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Good health on a budget

Tips on how to stretch that dollar

Karen Miller | 1/23/2017, 9:31 a.m.
Although food is one of the highest costs for consumers, it is possible to eat healthy while keeping an eye ...
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Frozen produce is a great substitute. Veggies are frozen immediately after harvesting, thus maintaining a high level of nutrition. Canned fruits and veggies are fine as well, Hersey said. If canned in heavy syrup or sodium, they can be drained and rinsed before using.

And they are less expensive. The average price per unit of frozen plain vegetables in 2015 was $1.74, according to the Statistics Portal. Canned vegetables were $1.04.

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Healthy meals on a tight budget

Variety is important, said Hersey. “Rotate colors of fruits and veggies,” she said. “Don’t stick with the same ones every week.”

Proteins

It’s hard for meat lovers to give up their beloved steak. Then compromise, Hersey suggests. “Control the portions of protein,” she said. “This is the most expensive part of a meal.” One serving size of proteins is about 3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards.

Regardless of the type of meat you buy, you pay more for cut, boneless and skinless,” she explained. “It’s cheaper to buy a whole chicken and cut it up.” Or you can purchase a whole fish and ask the butcher to slice it.

The trend is to go meatless. Beans and lentils and eggs are high in protein and much less expensive.

Whole grains

Whole grains, like brown rice and cereal, are high in fiber, protein and a batch of B vitamins. This is one area where Hersey recommends buying in bulk, like oatmeal or rice. Popcorn is an old standby and is often overlooked as a whole grain. “But cook it the old fashioned way,” she said. “Buy the kernels and cook in a little oil.” You can even spice it up and top with parmesan cheese.

Dairy

Yogurt is a great choice to get your calcium, but not all yogurt is the same. Greek yogurt has double the protein as regular yogurt, explained Hersey. It has a similar amount of calcium, but more protein. Here’s a tidbit, though. If you buy flavored yogurt, the protein content goes down. The added sugary fruits take up more space. It’s best to go for plain and add your own ingredients, such as fruit or nuts.

Hersey also recommends buying yogurt in larger sizes. While the “8-ounce” container has shrunk to less than 6 ounces, the price moved in the opposite direction.

Unit pricing

Unit pricing is just fancy wording for the actual cost per unit for an item. It helps consumers make more informed decisions. The units can be in pounds, ounces and grams, for example. When comparing two products, make sure you are comparing the same unit. “The lowest unit price is the better bargain,” explained Hersey, “as long as you can store it properly.”

For instance, it may be less expensive to buy a half gallon instead of two quarts of milk. Your calculator will tell you the difference.

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and energy drinks, are not only unhealthy, they can be expensive. Instead, Hersey favors plain drinking water flavored with citrus fruits or even a splash of 100 percent juice. Unsweetened, flavored tea and seltzer water are good substitutes as well.

Store brands

At one time store brands were purchased only during down times when money was scarce. However, they can now hold their own against national brands and are equal in quality, taste and nutrition. All this at a big savings.

The demand for store brands is on the rise. “Millennials are not brand loyal,” explained Hersey. “They look for the best bargain and quality.”

Even with these tidbits of advice, food still takes a healthy portion of one’s monthly income. But if you do your homework before you even enter the store, the chances are higher that you can exit with change to spare.