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Healthy Eating on a Budget

Healthy CookingIt’s a common misperception that a healthy diet is more expensive than an unhealthy one. If your priority is a healthy diet, you can exchange the cost of nutrient-poor snacks, desserts, and soft drinks for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Here are a few money-saving strategies for enjoying a healthy diet on a tight budget.

Plan your grocery shopping.

Most importantly, take a few minutes to plan your meals for the week. Look for bargains and coupons in the newspaper and use the Food Guide Pyramid to plan meals with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and a small amount of protein. Try to include vegetable sources of protein, such as soy, lentils, and beans to stretch your food dollar. Then prepare your grocery list based on the ingredients needed for the upcoming week’s meals. By shopping from a list, you will avoid buying non-nutritious extras on impulse.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first.

Foods around the perimeter of the store are usually fresh and minimally processed. Fill up your cart with these foods before venturing into the interior aisles which house more processed foods that are less nutritious.

Buy fruits and vegetables in season.

For good taste and savings, buy produce, especially locally grown produce, in season. To avoid spoilage, try to buy only the amount that you will be able to eat in the next few days. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a good choice during those seasons when fresh produce is more expensive.

Buy generic.

Generic store brands often are less expensive than name brands, but still offer the same nutritional value. Always check the food’s unit price (that is, the cost per unit, such as ounce or pound). Unit prices are usually found on a shelf tag below the product. Purchase the brand and package size that is least expensive, based on the food’s unit price. In regard to large packages, be sure that you can properly store the food so that it won’t spoil before it is eaten.

Control portions.

Although single-serving packages are helpful for controlling caloric intake, they are usually more expensive than larger packages. So if you purchase large bags of dried fruit, whole grain crackers, etc., make your own single servings in re-sealable plastic sandwich bags. This is a great way to have healthy snacks on hand and to avoid the temptation to buy high-calorie foods from a vending machine or fast food restaurant.

Eat at home.

If you have time to cook during the week or to cook on the weekends and freeze foods for later use, you can avoid prepackaged and restaurant foods that are likely to be higher in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Not only will you save money, but you will enjoy healthier meals!

This article originally appeared in Nutri-bytes (February 2007), a service of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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