Eating Right on a Budget
Food, Nutrition and Health Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Getting the most nutrition for your food budget starts with a little extra planning before you shop. There are many ways to save money on the foods that you eat. Here are some budget friendly tips for eating right.
Cook more, eat out less
Eating out can be expensive. Many foods can be prepared for less money (and more healthfully) at home. Pre-packaged foods, like frozen dinners and packaged pasta or rice mixes can also add up when you calculate the cost per serving. Find a few simple, healthy recipes your family enjoys and save eating out for special occasions.
Plan what you’re going to eat
Deciding on meals and snacks before you shop can save both time and money. Review recipes and make a grocery list of what ingredients are needed, then check to see what foods you already have and make a list for what you still need to buy. When shopping with a list you will be less likely to buy things that are not on it. To “Create a Grocery Game Plan”, visit MyPlate.gov.
Decide how much to make or buy
Making a large batch by doubling a recipe will save time in the kitchen later on. Extra portions can be used for lunches or meals later in the week, or frozen as leftovers in individual containers for future use. Plus, purchasing ingredients in bulk is often cheaper.
Determine where to shop
Check the local newspaper and online or at the store for sales and coupons, especially when it comes to more expensive ingredients, such as meat and seafood. While at the store, compare prices of different brands and different sizes of the same brand to see which has a lower unit price. The unit price is usually located on the shelf directly below the product.
Shop for foods that are in season
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually easier to get and may be less expensive. Frozen and canned produce are also good options and may be more affordable at certain times of the year. Look for fruit that is canned in 100% juice or water and canned vegetables that are labeled “low in sodium” or “no salt added”.
Watch portion sizes
Eating too much of even lower cost foods and beverages can add up to extra dollars and calories. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses to help keep portions under control. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with grains and protein foods such as lean meat, poultry, seafood or beans. This is an easy way to eat a balanced meal while controlling portions and cost. To complete the meal, add a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk or a serving of fat-free yogurt for dessert.
Focus on nutritious, low-cost foods
Certain foods tend to be less expensive than others. Make the most of your food dollars by finding recipes that use the following ingredients: beans, peas, and lentils; sweet or white potatoes; eggs; peanut butter; canned salmon, tuna or crabmeat; grains such as oats, brown rice, barley or quinoa; and frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
Make your own healthy snacks
Convenience costs money. Many snacks, even healthy ones, usually cost more when sold individually. Make your own snacks by purchasing large tubs of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and dividing them into smaller containers. For trail mix, combine unsalted nuts, dried fruit and whole grain pretzels or cereal; store small portions in airtight containers. Air-popped popcorn and whole fresh fruits in season also tend to cost less compared to pre-packaged items.
Start a garden or visit a Farmers Market
A garden can be a lot of fun, especially for kids. It’s also an affordable way to eat more fruits and vegetables. Plants can be started from seed or purchased at a low price.
Another way to increase your family’s variety of produce is to visit a farmers market. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are often available for less money than at the grocery store. Check and see where the closest farmers market is in your area.
Quench your thirst with water
Water from the tap is a low cost way to stay hydrated. Substituting plain water in place of sweetened beverages not only saves you money but may also help you reduce extra calories from added sugars.
Authored by Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics staff registered dietitian nutritionists.
Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 5th edition
©Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.