How to get get over roadblocks in shopping, cooking, eating

Cathryn Arndt

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, food sensitivities, 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.

Two years ago, a big change for me was the closure of Mega Foods. Until the closure, 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.

When Mega Foods closed all that had to change. I either had to shop closer at the more expensive Safeway or drive another 45 minutes to bulk stores (and of course, no ONE store had 100% of what I wanted).

I was spending more time shopping, 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 No. 1 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.

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. But 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% of my shopping for the month. A day or two later I would then prep, cook and freeze approximately 50% of the month’s meals (we like to eat lots of fresh produce, so freezing 100% of meals wasn’t an option).

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 of shopping and cooking were long. I was inefficient and I overspent money. 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.

Two years later, life has shifted once again for me with the birth of Baby No. 2 late last year. I had some major postpartum curveballs in the months following her birth and I have had to adjust once again.

My sweet, easy-going baby doesn’t nurse well, so two to three hours each day (14-21 hours a week) are devoted to pumping milk for her so I can bottle feed her. Long grocery shopping trips and all-day cooking sessions just aren’t reasonable with an infant and pumping/nursing schedule.

I still try to cook in bulk to reduce the number of trips to the store each month (because who wants to do much shopping when you have a potty-training toddler and an infant?!) Some things I buy now instead of make from scratch. Other things I just don’t make or purchase any more in this season of life.

Simple efficiency is a new skill I am endeavoring to hone (I am naturally terrible at it!). Sometimes on hard days, I hire the neighbor gal to help with the bulk meal prep. Most of the time, meals look different than I had anticipated. That’s OK. It is life. Cooking and grocery shopping actually used to be a hobby and a love language for me (go ahead, you can laugh!).

It just isn’t as fun right now in this season. Pretty soon the season will shift again and I will adjust and learn new things once more.

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.

To help you get started, here’s my favorite meatball recipe (hubby- and toddler-approved too!). These are easy to make ahead and freeze, so that you can pull as many out as you need for a quick dinner.

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

Herbed Meatballs

Original source The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet by Sue Shepherd PhD and Peter Gibson MD.

Serves 6


1½ pounds (600g) extra lean ground beef

½ C (50g) breadcrumbs (if gluten free, use gluten-free breadcrumbs. Honestly, you can skip the breadcrumbs altogether.)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 T chopped oregano

2 T chopped marjoram

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

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

Avocado or olive oil (for cooking)

Directions: 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 meat balls.

Cook immediately or freeze for later.

If freezing: Place raw meatballs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze until solid (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 ~ eight 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 4-5 hours or on high for 3 (total cook time does depend on number or meatballs in crockpot).

– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband and daughters. Find her blog at or on Facebook under “Dietitian Cathryn.”