping Day, in which I would do 80 percent of my shopping for the month. A day or two later, I would then prep, cook and freeze approximately 50 percent of the month’s meals.

I took inventory of my freezer and pantry, listed out our favorite meals, created a shopping list based off the menu then scheduled an entire day for shopping.
Those two days were long. I was inefficient and I overspent. But they were great too because I made a lot of food and learned even more. Best of all, it made dinner times during the month a little bit easier.

It has been four months now since I have started employing this method and each time I have gotten better and more efficient. Menu planning is easier, shopping is faster, trips to the store are fewer and I stay within our budget. I even get the items I set out for.

It honestly has made making dinner and hosting unexpected company easier. Now I can look at the list on the refrigerator and know that I have something already made in the freezer or I see the other meals I can prepare with the stuff I have on hand.

I still am sad Mega Foods closed. I am also grateful for the good things have came out of it too!

Things may have changed in your life that affect your healthy eating plans: a doctor-ordered diet; a change in finances or available time; becoming an empty nester or welcoming a new baby, etc.

I encourage you to use the challenge as a springboard instead of a roadblock. For the problems of shopping, cooking or preparing healthy foods, you may find solutions in growing a garden, joining a local produce co-op, taking an online cooking class, cooking in bulk with a friend or so much more.

Want to learn more about meal planning and healthy cooking? If you are interested in cooking classes focused on hands-on, healthy cooking on a budget then let me know! Leave comments and suggestions about what you would like to learn on my Facebook page. Search under “Dietitian Cathryn” and find a survey!

Below is my favorite meat ball recipe! I have made it every month since doing the once-a-month cooking method and my family loves it (including my hubby and toddler). While yes, of course you can buy pre-made meatballs, if you have certain dietary restrictions, it is difficult to find one without problematic additives.

I love how flavorful these are on their own! Sometimes meatballs are bland by themselves and depend only on the sauce you put with it. These meatballs can stand alone.

Cook them up ahead before freezing them or freeze them raw. They are excellent in soups, hoagie buns, noodles or even salads.
(Note: I typically triple this recipe and get approximately 80 meatballs.)

Herbed Meatballs

Serves 6


1½ pounds (600g) extra lean ground beef

1/2 cup (50g) breadcrumbs (if gluten free, use gluten-free breadcrumbs. Honestly, you can skip breadcrumbs together.)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons chopped oregano

2 tablespoons chopped marjoram

1/3 cup (10g) chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper (note: When I triple the recipe I use about 1½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper).

Avocado or olive oil (for cooking)


Combine all ingredients into a large bowl. Mix with hands or potato masher until thoroughly combined. Using a melon baller, cookie dough disher or your hands, roll mixture into walnut-sized meatballs.

Cook immediately or freeze for later.

If freezing: Place raw meatballs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze until solid (approximately 2- 3 hours)

Remove meatballs from cookie sheet and store in a labeled, ziplock bag.

If Cooking Immediately: Place meatballs in a hot skillet that has been slightly oiled.

Cook for approximately  8 minutes or until cooked thoroughly and internal temperature reaches 165F.

Crockpot cooking: Take directly from freezer and place in crockpot with desired sauce. Cook on low for four to five hours or on high for three. (Total cook time does depend on number of meatballs in crockpot)

(From “The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet” by Sue Shepherd PhD and Peter Gibson MD.)

– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She lives in the Lebanon area with her husband and toddler. To learn more about Cathryn and her nutrition counseling business, visit her Facebook page or You Tube Channel by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.” Find her blog at thepantrylab.com.