Feeling the Pinch
I have been a dietitian for more than 25 years, and lately I've been seeing more and more clients struggling to eat healthfully on a tight budget. The price of food escalated last year when gas rose to over $4 a gallon, and the cost of basics like milk, eggs, and fresh produce soared. Despite lower gas prices, food costs remain high. With unemployment rising and savings dwindling, more Americans are relying on food stamps and food banks to be able to eat.
Can you still afford to eat healthfully in hard times? It's tough, but it can be done. If you are a careful shopper, you can save a lot of money. Here is some advice I give to my clients:
Review the local paper or online advertisements to see what is on sale. Grocery stores will often have "loss leaders" (foods that are sold below cost to get people in the store). Check your pantry to see if you are low on the sale items. Consider buying enough for a few weeks if you can. Make a list, and plan weekly menus that include the specials. Look for coupons, both in the papers and on the Web. They can help you save dollars.
Start cooking more. Try making stews, soups, and casseroles. Premixed and processed foods cost much more than cooking from scratch. Not only will home cooking save you money, but your meals may be more satisfying and often more healthy, if you limit salt and fat.
Always shop for groceries only after you have eaten. If you go to the store hungry, you will be much more tempted to choose higher-calorie foods like chips, pies, cakes, and cookies.
Look for generic or store-brand food. Check unit pricing (the price per ounce, pound, or serving, usually listed on the shelf below the item), and compare it with that of similar foods.
Meat is often the most expensive item in your diet. Remember that 3 ounces of cooked meat is considered one serving. To visualize the portion, think of the size of a deck of cards. About two servings per day will satisfy most people's need for protein. Try alternatives to meat. Eggs, peanut butter, and legumes (like peas and lentils) are good sources of protein, may be healthier than some meats, and are usually easier on the pocketbook.
Make sure you eat enough fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is expensive, but you can find deals by checking the advertisements. Buy seasonal and local produce when you can. You'll find it tastes better. Shop for canned or frozen foods to save money. Look for lower-sodium canned vegetables, or rinse the veggies before serving. Add a can of vegetables or a package of frozen vegetables to pasta and rice dishes. Buy canned fruit that has no added sugar. Plant a garden in the summer. You'll get not only fresh produce but exercise, too.
Finally, watch your portion sizes, and waste not. Make only what you need. Your weight and blood glucose should improve. If you need personal advice, make an appointment with a registered dietitian or call your local county extension service for ideas on how to save.