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Dietitians Dish: Eating healthy on a budget

By By Stephanie Markman
March 12, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 11, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.


Knowing how to eat healthy is one thing, but trying to do it on a budget can be quite the challenge.

Unfortunately, healthy food options at the store can be more expensive than our processed choices. Ironically enough, the healthiest foods you can choose can be grown right in your backyard. If you have the space, skills and time, growing a garden is a very inexpensive way to get fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Raising your own livestock for butcher is ideal as well but not practical for most. Since most of us rely on the grocery store for all of our food, we must shop smart, which means you will have to put some thought and time into filling up your stomach on a budget.

Shopping the sales and using coupons allows for major savings, as reality TV has proven. Get that Sunday paper, plan your meals around the sale items and always check the in-store coupons when you arrive.

Oftentimes, meat is the most expensive part of a meal, therefore plan your meal around the meats on sale and buy in bulk. If you or your family will not consume the meat you buy in that one meal, consider freezing it. When you get home from the store, individually wrap each piece of meat in saran wrap and place them in a plastic freezer bag.

This way, you can take out the exact amount of meat you need for a recipe and not have to waste any by defrosting the whole package. This is also very convenient since you will not have to run to the store every night to get meat for your supper.

Always remember beans, legumes and dairy are good sources of protein for your meals. Even though we are Texans, dare I say you can have a protein-rich meal without meat, which will help save money.

Once you have your entree established, choose fruits and vegetables that are on sale, which are usually the produce that is in season. Frozen fruits and vegetables are good options because they will not spoil on you, and you can always have them on hand. Be careful with canned produce, however, there is often a lot of added salt or sugar in those canned foods.

Your starchy sides are usually shelf stable, therefore, try to buy in bulk when they are on sale. Finally, shopping for dairy can be challenging because it expires fairly quickly. Be sure to always check the expiration date and purchase the item that has the latest date you can find.

Another important strategy to save money on groceries is to make a budget and grocery list. Planning before you go grocery shopping will save you time and money. It will also help you stick to the basics and what you need for your recipes and help avoid those extra items we throw in our chart on a whim.

These little items add up quickly, are usually unhealthy and oftentimes get thrown in when we go to the grocery store hungry. Try to go shopping after meals so that your head, not your stomach, will guide your choices.

Always pay attention to the unit price, which is usually on the bottom left corner of the sticker price on the shelf. This will tell you the cost per unit of the item, for example in cents per ounce. By using this, you can choose which product gives you the most bang for your buck.

Avoid precut, preseasoned or individually packaged foods that almost always will be more expensive. They may be convenient, but let's be real, does it really take that long to wash and cut an apple? Going fresh also tastes better, and that way, you can avoid any preservatives that may have been used.

If you shop wisely, eating at home can always be less expensive than eating out. When you cook, try to double or triple your recipe - then you can freeze individual portions and have a healthy meal in minutes for those busy nights. Though this will take more time and effort, your budget will thank you.

Stephanie Markman is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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