In these inflationary times, people are scrutinizing their grocery receipts like never before. Admit it: Fancy, nutritious food can blow your budget. But you can just as easily find affordable ingredients that fit your budget. When considering the benefits of good nutrition to your long term health, it makes all the effort to plan and purchase healthy food options pay off. Once you learn how easy it is to include  nutrition-packed and delicious food in your diet, you’ll be less tempted to buy junk food.  Your body and your wallet will thank you!

3 simple steps to eat healthy without blowing your budget:

Follow your list or you might end up buying food you don’t need that could go to waste.

Have a grocery plan

Before shopping, create a simple plan or have an idea of meals you want to prepare for the week.

• Base your meals and snacks on your pre-determined budget.
• Find recipes online at places like TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, All Recipes, SmartLifeBites. 
• Try meal-stretching recipes, such as stews, casseroles, stir-fries and one-pot recipes. Here are 60 Cheap and easy Recipes from Delish.
• Use a list to determine what groceries you will need. There are free apps you can download on your phone to eliminate the need for a paper list.
• Scout coupon apps, the local paper and various websites for sales and coupons.
• Shop at discount or “dollar” stores.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can save there.
• Sign up for your grocery store’s loyalty card. You’ll get immediate discounts and coupons in the mail or in your inbox. If your grocery store has an app, be sure to download it to maximize all the savings.
• Use generic brands when possible. They can be just as good as brand names and are usually less expensive.

Shop to get the most value out of your shopping budget

• Eat before shopping, and take your time when shopping.
• Visit aisles of non-perishable food first and buy frozen and refrigerated items last. Quickly store them as soon as you get home to make the food last longer.
• Purchase only the items on your list. Don’t go to the aisle if there is nothing there on your list.
• Remember to bring your coupons to the store and use them along with current sales to increase your savings!
• Compare unit price, not the price per package. For example, compare the cost per ounce of two different brands of beans instead of how much the two brands of 14 ounce bag of beans cost per bag.
• Buy some items in bulk or family packs, which usually cost less, but only if you have room for storage and if you will be able to use the food before they spoil or expire.
• Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when in season.
• Don’t ignore frozen or freeze dried fruits and vegetables – they can be less expensive and may retain more nutrients than fresh versions. Just make sure you get frozen fruits and vegetables without added salt or sauces. Frozen foods are picked and frozen at their peak nutrition are healthier than many canned foods or fresh foods past peak.  Freeze dried fruits are pure, healthy and have a long shelf life.
• Buying pre-cut fruits, vegetables and meats can save time but usually cost more. Likewise, buy cheese in blocks vs. slices. It’ll last longer and won’t contain the preservatives put into shredded cheese for added shelf life.
• Some food items can be purchased at a low cost year round such as beans, dairy, fruits, grains and certain vegetables like carrots.

Prepare inexpensive meals ahead of time and use your freezer to store them

• Take one day out of your week to cook a few make-ahead meals. Store them in gallon size freezer bags and stack them in your freezer.  Thawing the frozen meals out will take less time in freezer bags than in deep containers.  There are several websites featuring easy and quick make-ahead meals. Try this one for Healthy and easy chicken marinades.

These healthy chicken marinades are easy to make. Pop them in the freezer and pull up when you’re ready for fast weeknight meal.

• Decrease cost of meals by eating meatless meals at least twice a week. Try this healthy homemade soup recipe with beans and peas. Or make a vegetarian salad with hard-cooked eggs and cheese for protein.
• “Recycle” cooked leftovers for another meal or two. For example, leftover rotisserie chicken can be used in salads, stir fry or soups. Here are more recipes on how to cook with kitchen scraps. 

So, on your next trip to the grocery store, go prepared. The extra prep you put into planning and executing your weekly meals can save you time and money.

-Maria Tucker

Maria Tucker, MPH RD LDN CDE, is a dietitian at Duke Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss.

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