Food Topics

How to Eat Healthier on a Budget

One reason why many people don’t opt for healthier options is the financial barrier. Today, I talk about some of the ways to avoid this pitfall.

Last post, I talked about how one of the barriers to eating healthy had to do with money (post can be found here for those who missed it). Many people opt to continue unhealthy lifestyles because of the barriers that they might face when attempting to live healthier. Today, I am going to go over ways to overcome the financial barrier. As always, these pieces of advice might not apply to everyone, and makes assumptions about your ability to care for yourself, ability to make your own food choices, and access to electricity.

Compare Cost per Unit and Container: One way that you can make the food you eat cheaper is to compare how expensive it would be both per unit or per container. Usually, the cost per unit is less when bought in bulk. For example, a 10-lbs chub of ground meat might be $35. A 1-lbs chub might be $4. This means per pound of ground meat, the bigger chub is cheaper at $3.50/lbs. HOWEVER, if you have a limited budget of $100 per week, then the larger chub of meat would take up 35% of your budget, vs only 4%. Of course, there are pros and cons to this method, and it can be argued that buying the 10 lbs chub would be the cheaper option across a one-month budget, which they’d be correct. Overall, it depends on what your budget is across time. If your budget allows you to buy more at one time, then feel free to do so.

Buy Food On Sale and Store: One method to save on groceries is to buy food that is on sale, and either use it the same day or store it for later. Often times, items on sale either need to move fast because of their sell-by date approaching, ordering mistakes, or other reasons such as stock rotation. Luckily, many people have access to refrigeration and freezers. This is a good way to store many foods for later, including meat and bread. Some foods do not store well at home, including bananas, dairy products, and many vegetables. These items should be used sooner than later. If it’s able to be stored, and you can afford to buy more of it at once, then you can save money by buying items on sale, and saving it for when it’s needed

Buy Canned and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: One way you can save money while eating healthier is to opt for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables over fresh ones. While not every fruit or vegetable is available frozen or canned, many of them are. One example is with berries. Frozen and canned berries are available year round, and are often cheaper than buying fresh berries, especially during the off season. The biggest thing to keep in mind should you decide to buy canned products is to opt for low sodium and no sugar added canned items to maintain the health value of the fruit or vegetable. Another thing of note that is less related to nutrition, is that the texture and flavor of canned or frozen products will be different because of the canning and freezing processes. This means a frozen strawberry will not necessarily be a good option if you want the same texture as a fresh one, but it would be a great option if you are going to cook with it.

Vary Your Proteins: One of the most expensive items in the grocery store comes in the form of protein items, especially meat. There’s a variety of ways to lower how much you’re spending on protein items. Increasing the amount of lower cost protein items during meals can help you save more money. Instead of having meat seven days a week, if you have one day with eggs, one more focused on beans, so on and so forth, you can spend less money over all on the much more expensive meat. Another method is to use meat extenders. There are a variety of recipes and foods you can add to something like burger meat to use less per meal. These include mushrooms, beans, or soy based products. More of these extenders can be found here. Note: Extenders are different than fillers. Fillers are often times lower in nutrition, and higher in carbohydrates than extenders, which act as complimentary items to maintain or improve nutritional content of the meat.

Opt for Store Brands Over Name Brands: This one might be a bit controversial, because many people claim that there’s higher quality to be found within the name brand products over store branded ones. Personally, any differences in flavor, color, texture, etc. are all marginal, and do not have an overall effect on what foods I am eating. For the most part, many of these store brands are cheaper per ounce. One exception to be aware of is that stores might offer promotional deals on different foods, such as cereal. In these cases, it’s up to you, the consumer, to decide which product is worth your money.

There are a vast number of ways one can save while shopping at a grocery store. Many of the methods include waiting for deals or sales, buying in bulk and storing the food properly, or using a wider range of ingredients to extend how far the more expensive ingredients are. Eating healthy does not need to be a large investment, but it does require an understanding of individual budgets, the availability of several items year round, and the ability to store items properly for use at a later time. Fruits and vegetables grow in a season, which impacts their seasonal costs. This can be offset by buying frozen or canned vegetables in their place. Meat is expensive, but this cost can be offset by buying on sale and storing it, or using meat extenders. Many store branded items are cheaper than name brands overall, with little changes to quality.

What are some ways you like to save money on groceries? Feel free to leave a comment.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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