Our bodies need food for energy in order to get through the day, to grow and play and move. But it is so much more. It can be a comfort, like a hot soup on a cold day. It can be a demonstration of love when it is a birthday cake covered in candles for a friend. Food can also heal, as anybody who has ever eaten chicken soup when they were sick would know. And is there anything better than a juicy strawberry, a ripe bite of watermelon, or a sweet morsel of chocolate?

I love food, and not just eating it. I love the rainbow of colors you see in the produce section. The scent of fresh herbs and spices is intoxicating. The doughy texture of just-made pasta before you put it in boiling water. The exciting taste of a dish you’ve never made before.

When you have a mindset like that, you become more conscious of what you purchase—you want to start with the best ingredients: the freshest, the most aromatic scents, the most appealing colors. You want the most nutritious foods, so you stop buying the prepackaged things and start making things yourself—salad dressing, sauces, marinades, meals and snacks.

But buying these high quality ingredients can be hard, especially when you’re on a budget. One thing that I have found helps to keep my costs down is to meal plan. It helps because you aren’t buying a bunch of random ingredients that don’t go together when you pull them out of the fridge and try to cook something. It also helps because you can use items for more than one recipe. For example, maybe one chicken recipe I am making requires lemon zest, and then there’s a salad dressing that I like with lemon juice. I can zest the lemon for the meal I am making that night, and then squeeze the juice from the lemon and store it until later in the week when I am ready to make the salad.

Sure, prepackaged food might be cheap. Think about the cost of a hamburger at a fast food place. It’s definitely going to be less than if you buy chop meat, a package of rolls, and all the fixins individually. Are you really saving money, though? Probably not. You’ll likely get way more servings for the price out of the food you buy at the store, not to mention it will be healthier (and, as an added bonus, you’ll know exactly what’s in it).

Another thing that has helped with my grocery bills has been to get a rewards card from the store. They often have special rewards card pricing on items, and I’ll stock up on them. If you do some digging, there are websites that you can print coupons from. I also subscribe to the Sunday paper, because there are lots of store coupons and grocery circulars in there. I use it to help me meal plan, so I can coordinate my recipes with items that I know will be on sale.

A little effort goes a long way, and the energy you put in will be rewarded: you’ll be cooking better and fresher food, your grocery bill will go down, and your nutritional intake will go up!