Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Its a tough economy right now, and food prices are on the rise. I personally, have been a full time student for the past 20 years, and now after finishing my full time, unpaid dietetic internship, and being about to graduate and have all of my school loans kick in,  am particularly feeling the stress of a tight budget. 

Nonetheless, there is no escuse to not eat healthy! there are plenty of ways to fit healthy eating into any budget. Here are a few tips-- please leave your own tip ideas in the comment section! 

  • Have a shopping list. Only buy what is on the list. You can save money by planning your recipes ahead of time, and therefore only buying what you’ll need. Also, if you make your list ahead of time and stick to it, you are more likely to make smart choices.
  • Check out the weekly flier for your grocery store, which will feature weekly sales. Plan recipes based on sales. Most grocery stores feature these fliers online as well, so no need to get the newspaper. 
  • Stock up. When a product that you use frequently is on sale for a good deal, buy extra.  This works best for shelf stable and canned goods, or frozen foods if you have the space. You can also cooking and/ or freeze fresh items for later use.  
  • Buy the Store Brand or Generic Brand these products are nearly identical to the Brand Name products, but significantly cheaper.
  • Buy in season fruits and vegetables.  Produce that is in season is much cheaper, fresher, and nutrient dense, than out of season produce that has been shipped and stored. I love epicurious map of seasonal foods
  • Check out the “Discounted for quick sale” sections. These generally include produce and bakery items that are about to expire or are slightly damaged. If you have a use for them, buy them! You can get a plethora of fruit for a fraction of the cost, for still decent fruit, just be sure to eat it up fast. For vegetables you can always cook them right away to prevent them from getting any worse. Check out the bounty I found in the discount section.  This section also usually has dented cans and out of season- seasonal items.  Beware of dented cans due to food safety.  
  • Farmers Markets. Check out your local farmers market. The food there is often a lot cheaper than the grocery store, and fresher, and locally grown so you are supporting local agriculture. 
  • Buy in “bulk”.  Pay attention to the unit price. Sometimes you can get a much better deal buy purchasing a larger quantity. Check out the unit price and purchase based on that. Of course, also consider if you will be able to use or store the item. You will not be saving money by wasting food. Note the “bulk” some grocery stores have what they often call “bulk” bins, where you can purchases as much of an item by the pound as you want, such as rice, grains, dried beans and dried fruits. These items that are not branded or packaged are frequently quite a steal , and you are completely in control of how much you purchase. These are also a great way to try new things without committing to purchasing a lot of it. 
  • Purchase less processed foods The more processed the food, the more expensive it is.  Set aside some time to do some prep work, such as peeling and cutting carrots rather than purchasing baby carrots. Of course, again consider if you will actually use this product if you have to prepare it. In some cases convenience is worth the extra expense.
  • Don’t buy beverages. (Except maybe a milk/ soy/ almond/ rice milk) Unless you live in an area where your drinking water has been deemed unsafe, do not waste your money purchasing bottled water, or other drinks.  Soda is empty calories, and Fruit juices are ok sometimes, however, you get more fiber, phytonutrients and fulfillment from whole fruits and vegetables. Also, beware that Bishenol A (BPA) and other toxins are found in most plastic bottles and cans. (More on that to come). 
  • Try dried milk.  Milk was the exception of the beverages, Nonfat and low fat milk are very important in maintaining bone and heart health (and water just doesn’t taste as good in cereal.) If you reconstitute dried milk, it works out to be even cheaper. Try to purchase Skim or 1% milks. Also, be sure to pay attention to expiration dates and watch for spoilage for both fresh and dried milk.

  • Use canned and frozen tooCompare the price of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables to that of fresh. Often times they are much cheaper, and are convenient as they do not perish as quickly. For canned foods, choose no salt added or low sodium options if possible, or canned in juice or water, rather than syrup or oil. For frozen fruits and vegetables, avoid ones that contain sauces or added sugar. The nutrients in the canned in frozen foods are often just as high, and sometimes higher than fresh foods. Again beware of BPA and other toxins in canned products, and don't use dented cans. See this list for canned foods without BPA. 
  • Cook in bulk. Save yourself money AND time by doing batch cooking, and storing or freezing left overs for later.
  • Grow it yourself! Buying seeds, or seedlings and growing what you can can save a lot of money. It is also very rewarding to see that your hard work and tending can 'create' food. If nothing else, try growing herbs on your window sill. Fresh herbs are pricey in the grocery store, but they are easy- peasy to grow and maintain. I've had one basil plant growing on my window for over a year (there were two until I had to break in through my window...), and I have chives growing like wildfire! 

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