Meal Planning While on SNAP for Healthier Eating in Florida
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If you are currently receiving SNAP benefits in Florida, you can consider planning your meals before going grocery shopping. Meal planning ensures that you and your household eat right and stay healthy, and reduces the risk of diet-related problems such as diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
A Balanced Diet
A typical meal for a healthy, balanced diet should contain four main food groups: vegetables, grains, fruits and proteins. Each meal should contain these four groups in roughly equal portions, but it is best for your health to have slightly more grains and vegetables than fruits and protein. Fruits and vegetables together should make up about half of your plate, and most of your grain products should be made from whole grains (check out the product label on items like breads and pasta to make sure it reads “100 percent whole grain”). In addition to having these four main groups represented on your plate, you can also have a small helping of dairy. Here are just a few examples of healthy foods in each of these five food groups:
- Vegetables: broccoli, collard greens, tomatoes, lentils, corn, potatoes and cauliflower
- Grains: Oatmeal, whole wheat bread, pretzels, rice and spaghetti
- Fruits: Apples, watermelon, bananas, blueberries and 100 percent fruit juices
- Proteins: Beef, chicken, eggs, seafood, black beans, peanut butter, cashews and tofu
- Dairy: Milk, Swiss cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt
Before heading to your local SNAP retailer to buy food with your benefits, you can create a shopping list of your favorite foods from these major food groups, or look up some healthy recipes that use balanced portions of ingredients from these main food groups. If you need recipe ideas, you can use the internet to find tons of recipes and meal planning. If you don’t have internet access at home, you can visit the local library and use the public computer. The Florida SNAP program provides many resources as well. To keep your household healthy, try to plan for as many meals and healthy snacks as your SNAP budget allows. Generally, planning a week or two ahead of time works out best. Having recipes and ingredients on hand will ensure that you do not run out of healthy meals. Furthermore, creating and sticking to a shopping list with specific items and ingredients will help you to avoid “impulse buying” high-sugar or high-fat items, like cookies, candy, ice cream or pizza, while browsing the grocery store. A few tips for healthy meal planning:
- As you try to include foods from each food group, be sure to vary your choices. Each group contains many different foods and flavors, so a nice variety will keep your healthy meals interesting and delicious for you and your household.
- Planning a meal around a vegetable-based main dish usually makes for a very healthy meal. Complementing a vegetable-based soup or stir fry with foods from other groups will provide you with in a nutritionally rich, optimal meal.
- Make substitutions to use healthier ingredients when possible. Plan to buy whole fruits rather than fruit juice to meet your fruit requirement. Similarly, you should purchase reduced- fat, low-fat or fat-free dairy products to meet your dairy requirement.
When it comes to recipes, substituting healthier ingredients is simple. For example, you could use a lean meat or ground poultry in a chili dish. Likewise, you can replace white bread with whole wheat bread when making sandwiches; substitute white rice with brown rice in a stir-fry or jambalaya recipe; and use whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta when planning a macaroni and cheese meal.
- Buy fresh and seasonal vegetables and fruits when possible, but don’t forget to include frozen and low-sodium or sodium-free canned vegetables and no-sugar added canned and frozen fruits when planning your grocery list. These products will stay fresh in your freezer or pantry, and they can make a great last minute addition to many different meals.
Buying Seeds and Plants
Don’t forget that you and your household can use Florida SNAP benefits to purchase seeds and plants that produce edible fruits, vegetables and seasonings. Growing and harvesting food is a fun and cost-effective way to stay healthy while on SNAP benefits. You can even grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in pots if your outdoor space is limited. Whatever foods you choose to purchase with your SNAP benefits, remember to balance your food groups for a healthy meal and always stick to your shopping list! You can also contact a local SNAP office for free nutrition education courses that will help you with additional tips for planning healthy meals.