A frequent excuse for not eating healthier foods is that it costs more. Harvard School of Public Health researched this common complaint and found that the healthiest diets, rich in fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts, did indeed cost about $1.50 per day more than the least healthy diet, full of refined grains and processed foods. This extra $550 per person, per year can certainly be a burden on an already tight budget, especially for families. When you have limited money for food, it is natural to gravitate towards foods that will provide the most calories per dollar and fill you up. This may be why the highest rates of obesity are found in lower income groups.
On the other hand, an extra $1.50 per day may be a small amount to pay compared to the cost of diet-related chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. What you eat can affect not only your health, but your mood, your relationships, your lifestyle and even your success. Fortunately, you can eat a healthy diet without busting your food budget.
1. Shop with a list. Take a look at sales flyers and plan a weekly menu around what is on sale that week. Take inventory of your kitchen and only add foods to the list that you will need to purchase for the week’s meals. Without a list, you are guaranteed to spend more; either by buying duplicate items because you forgot you had it at home or by impulse buying of things you don’t really need. Plus, you will make multiple trips to the store for the things you forgot.
2. Buy what you will use. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that we waste 40% of our food. Jumbo containers are never a good deal if you can’t use it all before it expires or goes stale. Stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables is great, but not if they are just going to sit in the fridge all week unused.
3. Do your own prepwork. Buying shredded cheese is convenient, but it is often cheaper to buy a block and shred it yourself. Same goes with prechopped veggies.
4. Buy in season. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season and at their lowest price. Some kind of fruit or vegetable is always in season; bananas and apples are usually always inexpensive. Alternately, look for frozen or canned versions to save money. In the summer, try growing some of your own fruits, vegetables or herbs. Or check out local Farmer’s markets.
5. Buddy up to the store managers. Find out when they usually put out the marked down meats, fruits and vegetables for quick sale. If you know their usual schedule, you can get there first to get the best variety.
6. Pick your proteins. Consider using beans or inexpensive canned meats for your protein. Buy family sized packs of meat for the best value; divide and freeze the extra. Look for inexpensive cuts of meat. Chicken legs will be much cheaper that chicken breast and just as nutritious. Try cooking once and eating twice by making a plan for reusing leftovers in a different dish.
7. Eat less. Most of us simply eat too much of everything. A 4 ounce serving of meat per person is plenty for a main dish. Two to three ounces per serving is enough in a casserole or soup. Cooking too much will lead to eating more than you should or potential waste if the leftovers aren’t eaten.
8. Shop smarter. Use coupons or cash back apps, like Ibotta or Walmart Savings Catcher to save money. Most stores now have digital coupons that you can load on their store rewards cards which makes using coupons super easy. Choose store brands over name brands when cheaper. Shop in the bulk food section when possible. Remember that foods placed at eye level are usually the most expensive, so bend and stretch to find better deals. Choose healthier versions of what you normally buy without spending more: substitute brown rice for white rice, low fat dairy products for the full fat versions, and whole grain bread or pastas instead of white breads and pastas.
Eating healthfully on a budget might require a little more time to plan, shop, and cook foods but in the end you will be able to bank the benefits to your health and that of your family. And that makes it all worth the effort.