Learn to Eat More Healthfully on a Budget

By LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD

Just the other week I was browsing the frozen foods aisle at the supermarket and noticed the price of ice cream has climbed to more than five dollars a pint for some brands.

But it’s not just ice cream that is getting more expensive. Food costs in general are on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), prices for certain foods are predicted to climb again in 2013, if not sooner.

Higher Food Costs Should Not Deprive
Americans of Healthy Eating Options

The drought in the Midwest is expected to impact the cost of soybean, corn and other crops, which will in turn affect the cost of retail products that contain soy and corn ingredients. The price of animal-based foods is anticipated to continue to rise as well, due to increased costs of animal feed. The prices of beef, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are all up from this time last year and will likely cost even more in 2013.

Thanks to unseasonably warm weather and favorable growing conditions, you can get the most bang for your buck with fresh fruits and vegetables, which have experienced little, if any, price increases since last year. Processed fruits and vegetables may experience a bit of a price hike in the near future due to higher fuel costs.

Even the cost of fats and oils has gone up since last year, partly because of higher soybean prices and also due to less soybean production in South America.

While numerous factors – weather, foreign supply and production cost – affect prices, Americans continue to desire and expect cheap food.

Many people turn to fast food for cheap (and convenient) meals. While we know that fast food is not particularly healthy or nutritious, it’s not even necessarily that cheap when you consider its impact on our health.

Many of the most common illnesses we face today, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer, are diet-related. Eating less saturated fat, sodium and processed foods and more plant-based foods has been shown to decrease the risk of chronic diseases.

Is it possible to eat healthfully on a tight budget? Yes, I think so.

Here are some ways to eat well without breaking the bank:

Eat less meat. Many cultures around the world use meat not as a main dish but as a flavoring for other foods. Also, consider buying meat and chicken in bulk and freezing it to save on the price per pound.

Fill up on healthy grains. Grain is relatively affordable and there are many nutritious and delicious varieties that are readily available such as kamut, quinoa, barley, wild rice and buckwheat.

Buy locally. When choosing to buy foods that were grown or produced halfway around the world the cost is obviously higher. Support local farms and merchants and purchase local food, which is often a better price.

Avoid empty calories. Junk food may be cheap, but it leaves us hungry for real food while providing little to no nutrient value.

Look for good deals. Take advantage of sales and don’t be afraid to buy generic items, which are typically just as good as the more expensive brands.

The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion provides a seven-day menu plan at www.choosemyplate.gov that can help consumers meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans while spending less than the average amount on food per person. Based on national average food prices, the average food cost is $6.65 per person per day for a 2,000-calorie diet when feeding a family of four.

If you or someone you know is struggling to make ends meet, there are local resources that can help. The Los Angeles Food Bank’s emergency food assistance program helps provide groceries and hot meals for families and individuals in need.

With food cost on the rise, it might be time to re-evaluate our values and attitudes when it comes to what we eat. While we can’t do much to control food prices, there are smart choices we can make to stick to a food budget while feeding our families healthful and delicious meals.

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD,  is a Registered Dietitian, food- and nutrition writer, and author of the “Everything Glycemic Index Cookbook.” She has contributed to TV and radio shows as well as print media, including Cosmopolitan, Fitness Magazine, US Weekly, Today’s Dietitian, the Renal Nutrition Forum, and the Journal of Renal Nutrition. For more information, please visit her blog at www.halfacup.com

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.


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