Even on a good day, a nutritionist hears complaints about how much more expensive it is to eat healthy. I decided this is the perfect time to share ideas on how to eat healthy without breaking your food budget. Incorporating a few of these tips into your weekly routine can really save you some dough.
Buy in bulk
Bulk items are usually cheaper. That’s because there’s no expensive packaging included. Those savings are passed directly on to you. You also have the freedom to choose how much or how little to buy each time. Best buys include whole grains, dried beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and cereals. Some health food stores sell spices in bulk as well.
Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are sometimes imported, expensive and often tasteless. Plan menus and choose recipes around what's currently in season. You’ll enjoy better flavor AND lower prices, especially at this time of year.
Local grocers carry plenty of regional produce. Farmers markets are a great source for healthy bargains too. For the best deals, shop often and look for end-of-the-day specials.
Grow your own
Slash your spending even further by supplementing your produce purchases with homegrown items. If you don’t have space for a garden, you can at least grow your own herbs. Plant your favorites in small pots near the kitchen. Take a snip or two as needed.
Make it from scratch
Yes, it takes more time, but preparing a dish at home rather than picking up a pre-made version can save up to 50% or more. It also ensures your dish is healthier because you dictate the amount of oil or salt it contains. And best of all, this guarantees no hidden preservatives.
Shop the outer aisles
In most markets you'll find the healthiest ingredients on the perimeter of the store — fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins including fish and chicken, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products. The inner aisles contain most of the processed foods, including soda, candy, chips and snack foods. Aside from the fact that they contain empty calories, they also take a big (and unnecessary) bite from your food budget.
Load up on legumes
Beans and legumes offer a myriad of health benefits as diverse as their varieties. Black beans, garbanzos, pintos — they’re all excellent sources of fiber. They’re also rich in folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and antioxidants. The complex carbohydrates they contain provide steady energy that lasts well beyond mealtime. A stellar source of protein, legumes may be the biggest money saver of all as they cost a fraction of the price of most animal proteins.
The downside of eating beans is occasional digestive problems, especially if we don't eat them regularly. As complex carbohydrates, beans contain a variety of complex sugars such as stachyose and raffinose. These sugars require special enzymes to break them down. If the enzymes are absent in the digestive tract, the sugars begin to ferment, creating gas and intestinal distress.
When preparing dried beans, it helps to soak the beans overnight. This initiates the process of dissolving the complex sugars and thus minimizes their uncomfortable side effects. Before cooking the beans, they should be drained, rinsed, and covered with fresh water.
Supplemental enzymes that ease digestive problems are available on the market, and they can be taken just before eating your first bite of beans. Most of these enzymes cannot be added to the beans as they are cooking, because the high heat inactivates them.
Cheryl Forberg has been the nutritionist for “The Biggest Loser” since its first season and is the author of “Positively Ageless” (Rodale 2008).