It’s the troubling reality: You can order a double cheeseburger from a fast food joint for a buck. Grab a salad from a grocery store, on the other hand, and you could end up paying $7 or more.
Eating healthy may be wonderful for your body and mind, but it can take a toll on your wallet. A study from Harvard School of Public Health found that found that the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day, or $550 more per year, than the least healthy diets. That means eating healthy end up costing a family of four an extra $2,000 annually.
Here’s the good news: with a bit of planning and smart shopping, you can dramatically reduce the cost of eating healthy. To keep your waistline trim but your wallet plump, try out these eight tips for eating healthy on a budget.
Awaken your inner chef
If you are a restaurant frequenter, you may want to awaken your inner chef and start cooking at home more often. The reason for this is twofold: Dining out, especially if you’re bringing the whole family along, is typically more expensive than eating at home, and many restaurant foods contain high amounts of calories, fat and sodium. Start cooking your own meals and you could cut down both your weekly meal costs and calorie intake.
Create a plan of action
Wander into the grocery store without a shopping list, and you’re bound to spend more than you were budgeting for. At the beginning of the week, make a seven-day meal plan that includes items that you already have and items that you need to buy. Look for savings online or on your grocery’s store weekly circular and try to plan your meals for the week according to what’s on sale.
Use an app
When creating your list, consider using one of the many grocery store apps available today for your phone. The Grocery iQ app finds all available coupons for all the items on your list, while an app called Farmstand can help you find local food that is in-season and less expensive. The ZipList app generates a list of groceries you typically buy and organizes the list according to the layout of your supermarket, helping you to avoid impulse buys.
Be wary of supermarket tricks
Grocery stores and supermarkets employ a variety of techniques to encourage you to buy more, from playing slow music to get you to shop longer to doubling the size of shopping carts. They cram unhealthy snacks into shelves by the checkout counter so you’re tempted as you are waiting in line. These crafty tricks not only encourage customers to buy more, but to consume more. You can avoid falling for supermarket tricks by listening to upbeat music on headphones while you shop, sticking to your grocery list, and never shopping on an empty stomach.
Be creative with protein
Protein is an indispensable part of a healthy diet, but it can also be one of the most costly. Proteins like chicken, beef, pork and fish can be expensive, but there are healthy and more affordable alternatives. Swap out pricey meats for nutritious proteins like dry beans, soy beans and eggs a few times a week, and it could dramatically cut down your grocery costs while giving your health a boost. When you do buy meat, look for less expensive cuts like chicken thighs, bone-in red meats and tougher meats, which are delicious in stews, curries and stir-fries.
Buy in-season produce
Not only are in-season fruits and veggies typically tastiest, they’re often sold at the lowest priced. We’ve listed the times when some common fruits and vegetables are in-season below:
- Fall: Apples, pears, grapes, mushrooms, cauliflower and pumpkins.
- Winter: Grapefruit, oranges, potatoes, yams, onions and leeks.
- Spring: Apricots, honeydew melon, strawberries, green beans and cabbage.
- Summer: Blueberries, blackberries, cherries, kiwis, watermelon, tomatoes, peas, zucchini, corn and cucumbers.
Craving a produce item not in season? Consider buying frozen fruits and veggies, which are usually cheaper than buy fresh, off-season produce, but just as nutritious. You might also try freezing any fresh veggies and fruits you have leftover, so you can keep them from spoiling and enjoy them later.
Go for whole grains
Whole grains contain vital nutrients, including fiber, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. Go for budget-friendly whole grains like whole-grain pasta, brown rice and quinoa to get your USDA-recommended three servings a day.
Don’t fear generics
On average, generic items are around 15 percent less expensive than their name-brand counterparts. Despite the substantial price cut, generic products seldom compromise nutrients. Don’t be afraid to buy generics, especially when it comes to condiments, dry goods, frozen fruit, frozen veggies, frozen seafood and lunch meats.