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Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Before and After BMI

May 14, 2010

Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Working with weight loss clients, I often hear, “Eating healthy is expensive”. It is true that if you buy “fat free” cookies, these are more expensive than regular cookies; however, the healthiest foods such as vegetables, fruits, heart healthy protein items, beans, and whole grains are the least expensive items in the store. The least processed foods are your best buys. These foods contain more fiber, less fat, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium than processed foods. Frozen prepared foods also often contain more fat, cholesterol and sodium than versions that are home made. It takes a bit more energy, but with a little effort and creativity, you can feed your family for less and nutritiously.

Ways to Shop Healthy and Save Money

1.      Plan Ahead. Try to designate someone to sit down and plan out a week’s worth of meals and make a grocery list. Scan cookbooks and magazines and experiment, start making a notebook containing the recipes that were a hit with the family.   This will help you to build a repertoire of healthy recipes you can prepare quickly or ahead of time for really hectic days.
2.      Use a Shopping List. Using a list and sticking to it helps to save money in a number of ways: fewer trips to the store, helps you to keep the right foods on hand to prepare meals quickly, helps you to avoid impulse buys, helps you to get in and out of the store faster,  and saves money spent on fuel when you can only make one trip to the store.
3.      Clip Coupons.  Coupons are everywhere these days from local flyers to the Internet. I check individual food companies’ websites for discounts and coupons you can print yourself. But, do not buy something you never eat just because you have a coupon for it!
4.      Choose less processed foods.   An example of this is buying whole potatoes versus French fries or potato chips. As much as possible, stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store where you find vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy. Keep serving sizes in mind when looking at prices and how many meals you can get from one purchase. For example $3.99 per pound for produce may seem expensive, but consider how that pound can be spread across several people and meals.
5.      Prepare Meals Using Some Assembly Required. Instead of buying your salad all readymade, buy pieces of it and assemble it yourself or instead of frozen lasagna, buy the pasta, sauce and cheese to prepare yourself. It is less expensive to purchase the items individually and it will be a lot better for you (less fat, sodium, preservatives).
6.      Try Substitutions. Cook with chicken and pork instead of beef, which is more expensive and less healthy. Beans are another really cheap substitution for meat and they contain a ton of protein! 
7.      Replace Chips, Crackers, and Cookies with Fresh Fruit and Veggies. Vegetables and fruits are a much better snack choice as they contain fewer calories per ounce and have fiber also to keep you full. Chips, cookies, and crackers just provide you with empty calories and will leave you feeling hungry an hour later. Most fruits and vegetables cost about .05 per ounce, while chips and cookies are around .30 cents per ounce.
8.      Get Rid of Bottled Beverages. Drink filtered water from the tap. You can eliminate 27 pounds of sugar a year by the simple switch from sodas to tap water in your household. A 12 pack of soda can cost up to $4.99 for a brand name and it disappears quickly. Switching to tap water can save you $400 a year for 4 people. It doesn’t cost a lot to get a filter or a filtered pitcher for the refrigerator.
9.      Go Local and Buy in-Season. When buying produce, look for in-season produce as this is usually more affordable than choosing imported produce. Look at coupons for the week for produce or shop your local Farmer’s Market for fresh, delicious produce at really affordable prices. If fresh produce seems too expensive, then choose frozen or canned. Frozen is often even more nutritious than fresh because they freeze produce at its peak ripeness when it contains the most nutrients. If you get canned, rinse the vegetables off before cooking to cut down the sodium content.
Here are some recommendations to help you save money while purchasing healthy choices for you and your family.


·         Health: Choose chicken, pork, fish, lean hamburger meat or lean cuts of steak
·         Bank: Look for sales on meat items
·         Health and Bank: Beans are very healthy and always inexpensive


·         Health: The goal for most people is to get about 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily
·         Bank: Shop at local Farmer’s Markets as these often have the best prices
·         Bank: Scan the local paper and Internet for sales on produce
·         Bank: Choose items that are in season and don’t buy too much if you don’t plan on using it right away


·         Health: Always buy 100% whole grain
·         Bank: Stock up on and freeze when items go on sale

      Canned Goods

  ·              Health: Try to choose items that say no-added-salt or reduced sodium
  ·             Bank: Store brands, when on sale, are the best value-stock up when you see them!


·         Health: Oatmeal is one of the healthiest choices because it is a whole grain and has no added salt, fat or sugar (same goes for shredded wheat).
·         Bank: Stock up when items are on sale.
·         Bank: Even though grits are not a whole grain, they are economical and low in calorie density.


·         Health: Rice is a very inexpensive option that is also low in calorie density when cooked. Of course brown rice and whole wheat pasta are the best options.
·         Bank: Look for sales on store brands and stock up when the prices are good.
Shopping and eating healthy foods on a budget is possible. I highly recommend getting the whole family involved in the process. It takes a bit more energy and planning, but I think you will discover it is fun and well worth the effort to prepare foods yourself instead of sacrificing quality and paying more for packaged/prepared items.