I often hear from patients that eating healthy is expensive. While it is true that the cost of some foods has risen, it is possible to include nutritious foods in your diet yet stay within a budget.
General tips to save money on food involve planning ahead. Create a menu in advance. Look in cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to see what you already have. Create your shopping list to include ingredients to complement what you have in stock. For example, leftover beef roast and potatoes can be combined with carrots and celery for beef vegetable soup.
Check store ads and newspapers for sales and coupons. Use coupons only for items you usually buy, as many are for pricier processed items higher in fats, salt and sugar. Avoid last-minute trips for groceries, especially when hungry and rushed, because this results in costly impulse purchases.
Once at the store consider these budget-friendly tips.
? Start on the perimeter (outside) of the store where produce, meats, dairy and breads are located. Inner aisles contain more processed and pricier foods.
? Check out generic and store brands, which may be 15 percent to 20 percent less expensive than similar national brand items. Compare "unit price" (price per pound, ounce or pint) shelf tags to compare prices between bulk, regular-size and single-serve packages.
? Read food labels so you're spending money on nutrient-rich foods, not cheaper empty calorie choices.
Here are some less expensive, nutrient-rich foods to include in your cart.
? Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are high-fiber protein sources which are cholesterol and fat free, and they are filling. Varieties provide iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Dried beans are cheapest. If canned beans are used, rinse to decrease the sodium content. Beans and rice or lentil soup are inexpensive, delicious meals.
? Fruits and vegetables in season are less expensive and taste better. Bananas, apples, citrus fruit, carrots and cabbage are currently in season. Also, check out frozen and canned versions, which have a longer shelf life. Many are processed at their peak and contain as many or more vitamins and minerals as fresh. Look for "no sugar added" and "reduced sodium" on labels. Buy whole versus precut produce and do your own prepping.
? Oatmeal in bulk does not contain added sugar or salt found in single-serve varieties. The soluble fiber in oats may lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugars.
? Canned tomatoes contain lycopene, which helps decrease heart disease and cancer. Low-sodium tomatoes can be added to pasta, casseroles and soup.
? Nonfat or low-fat yogurt in bulk-size tubs costs less per ounce than individual cups. Yogurt contains protein and calcium and can be used alone, in smoothies, fruit parfaits or as a substitute for sour cream.
? Eggs are a quality protein source with iron and choline at less than 20 cents a serving. Consider a vegetable quiche or frittata as an entree.
? Meat is the most expensive part of the meal, but cut costs by thinking portion control. Three ounces (the size of a deck of cards) per person is recommended. Bone-in chicken parts are cheaper than boneless.
Planning ahead can help stretch your food budget while still providing healthy meals.
Mary Sadler is a registered dietitian for Ministry Saint Michael's Hospital in Stevens Point.