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Ask the Dietitians
Registered Dietitians Answer Your Questions about Restaurant Nutrition

17 Smart Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget


Steal these secrets for a fatter wallet and a slimmer waistline.

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Courtesy of Woman’s Day

Eat at home.
The average family of four spends $11,656 on groceries each year, according to recent statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture. Yikes, we know. And keep in mind that a fast-food value meal costs around $6 each, which would add up to around $8,760 per year for that same family. Clearly, eating out doesn't mean dining on a dime either.
 
"Preparing meals at home will always be healthier and cheaper in the long run than eating meals outside of the house," says Ashley Reaver, RD, a registered dietitian at Ashley Reaver Nutrition LLC in Oakland, California. "Restaurant food needs to taste good in order to bring you back again, and chefs do this by adding in more sugar, salt, and fat than you would put into your own food."
 
Raever also points out that eating healthy now will save you thousands of dollars in healthcare costs and lost wages down the road: "A lifestyle that includes a healthy diet is the number one way to avoid developing the most prevalent chronic diseases."
 
Don't step inside the supermarket hungry.
Budget offense number one: shopping while hungry. "Your cravings for processed, packaged foods are more difficult to control when everything looks appetizing. Eat a healthy snack before loading up on groceries and you won't buy unhealthy foods that weren't on your shopping list in the first place," says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., the owner of Essential Nutrition For You and the author of The One One One DietSo before you load up your basket, tame your grumbling stomach with an apple or banana.
 
Buy in bulk.
The bulk bin aisle is among the most affordable areas in the entire store, reveals Reaver. Grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are not only high in fiber, but they're also remarkably versatile to cook with, adds Wendy Lopez, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and the co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy.
 
"Another benefit of bulk bin shopping is that you control the portion and only have to buy what you need,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and the author of the cookbook The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
 
Another idea: Shop warehouse stores to stock up on items with long shelf lives that you know you'll use before they spoil or that you can store in the freezer. "Warehouse shopping can be a bit overwhelming, but there are some advantages to buying in bulk. You will have to make less trips to the store and there is always a cost savings," Batayneh says.
 
Shop sales.
Discounts on boots are good. Discounts on beef tenderloin is even better. "Take advantage of the sales and use it as inspiration for your weekly menu. You'll be saving money and won't get bored of eating the same foods week after week," Reaver says.
 
Or shop online.
Avoid impulse purchases by clicking your way to the checkout. "I recommend my clients order some of their favorite dried goods online. Amazon is a great place to stock up on healthy snacks," Batayneh says. This way you can compare costs and steer clear of tempting "TRY ME!" tactics on aisle end caps.
 
Don't be swayed by packaging.
It's a healthy eating fallacy that the more expensive an item is, the more nutritious it must be, Alyssa Ardolino, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the Nutrition Communications Coordinator for the International Food Information Council says. "There are lots of overpriced food items that might look beautifully packaged but aren't actually healthier," she explains.
 
Ardolino and her colleagues showed survey participants two identical nutrition facts labels and asked them "which was healthier?" The majority of people assumed the $2 product was superior health-wise to the $0.99 one, even though they were exactly the same.
 
Go seasonal.
Think seasonally about more than your wardrobe and you're almost guaranteed to dole out less dough. "The produce that's in season will be in abundance, which means it will be a lower price than produce that's had to travel from the other side of the world. It will be fresher, too," Reaver says. With more flavor, your recipe will require less salt, fat, and sugar to taste amazing.
 
Stock pantry staples.
Invest now; save later. Fill your pantry with staples such as fresh spices, whole grains, and beans and you'll be able to doctor up dozens of meals with just a few bonus ingredients.
Keep it simple: The fewer ingredients a recipe has, the easier and cheaper it is to make, says Lopez. "I'm big on flavor, so don't think I mean you need to serve bland food. Use spices and herbs to make the flavors pop," she adds.
 
Meal plan.
Think of a meal plan like your supermarket map. "Before you get to the grocery store, make a list of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options. It's much easier to navigate a grocery store when you know what you’re looking for," Ardolino says. Plus, she points out that you'll be much less likely to buy unplanned — and potentially expensive — items that you may or may not use.

Lopez suggests sticking to a theme to chart your path: "By lining up taco Tuesdays or soup Fridays, for example, you streamline cooking and organize meals for the week ahead. This will help you know exactly what you need to buy and meal prep, and as a result, you'll be eating more at home."
 
Make a list.
Once you have your week of meals mapped out, draft a list on paper or your phone. (Try a free app such as Out of Milk or Bring! to make this a breeze.) Lopez says that getting serious about buying only the foods that fit into your plan for the week is key to eating healthy and saving money.
 
