Trying to Eat Healthy on a Budget? 12 Tips for 2012.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

For the first time in a while, I started a grocery budget for the New Year. This week I managed to come in $4 under budget and was ecstatic. As a dietitian, I frequently hear people say, “Eating healthy is just too expensive.”

I can argue this statement both ways, but I truly believe with proper planning, you can eat right and stick to a budget.

If you are undergoing cancer treatment right now, budgeting can be even more of a challenge. Not only is the act of eating challenging on its own, but finding the funds to buy food can be tight with increased costs of copays, fuel, parking, travel and medications.

So where do you begin? 

Plan for the week ahead. Take an hour or two each week and plan out the upcoming week. If you are having a lot of fatigue, have a friend or family member help you. Which meals will you eat out? Which meals will you eat at home? What will you eat at home? How much food will you need for these meals? Use this plan to make a grocery list.

Stick to your list at the store. If you buy more food than you need, it may spoil before you can eat it, which is a waste of money. Impulse buys can also be expensive, as we often don’t think about the cost, but rather think, “that sure looks good!”

Don’t go shopping hungry. This goes back to #2. Hunger leads to impulse buying.

Use coupons. Although the time involved in extreme couponing may not be possible right now, simply scouting the Sunday paper, coupon mailers or coupon websites may be enough to save you a few dollars. Do you have friends who want to help? Give them your grocery list and ask them to find coupons!

Brown bag It. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with patients in the clinic or infusion room who are hungry because they didn’t think about bringing food along for their 4-8 hour infusion. What happens then?  The family or staff goes to the closest fast food restaurant, vending machine or café to get overpriced and/or unhealthy food. Include easy-to-pack foods on your grocery list to carry along to you appointments – yogurt or pudding cups, fresh fruit, pre-cut raw veggies with individual packs of hummus, cheese and crackers and sandwich ingredients all travel well!

Buy store brands. If the store brand is available and has comparable ingredients, buy the store brand. Large chains now carry organic products in comparable store brands too!

Only buy produce you can eat in five days or less. Tossing fresh produce out is like throwing dollar bills down your garbage disposal. If you eat one piece of fresh fruit per day, don’t buy any more and only buy for the next five days so the fruit doesn’t spoil.

Substitute beans for meat when you can. Dried or canned beans or legumes make a great substitute for meat in soups and casseroles. A one pound bag of lentils may cost around $1.00, whereas a pound of lean ground beef may cost around $5.00!

Check out your local farmers’ markets. Unfortunately, winter is off season for markets here in Atlanta, but come spring, visit a local market in your area to buy produce directly from your neighbors. The produce may not only be cheaper, but will also be fresher (which means more nutrients)!

Buy produce items that are local or regional and seasonal. Local or regional produce is often cheaper as there is less transportation cost tied into pricing. For seasonal fruits this winter, stock up on Florida oranges, tangerines, pomelos and grapefruit. For vegetables, look for Georgia grown Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, leeks, spinach, sweet potatoes and turnips!

Sign up for loyalty cards. My Kroger Plus card saved me $10.00 this week and I didn’t have one coupon! At some stores you may also get personalized coupons for future trips.

Join a wholesale club. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have a large family, buying food in bulk can save money. Most wholesale clubs, like Sam’sCostco or BJ’s, send weekly flyers with coupons and offer discounts beyond food (including cheaper prescription medications too)!

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