Healthy Eating on a Budget

Times can get rough. We know how important it is to make every dollar count. We hear from so many people, “Eating healthy is so much more expensive.” Actually, we find it to be quite the opposite. If you think about it, some of the least expensive items in the market are beans, rice, and produce. The higher ticket items are meat, dairy, and anything that comes in a box (cereal, crackers, cookies, frozen foods). But you can really stretch your dollar if you know how to shop smarter.

Make a List and Stick to it & Use Coupons and Store Specials:

Before you even walk out the door, sit down, write out a list, and stick to it. Shop once a week, and cut out coupons from the paper (skip those for processed foods that are expensive, even with the coupon!)

Money-Saving Fundamentals:

  • Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach! Make sure you shop after a meal, or after a light snack to help resist temptation.
  • Shop the perimeter (outside) of the store first. That’s where all of the healthier choices usually are; you’ll avoid all the more processed, costly items.
  • Look for sales on fresh fruits and vegetables — stores get a bargain sometimes, and pass that savings on to you.
  • Choose a large bag of fruit (like apples or pears), instead of the single, large fruits priced per pound.

Buy Store Brands:

Store brands can provide a great savings when shopping. The nutritional value of the food is the same, whether it’s canned, frozen, boxed, or bagged foods.

Skip Organic:

Buy conventional items to save money. Try to buy locally grown foods, when in season, for added savings. Also, visit your local farmers market and talk to the farmers, who can inform you about their use of pesticides. Many small farmers do practice organic farming techniques, but can’t afford the organic certification.

Drink Water:

Avoid buying soda, juice drinks, and sports drinks- expensive and not necessary. They are also high in empty calories from sugar that contributes to obesity.  Limit 100% juice purchases — buy the whole fruit instead. Stick with water — from the tap (unless there is a health concern to limit your local area’s tap water). Skip the bottled water. If you do purchase juice, choose 100 percent juice and a large size (half gallon is common) for better savings. The single serving packages are costly — you’re paying for the container.

Make your own snacks:

There’s been an explosion in single-serving snacks from chips to cookies to cereal. Many are available in 100-calorie portions. While portion control is a great thing, you don’t need to pay for it. Buy some snack-size re-sealable plastic bags, and make your own single-serving packets. Make your own trail mix with raw nuts, high-fiber cereal, (like Cheerios) and dried fruit.

Cut down on the number of snacks you buy. Most processed snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies) are expensive and typically provide little if any nutritional value. The best snack choices are popcorn (air popped), whole wheat crackers ( Kashi, Ry Krisp, Ak Mak), homemade pita chips, and whole-grain pretzels. If you do decide to buy something, choose only one snack each week and buy the largest bag available. Then portion them out into snack sized baggies for single serving snacks. No need for multiple bags of snacks. Smaller bags are more expensive.

Avoid the Exotic:

Go with “standard” colors of vegetables and fruits — green peppers, for example, are not as exotic as yellow, red, or orange, but are a fraction of the cost. Stick with whole fruits and vegetables, and cut them up yourself. Don’t buy the pre-cut stuff. And any leftovers can be put in a plastic bag and frozen for later use.

Buy Sale Items:

Look for sales, but only if you know what to do with the food! Items like meat and poultry can be divided and frozen for later use for a variety of meals. Shop the warehouses (Costco, Sam’s Club), if you can split the packages with a friend — particularly for perishable foods. That five-pound bag of vegetables doesn’t look very big in a warehouse store, but can hardly fit in many refrigerators.

Go Frozen & Canned:

In the summer we are lucky that we have such an abundance of delicious fresh fruit. When it’s on sale, buy extra and freeze for later months. Unfortunately, the winter does pose a challenge when balancing nutrient intake and cost. Bananas, apples, oranges, and pears are all good choices. For other produce, go to the frozen food case. Frozen (or canned – packed in water or 100 percent juice) fruits and vegetables are good choices. Skip ones packed in sauces or syrup. And look for low-salt canned vegetables.

Canned beans, tuna, and vegetables are inexpensive and nutritious. Adding these to most recipes can boost up the nutritional content of the meal, as well as extend the value of the meal (more servings for less cost).

Cook it Yourself:

Rather than spend money at a restaurant, cook it yourself. You’ll spend pennies compared to dollars. You also control the ingredients that go into the recipe so you can make it healthier (less fat, less salt, more fiber) as well as the quantity that is served (normal portion sizes).

The other good thing about cooking is that you can cook in large portions and freeze some for a later date. Break out your crock-pot/slow-cooker for one-pot meals like stews, soups, and chili.

What about Restaurant Eating?

The negatives about dining out: expensive, too large of portions, higher in fat and salt, lower in fiber. You do not control the quality of the ingredients, nor the cleanliness.  That being said, you may still occasionally want to dine out. Here are some tips to do it better. Instead of choosing a “value meal” at a fast-food restaurant, downsize to a “kid’s meal” — better portion control, and an option of bottled water (instead of soda) and veggies instead of fries if you choose. Too tired too cook? Buy a rotisserie chicken at the store, and add the side dishes (rice, vegetables), water, and a piece of fruit for dessert at home.

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