Eating Healthy On A Budget

by heather

There’s no doubt that going to the grocery store is more stressful than it used to be. Prices are going up on everything.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, grocery prices have gone up an average of 3.9% in the past year. But in some areas, like dairy, it’s much more than that. As much as 69%, according to AOL Money and Finance.

For instance, the average cost of bread has gone up 26.9% since 2006. The price of milk has increased 25.7%. Eggs, a whopping 54.8%.

Why is it going up? Well, gas prices are the obvious culprit. But there’s also been an increase in global food consumption as countries like India and China experience a rising middle class.

You may be tempted to cut the quality of your food in order to save money, but you can still eat healthy on a budget. Here are some tips:

  • Stay on the outside perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where the healthiest foods are stocked: produce, meats, and dairy are all along the outside walls of the store. If you can stay out of the middle (where the pre-packaged, unhealthy food is stocked) you’ll eat better, and save money.
  • Don’t underestimate beans. Beans give you a great bang for your buck. They’re cheap, loaded with protein, and very easy to fix in a variety of ways.
  • Switch to brown rice instead of white. Yes, it costs about the same, so you’re not saving money on this one. But, brown rice is much better for you. It’s higher in fiber, as well as many other nutrients. If you’re buying rice, you might as well as get more for your money, right?
  • Eat carrots. And no, not the pre-peeled, tiny baggies of baby carrots. You can buy whole, just-pulled-from-the-ground bunch of carrots for little over a dollar. Carrots are incredibly good for you. They also make great snacks (try dipping them in ranch dressing or hummus).
  • Buy more sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are relatively inexpensive and are chock full of good things. They’re loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as B6, copper, manganese, and potassium.
  • Most families have a snack cabinet that’s filled to the brim with pre-packaged, calorie-laden, expensive snacks. Instead, choose one snack. Buy a large bag for the family to eat for the week, and leave it at that. Instead of having a ton of pre-made things, make your own? Granola bars, smoothies, and cookies can all be made at home much cheaper.
  • Shopping at warehouses like Sam’s Club or Costco can be a great money-saver, but only if you use the food. If it spoils, all you’re doing is wasting money. If you have a smaller sized family, or you don’t think you can eat 5 pounds of plums before they go bad, then why not go shopping with a friend? The two of you can split the produce as well as the costs. And you’ll both be out ahead.
  • Skip things like soda and bottled juice. It’s expensive, as well as loaded with calories. Frozen juice is much more economical. An even better strategy is to buy the fruit itself, and drink water.
  • Instead of eating fresh fish (which is yummy but expensive) go with canned tuna. Tuna is often called “the perfect protein”. When it’s canned, you get all the benefits of this healthy fish but in a budget-friendly form. Canned tuna is high in Omega-3 fats, and is one of the cheapest proteins you can buy.
  • Make your own pizza. Now, I know this tip might elicit cries of outrage from nutritionists out there, but pizza, when kept simple, can be healthy. I make my own pizza all the time, and it’s far healthier than the $15 grease pie I’d get at a pizza place. I use Jiffy Pizza Mix (59 cents per box, and all you need is one box for a 12-14 inch pie), shredded mozzarella, fresh basil (I grow my own), Hunt’s Original tomato sauce (98 cents for 24 oz.), and dried oregano. It’s simple, incredibly cheap, and delicious.
  • We’ve probably all heard this one, but shop local. You can buy fresh vegetables at your local farmer’s market that, in many cases, were just pulled or picked the day before. Plus, when you buy local you help the environment because the food didn’t have to be shipped across the country. And buying direct from farmers is much cheaper than hitting the market. You can find your own local farmer’s markets at Local Harvest.

Although the cost of food is going up (and up and up), we don’t have to sacrifice a healthy diet just to make ends meet. By doing some research beforehand and investigating new recipes, we can make smart decisions and spread our budget further.

Eating healthy is also better for the environment, especially when you buy local.

My strongest recommendation is to find a local farmer’s market near you. At my local market I buy fresh, free range brown eggs for $1.39/doz. I get fabulous organic cheeses for $5/lb. And the fresh vegetables are much more affordable than the grocery store, especially on things like red peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, and carrots. Plus, it’s a blast to go to. I see my neighbors, get hot apple cider, and come home with a bag full of goodies. It’s my favorite activity of the week by far.

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