One excuse some people give for not eating healthier foods is that they cost too much. On the contrary, a number of exceptionally healthy foods are actually on the lower end of food costs. There are also other ways you can cut costs that can make healthier eating more cost-effective.
Foods that are packed with nutritional value mean you need to purchase fewer foods to get the same or more nutrients. Examples would be items such as beans (canned or dried), lentils, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain pastas, etc.), dairy products, many types of fruits and vegetables.
Processed foods can often be more expensive since they require more manpower and other resources to produce the final product. Nutritionally, they tend to lack some of the benefits found in the original food, making them less cost effective nutritionally than the original food. They may also contain a variety of additives that can counter good health.
The amount of packaging can also increase the price of a food product. Individual serving size containers often cost more than bulk items. Breaking the bulk amount into usable serving sizes is often quite simple. This practice is generally more environmentally friendly as well.
Note that buying in bulk is only cost effective if you are able to use all of the food in a timely manner. Wasted food means wasted money. This is true for addressing leftovers. Try serving leftovers within a safe period of time or freezing them for later use. Besides just heating them up for another meal, you could also find creative ways to use them in another recipe.
As produce becomes over-ripe consider ways to use them in a recipe. An example would be using bananas in banana muffins. If you have over-purchased vegetables, why not make a large pot of soup. Healthy recipes made in bulk can be used over several meals and are a great time-saver.
Rotate foods in your refrigerator and freezer so that you are using them in a timely way to reduce food waste. Also, understand what is meant by “Sell By”, “Use By”, and “Best By” dates on food labels. A lot of unnecessary food waste occurs because people do not understand these terms. In most cases, food products are still safe well after these dates.
Planning meals ahead often allows for more efficient use of foods and more appropriate portion sizes. Over-eating wastes both food and money – consume the amount appropriate for your calorie and nutritional needs. Sticking to a grocery list can reduce the temptation for impulse buying which can increase food costs and often bring less healthy foods into the house. Try not to grocery shop when you are hungry, as it often means over-purchasing.
Meat-type products tend to be more expensive than plant-based proteins. Consumed in larger amounts, they not only add to the grocery bill but may also contribute the less healthy saturated fats. Consider ways to reduce the frequency and portion sizes of the animal protein foods you consume.
A compromise might be to make a main dish from a combination of lean meat or poultry and some beans. Chili is a good example of this. You can also create a recipe that has a higher percentage of vegetables as compared to the animal protein. Vegetables and whole grains can add a greater feeling of fullness and satiety to a meal or recipe while adding fiber and nutrients. By increasing these, you may not miss a reduced amount of animal protein.
Within a food category such as beef, there are also cost differences based on the cut. Look for cheaper versions of meat that provide comparable protein but at a cheaper price. There are numerous ways to cook these to make them just as tender and delicious.
Some recipes may call for ingredients that are costly. Consider comparable ingredients that you could substitute for these which may be less expensive. An example might be to replace pine nuts with walnuts or almonds. Peanuts are generally cheaper than tree nuts.
When it comes to produce, seasonal fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper. Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as the out of season fresh ones but are much less expensive. Examples might be buying frozen berries in the winter instead of the fresh. Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots tend to be cost-effective year-round.
Canned products are another less expensive option but may be a bit higher in sodium content. Look for those without added salt or the lower sodium versions. Canned beans are an easy, inexpensive healthy addition to a meal and are amazing when it comes to fiber content.
Beverages can be another reason for a high grocery bill. Are you spending money on beverages that do not contribute to your health? Do you live in an area with good quality tap water and could replace purchased bottled water with tap water by using a personal water bottle?
You can also look for discounted foods, store brands, loyalty cards, special sales, and coupons available at many grocery stores.
So, banish the thought that healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy. Consider the many ways you can trim your grocery bill while still supporting a healthy pattern of eating.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and is Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas).