I often complain because in my effort to eat healthier, it feels like my whole paycheck goes toward fruits and vegetables. While I feel like dining on the dollar menu might be more budget friendly, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service finds that healthy eating isn’t necessarily more costly when the price per calorie, per edible gram and per average portion – as well as the daily cost of meeting the food group recommendations with healthy and unhealthy choices – are taken into account.
That being said, I’ve never been good at math, so complicated cost-benefit analysis isn’t going to work for me when I’m standing at the check-out counter, watching the grocery bill total exceed my budget’s comfort level. Instead, I’ll try using these healthy eating budget tips from ChooseMyPlate.gov:
- Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. They are easy to get, have more flavor, and are usually less expensive. Your local farmers market is a great source of seasonal produce.
- Check the local newspaper, online and at the store for sales, coupons and specials that will cut food costs. Often, you can get more for less by visiting larger grocery stores (discount grocers if available).
- Plan out your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list. You will save money by buying only what you need. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Shopping after eating will make it easier to pass on the tempting snack foods. You’ll have more of your food budget for vegetables.
- For fresh vegetables or fruits you use often, a large size bag is the better buy. Canned or frozen fruits or vegetables can be bought in large quantities when they are on sale, since they last much longer.
- Opt for store brands when possible. You will get the same or similar product for a cheaper price. If your grocery store has a membership card, sign up for even more savings.
- Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Pre-cut, pre-washed, ready-to-eat and processed foods are convenient, but often cost much more than when purchased in their basic forms.
- Start a garden — in the yard or pot on the deck — for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals. Herbs, cucumbers, peppers or tomatoes are good options for beginners. Browse through a local library or online for more information on starting a garden.
- Compare price and number of servings from fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same veggie or fruit. Canned and frozen items may be less expensive than fresh. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
- Some fresh vegetables and fruits don’t last long. Buy small amounts more often to ensure you can eat the foods without throwing any away.
- Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews or other dishes in advance. This saves time and money. Add leftover vegetables to casseroles or blend them to make soup. Overripe fruit is great for smoothies or baking.
What are your ways to eat healthy without eating up your paycheck?