Robin Quay, MS, RD, Dietitian for Sodexo
People often tell me that the main reason they don’t eat foods that are beneficial for them is because nutritious foods cost more. Yes, fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein are expensive, but so are unhealthy foods. As I did my shopping last week, I noticed that a 10 ounce bag of Lays potato chips cost $4.29, a 12 pack of Coke was $4.99, a 1.5 quart container of Breyer’s ice cream was $6.29, it cost $4.99 for a 1 pound 3 ounce pack of Oreos, and 17 ounces of Honey Nut Cheerios was $4.19. Since I didn’t buy ANY of those things, I had $24.75 to spend on more delicious and nutritious items.
Here are some tips to help you get the most nutrition and taste from your food dollar:
Have a plan. My kids’ middle school planners had a saying in them: “We don’t plan to fail; we fail to plan”. The same is true for food shopping and healthy eating.
Before you go to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. Look through your pantry and refrigerator and see what needs to be used up, and plan meals around those foods. That way, you won’t have to buy as much, and you won’t throw out as much due to spoilage. For example, this week, we are eating some chili that’s in the freezer, and using up some spinach greens that I bought last week.
Plan at least one meatless meal each week. Meat’s expensive, so you can save a lot of money by omitting it from an occasional meal. Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite meatless dinners: http://www.mealplanning101.com/2013/01/coconut-curried-chickpeas-and-kale-with.html
Look at your grocery store’s circular and plan your meals around protein and produce items that are on special. If chicken thighs and broccoli are a good deal, then you’ll want to use them. However, be aware and avoid the many unhealthy and processed foods that are in the circular as well. NOBODY needs a pop-tart, no matter how cheap they are!
Make a list. Be sure to include foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks-not just for dinners. Don’t forget the list at home! Take it with you, and stick to it. Only buy what you need.
Here’s the exception to buying only what you need: IF something is a GREAT DEAL, and IF you can store it so it won’t spoil before it’s used, and IF you’ll use it all, and IF you have the money, then stock up on it. Just be sure to properly store it when you get home, which may include putting it into smaller containers. Studies show that when we bring a lot of food home, we tend to eat more.
Once you get to the store, shop the perimeter for nutrient dense, unprocessed foods (vegetables, fruits, meats/seafood, eggs and dairy). Shop wisely in the center aisles, as there are healthy foods there, too. That’s where you’ll find whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, wheat bread and oatmeal. Canned and dried legumes like lentils, split peas, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, cannellini beans and chick peas are great, inexpensive sources of protein, fiber, and iron. Other nutritious and healthy finds in the center aisles include canned tomato products, canned salmon and sardines, and nuts.
The international section of the grocery store is another great place to look for healthy and inexpensive foods, especially the Hispanic section. Coconut milk was $2.89 in the Asian section, but only $2.09 in the Hispanic section. I’ve also found unique things there, like whole grain orzo pasta in the kosher section.
Try store brands. Granted, there are some items to which I am brand loyal. However, store brands can save a lot of money, so it’s worth trying them and seeing how they compare for quality and taste. Many more nutritious items are available in store brands now, too, like whole wheat flour, sea salt, and organic products.
Get more tips and suggestions from the internet. One of my favorite bloggers, Lisa Leake, fed her family of 4 for 100 days on $125 a week, and used all healthy, unprocessed foods. You can read her story and learn lots of great tips on her site: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/100-days-on-a-budget/
Dr. Mark Hyman, nationally recognized leader in functional medicine, has a very informative blog about how to eat well with limited financial resources and time, which you can find here: http://www.danielplan.com/healthyhabits/eatwellforless/
According to David Katz, MD, There is one more angle to consider: If you don’t eat well, your medical bills could skyrocket. Experts estimate that obesity results in healthcare costs of up to $2,500 per person per year, and diabetes is easily double that. Both conditions also raise your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
So while you might pay a bit more to eat well, your savings could be immeasurable.