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Dietitians Dish: Eating healthy more affordable than you may think

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
Aug. 21, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

Why does eating healthy have to be so expensive? As dietitians, we hear that question a lot when we start counseling patients on eating healthy. However, this is not a valid excuse.

Fresh and frozen produce (fruits/vegetables) are often the best source of nutrition. Fresh produce can perish quickly and can be expensive depending on what is in season. Therefore tip No. 1 is to choose produce that is in season.

For example, melons will be more expensive in the winter than they will be in the summer. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of freshness and quickly frozen which allows for best preservation of the nutrients and can be a great source of fruits and vegetables.

Frozen foods can last for a long period of time in the freezer and are often less expensive than fresh produce. According to a February 2011 United States Department of Agriculture study, an adult on a 2,000-calorie diet could satisfy recommendations for vegetable and fruit consumption (amounts and variety) in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at an average cost of $2 to $2.50 per day, or approximately 50 cents per edible cup.

Just think of how many more vitamins and minerals that you could receive for that $2-2.50 versus spending the same amount on a soda or hamburgers from a fast food location.

Other ways to cut costs on food include buying in bulk and repackaging items. This can even be done with more expensive items, such as meat. Choosing a larger package of meat may be expensive up front, but if you can repackage it into smaller portions and freeze, the cost per portion is reduced.

If possible, choose items on sale or reduced for quick sale. These items are still good for immediate use or can be frozen and thawed later. Sometimes leaner cuts of meat are more expensive, especially items like ground meat.

In an article published by the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that rinsing meat can reduce the fat content by as much as 50 percent. You can find how to do this process and see the reduction in calories and fat by searching rinsing meat at beefnutrition.org.

Another way to reduce your food cost is to stop eating out or at least reduce the number of times you eat out. In 2011, the USDA estimated the average cost of food at homes for a family of four with small children who were at a moderate spending level, should around $193.10-$229.90 per week on groceries. If you were to eat out 3 meals per day, 7 days per week at probably a minimal average of $6 per meal per person, you would spend $504 per week for the entire family.

So as you can see, expense is not a good excuse to use on your dietitian. You can check out eatright.org for more ways to eat right, affordably.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the Clinical Nutrition Manager/Bariatric Coordinator at DeTar Healthcare Systems. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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