One of the biggest misconceptions about eating healthy is that it’s too expensive. During my nutrition practice, cost was the most often reason for patients to deter away from healthy eating practices. Over time, I developed a few tips to make healthy eating possible on a budget.
1. Shop the bulk section
When you’re buying dry goods and pantry staples such as dried beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and grains, bulk is the way to go. Not only do you save by not shelling out for the packaging, you also can buy what you need, so you’re not stuck with extras you won’t use or that will go bad.
2. Shop online
No matter where you live, shopping online can save you both time and money. Plus, many online resources can bring healthy foods right to your door. My favorite is Thrive Market, which carries many options made without added sugars or preservatives. If you have the space for bulk items, you can also save with Boxed, which gives you discounts on larger sizes. Online loyalty shopping, such as Amazon/Whole Foods or Kroger Pick-up, can help you meal-plan without the temptation of impulse-buying sweets at the cashier. Plus, membership can add in discounts, saving money over the long-term.
3. Choose store brands
Store brands, also known as private label, have come a long way from the “generics” of years past. Whole Foods 365, Trader Joe’s brand, Costco’s Kirkland Signature, and other store brands are generally well rated by consumers. Of course, with any packaged food, always read the ingredient list to make sure you’re getting clean, recognizable ingredients.
4. Buy frozen produce
Forget the frozen burritos and the mushy vegetables with icky sauces; plain frozen produce is an excellent choice for the savvy healthy shopper. It’s convenient, less expensive, and equally—if not more—nutritious. Frozen produce is picked when ripe and at peak nutrition, then flash-frozen right away to retain nutrients. By contrast, the “fresh” fruits and vegetables you get in the produce section are often picked early when under-ripe to withstand travel and warehousing before they get to the store, which could be days, weeks, or even months later. Once a fruit or vegetable is picked, the nutrients generally start to diminish with time. So, although fresh local produce is your best bet, don’t be afraid to supplement with frozen. Also, if you don’t use up all of the fresh produce you buy, it spoils and you end up wasting it, but with frozen you cook what you need and leave the rest in the freezer for another meal.
5. Buy frozen fish
The technology around freezing fish is rather advanced, with much of the fish flash-frozen right on the boat. Frozen fish is still less expensive than fresh, and there’s less waste because you control how much you thaw at a time.
6. Batch cook
One of the best ways to save money is to plan and batch cook your meals. Spending just an hour or two cooking on the weekends can save you time during the week, so you eat more homemade items and less of the pricey takeout. Plus, meal planning and batch cooking can save you from wasting food.
Jacqueline Corbett, MS RD LD
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Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.