By: Sophia Speroff, MPH, RD
It is no secret that Americans need to clean up their diet. However, the decision to eat healthier is often not as easy as choosing kale over french fries. The grocery store has a barrage of healthy food options – and these healthy options often have a larger price tag.
When running on budgetary constraints, it is important to be sure that what you are putting in your cart is giving you the most health for your dollar. Do not let the price of “healthy” food discourage or dissuade you from eating nutritiously. And remember, you do not have to eat organic food to eat healthily.
Here are five strategies for eating healthy on a budget.
1. Shop locally and in season.
Learn what vegetables and fruits grow during each season to buy them when they are at their most nutrient dense. Plus, since they are more abundant during that time, they will be cheaper, too. Find farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture or local farmers around you. Not only does buying local support your community, but the food is fresher and often much cheaper than the produce section at your local grocer. If you find a good deal, consider stocking up and freezing a generous portion for later use. For example, when it is berry season you can buy large quantities at lower prices from a local farmer’s market and freeze them for use when they go out of season and get more expensive.
2. Buy in bulk.
Buying in bulk can often be daunting. After all, what exactly can one do with eight pounds of apricots? However, buying healthy staples in copious amounts can often save you big money in the long run. Stock up on canned or dried beans, brown rice, quinoa, or other foods with long shelf lives. Consider buying frozen produce, which is often cheaper per unit and lasts much longer.
3. Prep it yourself.
Grocery stores cash in by catering to our busy schedules. Walk down the aisles and you will find convenient packages of pre-sliced veggies, snack sized containers of nuts, and trimmed and cleaned meats. These foods often cost twice to three times as much as the whole food. Did you know you can buy a whole chicken for the same cost as two breasts at the grocery store? Consider buying the whole food and setting aside time when you return from the store as “prep time.” Wash and cut produce, put snacks such as nuts or crackers into snack-size bags or containers and trim and break down meats. Although it is a bigger time commitment up front, what you spend in time will often save you money.
4. Less meat, more plants.
Make your money last a little longer by loading up with less expensive items such as filling greens and veggies, good fats (avocados and nuts) and high fiber carbs (quinoa and lentils). High quality meat is not cheap, especially when you are trying to feed a large family. Plan on at least half of your plate at every meal being plant-based, this is good for your health and your wallet. Consider trying non-meat sources of protein or taking part in Meatless Monday to help keep you on budget. You can also check out Where is the Beef? series for more delicious and nutritious meatless recipes.
5. Plan. Plan. Plan.
As it is in life, so it is with healthy eating. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Meal planning is by far one of the most underutilized, but incredibly important tools in your toolbox for staying healthy and on budget. Set aside time to plan out your meals and snacks for the week and make a grocery list based on that plan. Look for sales and deals to help decide on ingredients and choose meals where you can repurpose the leftovers. Buying chicken, whole grain wraps, brown rice and veggies can give you stir fry, salad, veggie wrap, chicken and rice bowl and whatever other combination you enjoy. Taking the extra steps to plan will help you stay healthy and will keep you from buying things you do not need.
About the Author: Sophia Speroff, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian of 10 years with her master’s in public health. Sophia has a tremendous background in both community and patient care and population health management. Her background also includes diabetes and chronic disease prevention and management, clinical dietetics, and wellbeing engagement in underserved communities. She has a passion for staying active, training for triathlons and half marathons and in her free time, Sophia enjoys hiking, folk dancing, and gardening.