5 Tips to Shop Healthy and Save Money

Most of us spend a good portion of our money on food each month. Especially for those feeding a family, the grocery bill can begin to pile up. Wouldn’t you like to learn how you could save money on groceries?

It is commonly believed that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food. However, this is not necessarily true; it all depends on how you look at it.  A report published by the USDA examined the difference in cost between healthy food and junk food.[1] The report studied multiple factors that influence food prices including the price for food energy, edible weight, average portion, and nutrition.

The study found that high-calorie foods (generally from high fat or sugar contents) tended to be cheaper. However, foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains were cheaper in terms of portion size and meeting the daily nutrition requirements. Factor in the benefits of good health any the little extra you may spend is worth it.

We’ve come up with some tips to help keep your expenses down and food quality up. If you put them into practice you’ll be trimming the fat from your grocery bill in no time.

1. Save on Produce

The type of produce you buy can have a considerable impact on its price and nutrient content. It’s best to buy produce that is locally grown and in season. Thankfully, it is generally cheaper than imported items or ones that are out of season.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are also smart choice. When frozen, foods tend to retain more of their nutrients than they do being shipped hundreds/or thousands of miles to your local store. When your favorite produce is in season, stock up and freeze it. Then, you’ll have some to use when it is not easily available.

2. Planning and Comparing

When shopping for a week’s worth of groceries, it’s always best to plan out meals ahead of time. At the supermarket, make sure you stick to your menu to avoid purchasing unnecessary food. Don’t shop hungry either, you’ll be much more prone to make impulse buys.

Get to know the local stores and what their prices are to get the best value for the items you commonly purchase. Look for sales and use coupons whenever available. Saving a little here and there can add up significantly over time. Check out local farmers markets where you can often find produce that is cheaper and fresher.

3. Smart Buying

The many food choices we have can be overwhelming. Whether you should buy products fresh, frozen, packaged, or canned depends on the food. When purchasing beans, dried ones are cheaper and healthier than canned. Pre-cut or bagged produce will also be more expensive than whole. Buy it whole and chop it yourself. (Check out our cooking 101 videos to learn how to do this.)

Avoid name brands. Generic foods are often the same size and quality at a cheaper price. Furthermore, pay attention to unit sizes. If you have the funds, you can often save a good amount by buying larger sizes. Food staples (such as rice, flour, or beans) should be bought in bulk or when they go on sale.

4. Back to Basics

We often pay for convenience, but when your budget is tight, spending extra time can save you a good amount of money. Use fresh ingredients and not pre-packaged foods. Many commonly bought products can easily be made at home. For instance, making homemade salsa, spaghetti sauce, hummus, or guacamole is relatively simple and is much more affordable than store-bought products. Having a garden is another great way to save money and have extra fresh and tasty produce.

Remembering to eat simple is key. Healthy eating can be more expensive when you constantly indulge in processed or gourmet style foods. Eat within your calorie requirements. Since most Americans overeat, limiting your caloric intake will likely save you money as well.

5. Stretch Your Meals

There are a variety of meals that can be prepared and stretched out for several days. Soup, chili, stir-fry, spaghetti and casseroles are all great examples. Ingredients that stretch include dry beans, lentils, oats, brown rice, and other baking essentials; these should always be kept on hand. Sweet potatoes are affordable, very high in nutrients, and can be used in a surprising variety of dishes. (Try these sweet potato tacos and you’ll be convinced)

Always eat whole grain rice/breads/noodles and other foods high in fiber. You will eat less and they will sustain you longer. Refined grains may seem cheaper, but you will eat larger portions and get hungry quicker, which ultimately makes them more expensive.  Also watch out for hidden sugars, which only keep you full temporarily. Learning to read a nutrition label is an excellent idea.

Successfully incorporating healthy foods into your tight budget is entirely possible, and more than just your wallet will thank you. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet will help with energy level, mood, productivity, and brain functioning.  It will also help fight against pesky colds and the flu. Perhaps most importantly, it will help you immensely in the fight against more serious diseases such as heart attack, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes.

[1] USDA Economic Research Service: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib96.aspx#.UoUwvJPXiPV

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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