Fitness Facts: Eating nutritiously on a budget
By Emily Orvos
Campus Registered Dietitian
Something I hear commonly from my patients, peers and family members is, “I want to eat better, but it’s so expensive.”
It’s certainly easy to get caught up in the price tags of the latest fancy “superfood” (Does everything really need to be made of cauliflower?), but nutritious foods don’t need to break the bank. In fact, many whole foods are much less expensive than you’d think.
One of the easiest ways to save money on food is to cook more at home. Sure, you can pick up a Chick-Fil-A combo meal for less than $10. However, that same $10 could buy you the ingredients to make a balanced meal at home, with multiple portions to take for lunch leftovers.
If you are starting to prep more of your meals at home but are still racking up a hefty grocery bill, check out these tips to continue cutting back:
Plan your meals ahead of time. Check your favorite grocery stores’ apps and websites to see what’s on sale that week, and try to build your meals based on the sale items. For example, if you see ground turkey and bell peppers on sale, maybe a homemade burrito bowl can be in your lunch rotation that week. Planning meals beforehand also reduces food waste, which is not only good for the environment but also good for your wallet! Not sure if you will make it through all your meals before they go bad? Utilize your freezer. Most prepared foods freeze well, and you can save these meals for a particularly busy day later on.
Shop in-season. Produce sometimes gets a bad reputation for being expensive when these items can actually be some of the most cost-effective purchases in your cart. In-season fruits and veggies are grown more abundantly and have less travel time compared to their out-of-season counterparts, so the price drops. Not to mention, the peak season of any fruit or veggie is also when it reaches peak nutritional value. For winter, be sure to grab oranges and clementines, grapefruit, squash, broccoli and brussels sprouts for the best bang for your buck. Craving something not in-season? Buy frozen! Frozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious as fresh since they are picked at peak ripeness and nutritional value.
Buy in bulk, but only when it makes sense. Costco and Sam’s Club are great, but only if you’re able to get through bulk items before they go bad. For example, if you only grocery shop for yourself, is the large bag of ripe avocados the smartest purchase? Probably not, but how about pantry staples and frozen items? Rice, pasta, nuts, beans, coffee, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen chicken, etc. in bulk cost less per serving and may only need to be purchased a handful of times a year. Try to only buy fresh items in bulk if you have a plan to use it all before it goes bad to prevent food waste.
Only pay for convenience when you need to. Grocery stores are starting to offer many more convenience options, which can be a lifesaver during busy weeks! However, the instant rice, pre-cut fruits and veggies, pre-marinated or pre-cooked proteins, and other items usually have a higher price tag for the extra labor on the employees. The closer to its original form a food is, the less expensive it typically will be. If you have an hour or so each week to dedicate to shredding cheese, washing greens and boiling rice, you will be amazed by how much lower your grocery bill will be.
When it comes to your grocery budget, start with whichever of these tips fits best in your lifestyle. For example, maybe buying in bulk doesn’t always make sense for one person, but it can save a family of four hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. Find what works for you and do your best to stick with it!