Every year, eating healthier makes it somewhere near the top of your New Year’s resolution list.
But there’s a common belief that eating healthier means spending more, too. This is because people pay more attention to the price tag of individual items instead of focusing on the end results, says Brynn McDowell, a registered dietitian.
“Shelling out $2 for a fast-food burger might sound more wallet-friendly than spending $20 at the store buying vegetables, beans and chicken,” she says. “But the difference is that you can make multiple recipes with those same ingredients, bringing your cost per serving down substantially while boosting the nutritional value.”
With a little prep work, you can trim costs and reap the health benefits at the same time. Here are some tips for buying nutritious groceries on a budget.
MAKE A PLAN
One of the best ways to eat healthy and save money is to meal-plan. After all, there’s nothing worse than tossing items into your cart at the store, only to get home and realize none of it adds up to actual recipes.
As you brainstorm meals, take inventory of what you already have at home and what you need to buy. As you create your shopping list, think of items that can be used in more than one dish to keep costs down and minimize food waste. “If you are making something that calls for half a bag of spinach, then you can plan something else later that week that uses the rest of it,” McDowell says.
SCAN THE CIRCULARS
While everyone has their go-to grocery store, “your best bet for saving money is to be flexible about where you shop,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “Review circulars to see which local grocery stores have the best deals on the healthy ingredients you like and currently need.” An app like Flipp lets you peruse ads for stores in your area to quickly find the best deals.
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO PRODUCE
If you’re trying to eat healthy, the number of fruits and vegetables on your shopping list is likely to go up. Consider the following as you shop.
Seasonality: Buying produce that’s in-season will save you money — and it’ll taste better too.
Frozen vs. Fresh: For items that aren’t in season, buy frozen. “Frozen produce is flash-frozen at peak ripeness so you’re getting all the healthy nutrients at around 20 to 30 percent less than fresh produce,” Woroch says. Frozen items can also come in handy for quick meals that don’t require planning, like smoothies and stir-fries.
Pre-bagged vs. Pre-cut: Some grocery stores offer pre-priced tote bags of apples, oranges and grapefruits, which are often a better buy. But when it comes to pre-cut items, like pineapple wedges or baby carrots, you’re likely to pay more for the convenience, so consider buying whole fruits and veggies and doing the chopping at home.
Organic vs. Conventionally Grown: While there are plenty of health and environmental benefits to eating organic, the cost can add up. The good news is that many conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, onions and cantaloupe, pose little risk of contamination. “These are examples of produce with tough, inedible peels that pesticides won’t penetrate, so you’re safe buying these healthy foods from the regular section,” Woroch says.
If organic produce isn’t in your budget, remember that overall consumption is what matters. “It’s far more important to eat lots of regular vegetables than eat fewer ones because you can’t afford to purchase the organic version,” McDowell says. “A traditional carrot is still better than no carrot at all.”
ADDITIONAL TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
Shop in bulk. While buying in larger quantities can be cost-effective, who wants to thaw a frozen block of meat? Woroch suggests a little work ahead of time. “When you get home from the market, split up bulk packages into individual containers, or wrap each piece of meat with plastic wrap so you can defrost a small amount when needed instead of the whole package,” she says.
And while their name suggests otherwise, bulk bins allow you to control how much you spend on non-perishable items. “They are a great source for nutritious staples like dried beans, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds that you can buy only in the amount you need,” McDowell says.
Consider store-brand products. While generic brands can get a bad rap, store-brand options have come a long way in recent years. “Many now offer healthy foods and organic options for around 30 percent less than the name brands,” Woroch says. “Chances are you won’t notice the difference.”