By Josann Nichols
MGH Dietetic Intern
You don’t have to break the bank to have a healthy diet. Below you’ll find tips and tricks to eat well on a tight budget.
- Get produce in season. Buying produce in season and from local farmers is often less expensive. More corn on the market means competition, which drives prices down. For example: 4 ears of corn in season costs about $1 from local sources compared to $18 on Amazon during the winter. Produce you buy in season is also picked at peak ripeness, which packs in more flavor and nutrients.
- Try frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce is a cheaper alternative to many fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re also picked at peak ripeness, meaning they have the same nutritional quality as fresh produce. You can also store it longer, leading to less food waste which saves money over time.
- Stock up on canned fruits and vegetables. Canned fruits and vegetables are a very cheap option and can be stored longer than either fresh or frozen produce. Make sure to buy fruit canned in its own juices to avoid added sugar. To reduce sugar and salt, rinse before eating.
- Don’t give up on meats. There are many cheaper cuts of meat available such as brisket, skirt, flank and top rump. Typically, these cuts are cheaper because they are a bit tougher but don’t be discouraged! Cooking meat like pot roast in fluid for a long period of time can make it so tender it falls off the bone! Another money saving tip: check with your local grocery store for sales on older meats. These should be used within a few days or immediately frozen.
- Substitute other protein sources for meat more often. Plant-based protein sources are inexpensive, contain fiber and higher-quality fat than meat and will last longer in the kitchen. Beans and lentils for example are usually purchased canned and/or dried. Use them as a substitute for meat in stews, salads, casseroles and side dishes to help your dollar go a little farther. Peanut butter, seeds and eggs are also excellent sources of protein. Add an egg to your breakfast for only $0.25!
- Try canned fish. A healthy diet includes seafood, which can often be pricey. Tuna is one cheap alternative, but if mercury is a concern try sardines. Not only are sardines rich in protein, they’re another source of anti-inflammatory fats. Again, watch out for added salt!
- Go whole grain. Fiber is your friend! It helps manage blood sugar levels and keep your digestive system healthy. Whole grains have more fiber than white flour products and can be affordable. Instead of expensive specialty grains, try switching to old-fashioned oats, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Buy in bulk. This can include frozen, canned or dried whole foods. The larger the quantity the cheaper the price per unit, so even though you pay more up front you end up saving money over time.
- Choose generic brands. These typically have significant price cuts. Check the ingredient list, though, to make sure you aren’t losing any quality of the product.
- Take advantage of sales and coupons. Stores frequently have deals on fresh, canned and dried foods.
- Don’t feel pressured to buy organic. Organic farmers do not use chemicals on their crops, but that doesn’t mean non-organic produce is full of chemicals. Many non-organic farmers use little to no chemicals on their produce and simply can’t afford to get the organic certification. Research has also shown that conventionally grown organic and non-organic produce does not differ in nutritional content. So you can be just as healthy eating non-organic foods while saving big bucks at the checkout line.
- Follow the Balanced Plate Model. Protein-rich foods tend to make the largest dent on your wallet, compared to starchy foods and vegetables. By maximizing plant-based foods and limiting your meat portions, you’ll improve the quality of your meals and make your dollar stretch farther.
Just follow the tips above to mix and match your protein, starch and vegetables to maximize your dollar and eat healthy!