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Eating healthy on a budget

December 17, 2011

Editor’s note: Positively!Pottstown periodically posts articles from the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation. During the holiday season it may seem difficult to eat healthy, let alone eat healthy on a budget, but this article provides some inspiration and strategies sure to help you and your family throughout the year.

EATING HEALTHY WHILE ON A BUDGET:

ADVICE WHEN APPROACHING FOOD SHOPPING

By: David Kraybill, Executive Director, Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation

The grocery store has become a complex labyrinth of possibility, especially for families who desire healthy food on a smart budget. According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average number of items carried by a traditional grocery at the end of 2010 was a whopping 38,718. As consumers, we crave the concept of choice but are quickly overwhelmed by the multitude of options at our fingertips.

Having an exorbitant number of options may seem like a small worry; however, budget continues to challenge families who visit the grocery stores on average nearly twice per week.  According to the latest projections by the US government, grocery prices are expected to climb between 4% and 5% by the end of 2011. Many operate under the assumption that eating healthy equates to spending money. Therefore, a 5% price hike may hinder healthy decisions in favor of what is on sale or featured in coupons. Suddenly all of those options lead to bad decisions in the name of saving money.

Health and wellness are intrinsically linked to maintaining a sense of happiness, yet achieving them at a time of uncertainty leads to questionable behavior, even while grocery shopping. The past couple of years have encouraged consumers to hone their spending skills. Generally speaking, a smaller percentage of Americans are willing to spend on quality, unless they’re given good reason. For families, the fact that childhood obesity rates have been termed a national epidemic is just one reason to make smart and healthful choices in the grocery, as well as the kitchen.

It all begs the question: Is it possible to eat healthy on a budget? With a little dedication, the answer is yes! First, consider your resources:

Plan ahead. The thought of planning your excursions to traditional supermarkets may seem like an unappealing step if you are not accustomed to it, but a little thoughtful strategy can go a long way. Generally, we crave instant gratification. When food shopping, it is easy to succumb to impulse purchases, which elevate expenses and usually equate to unhealthy prepared foods. A list gives consumers a sense of direction and purpose when navigating the aisles. In addition, consult, but don’t rely on, weekly flyers and coupons. Whereas they offer competitive pricing, they do not always pay attention to the healthiest choices. And just because you have coupons do not feel the need to use them. Especially if the foods are not something you normally use or are for unhealthy items.

Enjoy variety. While many of us call the traditional grocery our main source when food shopping, a plethora of options exist for consideration. For instance, farmers markets and roadside stands sell locally-grown produce, while specialty stores and mass retailers create a competitive market. Though it may take away some of the efficiency of the one-stop-shopping experience, it does create potential for more robust savings. It is all a matter of simply knowing your community.

Do-it-yourself. More Americans are returning to their gardens as a means of growing their own organic produce. The fresher the better; processed foods may seem enticing, but they lack the nourishment meant to support a smart diet. For families, gardening offers an engaging project that emphasizes and educates all members on the importance of healthy living. Also, consider the benefits of canning or freezing your produce, whether home-grown or store-bought. The laws of supply and demand dictate that seasonal foods have the potential to be less expensive. You may enjoy fresh produce throughout the year, just by thinking ahead, stocking up and preserving foods when pricing is right.

Eating smart. Americans love their fast food lifestyle. A diet that includes increased levels of refined flour, sugar, salt and fat, coupled with a decrease in physical activity has taken its toll on our collective well-being. According to recent comments by Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “The typical American diet is promoting major health problems, causing serious environmental pollution and unintentionally creating poor working conditions for those who harvest, process and prepare our food.”

In addition to improving shopping techniques, budget-conscious consumers must also consider how to eat smart and watch out for the foods that miss the healthy mark. Some suggestions:

  •  Eat less meat. Experts suggest that Americans indulge in their passion for meat more often than they should. By reducing intake, it is possible to invest in better quality meats to balance additional costs. Additionally, incorporating other sources of protein, such as poultry or beans, creates a more well-rounded diet.
  • Consider whole grains. Whether bread, cereal or pasta, steer clear of refined or white flour in favor of whole grains. As is the case with fruits and vegetables, whole grains offer a bevy of necessary vitamins and minerals to support a balanced diet.
  • Buy bulk in moderation. There is a difference between buying bulk paper supplies versus fresh fruits and vegetables. Unless you plan to preserve, can or freeze for later use, often produce will go to waste in refrigerators. Also, pay careful attention to expiration dates. Americans are especially guilty of throwing away spoiled food, with estimates suggesting anywhere from 25% to 40% of food purchased being disposed of annually.
  • Walk the perimeters. The adage is true – fresh food and baked goods typically line the outside edge of grocery stores, while processed and junk foods take up aisle space. Keep focused on your list and take to the aisles sparingly.
  • Drink more water. Sugary beverages equal empty calories and can easily raise your grocery tab. Water is essential, and in the best scenario, tap water is free.
  • Mix and match. Fashion stylists suggest that you need only a handful of items to create a versatile wardrobe. The same is true for food preparation. By planning ahead of time, you can outline family meals that stem from a standard group of healthy ingredients, while still offering the variety you crave.
  • Snack responsibly. It’s inevitable that snack foods will find their way into our grocery baskets. By including healthy snacks, as well as an indulgence or two, on your list, you can curb detrimental and pricy impulse purchases. 

Eating healthy does not have to be expensive. Making just a few behavioral shifts will strike the right balance between feeding your family responsibly while remaining on a budget. 

About the Foundation – The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s mission is to enhance the health and wellness of area residents, providing education, funding and programs that motivate people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Visit www.pottstownfoundation.org for more information about the Foundation. Discover Pottstown area’s new online community at www.missionhealthyliving.org to learn and share great information on how to lead a healthier life!

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2 Comments
  1. Amy Wolf permalink
    December 17, 2011 11:49 am

    I’m a big proponent of meal planning. I find we eat much better when I plan out our meals and do the shopping once a week. It’s also more economical to shop that way. Thanks for the article – great tips!

  2. Dick Heylmun permalink
    December 18, 2011 2:12 pm

    In order to stretch food dollars while raising our 5 boys, every thursday I went through the supermarket newpaper circulars and planned our meals for the week, using the week’s specials as a basis. I tried to include dessert with each meal. It’s amazing how far a pan of brownies, or packaged cake mix along with ice cream can go, The food shopping was generally done on Saturday morning.
    In the morning, frozen sweet cherries, blueberries and other fruit were usually added to cereal. Fruits with a firm skin, such as blueberries and cherries, should be cut in half or quarters to allow the full fruit flavor to infuse throughout the cereal.

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