Enjoy Good Nutrition on a Budget
By: Kelly Freno, RDN
Tis the season to be thrifty! It’s that time of the year when wallets get squeezed and budgets get a little leaner. However, saving money on food doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice nutrition. There are a multitude of ways to ease the burden on your food budget and still eat healthy:
- Create a Meal Plan. If you plan your meals in advance, then you are more likely to see the plan through the week. It may be easiest to plan one week at a time. Don’t forget to consider school and work schedules when deciding on meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, many grocery stores have weeklong sales, so planning and shopping weekly allows you to partake in a variety of sales each month.
- Stick to Your Shopping List. After you plan your meals for the week, check your pantry, fridge and freezer to determine what foods you need from the store. Make a grocery list and stick to it. Buying “extra” food adds up quickly. Bonus tip: don’t shop when you are hungry. Eat a snack or have a meal before grocery shopping. We tend to load more food into our carts when we shop hungry.
- Shop the Sales. Keeping tabs on rotating, weekly grocery store sales can ease the pain of the cost of food. Search for manufacturer coupons for your favorite foods. Compare unit prices between store brand and name brand foods. It may be cheaper to purchase kitchen staples, like olive oil, flour, herbs and spices at wholesale clubs rather than at the grocery store. Often you can find many of the same foods available at ethnic markets, like pasta, produce and rice, but for significantly less than at your local market.
- Cook Food in Batches. Cooking food in batches saves time, effort and extra meal planning. Plan to have leftovers on nights when time is tight by cooking the night before and saving the remaining food for a quick meal. Invest in some Tupperware! This can be helpful even for taking meals to work or school the next day. Cooking at home is more nutritious and cheaper than buying meals from a restaurant. Packing your lunch every day could save you $2 to $3. That’s $10-15 per week and upwards of $500-$750 saved per year.
- Use Canned or Frozen Fruit and Vegetables. As the temperature drops, many fruits and vegetables become out of season, and subsequently their prices soar during the winter months. It may be cost-effective to purchase canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. When purchasing canned fruit, make sure that the fruit is packed in 100% fruit juice, with no added sugar. Avoid the words “in heavy syrup”. When purchasing canned vegetables, look for lower salt items, like “reduced sodium” or “no salt added”. For frozen fruits and vegetables make sure that the package does not contain any type of sauce. Often frozen produce retains most of the nutrients found in fresh produce.
- Stop Buying Junk Food. Junk food may be one of the largest sources of wasted income. Junk food fills you up, but does not offer necessary nutrition. Skip the chips aisle and stay clear of the sugary beverages too, even when dining out. The average fountain soda costs about $2.00 per person. If a family of 4 eats out once per week for a whole year, it would cost them $416 in beverages alone. Swapping out soda for water not only saves money but cuts calories. Drink water to maximize budget and health.
- Eat Local. Choose local farmers’ markets and stores. This food comes from nearby farms, reducing the cost of shipping and lowering the price of the food. Try arriving near the end of the farmers’ markets, some farmers will cut prices to help sell remaining produce. Lastly, buy produce that is in season. When produce is in season it means there’s a plentiful amount and can often lower your grocery bill. Plus, with the changes in seasons there’s a constant rotating variety of food.
- Watch Your Portion Size. Often, eating too much food can lead to a larger grocery bill. Be aware of serving sizes on the outside of packages. Appropriately measure your food before eating. And respect your body’s hunger and satiety cues. An overall reduction in quantity can lead to the largest savings of all!