Jennifer Fleming MS, RD and Penny Kris-Etherton PhD, RD
On a tight budget, meal planning and grocery shopping can be challenging. Eating healthy can be affordable with smart shopping. Here are some helpful hints that can stretch your food dollar and make healthy eating achievable:
Buy in season and freeze it: Fresh produce is always great, but the cost can add up fast. Buy what is currently in season, and stock up when there is a good deal. During the summer months, buy produce in bulk when it is on sale and freeze what you do not use right away.
Shop the sales and be creative: If your local grocery store offers a savings card be sure to sign up, and check the weekly circular to see what's on sale. Planning your meals around what's on sale will not only save money but will force you to be creative and perhaps try some new produce items or prepare a new dish.
Dollar deals: Frequently, stores will have 10 for $10 deals on frozen fruits and vegetables. You can buy weeks' -- months' --worth of frozen veggies, berries, and other favorites to store in your freezer, so you always have the essentials for heart healthy soups, shakes, stews, and side dishes that can be prepared in minutes.
Prepare ahead of time: Thinking ahead can save time, money, and effort. If you know you have a busy day ahead or you will be stuck late at work, prep dinner ingredients in advance and you will be far less likely to spend money ordering take-out.
Start your day off right: Brew your own coffee and tea. Many people spend a lot of money (and calories) on their morning cup of coffee or sugary latte. By brewing your own you will spend far less than you would at a coffee shop. in addition, for less than the cost of an oversized pastry, you can prepare a protein shake at home with frozen raspberries, freshly ground flaxseed, protein powder and milk or Greek yogurt, which will leave you feeling satisfied much longer.
Try different cuts of meat: You can still enjoy some lean meat, even when you are on a tight budget. Look for less expensive cuts of meat and try different cooking methods, like crock pot cooking. Frequently, lean cuts of meat are cheaper because they have less fat. By using a slow cooker you can make tougher cuts of meat tender and juicy. Meat also freezes well, so stock up when there is a weekly special. Also, cutting your portion size to about 2 ounces will save money and still provide adequate protein and nutrients. For a larger portion size of the dish that has just 2 ounces of lean meat, make a stew or casserole with beans and legumes, as well as vegetables.
Enjoy beans and whole grains: Beans and whole grains, can be an inexpensive and tasty way to bulk up meals or they can be a meal by themselves. Adding beans to any dish is a simple and inexpensive way to increase fiber, and make the meal last longer. Canned beans are often on sale, so stock up and be sure to purchase the lower sodium products.
Compare unit prices to find the best deal: Not sure where to find unit price? You can usually find it on the shelf tag just under the food. It will often be listed as "price per pound" or "price per gallon." The unit price provides the costs of a set amount of food, so you can compare different foods or brands.
Limit or eliminate processed foods and prepared items: Packaged, pre-cooked foods usually have higher salt, fat and sugar content than what you prepare at home from scratch, and you typically pay more for prepared foods than for unprocessed foods.
Portion it out yourself: Make your own portion controlled snacks. For example, make your own trail mix by buying a large container of unsalted nuts, unsalted pretzels and dried fruit and separate them into individual portions.
Find a local farmers market: To save the most money try visiting the market at the end of the day, when vendors want to unload as much as possible before they close up for the day. You can get some very good bargains on produce, and sometimes, they will throw in a little extra just to be nice!
Find an ethnic market: Not only are you likely to find a bargain on certain products, you will also find some really interesting ingredients. You can buy a variety of new and inexpensive noodles in an Asian market. The produce is usually less expensive and often they sell very fresh fish.
Fruit and Vegetable Recipes
The following recipes were chosen to help meet your fruit and vegetable servings while enjoying a healthy meal on a limited budget. The ingredients are low-cost and can be found in most food stores. Plus, they do not require any fancy cooking tools.
Brown Rice Tabbouleh
Peanut, Peach, 'N Pineapple Wrap