A loaf of white bread for $1 or a loaf of whole wheat bread for $2. Is it worth the cost? Can you afford it?
Some nutritious choices will certainly add to your grocery bill, but not every nutritious choice is more expensive. With some planning, comparing and preparing, you can eat healthy on a budget.
First of all, think about what is truly healthy. Many choices we make that we see as healthy choices are influenced by marketing and our beliefs.
An organic rice pilaf mix, all-natural canned soup and reduced-fat potato chips all may be healthier than their alternatives but may not be worth the cost when you consider how good they actually are for you.
Some words we see on labels are strictly regulated, like the term organic. Buying organic is a good choice when you can afford it, but check out lists of foods that have more or less pesticides when produced by traditional methods if you are shopping on a budget and make your organic dollars count.
The reduced-fat claim means only that the product must have at least 25 percent less fat than the original version. A reduced-fat potato chip will still have a lot more fat than carrot sticks.
The term “natural,” when applied to a label, is very vague and means different things for different types of food, so read the ingredient list before paying more for a natural food.
So how can you save money at the grocery store? First, I must admit some unhealthy foods are cheap and some healthy foods are expensive. The best way to get more healthy foods into your diet is to compare prices of all foods and make less expensive healthy purchases more often.
Comparing prices can be very easy if you use the unit price at the grocery store. It is the little price in the corner of the counter tag, not the total price you pay. It is great for comparing similar items.
That organic rice pilaf mix might cost almost $7 per pound and is not even a whole grain, while organic brown rice is roughly $1.50 per pound and brown rice is about $1 per pound. Even if you account for flavoring the rice with some herbs, it will be much cheaper to buy brown rice and season it yourself, not to mention much healthier to buy a brown rice instead of a white rice.
Some inexpensive buys in each food group are:
Vegetables: Carrots (fresh, large bag, frozen) and canned diced tomatoes, under $1 per pound.
Fruit: Bananas, unsweetened applesauce and pineapple canned in juice, all under $1 per pound.
Grains: Oatmeal (large canister) and whole wheat pasta, both just over $1 per pound.
Dairy: A tub of nonfat yogurt and a gallon of skim are both a great buy.
Meat and beans: Canned and dried beans are both typically under $1 per pound.
These are all nutritious foods from each food group that are generally inexpensive. The more often you work cheaper or sale items into your meal plan, the more you save — and hopefully have more money for more expensive healthy items, like salad greens or lean meat.
Other ideas include buying in bulk, which is often, but not always, less expensive cheaper. Be sure you have the room to store what will not be used immediately, and get fresh food frozen if you won’t use it before it expires or rots.
Cook some meals ahead or partially prepare recipes to make a home-cooked meal possible on a busy night. Eating in will save you money.
Be sure to use any and all leftovers; any food that goes to waste is a waste of money. Use extra chicken for sandwiches, add leftover rice to a soup, and freeze ripe fruit for making smoothies.
Cost can certainly be a barrier to healthy eating, but with a little preparation, planning, flexibility and creativity, healthy meals can be affordable and delicious.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.