Eating Right When Money is Tight

By admin
March 07, 2012

By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Congratulations, you made the decision to start eating healthier and replace poor dietary choices with healthier options. The next important step is actually getting those healthier items into your grocery cart and into your cabinets. This is where many people fall short, get frustrated and give up.

Making educated decisions about the food to eat is tougher than ever. New products advertising healthy, quick-to-make, local and organic are continuously showing up on grocery shelves. Making solid and safe choices is a challenge for even the savviest of food shoppers – not to mention when you are operating on a tight budget. As a grocery shopper, I know how expensive it can be to make a serious effort to buy nutrient rich, low fat, high fiber, and fresh foods. Here’s the good news – eating healthy doesn’t have to cost more. Take some common sense advice about how to make your food purchases healthy without wiping out the bank account.

Eating on a budget starts with the proverbial 3 P’s (plan, purchase, and prepare). Planning ahead is vital. Even as a registered dietitian, I know if I don’t plan ahead I will fall prey to the “there’s nothing healthy available” trap. A coach never takes to the field without a well thought out plan to win! Don’t get lost in the details. Planning ahead doesn’t require spreadsheets, dry eraser boards, or complicated recipes. Just sketch out your menu for the week, make a grocery list, and stick with it!

Menu Planning Tips:

  • Include meals that will stretch and freeze (stews, casseroles, stir‐fried dishes).
  • Once you have created 4 full week menus rotate them to reduce boredom and cut future planning time in half! Spice it up with a new recipe every now and then.
  • Unfortunately, coupons don’t always support the healthiest items. Don’t compromise health for pennies.

Now for the next step – our perfect plan will never work if it’s not well-executed. Make grocery shopping a priority. Kill seven birds with one stone and knock it out in a single trip. Multiple grocery stops on the way home can lead to impulse buys or drive through dinners. Then stick to your list. It might seem strange, uncomfortable and downright hard not to fall back on those unhealthy favorites. You rationalize- “What if my family won’t eat the new stuff?” “Maybe I should pick up a backup.” This is a sure fire way to sabotage your efforts to get healthy and inflate your grocery bill by purchasing new and old foods! Put back the old standbys and walk away.

Budget-Smart Shopping Tips:

  • Convenience Costs! Avoid ready to eat or marinated meats and pre cut/washed produce.
  • Ask about a loyalty card at your grocery store.
  • Buy shelf stable staples in bulk; olive oil, whole grains, canned beans, and nuts.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are economical and just as nutritious!
  • Store brands are not always cheaper. Double check and compare prices!

Finally, you must prepare the groceries you purchase. Sounds like a no-brainer! Many people buy healthy items with the best intentions. Then they get home and have no idea how to cook them! If your groceries spoil and are thrown out, you’ve reinforced the false assumption that eating healthy is a waste of money. Never buy a new item without a plan or recipe to use it. Look for quick and easy recipes online and in magazines. You don’t have to be a celebrity chef to put meat in the oven, vegetables in the microwave and quick-cooking rice on the stove top. Stick to the skills you have.

Budget-Friendly Food Preparation Tips:

  • Double or triple recipes and divide into individual portions to freeze.
  • Try a meatless meal by substituting with beans or low fat dairy.
  • Include no‐cook meals like salads, sandwiches, or wraps.
  • One-pot meals and slow cooker meals can save time and effort, even though they take more front-end preparation.
  • Incorporate leftovers into a subsequent meal. Chicken breasts for dinner – chicken salad for lunch.

Get the most for your budget! There are dozens of ways to save money on nutrient rich foods. We’ve discussed the three main steps; plan before you shop, purchase the items at the best price, and prepare meals that stretch your food dollar.

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