Eating on a budget
Tips for choosing healthier, less expensive foods
In these difficult economic times, many folks find themselves struggling to pay bills and make regular purchases like groceries. And healthful food can be expensive, no doubt. But according to Maria G. Boosalis, Ph.D., former director of clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, eating on a budget doesn’t mean sacrificing health or food quality.
Boosalis advises people to spend more time in a supermarket along the edges where fresh items are usually situated. “Processed foods and foods that are higher in sugar and fat like soda and chips tend to be placed in the middle aisles,” she notes. “By shopping the perimeter of the store, you can avoid some of those products altogether.”
Boosalis also says to read nutrition labels, be familiar with prices and consider buying a generic or store brand. Use money-saving coupons and stay flexible to store specials whenever possible.
Fruits and vegetables
Buying local fruits and vegetables in season make them more affordable. For North Carolina, foods in season now include apples, peanuts and sweet potatoes. Since many fresh fruits and vegetables are not in season now, look for frozen alternatives.
“To get the most nutritional value, though, purchase frozen fruits without added sugar and frozen vegetables without added salt,” Boosalis says. “If your budget can only afford canned foods, choose fruits packaged in their own juice or in light syrup and vegetables with a minimal amount of salt.”
For your recommended intake of whole grains, consider buying 100 percent whole wheat or 100 percent whole grain breads on sale and freezing one or more loaves for later. To increase nutrient value, make sure the first ingredient listed is 100 percent whole grain.
If your family likes to eat enriched white bread, boost nutrient value by making a sandwich with one slice of 100 percent whole wheat bread and one slice of enriched white bread until everyone gets used to 100 percent whole wheat bread alone.
Boosalis also suggests eating whole grain cereals like oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. “In addition to getting your recommended amount of grain servings, consuming whole grains along with fruits and vegetables provides fiber that your body needs―and it can keep you feeling full longer, which may help you eat less,” she says.
Protein such as beef, pork, poultry and fish are typically the most expensive items on a grocery list. Try alternate protein sources such as dried and canned beans and/or legumes for one or two meals each week. It’s also another way to increase your fiber intake.
“Small changes like removing the skin of a chicken before cooking, draining fat from meat, baking fish instead of frying, and choosing to supplement or substitute meat with beans, can make a difference,” Boosalis says. “Experiment with a favorite dish, seek out assistance on nutrition, gardening, and recipe preparation from local resources like your local Cooperative Extension office.” To plan menus and track your food intake, visit www.mypyramid.gov.
Local food options
You can print out a colorful chart that shows what’s in season each month in North Carolina at www.ncagr.gov/markets/availabilitychart.pdf. For information about local farm markets and food options, visit www.ncdamarkets.org.
—University of Kentucky College of Health and Sciences