Walking through the supermarket these days can be shocking. Steadily rising food costs are translating to climbing grocery bills at a time when most people need to save more, not spend more. Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive, though. In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised that the more nutritious foods are actually great bargains. By focusing on the foods you really need, and few other simple tips and tricks, you'll find it's possible to eat nutritiously -- and deliciously -- on a budget.
Inexpensive Healthy Foods
Cooking healthy, delicious meals for your family doesn't have to be a financial strain. You just have to think strategically about the way you shop and how you cook. Here are some inexpensive, healthy foods that are so versatile, you can make lots of dishes with them and never get bored:
- Dried beans and rice are cheaper alternatives to the canned and quick-cooking versions. They can be bought in bulk -- giving you many more servings for the cost -- and have a very long shelf life.
- Seasonal fresh fruits and veggies from your local farmers market are usually better in quality and less expensive than produce from grocery stores. You can also feel good knowing you're supporting people in your own community.
- Frozen produce is an inexpensive and healthful alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables that aren't in season. The food is picked at the peak of freshness, blanched (for quick preservation of vitamins and minerals) and then flash-frozen. Use frozen fruit in smoothies, stirred into oatmeal and in baking, and frozen veggies can be substituted for fresh in most any recipe.
- Canned tuna and salmon are good alternatives to their fresh -- and more expensive -- counterparts. Both fish are packed with protein and are low in fat, sodium and calories. Use them in pasta dishes, casseroles, salads, soups and, of course, fish cakes.
- Whole grains such as oats, grits, barley and quinoa are very reasonably priced when buying in bulk, and they can be used in sweet and savory dishes, in snacks and for bulking up soups and meat dishes. And like dried beans and rice, they have a very long shelf life.
Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
Now that you know which food and ingredients are nutritious choices, here are few tips to get them for the best value:
- Shop with a list. You'll be more likely to shop for only what you need and less tempted to make impulse purchases.
- Eat seasonally. Seasonal fruits and veggies are available ripe and ready to be eaten -- and also priced less when their supply is higher -- so you'll ultimately benefit from buying these foods first.
- Use coupons -- and you don't need a newspaper to get them anymore. Sites like Coupons.com and SmartSource.com are free and have the same coupons that you'll find in the Sunday paper. Additionally, pay attention to your local grocery stores’ sales and when they put out marked-down foods. Many of these bargains don't require coupons at all.
- Don’t shop hungry. Everything will be appetizing, and you'll find that items you neither want nor need will make their way into your cart. Another guideline is to shop the perimeter of the supermarket and avoid the interior aisles. Meat, dairy, bread and fresh produce are always located in the outermost areas of the store.
- Cook from scratch. When you make homemade dishes, you control the quality of the food by selecting the ingredients, seasonings and cooking method. You'll also be pleasantly surprised at how much money you can save by making certain foods at home instead of buying them ready-made. Cooking casseroles and soups and freezing them will help you avoid takeout or fast food when you're in a pinch for dinner.
- Have an occasional potluck with family and friends. Everyone shares a meal together and can take home the leftovers.
- CBS News. "Eating Healthy on a Budget." Nov. 6, 2009. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/18/earlyshow/health/main4613172.shtml
- Clauson, Annette. "Despite Higher Food Prices, Percent of U.S. Income Spent on Food Remains Constant." U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/September08/Findings/PercentofIncome.htm
- Coupon Mom. (Nov. 2, 2011) http://www.couponmom.com/
- Coupons. (Nov. 2, 2011) http://www.coupons.com/
- Fernstrom, Madelyn. "Eat Healthy on a Budget." MSNBC. Feb. 12, 2007. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/17113255/ns/today-today_health/t/eat-healthy-budget/#.TrqvR79g0b1
- Harvard School of Public Health. "Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage." (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein-full-story/index.html#protein_package
- Local Harvest. "Food Coops." (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.localharvest.org/food-coops/
- Meatless Monday. "A Campaign Becomes a Movement." (Nov. 9, 2011) http://www.meatlessmonday.com/history/
- Openshaw, Jennifer. "Rising food prices take a bigger paycheck bite." Marketwatch. June 13, 2007. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-rising-food-prices-are-eating-more-of-your-paycheck?pagenumber=1
- Publix Supermarket. Atlanta, Ga. Prices recorded by author. Nov. 9, 2011.
- Shapley, Dan. "The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic." The Daily Green. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/dirty-dozen-foods#fbIndex1
- SmartSource. (Nov. 2, 2011) http://smartsource.com/
- TLC. "Cooking Large, Saving Cash: Cheap Large Meals Quiz." (Nov. 10, 2011) https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/cheap-large-meals-quiz12.htm?answerId=140574
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Center. "Food CPI and Expenditures: CPI for Food Forecasts." Oct. 25, 2011. (Nov. 17, 2011) http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/cpiforecasts.htm
- Vigeland, Tess. "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter." Marketplace Money. Oct. 13, 2011. (Nov. 3, 2011). http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/big-book/make-bread-buy-butter