Prep ahead.
Once at home, unpack your groeries and get them meal- or snack-ready ASAP. The weekend is an ideal time to focus on meal prep so you're ready with healthy options in a hurry throughout the week, Harris-Pincus says.
"Buy whole foods and plan to prepare your own meals. This does take up some of your time, but you can save a lot of money by doing something as simple as chopping lettuce," Batayneh says. "I know some people may argue and say, 'My groceries go bad by the end of the week' The solution: use them! They're already cleaned and ready to enjoy."
 
Make more meatless meals.
"Meat is one of the biggest ticket items at checkout," Reaver says. With that in mind, she recommends substituting with vegetable, dairy, and other meatless proteins. On average, a pound of dried beans costs $1.37, while a pound of beef roast will run you $5.20, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Adding a few more vegetarian meals into your rotation will lower your supermarket spending — and cholesterol consumption, too. Try Greek yogurt instead of bacon at breakfast, eggs instead of chicken at lunch, or tofu in place of turkey for dinner.
 
Go frozen.
According to Batayneh, because frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and flash-frozen right after, their nutrients are preserved, making them just as healthy as fresh. "You can also purchase them in a mixed bag, if you like, which will provide you with a variety of nutrients," she adds.
Reaver loves frozen produce picks for their nutrition and their long lifespan. You can utilize your freezer to extend the life of other foods, like bread, baked goods, and meat, too.
 
Or crack open some cans.
In addition to fresh and frozen, Harris-Pincus recommends stocking up on canned fruits and veggies when on sale. Just like frozen, it's packaged when ripe "and retains nutrients really well, often more than fresh since it takes time for fresh items to travel from the field to the store," she says.
 
Be loyal.
Give your go-to brands a "Like" or a "follow" on social media or subscribe to their email newsletter to score insider discounts and deals. "It's a simple way to learn about sales or free shipping deals. Some also have great recipes that you can start to make at home," Batayneh says.
 
Learn to love leftovers.
Leftovers can be healthy and budget-friendly, since it's far less expensive to buy food for three recipes than seven. Multiply recipes by two or three times and space the servings out through the week. "Chilis, soups, and slow cooker recipes are just a few examples of foods that are almost guaranteed to gift you with leftovers, which can be eaten for lunch or dinner the next day," Ardolino says.

Don't forget the farmers market.
No need to make a stop at a specialty health food store for nutritious noshes. "Although these stores do stock exciting foods that you may not be able to find in your local market, they tend to significantly spike up the prices on all foods," Lopez says. Instead, she says to consider getting only your specialty items in these stores, and stock up on the rest locally at your neighborhood supermarket or farmers market.

Make more meatless meals.
"Meat is one of the biggest ticket items at checkout," Reaver says. With that in mind, she recommends substituting with vegetable, dairy, and other meatless proteins. On average, a pound of dried beans costs $1.37, while a pound of beef roast will run you $5.20, according tot he U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Adding a few more vegetarian meals into your rotation will lower your supermarket spending -- and cholesterol consumption, too. Try Greek yogurt instead dof bacon at breakfast, eggs instead of chicken at lunch, or tofu in place of turkey for dinner.

Go frozen.
According to Batayneh, because frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and flash-frozen right after, their nutrients are preserved, making them just as healthy as fresh. "You can also purchase them in a mixed bag, if you life, which will provide you with a variety of nutrients," she adds.

Reaver loves frozen produce picks for their nutrition and their long lifespan. You can utlize your freezer to extend the life of other foods, like bread, baked goods, and meat, too.


Or crack open some cans.
In addition to fresh and frozen, Harris-Pincus recommends stocking up on canned fruits and veggies when on sale. Just like frozen, it's packaged when ripe "and retains nutrients really well, often more than fresh since it takes time for fresh items to travel from the field to the store," she says.
Be loyal.

Give your go-to brands a "Like" or a "follow" on social media or subscribe to their email newsletter to score insider discounts and deals. "It's a simple way to learn about sales or free shipping deals. Some also have great recipes that you can start to make at home," Batayneh says.
 
Learn to love leftovers.
Leftovers can be healthy and budget-friendly, since it's far less expensive to buy food for three recipes than seven. Multiply recipes by two or three times and space the servings out through the week. "Chilis, soups, and slow cooker recipes are just a few examples of foods that are almost guaranteed to gift you with leftovers, which can be eaten for lunch or dinner the next day," Ardolino says.
 
Don't forget the farmers market.
No need to make a stop at a specialty health food store for nutritious noshes. "Although these stores do stock exciting foods that you may not be able to find in your local market, they tend to significantly spike up the prices on all foods," Lopez says. Instead, she says to consider getting only your specialty items in these stores, and stock up on the rest locally at your neighborhood supermarket or farmers market. Read More

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