A 2020 View of Eating Healthy on a Budget

Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN
Eating healthy on a budget

Eating healthy means you are including foods that will improve risk factors for chronic diseases, which will help decrease your risk of future diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more. Risk factors that can be improved with diet include:

I know it is commonly said that eating healthy is expensive but that is simply not true. Here are some tips for you to consider that will improve your diet and lower your grocery costs:

Buy frozen and canned produce

Include frozen and canned vegetables and fruit in your grocery list. We all know we should eat more vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, there is the misconception that vegetables and fruits are expensive. When you look at price per serving, which is half a cup, they are actually quite reasonable.

Frozen and canned produce are less expensive compared to fresh as they are ready to use so there is not waste. You can also buy them when they are on sale and store until you need them. More importantly, frozen and canned produce are kept on the plant longer, so they are higher in what are known as phytonutrients. These are the components in plant products that are responsible for the health benefits. It is always good to include seasonal, locally grown produce. But using frozen and canned produce will decrease your food costs and still help to improve your health.

Rethink your protein intake

Our need for protein is actually quite small and certainly less than what many may think we need. Vegans, or people who do not eat any animal products, get enough protein from plant foods. You do not need animal protein to meet your daily need.

Protein is found in the food groups of vegetables and starch – which is all grain products like wheat/ bread, pasta, rice, barley, couscous, quinoa, etc., potatoes and beans/ legumes. While you do not need to become a vegan to have a healthy diet, eating less meat, poultry, and seafood is certainly healthier.

From a food budget standpoint, meat/poultry/seafood is the most expensive part of the food budget, but I find that people do not realize that. People think it is vegetables and fruit that are expensive, but it is meat, poultry, and seafood. If you don’t believe me, look at your grocery receipts!

From a health standpoint, eating more protein than you need for a day will increase your body weight as we store protein eaten in excess of need as fat! Also, excess animal protein causes you to lose more calcium in your urine, which in turn can increase your risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.

The benefits of EVOO

Try to make a few main meals each week that are plant-based and include extra virgin olive oil, which is the diet I recommend and do research on. Daily use of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) starting at two tablespoons will lower blood pressure, blood levels of insulin and glucose, inflammation, oxidation, and improve endothelial function.

My recommendation is one tablespoon of EVOO per cup of vegetables. Because EVOO makes the vegetables taste better, I find that people usually eat more vegetables when they are using olive oil to prepare them.

What the research says

I did a study in food pantry clients who used recipes that are plant-based and include extra virgin olive oil for two to three main meals a week. The findings showed it will greatly decrease food costs and lower body weight!!  I also compared a seven-day meal plan of my plant-based, olive oil recipes to seven days of the least expensive meal plan of the USDA and my diet cost about $750 less per year per person.

You don’t need to be perfect every day in your food choices, but the more changes you make, the more you should expect your health and food budget to improve. You might start out by changing a few dinners in a week and maybe some lunches.

Here are some recipes to get you started. You will see that these recipes are all easy – most take less than 20 minutes from start to table – and they are quite inexpensive (prices listed are for 2018). Feel free to change the vegetables or add more. They can all be adapted to suit a range of tastes and culinary cultures.

Wishing you a healthy and economical 2020!

For more nutrition news and tips, visit the Nourishing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

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