Eating Healthy on a Budget
Does healthy food really cost more?
“I can't afford to eat healthy.” That's what a friend of mine said when I asked him about his food choices. He was filling his shopping cart with frozen pizzas, high sugar breakfast cereals and regular soda. “Whenever I buy healthy food it costs me a lot more, so now I just buy what I can afford.”
Could that be true? Does healthy food really cost more? That belief is leading people to buy food higher in fat, salt and sugars, in the mistaken belief they're saving money. Here's what researchers found.
In 2013 Mayuree Rao and her team from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 27 studies from 10 high-income countries. They compared a typical unhealthy diet loaded with highly processed foods to one filled with fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish. They found the healthier choices cost about $1.50 more per day than the unhealthy items.
$1.50 per day may not seem like a lot of money, but it can add up. Over a year that can raise the price of groceries by about $550 per person. But there are some simple things you can do to eat healthy and save money.
Here's what you do in the supermarket.
Organic versus conventional fruits and vegetables. Yes, organic fruits and vegetables often do cost more. But, if your budget is limited, don't feel guilty buying conventional produce. It's significantly better for you and your family than almost anything prepared that you can get from a box, bag or can. Choose conventional produce and your bill goes down significantly.
Compare the prices of fresh produce to frozen options. If something is out of season, that bag of frozen food may be as much as 50% cheaper. Don't worry, frozen fruits and veggies are often just as nutritious as fresh.
Don't buy things already cut up. You pay a premium for pre-chopped items and they tend to spoil quicker.
Gluten-free foods can also cost more, but there are no medical studies showing a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight or improve your health. Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you're wasting your money with gluten-free.
Here's what you do at home.
Change how you handle food once you bring it home. The average person wastes about $375 worth of food per year to spoilage. Instead of hiding vegetables in a bin, put them on the top shelf of your refrigerator. Make them the first thing you see when you open the door, so you're more likely to remember and eat them.
Don't let things rot. Chop and prepare your food, so you can freeze the leftovers. When you're hungry, a healthy meal or snack can be ready in the time it takes a microwave to heat things up.
Break the mental connection you've made between health and cost. Each time you go to the grocery store, choose just one type of item to analyze. If you're buying cereal, read the nutrition label and compare the options against the brand you usually buy. Look for something higher in fiber and lower in sugar. Remember you're not looking at prices, just the nutritional information. Once you've narrowed down your options, then you can look at the cost. You may find there's little difference between the healthy and unhealthy choices.
Plan ahead. Before you go shopping, make a menu of what you're going to eat for the week. Skip bland and tasteless “diet” foods. Go to websites like WeCookFit.com and start experimenting with healthy recipes that actually taste good. Once you find meals you like, make them in bulk and freeze servings for later.
Finally, consider the long-term financial savings of eating healthy. You reduce your chances of obesity, you end up with more energy and you reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases as you age. Follow all these suggestions and you'll not only eat healthier, but you'll enjoy your food more and save money buying it.
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