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  • Writer's pictureRachel Gargano

Stretching Your Food Dollar






Eating Healthy on a Budget



With food prices on the rise, it’s becoming important for many of us to be more conscious of how we grocery shop and how much we spend.


Many times it seems as though the least expensive foods are also the least healthy – but there are a lot of healthy foods that are inexpensive as well!


By making some simple grocery swaps and drops, you can not only save on your grocery bill, but also make sure you’re giving your family the nutrients they need for health and longevity.


Eating healthy and saving money may take a bit more preparation and thought, but a little effort goes a long way!


Tips to Save Money at the Grocery Store

Grocery Shop on a Full Stomach

Shopping when hungry may lead to purchasing foods you don’t need. Adding these foods to your cart will also add dollars to your bill.


Plan Ahead and Stick to Your List

When you plan your meals and snacks for the week and make a list of all the ingredients you need, you’ll make fewer impulse buys.


When you have all the food you need on hand, you’ll also be less likely to eat out or order in – which can burn a big hole in your wallet!


Eat out Less

When my family of four goes to our local fast-casual restaurant for lunch, we end up spending close to $60. Ouch! By reducing the meals you eat out by one or two, you can save over $100 per week.


Clip It

Clipping coupons or joining your local grocer's rewards program can help you save money. Just make sure you only use the coupons for items you need, not just for ‘good deals’ on items you don’t need.


Be a Store Brand Bandit

Many times the store or generic brand is just as good quality as the name brands, just priced much lower. In fact, some are even made by those bigger brands and simply re-labeled with the store brand.


Shop Around

Choose the grocery store that will give you more for your money. Usually, prices at convenience stores are higher. Supermarkets will typically have a lower price than the smaller grocery stores.


Yet some small stores, such as Aldi, Sav-A-Lot, Smart & Final, and others have great prices because they have a smaller selection, usually have you bag your own food, often sell more of their own brand, and some simply put pallets out of the food rather than paying employees to unpack and stock the shelves.



Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping (on a Budget!)

Shop the Perimeter First

The outer walls of the grocery store typically have the least processed foods. That’s where you find fruit, vegetables, meats, poultry, dairy, and whole wheat bread.


Inner aisles are littered with processed foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugar; with healthier foods more difficult to spot.


With that said, note that some frozen and canned foods are great options that also come with a lower price tag.

  • Frozen veggies and fruit are often less expensive per ounce and are frozen right off the field. This means they've retained much of their nutrients. Look for frozen foods without added salt, sugar, and sauces.

  • Canned vegetables and fruit are your third choice (following fresh and frozen). They're typically higher in sodium and sometimes added sugar, but if you look for nothing-added products, these can make great choices as well. Check out canned beans and meats too!


Buy Healthy ‘Convenience Foods’ Second

Healthy convenience foods may sound like an oxymoron, but there are plenty of better-for-you packaged foods that can help you create quick, easy meals.


Tip: Start by filling your basket with the most important foods, then see if you have room or need for the extras.

When grocery shopping, first buy nutrient-packed foods such as milk, yogurt, and eggs; frozen and fresh fruits and veggies; poultry, meat, and seafood; whole grains; canned or fresh fish; canned or dried beans and legumes; nuts, seeds, and nut butters.


Then if there is money in your budget remaining, purchase processed foods that may not have any many nutrients (such as cookies, chips, candy, and chocolate), but will be eaten as a treat.


How to Choose Healthy Options throughout the Grocery Store









Canned Foods

Canned (or dried) Beans and legumes are a wonderful source of protein and much less expensive than meat. Look for No Salt Added or Low Sodium for better nutrition. If you can’t find these options, simply rinse and drain the beans to reduce the sodium by 40 percent.


Canned Tomatoes are great for adding to stews, soups, or casseroles – and last longer than fresh. Again, look for Low Sodium or No Salt Added.


Canned or Jarred Red Spaghetti Sauce is an easy and healthy addition to any meal. Look for spaghetti sauce with low sodium (Less than 300mg per serving), and with NO added sugars such as honey, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup.


Spaghetti sauce isn’t just for spaghetti! Use it on top of baked chicken with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese for a healthy version of Chicken Parm. Or add a drizzle to steamed veggies to give them great flavor.


Canned Tuna or Salmon. Fish is a wonderful lean protein packed with nutrients, including heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And canned fish offer all the same health benefits without the high price tag!


Good news: All canned salmon is wild-caught. Simply season and use just like tuna and eat on a salad, in a wrap, or as a salmon patty.


Beware: Canned Albacore tuna has more methylmercury than chunk light tuna. This is because it comes from a bigger fish, so it has had more time to accumulate this metal in its lifetime.


Canned Poultry or Meat usually costs less than fresh, and are a good, shelf-stable option (though remember it must be refrigerated after opening!). Though note that there are not many options that do not have added sodium, so choose the one with the least amount added.










Fruits and Vegetables

Buy it Bagged: Fruits and veggies that come in bulk bags typically cost less per pound than buying produce by the piece. Examples: Apples, onions, oranges, grapefruit, and potatoes.


Buy it Frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh but are less expensive. Be sure to look for frozen produce without added salt, fat, or sugar.


Dried Plums, Apricots, Raisins, and Figs are the best dried fruit to buy. These usually do not have added sugars and are packed with vitamins and minerals.










Dairy

Yogurt and Cottage Cheese: Go Big! The bigger containers of yogurt and cottage cheese cost less per ounce than the single-serving containers. Be sure to buy ‘low fat’ when possible to help cut saturated fat, and watch for added sugars as well as added sodium.


Milk: Milk in gallon and half-gallon containers are usually less expensive than milk in pints or quarts. Choose low-fat milk which has less saturated fat and cholesterol, but the same amount of protein and nutrients as whole and 2%.


Egg-Cellent. Eggs are one of the best sources of protein – and one of the least expensive.


Good news: eating eggs will not raise your cholesterol!


Tip: Hard boil 6 eggs on Sunday and keep them refrigerated for a quick protein-packed snack during the week. Or bake mini-egg muffins packed with veggies and sprinkled with cheese, wrap them in individual portions, and freeze until needed.


Cheesy Choice. Buy store-brand bulk or block cheeses instead of individually sliced or individually wrapped cheese. Individual cheeses are priced higher because we’re paying for slicing and packaging.










Cereals and Grains

Go Hot. Hot cereals, such as rolled oats, cost less per serving than ready-to-eat cold cereals. Purchase rolled oats in large containers rather than individual serving packets to save more money.


Tip: You can make 5 servings of oatmeal in a big batch on Sunday to have through the week as a quick breakfast. Simply store in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator and take out one portion each day. The oatmeal will thicken in the fridge – so you can add a splash of milk or water, stir, and heat up (or eat cold!).


Bulk Grains. Buying grains in bulk will allow you to purchase only what you need (instead of a 12-pound bag!), and it’s less expensive since you don’t have to pay for packaging!












Meat and Poultry

Purchase less expensive cuts of meat. Round, Chuck, and Shoulder are some of the least expensive cuts of meat but have just as much nutrition. These are best when stewed, roasted, or braised. Lean ground beef is also a money-saving choice.


Family Pack-It! Even though you may only be cooking for one or two, buying the larger family pack of meat or poultry saves money. Simply freeze the meat individually and then use it piece by piece as needed.


Chicken over Beef. Poultry often costs less than red meat. For even more savings, purchase a whole chicken which can cost as much as a dollar LESS per pound! You can ask the store’s butcher to cut the chicken into pieces.









Eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. With a couple of adjustments and a little planning; you could be on your way to saving money and feeling great!



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