Eat healthier. Some days I feel like this is all I hear. From the doctor, my mother, and Gwyneth Paltrow. But it’s expensive to eat healthy – right? When I see words like organic, farm-to-table, and gluten-free, I automatically assume I am going to pay extra for all those good nutrients.
Researchers have confirmed this hypothesis. Using the average cost of foods at three local large supermarkets in Washington, they studied the cost of increasing four nutrients lacking in the typical American diet, “in order to meet current dietary guidelines.” The consensus? Getting enough potassium would add $380 a year to the average adult’s food bill. Getting the proper amount of vitamin D and dietary fiber would add $127 a year.
But do you need serious bucks to eat healthy? According to some health experts, not really. They say it is possible to eat healthy and still stay on target with your budget. Here are their best tips.
10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
1. Start Cooking!
Natalie Uhling is a supermodel spokeswoman for Under Armour, a fitness instructor, and all-around health guru who just launched her own workout method, NUFit. She suggests increasing the number of days you cook at home each week. By not relying on take-out and pre-packaged foods, “you will save money and have left overs. Also, you will know what actually goes in your food!”
2. Pick foods that are in season
In season items are usually on sale because the quantity is high, according to Uhling. They’re are also usually the freshest, particularly is they’re grown locally.
3. Look for coupons
Uhling suggests looking online for coupons or sales that might be happening at your local market. There are even some great apps that will send coupons to your mobile phone. Shop smart.
4. Eat breakfast for dinner and learn to love brown rice
Uhling often relies on one of the cheaper proteins available – eggs. “I love making egg whites for dinner and it’s cheap. Mix some veggies into your eggs and you are set.” She says brown rice should also become your new staple food. It’s inexpensive and can be mixed in with a variety of foods.
5. Never shop on an empty stomach
Uhling says this only leads to trouble. “Your budget needs will go out the window and your hunger will take over.” Processed, fatty foods are also more appealing when you’re hungry. Eat before you shop and you’re likely to make better – and more budget conscious- decisions.
For fruits and veggies, Uhling suggests hitting up your local farmer’s market. “Most of the produce is fresh, in season, locally grown, and reasonably priced. Though it may not be certified organic, many farmers use organic growing practices. When in doubt – ask! Most farmers are happy to tell you about their produce and how it is grown.”
Annie Herzog is a registered dietician. She echoes Uhling’s suggestions, and cautions being a savvy shopper. “When eating on a budget, the question is not necessarily what to buy, but where to buy it. As a girl on a budget myself, but not wanting to compromise my health by eating ramen every night, I have learned where to go to get the best food at the best prices. Yes, it can be a pain to schlep to two to three stores to do my shopping each week, but it’s worth it.”
7. Buy in bulk
Herzog buys her meat locally and admits it would definitely be cheaper at a grocery store, but this is a non-negotiable for her. However, to cut down on costs she suggests buying in bulk. “In my household, we buy grass-fed beef in bulk from a local farmer and store it in a deep freezer; buying in bulk keeps costs down. If you don’t have storage space, ask around and see if a local farmer will set up a weekly plan with you; they may cut you a deal if you buy a certain amount every week.”
If this isn’t an option for you, consider sourcing stores that carry organic chicken and beef in bulk. Costco and BJ’s both have organic sections, and the cost of a membership is often worth the year-long savings.
8. Try ethnic grocery stores
Specialty Indian, Chinese, and Hispanic grocery stores are great for produce, spices, and specialty items that are insanely expensive in the major grocery stores. “One of my favorites is Compare Foods, a Hispanic store that carries bulk bins of dried beans, mangoes and avocados for a dollar each, and exotic produce at great prices,” said Herzog.
9. Go straight to the Whole Foods bulk bins
Even though Herzog admits the store is often known as “Whole Paycheck”, she says you can find some great deals if you hit up the bulk bins. “Load up here on beans, grains, nutritional yeast, trail mix, oat bran…you get the picture.”
She also suggests Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of dairy, cheese, vegetarian meat alternatives, and healthy frozen options (and any place that sells $5 bottles of wine is okay in my book).
10. Get your freeze on
Both Herzog and Uhling encourage buying frozen veggies. “Frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh, are often cheaper, and don’t spoil,” said Herzog.