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7 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

March is National Nutrition Month. UAB Medicine’s Nutrition Department works with patients, families, and employees to encourage healthy eating habits, not just in March but throughout the year.

One of the main reasons families say they don’t eat healthy is because of the expense. However, a recent study showed that healthy diets cost only about $1.50 more per day per person than unhealthy meals. So how can you enjoy nutritious foods without breaking the bank?

Here are seven simple tips for healthy meals on a tight budget:

1.  Create a Shopping List

The key to smart, budget-friendly eating is to plan ahead. Use a weekly meal plan to create a master grocery list, and then stick to it when you get to the store. Prioritize your food dollars for nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and whole grains. Prepare meals that include similar ingredients throughout the week, and that will cut down on the amount of food you have to purchase. Skip highly processed items and packaged snack foods, which can be very expensive; instead, prepare some healthy snacks ahead of time to use throughout the week.

2.  Plan Around Sales

When planning your meals for the week, look for fresh produce, lean meats, and low-fat dairy items that are on sale that week. Check sale flyers and then available coupons for additional savings. You also can compare national brands with store labels for the lowest prices.

3.  In the Produce Section

Shop seasonally when you’re looking for vegetables and fruits. Local, seasonal produce is at its peak flavor and is more readily available, so it’s sold at a lower price. There are several farmers markets around Birmingham; shop there to stock up on locally grown fare. If the produce item you want isn’t in season, consider getting frozen fruits and vegetables. They usually have the same nutritional quality, but be sure to check the labels for added sugars or salt.

4.  At the Meat Counter

When you see your favorite meat on sale, buy it. You can prepare two or more meals at one time and enjoy the leftovers for lunch or dinner later in the week. Meat often is the most expensive ingredient in a recipe, so planning a meatless meal several times each week can also reduce your bill significantly. (You cand ownload UAB Medicine’s free heart-healthy vegetarian recipe book here).

5.  Grains and Dry Goods

Whole grains and dried beans are generally inexpensive, so they’re an easy way to get more nutrition for your dollar. Stock up on nonperishable items when they’re on sale, or take advantage of a bulk bin to purchase only the amount you need. You can even prepare dried beans, peas, and lentils ahead of time and then freeze them so you have fiber- and protein-rich foods on hand at all times.

6.  Reduce Waste

Americans throw away more than 38 million tons of food every year, according to a 2014 EPA study. Make the most of your food spending by cutting down on waste. Plan to use highly perishable foods such as fish, greens, berries, and fresh herbs early in the week. Save more hearty items for later in the week. Enjoy leftovers for lunch or create new meals with your leftovers.

7.  Considering Organic?

The “Dirty Dozen list” is created by the Environmental Working Group, which shows conventional produce items that contain higher levels of pesticide residue than others. They also publish the “Clean 15 list,” which includes items with the lowest levels of pesticide residues. For those interested in organically grown produce, these lists can help you prioritize spending on organic products.

Eating nutritious food doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With these seven simple tips, you can eat right without breaking your budget. And remember, the more you make at home, the less you have to eat out, which is both more nutritious and cost-effective.

Get more tips from the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

Source: Nutrition tips from eatright.org.