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Eating Healthy on a Shoestring Budget

3/6/2013

March is National Nutrition Month  


For many families on a tight budget, going to the grocery store can be a frustrating and overwhelming experience. Is it possible to make healthy choices when you are trying to spend less? How can you stretch your budget and still make tasty meals that are also good for you?

“If you examine your grocery receipt, you’ll find that the most expensive items are typically meat, chicken, seafood, convenience foods and snacks – foods that don’t really have significant nutritional value,” says Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN, a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital.

Flynn suggests families “eat close to the earth” and aim for a plant-based diet, which means one that’s rich in vegetables, fruits and beans, and relies on healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil. “Not only are these items less expensive, but they are also extremely healthy and chock-full of critical nutrients and vitamins. You don’t need to rely on meat as your primary protein source,” she adds.

When it comes to vegetables, Flynn says the frozen or canned varieties are typically less expensive – and more nutritious – than fresh produce. “Frozen or canned vegetables are kept on the plant longer, which preserves their flavor and nutrients, making them very healthy and budget-friendly,” she says. “They’re also extremely convenient to use, since they are already chopped and washed, plus you can stock up and easily store them.”

She recommends cooking frozen or canned vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, which makes them taste better and also boosts their nutritional value, since dietary fat helps to absorb carotenoids, which can decrease the risk of cancer, and other phytonutrients found in vegetables. Also, adding healthy fats, like olive oil, to the meal can delay hunger and minimize the desire to snack between meals.

Other ways that families can stretch their grocery budget include:

  • Plan meals ahead of time and come to the grocery store prepared with a list. This helps avoid making impulse purchases.
  • Look for the price per unit to determine how much an item costs per ounce. This will help you compare the various brands and different sized packages. Keep in mind that the product with the lowest price tag may not necessarily be the cheaper product.
  • Do not assume the larger chain stores are the better buy. Neighborhood stores typically have better prices on produce and sometimes on dairy products.
  • Clip coupons, but only for the products and food items you would normally buy.
  • Buy the generic or store brand. Flynn has created a number of healthy meals that are made with ingredients that studies have shown will reduce risk factors for chronic diseases.

Read more about Mary’s Meals