Eating Healthy on a Budget: Dietitians' Tips

Global food prices have risen, and many families are trying to create nutritious foods while staying on a budget. There are different strategies you can implement to get the most nutrition from your dollars. Keep reading to learn how.

Key takeaways:

Why is food so expensive?

Global news outlets report massive issues in the grocery supply chain. Specific items are much harder to keep in stock. For example, certain specialty items, like novelty hot sauces, have disappeared from the shelves, and it's unclear if and or when they will return. Sought-after previously stocked items may eventually trickle back onto store shelves once production and transportation issues resulting from the global pandemic settle. However, it's unclear if rising food prices will correct to prepandemic market prices.

Reports from grocery stores state that meat saw the greatest price increase, followed by fruits, coffee, and dairy products. Unfortunately, the research shows an increase in the cost of healthy foods, while less nutritious options experienced little to no change. This makes it more difficult to afford nutritious foods.

Note that any changes in the prices of these items vary by location.

How to eat well on a tight(er) budget

To eat well, you need variety. This includes meals with plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and other lean proteins. However, you may not be as familiar with some of these items, so take this opportunity to learn some great-tasting new recipes.

Buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables

Research has shown that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are nutritionally on par with fresh varieties, with only minor decreases in certain vitamins. The only thing that makes them different from fresh produce is their texture, which can affect your finished recipe. However, this means that they're perfect as side dishes or in smoothies.

Visit local markets

Vendors at farmers' markets often sell their products at a lower cost than in grocery stores. It's also a great opportunity to buy foods in season that tend to be at their flavor peak. Furthermore, vendors typically offer discounted prices for slightly blemished products. These items are still edible and just as nutritious — and they're also perfect for desserts or baked goods.

Save those scraps

Save vegetable peels, meat scraps, and unusable cores and ends and repurpose them to create fresh soup stock at home. Save all the pieces in a sealed bag in the freezer until you are ready to boil them down to make a delicious broth.

Many fruit peels are also edible and can reduce food waste. You can try incorporating orange, banana, and even kiwi peels into fresh-tasting meals.

Take advantage of coupons

Many food retailers have coupons or offer discount days. You can conveniently access most of these flyers and deals through apps such as Flipp. Use the weekly deals to build your grocery list and buy foods that fit within your budget.

Grow your own food

If you have space, try growing vegetables in a yard or a small planter on a countertop or an apartment balcony. The easiest foods to grow are fresh herbs and leafy greens because they don’t require much space.

Shop around

Some stores may have better deals on fruits, while others offer better prices for meats. Although visiting several stores is less convenient, it can help fill your fridge while sticking to your budget.

Explore plant-based proteins

Beans, lentils, and tofu-based products are all rich in protein and are very healthy. They are also significantly less expensive compared to meats, seafood, and other animal sources of protein. You can buy canned or dehydrated beans, which tend to be more economical.

If you love meat and can’t see yourself cutting it out of your meals, aim for a 50/50 split between animal protein and plant-based. A perfect example is mixing ground beef and lentils for pasta sauce. It has a similar texture, but the cost of the dish is lower while increasing the nutritional value due to the additional fiber from the lentils.

Swap dining out for eating in

Once in a while, it’s okay to treat yourself to a restaurant or takeout meal. However, they can be expensive and eat up a larger portion of your food budget. These meals also tend to be less nutritious compared to whole, unprocessed foods.

You can save a lot of money by cooking more at home and using nutritious ingredients from your kitchen.

Avoid buying brand-name products

Many consumers don’t know comparable food products exist without the brand name price tag. Admittedly, the flavor profiles may differ slightly, but they are typically more than adequate substitutes.

You can see significant price differences in such items as tomato sauces, teas, canned goods, cereals, and snack items.

Use less inexpensive ingredients to add flavor

Certain ingredients instantly add flavor to dishes, such as fresh garlic, ginger, herbs, chilis, and lemon juice. You can easily add these flavors to your budget-friendly dishes to make them more enjoyable and satisfying. For example, create your own spice mixtures instead of buying prepackaged seasonings.

Food prices are continually rising — and rarely do they seem to return pre-pandemic or pre-natural disaster prices. However, being frugal and implementing some of the cost-saving strategies in this article will help you prepare healthier meals even when your food budget is tightening.

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