Food costs can play a role in the choice to eat healthy. Factors that play a role in the cost of healthy eating include individual food choices such as our preferred eating habits (plant based, meat and potatoes, higher end food goods), food portions, use of convenience foods (both unhealthy and healthy), and individual kitchen skills.
Healthful eating on a budget is made possible by following some overall strategies.
- Focus on nutritious, lower cost foods.
- Watch portion sizes.
- Plan, plan, plan.
Focus on nutritious, lower cost foods. Plan your meals and snacks based on grocery deals and costs. Use seasonal foods and your local grocery deals for planning your meals and snacks. Grocery store mailings and the internet are great tools for looking up food prices and weekly specials. Some stores even have membership cards where specials and coupons can be saved for in store use. In food cost studies, animal proteins were among the highest priced foods with more healthful higher quality protein sources making a difference with our food budgets.
Something to keep in mind is that the average American overconsumes protein. This means that buying better quality proteins but cutting back on our portions is a great way to manage this high cost item without compromising our nutritional intake. Some examples of healthy low-cost foods include brown rice, whole grain pastas, whole grain breads, old-fashioned oats, frozen vegetables, sweet potatoes, dry legumes/beans, bundles of spinach or heads of romaine lettuce, canned tuna, canned or jarred marinara or red sauce, eggs or egg substitute. Following sales can be a great strategy for incorporating variety into your diet. If you have a routing of just buying apples and bananas, a sales flyer might spark your interest in farm fresh corn or cherries.
Do some research on a plant based diet for obtaining the most nutrition while following a budget friendly eating plan.
Watch portion sizes. Prepare and serve your meals according to recommended serving sizes. Consider portion sizes when deciding how much food to buy and how much food to prepare. The knowledge that the more food we have in front of us, the more we are likely to overeat (remember Thanksgiving, pot lucks, and any number of food activities). This holds true even when we are at home. All food budgets plans are based on having a system to manage food portions and keeping to reasonable or recommended portion sizes is a strategy that can break the food budget. Food portions are based on individualized nutritional needs but tools such as MyPlate by the USDA can serve as a guide. Many electronic food journals can also help with understanding and learning more about food portions. The Nutrition for Diabetes 50/50 method is a healthful plan for most people and it is also family friendly. Remember that no plan is a substitute for seeing a qualified dietitian nutrition professional.
Plan, plan, plan. Determine a strategy that works with your planning style. I have used structured weekly menus (Check out my menu template located at http://rosailopezmsrd.com/2017/10/good-nutrition-vibes-part-3/) as well as a more fluid approach where I just jot down the 3-5 meal options for the week in my planner. The key is to know what you plan to cook and to have all the ingredients you will need on hand for preparing what you have planned. I have taught a meal planning class and there are so many ways to find recipe ideas or to even rediscover some old family favorites. Planning should include a review of the food items you already have at home and it is a great way to make sure you keep foods fresh and stable.
Let me know if you tried any of our budget friendly strategies. While most of my clients are cooking for families, the luxury of a one-person food budget is that you can really decide when and where to splurge with your food budget. The downside is that food preparation takes as long cooking for 1-2 people as cooking for a 5-6 people.