Over the last few weeks, I have seen a huge increase in my grocery bill. I have worked so hard the past few months to eat healthily and now I feel that increased prices at the grocery store are a real barrier to me achieving my health goals.
How can I eat healthy on a budget? Do you have tips to share to help me stay on the right nutritious path?
Madeline Luther Athens, Georgia
This is such a great question as you are not alone with your pain at the grocery checkout line. Prices have indeed gone up this summer but that does not mean you need to forgo your goals for healthy eating. To start, however, healthy eating does take planning, and this especially holds true when you are on a budget.
Set aside some time each week to not only plan out the meals you will have but also to take stock of what items you already have in your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator. Consider the time you have during the week and make sure to save meals that require more preparation for days when you have help from family members or simply have more time during the day. Also, try to make enough food to enjoy leftovers for lunches or to freeze for later. Another time and money saver is to build your shopping list as you prepare your weekly menu.
There are several free “grocery list” apps that can help you keep track of what you have in your kitchen; some can even be linked to your local grocery store and will keep you updated on sale items to help with your meal planning. Myplate.gov has a meal planning tool that can help you find savings in your local area and even provide budget-friendly meal ideas.
Meal planning your meals at the beginning of the week can also help cut down on food waste. Your shopping bill may decrease significantly just by planning ahead and not allowing produce or dairy to go bad before you enjoy them from your kitchen. Additionally, meal planning can help reduce the need to buy more convenience foods during the week.
Any produce that has been cut up for you at the store has a price increase compared to the fruit or vegetable in its natural form. This is true for smaller-sized yogurt and other dairy items – it is cheaper to buy the larger container and use a smaller container at home to store individual portion sizes.
When beginning to plan your meals for the week, consider what fruits and vegetables are currently in season. Typically, produce in season is less expensive than produce needing to be flown or driven to your local area. Consider shopping at local farmers’ markets for locally grown, less expensive produce. Local farmers may have a co-op in your area that allows them to sell directly to you instead of first selling to a grocery store; thus, you enjoy savings on those purchases. Search for community-supported agriculture programs in your area to find ways to buy directly from local farmers. And, of course, big box stores like Costco and Sam’s can help you buy cheaper items in bulk if that is something that your household would benefit from.
As you are meal planning, consider buying more frozen fruits or vegetables that last longer. If you buy frozen produce without sauces or butter, it can be as nutritious as the fresh produce item. Canned vegetables with “no salt added” or canned fruit with 100% natural fruit juices and no sugar syrup can also be as healthy as the fresh versions and will last longer in your pantry.
The price of meat and poultry has certainly increased recently. Consider using plant-based protein like beans and lentils to save some money. If you buy these items dried and in bulk, you will see significant savings as well. Eggs are another low-cost, healthy protein option that can be budget-friendly.
Juices and soda are loaded with sugar and are not helping your budget. Stick to water and use a refillable water bottle to keep hydrated on the go. The inner aisles of the grocery store are loaded with chips and candy that won’t help your financial or health goals – stick to the outer aisles of the store to ease temptation. And, most critically, remember to eat before you go shopping! When you are hungry at the grocery store, your stomach will guide you instead of your wallet. Have a solid plan to stick to your list or consider shopping online to avoid impulse purchases.
Use the same meal plan for several weeks until you become comfortable with the process. There is nothing wrong with eating the same meals each week and in some cases, you most likely already tend to do that. Using the meal planning preparation and looking for ways to decrease your grocery bill will not only help you maintain your health and financial goals but will give you a true feeling of satisfaction!
Dana is a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist and Registered Dietitian. She holds certifications in insulin pump therapy and obesity interventions for adults. Dana received a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago after receiving a Bachelor’s in Science with Honors at the University of Texas at Austin. After college, Dana served as an AmeriCorp volunteer on a variety of health education initiatives and played a key role in establishing the first school-based health clinic in the city of Chicago.