An all-too-common mantra says, “It’s too expensive to eat healthy.” It’s true that when comparing specific foods like organic fruits with conventional fruits, the former tends to be a few dollars more per pound. And when a shopping cart filled with fresh produce, poultry, and fish is compared with one loaded with boxes of macaroni and cheese, ground hamburger meat, and cookies, the latter will likely ring lower at the cash register.
Certainly, policy improvements and other actions are needed to create a food environment where the healthy choice is the easy and accessible choice. In the meantime, know that creating nutritious meals can be more affordable than one might think. In fact, one meta-analysis looking at the price difference between healthful and less healthful dietary patterns found that diets with healthier foods only cost a bit more.
From the supermarket to the kitchen, here are some strategies to get the biggest nutrition bang for your buck.
EASY WAYS TO EAT HEALTHY ON A BUDGET
- Plan your meals and snacks each week.
- Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season. You’ll get top nutrition and pay less for pears and sweet potatoes in fall and berries in the summer, for example.
- Focus on cheaper fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, oranges, potatoes, spinach which are priced well all year long.
- Buy ugly produce marked down at the supermarket.
- Buy salad greens by the head versus bagged.
- Consider cabbage. Humble green cabbage is a healthy option and perfect for topping tacos, roasting or steaming.
- Include seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack.
- Eat cheaper nuts like almonds and peanuts.
- Buy nuts in bulk instead of packaged and flavored.
- Wash and chop produce ahead of time to make it easy to grab and go.
- Use the bulk bins to try new-to-you grains, beans, and nuts.
- Make your own hummus. It will taste soo much better.
- Use a variety of grains. Instead of expensive quinoa try brown rice, barley, farro or oats.
- Buy plain whole oats instead of the packaged, pre-flavored ones.
- Eat less meat.
While shopping, make use of these budget-wise 10 tips.
- Ask about discounts. Ask your local grocery stores if they have a senior discount or a loyalty or discount card. Besides getting items at a lower price, you may also get store coupons.
- Use coupons when you can. Remember, coupons only help if they are for things you would buy anyway. Sometimes, another brand costs less even after you use the coupon.
- Consider store brands—they usually cost less. These products are made under a special label, sometimes with the store name. You might have to look on shelves that are higher or lower than eye level to find them.
- Be aware that convenience costs more. You can often save money if you are willing to do a little work. For example, buy whole chickens and cut them into parts, shred or grate your own cheese, and avoid instant rice or instant oatmeal. Bagged salad mixes cost more and might not stay fresh as long as a head of lettuce.
- Look at unit prices. Those small stickers on the shelves tell you the price but also the unit price—how much the item costs per ounce or per pound. Compare unit prices to see which brand is the best value.
Try to buy in bulk, but only buy a size you can use before it goes bad. If you buy meat in bulk, decide what you need to use that day and freeze the rest in portion-sized packages right away.
- Focus on economical fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, oranges, cabbage, sweet potatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables, green peppers, and regular carrots.
- Think about the foods you throw away. For less waste, buy or cook only what you need.
- Resist temptations at the check-out. Those snack foods and candy are put there for impulse buying. Save money and avoid empty calories!
- Sign up for meal delivery. While some older people have trouble finding enough money to buy food, others need help preparing meals. There are a variety of groups around the country that deliver meals to people who have trouble getting out of their homes. These groups usually offer one hot meal a day. One of the largest is Meals on Wheels America.
EATING AWAY FROM HOME
- Eat out less often.
- Pack your own lunch.
- Carry a nut butter sandwich and piece of fruit for a meal or snack on the plane.
- Opt for fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle or Panera instead of full service to save.
- Eat out at lunchtime instead of dinner to save money.
- Split an entree and add a salad at dinner.
- Take home leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. And remember to eat them.
- Order water instead of a soft drink.
- Skip dessert unless it’s really good. It’s marked up!
How to Use Your Deep Freeze to Save Money
- Save the Leftovers. Only finish half the lasagna? Freeze what you didn’t eat, and you’ll have another meal ready to be heated up in a week or two. We do this all the time with pizza too.
- Buy in “bulk.” If you have an opportunity to buy a larger quantity of food at a big discount, you can do it and freeze the food you won’t use right away. We like to buy 40 pounds of chicken at a time from Zaycon and freeze it for meals throughout the season.
- Stash extra veggies in a plastic bag to make broth. Save leftover vegetables, and when you have a full baggie, throw them in the crockpot with water to make broth. I like to use our homemade vegetable broth when we make rice in the rice cooker for added flavor.
- Take advantage of seasonal produce. When blueberries are in season, we like to pick them at the farm, and bring them home to freeze. Our blueberry stash from last summer lasted us for almost a year’s worth of weekly smoothies!
- Save food before it goes bad. We like to buy big bags of spinach from Costco, but we don’t always end up using it all in time. Instead of letting it go bad, I try to freeze it in plastic baggies. We use the spinach later for smoothies or lasagna.
Try Growing a Garden
If you can, growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to save money and have fresh produce at your fingertips. Even if you don’t have a yard to grow a garden, many fruits, vegetables, and herbs can grow in pots on patios or balconies.
Having a constant supply of fresh produce at home can save you money at the store. You may not be able to grow a “money tree” in your garden, but it’ll feel like you did with the extra money you’ll be saving.
Healthy Eating: Not “One Size Fits All”
Diabetes meal plans for healthy eating are not one size fits all. Work with a diabetes care and education specialist to create a meal plan that fits your health needs, tastes, and budget. They’re there to help you make healthy food choices that work with your eating plan. Eating healthy to manage diabetes doesn’t have to be a hassle, and best of all, doesn’t have to break the bank.