Just because summer is already upon us and that in-shape-for-swim-season diet didn’t work out so well, don’t throw your weight loss efforts out the window. Beyond the many promises found in diet and exercise books, there are some time-tested and sensible strategies that outlast all the fads, and best of all, they don’t require special equipment, memberships or monthly dues.In Texas, we’ll be swimming through September, so stay with it and increase your success with these easy-to-follow steps: 1. Create a weekly eating guide/meal plan. Make sure you fill in every detail. It’s best to use a spreadsheet program to create a form. Then create a shopping list. You can also use meal-planning applications such as sparkpeople.com; the USDA’s supertracker tool, or eatingwell.com’s menu planner. 2. Make a list and eat before you shop. Make sure you have a shopping list and a full stomach when you go to the store. Lack of planning and hunger can lead to impulse buying that will cost you extra money and calories. Get an app to help you — GroceryIQ; Pushpins. 3. Avoid convenience food items. There are exceptions, but convenience foods are usually more expensive as well as less nutritious. Don’t pay extra for pre-washed, chopped salad mixes or vegetable sticks. Buy heads of lettuce, bunches of broccoli and bags of carrots; then wash, clean and slice the vegetables all at once. Store them in plastic containers or bags in the refrigerator so you can grab them when you need them. 4. Use store brands, but check unit pricing. Store brands can often be substituted for costlier name-brand items. Try making the switch; you can always return to the name brand next time if you’re not happy. In addition, many supermarkets will take back foods you don’t like. 5. Watch out for “diet” foods. Don’t fall prey to gimmicky diet foods. You don’t need to buy overpriced specialty items to lose weight. 6. Coupons save you cash. Use coupons based on the meals you plan to prepare for the week. You won’t be spending your money wisely if you buy a food that’s on sale but don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with it. Use coupons only for items you’d buy anyway. Get an app and make it easy. The following are recommended by Consumer Reports: Cellfire; Coupons.com; GroceryIQ; Saving Star 7. Use chicken, turkey and fish. They’re less expensive and a healthy change from beef. Also, canned tuna, peanut butter, eggs, egg whites and beans are inexpensive protein-rich staples. 8. Buy in bulk. It’s more economical, and you’ll know you have the product in your pantry when you need it. 9. Batch cook. One of the most effective ways to ensure that you always have a healthy meal on hand at home is to cook several meals at once, portion them into single servings and freeze what you won’t be using immediately. Or, as an alternative to cooking entire meals ahead, just double or triple up on some basic building blocks that will speed you through prepping future meals. 10. Buy fruits and vegetables in season. Just because almost all fruits and vegetables are available year-round doesn’t mean you need to buy them. In-season produce will be the least expensive and will also give you a good variety in your diet throughout the year. The USDA has a handy reference chart of seasonal produce. Print it out and keep it on hand for extra guidance: healthymeals. nal.usda.gov/features-month/whats-season 11. Don’t throw away bruised fruits or veggies. Use them. You can make stews, soups, or just cut out the bruised portion. Have you noticed that grocery stores often sell cut up, prepackaged fruits and veggies? You actually pay more for the convenience, and the store makes a profit on produce with bumps and bruises that would otherwise have been thrown out. 12. Buy frozen or canned. Most fruits and vegetables are nutritious whether fresh, frozen or canned. When buying canned, check the label for vegetables with no added salt and fruits packed in their own juices. Compare prices to get the best buys. 13. Shop at farmers markets. The USDA has a fantastic search engine listing more than 4,000 farmers markets throughout the country. You can search specific products like baked goods, dairy products, seafood, fresh fruit, jams and soaps. http://search.ams .usda. gov/farmersmarkets/. Read my column about farmers markets at http: //tinyurl.com/mjj4sqs 14. Grow your own. Try growing some of your own vegetables. Even if you don’t have a spot in your yard for this, don’t worry. Many can even be grown successfully in pots. 15. Store fruits and veggies properly. The greatest cost comes from throwing food away. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables before they spoil. Make sure they’re visible and not hidden in the back of the fridge or in a fridge drawer. Storage tips are easy to find from organzations like fruitsandveggies mattermore.org. 16. Learn to cook. When you cook your own food, you don’t have to pay restaurants or convenience food companies to cook it for you. And the best part is, you control the ingredients. 17. Eat oatmeal. Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal (not the instant single-serving kind) is cheapest. To jazz it up, try it with raisins, cinnamon or strawberries. 18. Eat beans. Beans are a great source of high-fiber, low-fat protein. Always keep some cans in the house so you can throw together a healthy meal fast. Black beans, corn, salsa, a tiny bit of low-fat cheese and tortillas are the only ingredients you need to make tasty vegetarian quesadillas. Beans are also a great addition to pasta dishes. Try cannellini beans, spinach and stewed tomatoes over pasta. If you buy beans in the bag and cook them yourself, they’re even less expensive than the canned variety. 19. DIY (do it yourself). Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are typically much more expensive than whole chicken breasts on the bone. If you need chicken for a stir-fry, don’t pay extra for chicken tenderloins. Slice your own out of whole breasts. 20. Veg it up. Switch your thinking when it comes to meal planning. Use vegetables as a main dish and just serve meats and poultry on the side. 21. Bring your lunch to work or school. You can make a great sandwich for the cost of a fast-food burger and fries. If you have a microwave available, get in the habit of cooking an extra portion at dinnertime and bringing the leftovers for lunch the next day. 22. Soup it up. Making soup is very easy, and you can make big batches and freeze individual portions, then defrost later in that convenient daytime microwave. (Find easy recipes for healthy soups at dietdetective.com and at http://tinyurl .com/ldke5bu. 23. Make your own desserts. Make your own muffins and healthier pies. Baking favorites like banana bread and strawberry-blueberry muffins in advance and storing them in the fridge keeps you prepared for those times when cravings hit and willpower is weak. 24. Eliminate expensive junk food snacks. Gradually switch to healthier, more filling and less expensive foods, such as homemade muffins, apples, carrot sticks and air-popped popcorn.
Charles Platkin, Ph.D., is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.