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Published on June 25, 2019

Eat healthy without breaking the bank

healthy eating on a budget

A lot of people equate healthy eating with a higher grocery bill, but there are plenty of ways to eat better that do not stretch the budget. We asked clinical dietitian Korrine Altieri, RD, at Falmouth Hospital for her best tips to eat well for less money.

Start with the perimeter.

“The first tip I always suggest is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, rather than working the aisles,” she said. “That way you will avoid many processed foods and focus on fresher, whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.”

In the produce aisle, it might be tempting to buy pre-cut fruits and veggies, but those cost more. Setting aside a few hours a week to chop your own can save you a lot of money. For example, spiralized vegetables are currently popular, but you can buy your own hand-held spiralizer for about $15. That small investment will save you a lot of money over time.

Protein-rich eggs are another low-cost, healthy food found on the perimeter of the grocery store. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, she said. You can poach eggs for breakfast and eat them with whole wheat toast. A hard-boiled egg is an easily packed lunch along with a banana,which is also inexpensive and highly portable. A frittata with veggies makes a healthy and inexpensive dinner.

Buy in bulk.

“I know that Whole Foods has a reputation for being expensive, but they have a great bulk section,” Altieri said. “You can buy all the grains like bulger, quinoa, ferro and rice in bulk and it’s a lot cheaper.”

Dried fruits, nuts and oatmeal are also offered in bulk. The price is not only cheaper by the pound, but it also allows you to buy exactly the amount that you need for the week, which additionally saves money.

“Oatmeal is another great option,” she said. “I have a dietitian friend from college who ate oatmeal religiously and she always bought it in bulk. It was super cheap and she would add her own toppings like a dab of peanut butter or a dab of maple syrup to make her own version of flavored oatmeal, which is always lower in sugar than the pre-packaged oatmeal packs that you buy at a store. That’s a lot healthier and cheaper than buying the pre-flavored oatmeal mixes.”

Beans are another high protein healthy item that you can buy in bulk, but even the canned ones are less than a dollar most of the time. Just be sure to rinse them to remove any excess salt, and buy low-sodium beans.

When it comes to meats like chicken or pork, Altieri’s best advice is to watch for sales and buy the bigger meal pack, even if you don’t have a large family. You can freeze what you don’t need and use it at a later time.

For snacks, popcorn is an inexpensive whole grain snack, if you buy the kernels (also available in bulk) and pop them yourself. Just be careful to go light on the salt and butter.

Homemade is cheaper and healthier.

Altieri stressed the importance of having a meal plan for the week and preparing ahead for meals, if you have a busy schedule. Taking the time to pack your own lunch can be healthier and less expensive than buying lunch out. For about the cost of one restaurant sandwich, you can buy ingredients for the whole week, Altieri said. But she cautioned against deli meat because even the ones labeled low-sodium have much more salt than a person should consume in any meal.

“Make your own dips and salad dressings,” she said. “Those can be pricey and a lot of salad dressings aren’t very healthy, so I always try to make my own or just use olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s much more beneficial to make your own.”

Canned tomatoes are another inexpensive and healthy choice for meal prep.

“Again, making your own tomato sauce is much better than buying a jar of canned sauce,” she said. “Typically, they have a lot of sugar and so much salt.”

To go along with the sauce, pasta is an inexpensive item, but Altieri recommends buying whole wheat pasta and paying attention to portion size. Another suggestion is to either substitute veggies you spiralize yourself or to do a combination of spiralized zucchini and pasta to get the taste of pasta without adding too many carbs.