BudgetEat Well on a Budget

Organic foods aren’t always the best choices for your budget or your health.

It’s widely believed that you have to choose organic foods to eat well. But organic products aren’t always budget friendly and, according to Judy Caplan, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), organic isn’t the only highway to health.

“While there are some advantages to organic foods,” Caplan says, “you don’t have to eat organic to eat healthfully.”

And it’s a mistake to assume that all organic foods are good for you. “There are plenty of organic products loaded with sugars, sodium, and not-so-good fats,” explains Caplan, who believes the keys to a healthful diet are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and not a lot of packaged foods.

There are many tricks and tools for pinching pennies and still eating healthfully. “Look for sales on staple items you use regularly in your weekly meals,” Caplan suggests. “Most of us eat the same six meals or a variation of them every week, so look for the items you use all the time.”

Sticking to the basics and purchasing less processed food also will lower your grocery bill. “While there may be more prep time, moving around the kitchen does burn calories,” Caplan adds. Instead of buying frozen breaded proteins, she says, prepare them yourself. “There are countless ways to bake chicken using herbs, spices, and other seasonings.”

Another strategy is to buy in bulk. Stick to the motto of Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy: cook once, eat twice. “Buy in season, buy in bulk, and cook in bulk,” she explains. When you’re a bulk buyer, you also can make your own 100-calorie snack packs with foods such as almonds and cheese cubes.

When buying in bulk, however, it’s important to keep an eye on perishable foods and make sure nothing goes to waste, Dobbins says. “Freeze leftovers in single-serve containers or take them for lunch the next day,” she suggests.

“Use up the vegetables in soups, salads, or for snacking before they go bad.”

Don’t overlook coupons for healthy foods such as carrots and tomatoes. Thanks to Laurie Meyers, founder of CouponSense.com, you can easily save on healthy foods in your area by registering for a subscription to the website, which helps keep track of coupons and sales on foods you use regularly. The
My Alerts page lets you enter products you want and the price you want to pay. When that item is on sale, you’ll get a message. You also can search for produce on sale in your area, and the My Savings tool tracks how much money you spend and save.

Beware of one potential pitfall in using coupons. Whether searching CouponSense.com or clip-out deals in the Sunday paper, Dobbins says look only at Budget1coupons for items you will use and don’t purchase items just because you have a coupon for them. Otherwise, she explains, you’ll add to your checkout
total rather than save money.

“Think of food as an investment,” says Caplan, who adds that purchasing healthy, whole foods will keep junk food cravings to a minimum and may decrease the need and cost of prescription medications or trips to healthcare providers. In addition, purchasing and eating healthy foods not only sets a
good tone for your life but influences those around you, including the next generation.

“Home cooking says to your family you are invested in what you eat,” Caplan says. “Plus your kids and significant other may decide to pitch in and learn to cook!”

8 Money-Saving Tips
  • “The best time to use a coupon is when there is a sale on an item,” says Laurie Meyers, founder of CouponSense.com, who says stores often issue coupons around the time of a sale. Coupon users who match coupons with sales can easily save 60% or more each visit.
  • Ask your grocery store about its coupon policy. Some will automatically double a coupon’s value.
  • Save money by organizing your grocery list store aisles. This will lower the temptation to purchase unneeded food and save time. Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, recommends making a list on your computer of a store’s departments and keeping track of items to purchase on that list.
  • Buy generic or store brands and plan shopping trips around sales and weekly specials.
  • Purchase canned fish, such as tuna or salmon, for a quick addition to a salad or buy meats during a sale and freeze for later.
  • Don’t let items in your cupboard or fridge go to waste. Plan your meals around items that will spoil quickly.
  • Dilute fruit juices with water to make them last longer and cut down on the amount of sugar consumed.
  • Cut and prep fruits and vegetables the day you buy them so they’re easy to use when you’re preparing a quick weekday dinner.

Stock Your Kitchen With Nutrient-Rich (and Budget-Friendly) Foods

Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, offers a few suggestions for eating healthfully yet inexpensively:
  • Beans provide fiber, protein, iron, and zinc. Canned beans cost about 13 cents per 1/4-cup serving, and dried beans are about 9 cents per ounce.
  • Bananas, which cost about 36 cents each, provide vitamins B6 and C, fiber, and potassium and make an easy grab-and-go snack or quick topping for yogurt or cereal.
  • One tablespoon of crunchy or smooth peanut butter costs about 13 cents and has around 95 calories, 4 grams of protein, and 8 grams of hearthealthy unsaturated fat.
  • Plain or nonfat yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein and can substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise to cut fat in recipes. Six ounces costs about 60 cents.
  • Whole grain pasta, which costs about 14 cents per 1 ounce dry, provides more fiber, protein, and vitamins than white pasta. (But be aware that it takes longer to cook.)
  • Frozen peas are frozen at the peak of freshness and offer protein, fiber, and vitamin A. They’re an easy addition to soups, salads, rice, pasta dishes, and stews at a cost of about 23 cents per 1/2 cup.
  • Almonds contain heart-healthy unsaturated fat and the antioxidant vitamin E at a price of about 55 cents per ounce.
  • An egg costs about 11 cents and is a source of protein, which is usually one of the most expensive components to our diet.
  • Canned tuna is packed with protein, hearthealthy omega-3 fats, selenium, and B vitamins and costs only 27 cents per ounce.