Ft. Spencer Taylor, MNPS Executive Director of Nutrition Services

A shopping cart full of groceries including bagged and boxed items, fresh produce, and milk, stands in a parking lot at OneGenAway’s mobile food pantry.
We have fresh produce, dairy, and pantry staples at our Mobile Pantry, ready for whoever comes, no questions asked.

It’s back to school for the kiddos and, let’s face it, for the adults too. The start of school tends to make everyone a lot busier, and planning meals on a budget can be stressful.

We spoke with the Metro Nashville Public Schools Executive Director of Nutrition Services, Spencer Taylor, about some tips and tricks to make eating on a budget a little easier when you’re pressed for time.

Create a rotating menu that pleases everyone in the home

Mr. Taylor said, when planning meals for the week that the whole family can enjoy, first things first: determine common likes and dislikes.

“Having all family members’ input may help with selection favorability and satisfaction,” he said.

Create a list of proteins (animal, such as meat and eggs, or plant-based, such as beans or tofu), fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, fish) that will please the whole family, and build your meals from there.

Mr. Taylor recommended having a 5- to 7-day meal cycle that will ensure families stay satisfied and on budget. Of course, throwing in the occasional new meal to introduce new foods keeps things interesting.

Keep frequently used items and items with a long shelf life stocked up

If you find yourself reaching for dry or canned beans on the regular or rice or frozen vegetables, Mr. Taylor recommends you keep those items on your shelf, so when you need to make something in a pinch, you have items you’re familiar with ready to go.

When possible, buy these items in bulk to save money in the long run.

“Additionally, it is important to look for sales and discounts when and where available,” he said.

Shop seasonally

The cost of fruits and vegetables have risen across the board over the last year, but prices naturally fluctuate throughout the year as different produce items are in or out of season.

Mr. Taylor recommends following the USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide to determine which fruits and vegetables are in season. This will not only impact price but flavor as well!

As a rule of thumb, “I have found that edible peel fruits are the most cost-effective over those that require cutting or slicing and generally less perishable,” he said.

Asparagus, apricots, peas, and rhubarb are all featured items on the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide for July
According to the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide, asparagus, apricots, peas, and rhubarb are all in season in the late summer months.

Create balanced meals to keep you and the kids satiated longer

“I would recommend a meal that has a variety of nutrient-based components,” Mr. Taylor said. “This would include lean protein (animal or plant), a whole grain, leafy greens, healthy fat, and red or yellow produce items. Meals consisting of these components promote longer lasting energy, fullness or satiety, and encourages proper digestion.”

One student favorite that Mr. Taylor noted is a crispy chicken sandwich, which includes chicken, lettuce, tomato, pickles, a bun, and sauce options. Of course, build-your-own flatbread pizzas are always a crowd pleaser. And new to Metro’s menu this year is a black bean and rice bowl with salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, and jalapeños.

“We are not just offering to fill a rumbly belly but offering a meal experience that prepares all students for whatever they face with a diversity of options at breakfast, lunch and supper,” Mr. Taylor said.

Cook your vegetables well

We all have at least one picky eater in the home, and getting them to eat their veggies can be tough, but the way a vegetable is prepared can make all the difference.

Mr. Taylor said families may want to try preparing a vegetable multiple different ways before determining if it is a crowd pleaser or not. If boiling or steaming doesn’t produce desired results, try roasting or grilling. And try not to over- or undercook your veggies.

“Vegetables should look vibrant and consistent,” he said. “Taste is important, but so is eye appeal.”

Thank you to Mr. Taylor for generously sharing his expertise with our community. We hope these tips are helpful as we all navigate this new school year together.
If you are finding your budget stretched thin right now, take a look at our Mobile Pantry Calendar to find out how to get a load of groceries from us! Happy end-of-summer, and happy cooking!