Eating Healthy on a Budget
By John A. Ruibal, Prowers Medical Center Registered Dietitian
It’s a common misconception that eating healthier is costly, but that’s simply not true. Eating healthier, ultimately, can be the same cost or less than eating junk food and fast food. Some healthy foods are much more expensive, but typically, they’re pre-packaged and you pay more for the convenience than the raw ingredients. Here are a few tips to help you stretch your food dollars.
Create a shopping list
Use your weekly meal plan to create a master grocery list, and stick to it. Prioritize your food dollars for nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains. To keep your grocery list from growing too long, prepare meals that include similar ingredients throughout the week. Skip highly processed items and packaged snack foods, which can increase your total spending and fill your cart with not-so-healthy items.
Don’t have time to make a menu? There are good services like eMeals that not only provide the menus but also the shopping list for you to use at your local grocery store. Walmart is one of the grocery stores they partner with. They have 15 meal plans to choose from. For more information, go to www.emeals.com.
Eat fruits and vegetables
A lot of my clients often tell me that vegetables and fruits are too expensive for their budget. Most grocery stores run specials on seasonal fruit and vegetables. Check store advertisements for the lowest prices. Add variety to your meals by trying fruits and vegetables that are on sale. Older produce can also be used in baked products like zucchini or banana nut breads or muffins. You can also add fruit and vegetables to smoothies; simply chop up your washed fruits and vegetables and put them in freezer bags to use in your next smoothie.
SNAP participants can also get up to $20 of free produce by purchasing eligible SNAP food items. So, if you spend $20 on milk, bread or lean meats you will be able to get an equal amount in fresh Colorado produce. Get more details at www.livewellcolorado.org/healthy-communities/double-up-colorado.
Select lean meats and poultry
Buy lean cuts of meat and prepare them in single meal dishes like stir fries, soups and stews. It is a great way for those in your family that enjoy meat with the added benefit of hearty vegetables. Grocery stores also have weekly specials on meat. Be creative with cuts of meat you normally don’t serve.
Buy dairy in bulk
Buy dairy in bulk as it is less expensive than buying it in smaller packages. Keep what you will use for a week in the refrigerator, and freeze the rest. Milk, cheese, butter and margarine all freeze well.
Compare brands by looking at unit prices
By comparing brands by weight and serving size you can compare their true cost. Although a product may cost less you may actually be paying more. Check the price per ounce on the labels supplied by the grocery store.
Stick with private label packaged or convenience foods
You’ve likely noticed a store or generic duplicate of your favorite name brand products. These are called private labels. Private labels are manufactured to the same high standards as name brands, but often times can be purchased at a big discount.
Bottom line, with a little planning you can eat healthy, broaden your cooking skills and save some money.