Shopping for healthy choices can be a real challenge. The supermarket’s goal is to get you to spend more and the selections of glamour packaging and promotion often makes finding healthy choices difficult on a budget. Factor in your time and energy to inspect labels and contents and you will see that it can lead to “easy” choices which may be poor ones. In the long run, it costs more money if your health is impacted and your spending on medical care increases.
A few months ago, my wife and I began making changes to our diet to improve our health without making a dent in our budget. Buying fewer processed foods, more whole grains, leaner proteins and more fresh produce has helped us to lose weight and feel better. Do you have the right ingredients for a healthy diet on a healthy budget?
- Plan your meals in advance and use that plan to prepare a shopping list at home. Use your sales flyers and coupons, and check your pantry before heading out. Check unit prices while you’re at the store.
- Never shop when you’re hungry. Even a small snack in advance can help prevent unhealthy and costly impulse buys.
- Buying from the outer edge of the supermarket means you’re more likely to focus on fresh produce, dairy, and proteins rather than processed, pre-packaged goods. Foods you cook at home will always be a better value than prepared foods and are less likely to include the sugars, fats and salt that can negatively affect your health.
- Learn to read the nutritional labels. It may take awhile before this is second nature, but it makes a huge difference in being able to evaluate which foods are best for your family.
- On the other hand, beware of health claims on the front of the package, such as “fat-free” or “all-natural”. They don’t always mean it’s a healthy choice, and are designed to lure you into buying the item without checking the real details on the nutritional label.
- Don’t “eat boring”. Make a variety of meals and switch around ingredients, i.e. sweet potatoes for white, baby spinach for iceberg lettuce. Brightly colored produce tends to have more nutrients.
- Beans and legumes such as lentils are a great source of fiber, protein and antioxidants, plus they make a great substitute for meat. But buying them in a can not only means spending more money, but generally getting a heaping portion of sodium as well. Buying dry, bagged beans and soaking them before cooking is healthier for your body and your wallet.
- Sometimes organic foods are the best healthy choices as long as they are affordable and sensible. But bananas, pineapples and melons all have a protective skin, limiting the exposure of the pesticides. Most importantly, whether or not you choose organic, include lots of fresh produce in your diet and be sure to wash your fruits and veggies before consuming (using plain water, or a 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water mix).
- Use frozen fruits and veggies (without added juices and sauces) as a fill-in for fresh, especially out of season. If using canned items, look for no added salt or sugars.
- In the meat department, trim visible fat or ask the butcher to do it for you. Better yet, substitute leaner cuts such as ground turkey for ground beef. Fish is an excellent choice as poultry.
- Dairy is good for calcium and vitamin D, but the fat content can easily lead you to poor choices. Look for low-fat and non-fat choices.
- The bakery department, with all its goodies, sounds like a big no-no, but store-baked whole grain breads can be a much healthier choice than the shelf brands. Always check the labels to be sure.
- Nuts and seeds can be a healthy choice, but look for bulk packaged ones (often in the produce aisle) that don’t include added salt and oils. Roasting them at home can save you money and be healthier.
- Avoid foods targeted at children. Not only are they more costly, but they’re generally loaded with sugars and unpronounceable chemicals to enhance taste and color.
- If you’ve been using processed foods for a long time, it can be a difficult switch to cooking fresh. Get started by making a big batch of your own spaghetti sauce and freezing individual portions to use in the future. Make your own popsicles by throwing fruits in the blender and freezing the mixture. Set aside a time each week to prep your snacks so you’ll have something healthy on hand without paying for the supermarket to prepare them.
What great tips have you found for shopping healthy and saving money?