By Christine Zellers, Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Department of Family and Community Health Sciences
Spending less and staying healthy may seem like an impossible goal but as prices climb at the grocery store there are simple ways to eat healthy on a budget. The cost of poor eating habits adds up to Fifty Billion dollars annually in the US and on average costs $300 per person, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine. The excessive cost for medical care related to chronic disease from poor dietary habits supports eating healthier but that can be hard to do as prices climb at the food store. There is a common misconception that unhealthy food is cheaper food but, healthy food can be less costly and assist with disease prevention. Taking steps to save at the grocery store while keeping healthy food on the table is possible by shopping smart.
The key to eating healthy and saving money is to include all five food groups at every meal. Eating balanced meals that contain all five food groups will decrease the intake of high calorie, high sugar, high fat, and high sodium foods. Foods from the diary, fruit, grain, protein, and vegetable groups diminish hunger better because the nutrients in those foods fill our stomachs and keep us full. Going to the grocery store is always best on a full stomach to avoid impulse purchases that cost extra money. When grocery shopping, purchase foods from the perimeter of the store because the isles at either end of the store and the back of the store contain whole foods that are more nutrient dense than the foods in the middle isles. Shopping the outside isles at the store will promote healthier purchases because the five food groups are located on this outer perimeter. Compare prices by looking at shelf labels, to do this compare sizes and buy the size needed to avoid waste. Check the shelf tag too and compare unit pricing to determine the cost of each size. When comparing unit prices make sure the product uses the same units because various products compare in ounces and others in pounds or another measurement. To find the cost per serving on a product, divide the price by the number of servings on the container, the serving per container is at the top of the nutrition facts label. Saving on fruits and vegetables is possible by comparing the cost of fresh, frozen, and canned. Produce that is in season can be more cost effective but if fresh does not fit into the weekly budget, then seek frozen or canned produce for the benefit of these nutrient dense foods. Simple comparisons and smart shopping can keep heathier food on the table while controlling spending.
Being a prepared and informed consumer supports both eating healthy and economical spending for groceries. Planning meals and a making a shopping list prior to going to the store can save money at the checkout line and prevent impulse buying. Before leaving for the store look at the weekly circular and create a list based on what is on sale. Coupons can save money too but make sure it’s something that is needed so it’s not wasted. Coupons are often for highly processed food which could contribute to health care cost down the line so make sure to use coupons wisely. Purchasing prepared or convenience food may save time but could come with a higher cost. Take time to compare prepared foods like precut vegetables and cut them yourself to save money. When stores have sales on items that do not expire purchase them and save some for later. Do not fall into the mindset that processed or fast food is less expensive food, instead compare prices, and plan ahead to save and stay healthy.