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Healthy Eating on a Budget

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Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, just as eating whole foods shouldn’t have to take your  whole paycheck. Having well-balance meals and staying within your budget is possible and can pay dividends in the long run.   A healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy products provides the body with the nutrient it needs to boost the immune system and lowers the risk for diseases such as certain types of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average household in Boston spends approximately $489.60 a month for food at home and a total of $805.58 month on all food, which includes food eaten at home as well as restaurant and takeout meals.  Out of 22 metropolitan cities in the US, Bostonians rank third in food spending behind only Honolulu and Seattle. 

If you’re looking to reduce the amount of money you spend on food, yet still prepare nutritious meals, try the following cost cutting measures at home, as well as in the grocery store.   

Cook more at home – Eating out is a great convenience, but almost 34% of our income is spent on food away from home.  Cooking at home not only saves money, but allows you to control the ingredients that you go into your food, reducing fat, sodium and calories. 

Plan meals – Planning meals helps to reduce food waste.  If you know what you’re going to make, you won’t end up buying food that will go bad in the back of the fridge. Think ahead to your schedule, decide on meals you can make on your busy days and save complicated recipes or meals that require longer cooking for when you have more time. Meal planning also helps reduce trips for takeout.  

Batch cooking – Cook once, eat twice.  Make large meals like soup, lasagna, or chili and have some tonight and freeze the rest for later.  This will help save time in the future and reduce trips for takeout when you don’t feel like cooking or you don’t have the time.  Leftovers can also be used for lunch the following day.  See next tip

Bring lunch – If you do some batch cooking you can use the leftovers for lunch the next day.  This is a great way to save money especially considering the average cost of takeout is $13.  Bringing your lunch from home 5 days a week can save $65 a week.

Make a grocery list and stick to it – Resist the urge to buy the sale priced items that are on the end caps of the aisle in the grocery store, they’re usually chock full of sugary cereals and empty calorie snack food.  Ditto for the candy at the check-out line; choose a checkout line that doesn’t offer sweets to help resist temptation.

Don’t shop hungry – Shopping for groceries when you’re hungry can result in overspending.  Those hunger gremlins can cause you to fill up your cart with high calorie, high sodium and high fat foods that you never intended to buy. 

Buy fewer convenience foods – Select whole fruits and vegetables instead of the precut kind.  While packaged spiralized zucchini, chopped pineapple and pre-cut butternut squash are convenient, you pay more for that convenience.  The same goes for marinated meats and crudité platters and salad bag mixes. 

Use Coupons – Clipping coupons is a good way to save money, but only on products you already plan to buy.  Resist the urge to buy something not on your list just because you have a coupon.  It’s always a good idea to compare the coupon price to the store brand item, sometimes the store brand product costs less than the name brand item even when the coupon is applied.

Choose frozen produce – Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts and can cost significantly less.  They are frozen right after picking which helps to retain their flavor and nutritional value.  Choose store brand varieties over the name brands to save more money. Look for frozen vegetables without sauce or butter, they’re usually cheaper and will also save on calories, fat and sodium.  Choose unsweetened varieties of fruit like berries, mangoes and cherries.  The ingredient list will list only the fruit, no sugar.

Choose lower cost protein – Protein is usually where the bulk of the food dollars go.

  • Use smaller amounts of animal protein and mix with beans, lentils, brown rice, pasta and vegetables.
  • Tougher cuts of meat are cheaper and take longer to cook, but are worth the effort. A slow cooker is perfect for these cuts, the low and slow cooking will help increase the flavor and texture.   Tough cuts of meat include eye of round, top round, round tip, bottom round and chuck shoulder.
  • Choose boneless cuts of meat or chicken to stretch your protein. One pound of ground chicken, beef or turkey can feed four, one pound of bone-in meat/chicken feeds three.
  • Buy family packs of chicken and meat when on sale, separate what you’ll use now and freeze the rest in a freezer safe, airtight container for another meal.
  • Consider beans and legumes for an inexpensive meat substitute. They provide the same amount of protein and offer a boost of heart healthy fiber.  Dried beans are cheaper, but require soaking before using.  If choosing canned beans, look for no salt added or rinse them before using to reduce sodium
  • Eggs are an excellent source of protein. They’re versatile and stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least one month.
  • Canned seafood is an affordable protein option. Canned salmon is a good source of calcium and provides the same amount of omega 3 fatty acids as fresh salmon.  If choosing canned tuna, look for Light or Skipjack varieties, which are lower in mercury than albacore tuna

Stock up on pantry items – Shelf-stable foods like canned and dried beans, pasta, canned vegetables and nut butter can stay in your pantry for a long period of time without spoiling.  Consider stocking up on the items when they go on sale.