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Noyes Health / About Noyes / News / Article

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A trip to the supermarket is one decision after another.  It can be overwhelming sorting through all the varieties and options.  Even the humble egg has been lifted to new heights, as one can now buy brown, white, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, cage-free, organic, free-range, with omega-3, pasteurized, all-natural, and vegetarian eggs.  In addition, according to the Food Marketing Institute, the number of products at the average supermarket swelled from 8,948 products in 1975 to almost 47,000 in 2008!   While some believe all these choices are great for the consumer, others believe it confuses the matter and causes consumers to make impulsive, poor decisions.  According to the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 36% of consumers feel overwhelmed by the information they need to process while deciding on a purchase.   With so many choices, it can be hard to decipher what is healthy. In addition, Consumer Reports indicates “the bewildering number of choices can obscure price disparities.”  That is, what is a good deal and what is not.  Bottom line, folks need to know what is healthy and what fits in their budgets.   The good news is that the healthiest items are the simplest items.  They don’t require wading through labels, ingredient lists, or endless varieties.  Going to the grocery store is easy if you know two basic things:  1) How to define healthy and 2) Where to find those items.  

A healthy diet is defined very simply as a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, protein, and dairy. It has minimal amounts of refined sugar (white sugar), saturated fats, salt, caffeine, and alcohol.  It is food that is closest to its original form as possible; meaning the less processed the better.  Processing takes out nutrients and adds chemicals not originally found in food.  For example, plain old-fashioned oats are better for you than the packets of instant oatmeal that have added sugars, colorings, and preservatives.  Likewise, plain yogurt in a large tub is better for you than colored yogurt in a long tube.  The following is a list of healthy foods:

  • Whole grains – rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins – whole wheat, brown rice, bulger, corn, buckwheat, oats, wild rice, quinoa, farro

  • Fruits and veggies – rich in vital vitamins, minerals, and fiber – fresh, frozen, canned, or dried

  • Protein – needed to build and repair tissue – meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu

  • Dairy – good source of calcium – milk, yogurt (plain or vanilla), cheese

Whole grains – rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins – whole wheat, brown rice, bulger, corn, buckwheat, oats, wild rice, quinoa, farro

Fruits and veggies – rich in vital vitamins, minerals, and fiber – fresh, frozen, canned, or dried

Protein – needed to build and repair tissue – meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu

Dairy – good source of calcium – milk, yogurt (plain or vanilla), cheese

What is not on the list is anything processed such as potato chips, crackers, candy, canned ravioli, frozen burritos, chicken nuggets, or the like.   The healthiest items in the grocery store tend to be in the perimeter with the exception of frozen vegetables and fruits, dried and canned beans, and items such as olive oil.  For folks trying to slim their waistlines, shopping in the healthy aisles only and avoiding the snack food aisles can be part of a comprehensive weight management program.  

But isn’t eating healthy more expensive?  While it is true that certain cuts of meat, exotic and out of season fruits and veggies, and some grains are expensive, there are plenty of options that are actually budget friendly.  Take for example, chicken nuggets.  They are a staple in many households because children like them; they are cheap, and easy.  Chicken nuggets cost approximately $8.74 for 26 servings which is 33 cents per serving.  One serving has 9g of protein, 430Mg sodium, and 8g fat.  Tuna, lentils, kidney beans, and eggs, all good alternative sources of protein, come in at 11-35 cents per serving.  All have less sodium, less fat, and more protein (10-16g).  So serving up a tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread (go light on the mayo or use Greek yogurt) or cooking up red beans with brown rice is actually in the same price range and better for you than chicken nuggets.  

Other ideas for eating healthy on a budget include:

  • Make a grocery list and stick to it.  Take a few minutes to plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list.  If it is not on the list, don’t buy it!

  • Prep veggies, fruits, and nuts ahead in small containers or bags.  Set up your own healthy grab and go snack center in your frig and cupboard.  

  • Eat leftovers – grab a storage container before you eat dinner.  Put the next day’s lunch in the container before you sit down.  This will save you lunch money and keep you from eating seconds at the dinner table.

  • Only buy gas at the gas station.  

  • Eat whole real foods in their original form as much as possible.

  • Drink water throughout the day.

Make a grocery list and stick to it.  Take a few minutes to plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list.  If it is not on the list, don’t buy it!

Prep veggies, fruits, and nuts ahead in small containers or bags.  Set up your own healthy grab and go snack center in your frig and cupboard.  

Eat leftovers – grab a storage container before you eat dinner.  Put the next day’s lunch in the container before you sit down.  This will save you lunch money and keep you from eating seconds at the dinner table.

Only buy gas at the gas station.  

Eat whole real foods in their original form as much as possible.

Drink water throughout the day.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.

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