8 Ways to Save Money on Healthy Foods
Yes, you can eat well for less. Here are 8 ways to try right now
Eating healthy is your goal, but once you fill your cart with fresh produce, fish and other nutritious must-haves, you may get discouraged by sticker shock at checkout. Even though summer brings a bounty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, experts predict fruit prices will rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent, and vegetable prices will go up about 2 or 3 percent, due to California's ongoing drought. (Egg prices are also on the rise due the to avian flu).
Nevertheless, saving money on healthy foods is possible with just a little planning and know-how. Safebee talked to Connie Diekman, RD, director of university nutrition for Washington University in St. Louis and a former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for her best tips. Try them the next time you shop.
1. Waste less by planning the week's menus. Figure out how many nights you'll be eating at home and what, in general, you’ll be making. This way you’ll know what foods you need and in which quantities, Diekman says.
Next, plan for how you’ll “repurpose” leftover ingredients. For instance, if you’re buying a lot of produce for a salad and know you may not eat it all at one meal, have a plan B for it. You might cook those fresh tomatoes with a pasta dish you're planning to make later in the week. Carrots that were crisp as a veggie tray appetizer on Monday may have lost their oomph by Thursday — but they would still taste fine sautéed with other vegetables and some chicken.
As these habit gains hold, you'll waste less, save more and probably eat more fruits and vegetables to boot.
Related: Farmed Fish: Yay or Nay?
2. Shop seasonally. It's an old rule but a worthwhile one: Buy what’s in season. The cost of a pint of fresh blueberries can break the bank in January but by summer your grocer may have a 99-cent special for an even bigger batch.
You can usually tell what's in season by the prices and the grocery store promotions. But for more guidance, the Produce for Better Health Foundation has a helpful list of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
3. Shop the local farmers' market — at the right time. In some parts of the country, farmer's markets are year-round, but in others, they are a spring and summer treat. The markets and stands offer a great opportunity to buy seasonally and locally, Diekman says. While their prices are often competitive, you may be able to shop even smarter, she says.
"At some farmers' markets, if you go at the end of the day, they'll start to mark things down so they don't have to cart them back," she says. “The choice may be less, but the prices may be lower." If the prices aren't marked down, you can always ask for a discount.
4. Think frozen. If the fruit you're craving is expensive, consider frozen versions. "Flash freezing [of fruit] locks in nutrients," Diekman says. Look for frozen fruit without added sugar.
One downside: frozen fruit can get mushy once you thaw it. If that happens, reserve it for uses in which the mushiness doesn't matter, such as smoothies. Or whip up some fruit chutney as a great fish toping. You can also add thawed fruit to your yogurt.
Frozen vegetables can relieve you of some of the kitchen prep pressure. Just grab that bag of frozen green beans (no sauce added, to keep it healthy) and steam or sauté them. There's no washing, rinsing or cutting, so you're saving time and following your resolution to eat more vegetables.
5. Be less lazy about salads. Those triple-washed, prepackaged salads with all the fixings are handy no-brainers — but expensive no-brainers. Instead, gather a head of lettuce or a bunch of spinach and wash it yourself. You’ll get more for much less. But know yourself, Diekman says. If your salad-prep resolve is going to peter out, leaving those greens rotting in the fridge, you’re not saving.
6. Consider growing your salad. If you're feeling ambitious, you can grow your own salad makings. Leaf lettuce is one of the easiest varieties to grow, Diekman says. Lack of space is not an issue, with the popularity of vertical gardens that turn even a rooftop or a small patio into garden space. (Google ''vertical vegetable gardens" to get started.)
7. Buy dry beans in a bag. Dry beans in bags that you soak before using are much more economical than canned beans and typically have a long shelf life. If you prefer to buy canned beans for their convenience, wait til they go on sale. And watch the sodium content, Diekman says, which can be high in canned beans. Look for a reduced sodium version or at least give the beans a good rinse before using.
In the long run, buying canned beans saves you, she says. Few will take the time to gather, wash, dry and cook fresh beans, she finds. "Check the dates on cans," she says, and expect a long shelf life, probably a year or so.
8. Write your own fish story. Eating fatty fish such as salmon twice a week is great for your heart and the rest of your body, but not always so great on your budget. For lunches, canned salmon is an alternative. Frozen salmon may also be cheaper. If you’re buying frozen, avoid breaded fish, which has more fat.