By Lindsey Woodkey
This month’s article began as “Healthy Eating for College Students”, but I soon realized that regardless of income, we all want to save money on groceries while still filling the cart with nutritious items. Too many people use the excuse “I can’t afford healthy food”, yet it is easier than you think to eat healthy on a budget.
It begins before even stepping foot in the supermarket. Have a small snack with filling protein before leaving the house. A small handful of almonds, can of tuna, or celery with natural peanut butter should do the trick. This will help prevent you from buying unhealthy, processed food out of hunger, benefiting not only your wallet but your waistline as well.
Next, have a list. Take ten extra minutes to look through your fridge and pantry and note items you already have. Flip through recent newspaper ads or log onto the website of your favorite grocery store. Many are going digital allowing you to load coupons onto your card or print them from your own home. Remember the key with coupons: only buy items you normally buy. You don’t need “buy one get one free”(BOGO) orange juice if your family won’t drink it.
Lastly, try to shop when your children are in school or day care. This allows you to focus on your trip and only purchase items you need or want in your home. Of course this is not always possible. If your children will be accompanying you, make a rule beforehand that they may select one item (preferably a new fruit or vegetable). Stay strong and say “no” to sugary children’s cereals and fruit snacks that are anything but fruit.
Fruits and vegetables are key to a healthy diet, but can be rather spendy. First, if you are going to buy organic, stick to purchasing “the dirty dozen”. These 12 items, if not organic, are the most likely to be exposed to pesticides and include: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce and kale/collard greens.
Onions, corn and other items from which you remove the skin are included in the “Clean 15” list and are usually safe and cheaper when purchased non-organic (for the complete pesticide report and list see http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ ).
If you find yourself throwing away fruits and vegetables that have gone bad, consider buying them frozen or even canned. Frozen vegetables often have the same nutrients as fresh, while canned are slightly reduced due to processing. A canned vegetable (preferably low in sodium) is better than no vegetable, so choose accordingly. Don’t forget to shop produce that is “in season” or hit up your local farmers’ market. This will save you money and ensure you get the best tasting items possible.
For a list of produce and their peak seasons visit http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/features-month/whats-season .
With meats, don’t be afraid to purchase tougher, leaner cuts (think beef round, turkey breast, etc.) and cook them in your crockpot or pressure cooker. This “moist” method keeps the meat tender, imparts flavor, but it also cheaper and healthier. Marinating your meats can also take a so-so variety to “Wow!” Shopping the clearance meat section may also save money, as long as you plan on cooking the item that day. Don’t overlook canned tuna or chicken (buy the canned-in-water variety) for dishes where the meat will be hidden (quesadillas, pasta salad, etc). These are less fancy but also less expensive. Going “meatless” one or two nights a week will also help shrink your grocery bill. Make sure to include higher protein grains such as quinoa and beans or legumes for protein.
Buying in bulk is great, as long as the item will keep well and you will use it before the expiration date. Whole grain cereals, nuts, rice, beans and oats are all excellent options. Your freezer is also a great tool. Load up on items you use often while on sale, and consider freezing what you won’t use right away. Cheeses, breads and some fruits and veggies freeze well. Canning and pickling are also great ways to preserve foods and aren’t as difficult as they may seem. (For information on safely freezing, canning, or pickling foods see http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.html).
If you have the time and space, growing your own fruits, veggies and herbs is a great way to save money, and ensure your produce is safe. If you are new to gardening, start small and work up from there. Also consider joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) or Bountiful Basket (http://bountifulbaskets.org/) in which you pay a set price and get a selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other items. These programs benefit both the farmers and consumers.
Save money by skipping on convenient, prepared foods. While they may save you time, they will cost you money and are often less nutritious. Chop your own lettuce, mix your own oil and vinegar salad dressing, marinate your own meat and peel your own potatoes. An extra five minutes can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
The obvious way to save money is to forgo the drive through restaurant, eat out only a few times a month, make your own coffee concoctions at home, and keep healthy snacks in your car and at your desk. I challenge you to purchase only four food or drink items “out” this month. Your wallet will be fatter, your waist will be smaller, and you can spend that extra money on something you truly enjoy (a vacation?!). Happy shopping!
Lindsey Woodkey of Ellensburg is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor with bachelors’ degrees in exercise science and nutrition from Central Washington University.