Woman facing an aisle of food at grocery store

Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Food has always been a big business. In 2018, consumers, companies and government entities spent nearly $2 trillion at grocery stores and similar retailers. While wages remain stagnant, the cost of living continues to rise making necessities like food and shelter more expensive than ever.

No matter the economy, it is possible to eat healthy on a budget. It requires thought, planning and some positive behaviors. A lot of quick, processed meals appear cheaper upfront but end up costing more in the long run. “It is easy to drive through that fast food place,” said Susan Okonkowski, a registered dietitian at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

“But the problem is doing that time and time again is going to eventually whittle away at your own health.” A diet high in fat, sugar or sodium can cause you to incur one or multiple chronic conditions. This means going to the doctor more frequently and paying for additional medications.

You can avoid this outcome by becoming a smarter, more active consumer. Create a grocery budget around weekly sale items. Buy ingredients that can be used in more than one dish. Get the most out of your dollar.  “If you plan your meals for the week while you’re also shopping for sales, you can incorporate different healthy items into your menu,” explained Okonkowski. It’s a great tip that will help you stay on track.

On the latest episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica, he and Okonkowski discuss the key to balancing food and finances.

Another way to cut costs is buying in-season produce. “When you’re thinking about that budget it’s always something I look at,” revealed Okonkowski. “I’m not going to necessarily buy blueberries when they’re, $5, $6 for a tiny little container because they’re out of season. But I can buy apples. I can buy a pineapple at $2 or a $4 bag of apples.”

Don’t be consumed by marketing. A lot of food brands promote healthy alternatives as “better” to justify a higher price. “I think the biggest case where you see that consumerism trick is in these specialty products where they say, it’s gluten free,” said Okonkowski. “Or it’s reduced fat. Or it’s reduced sugar. But they’ve added some other ingredients, which aren’t necessarily that healthy.”

Another financial drain is meat or meat products. For most people, it’s the go-to option for protein. But it’s often the most expensive item in a basket. “It’s a little less costly if you’re having your protein sources come from soy-based products like legumes, plant-based sources versus those meats, or even fresh seafood,” explained Okonkowski.

For more cost-cutting tips watch the full video (above) of A Healthier Michigan Podcast or listen here.

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Photo credit: SDI Productions

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