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Pack your plate with nutrients and flavor without emptying your wallet.
A dinner plate brimming with fresh vegetables, lean protein and healthy fat may make you feel good at any age. A common misconception, though, is that healthy food may be more expensive. But eating well doesn’t have to strain your budget if you tweak your shopping strategy.
Ready to see how your grocery bill could shrink and your health goals may grow? Keep these six guidelines in mind the next time you write your shopping list.
1. Harness the Power of Planning
Planning in advance what you’ll eat for the week usually means you’ll waste less. The goal is to pick meals with ingredients that overlap.
Here’s how that might look: If you are picking up cilantro for tacos, you might want to plan on using those same herbs to season rice later in the week. If roasted chicken is on the menu, plan to use the leftovers in a chicken salad wrap.
Need help getting the hang of it? Flip through some of your cookbooks to find recipes that feature a few of the same ingredients, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There are also many free resources online (try typing “meal planning ideas” into your search bar).
2. Think Beyond the Box
A 2019 National Institutes of Health study found something we’ve suspected all along: Ultra-processed foods lead to overeating and weight gain.
Not quite sure what counts as an ultra-processed food? They are typically convenience foods like snacks and heat-and-eat meals that are usually high in sugar, fat and salt.
And they can run up your grocery bill in a hurry. Leave those boxes with their mile-long ingredients list on the shelf and choose minimally processed and whole foods instead. Your homemade chicken soup is going to taste way better than the canned stuff anyway.
3. Stick to the Season
It’s true: If you want to buy strawberries in January, they’re going to cost you more than they will in June. Seasonal produce is more abundant — and when supply goes up, prices go down.
You can save even more by shopping your local farmers market. Many farmers sell “seconds” at a deep discount. Seconds are slightly imperfect fruits and vegetables that are still perfectly good to eat. (Remember to treat this trip just the same as you would an outing to the supermarket: Wear your face covering, bring hand sanitizer and keep a six-foot distance from others.)
Another smart trick is to buy your favorite fruits and veggies at the peak of their season and freeze them to make the savings last you through the year.
4. Shop the Freezer Section
If you’re cooking for one or two, it can be tough to use up a whole cauliflower or bag of carrots before they spoil. Frozen vegetables can help you save money by eliminating that kind of food waste. You can grab just enough broccoli out of the freezer for dinner tonight, and the rest will stay frozen.
Despite what you may have heard, frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as the fresh kind. Just take a peek at the ingredients list before you buy, because some frozen veggies and fruits come in sauces or with extras that can add extra salt, fat and sugar. Stick to the plain options, and add your own seasonings when you serve them.
5. Grow Your Own
Gardening is a great way to stay active and enjoy the outdoors. The food you grow for yourself is a money-saving bonus. If you have the space to plant and maintain a variety of veggies (more than just a few tomatoes and cucumbers), you could save up to $600 a year on produce, according to estimates from the National Gardening Association.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a lush yard; you can grow a surprisingly large number of vegetables in a modest container garden. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and lettuces all grow well in pots.
Even if you only have a windowsill to work with, plant your favorite herbs. It’s a thrifty alternative to pricey supermarket herbs.
6. Let Your Fingers Do the Shopping
Don’t assume that ordering your groceries for delivery will cost you more money. In some situations, it can help you save.
For one thing, it can eliminate any impulse buys. You’re more likely to stick to healthy staples if you can’t wander off into the ice cream aisle. If you need to drive a fair distance to the store, or take public transportation, you’ll eliminate those costs as well.
Bonus: During this time of social distancing, grocery delivery may be the safer choice, too.