Planning is key to eating healthy on a budget

Just yesterday I heard the sentiment again, “It’s just too expensive to eat healthy food.” My response is the same each time I hear this: “If people will learn to cook and take the time to do it, healthful choices don’t have to be the most expensive.” If you compare the cost of a big bag of chips and bag of apples in season, you may find the apples to be less expensive. Plus, it isn’t likely that you and your family will eat all the apples at once.

Each family’s food budget depends largely on the number of people and size of their appetites. While some folks contend that eating out is cheaper than cooking for one or two, I don’t necessarily agree. I think it comes down to taking the time to plan, shop and cook versus the convenience of going out, calling for delivery, or driving through.

Watching your money in the groceries means you have to shop with a plan/list, without being hungry or in a hurry! Stay away from convenience stores; but don’t assume that bulk and two-phers at grocery stores are the best deal either. They won’t be if you don’t have storage room or will let something spoil or go out-of-date before you can use it.

Comparing “unit prices” let’s you know the cost of the item per ounce, quart, gallon, pound, or any other unit of measure. Store brands are typically cheaper and even if you have a picky family, they aren’t likely to notice the difference in the ingredients if they are mixed with others. I could go on about coupons, etc., but let’s look at some tips for curtailing potentially high cost items:

  • Instant nonfat dry milk can be mixed half and half with fresh milk for best flavor.
  • Avoid paying for the convenience of sliced cheese or meets. Any prepared foods cost for the work done for you, not the food itself.
  • Compare the cost per serving NOT the cost per pound when considering meat choices. A piece of boneless, lean meat may be a better buy than a cut of meat with a lot of fat and bone that is a lower price per pound.
  • Eggs and dried beans are lower cost options for protein. Consider having a couple of meatless meals per week.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are low-priced when they are in season, but buy only what you can use before they spoil. If not in season, frozen vegetables and fruits may be cheaper than fresh ones. UT Extension even offers classes on how to preserve foods.
  • Hot cereals cost less per serving than ready-to-eat cold cereals. Regular enriched rice and other cereals are a better buy than instead of the instant or precooked form and only take a few minutes more. Pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, noodles) is a good buy for price and good nutrition. Plain shapes of pasta are usually less expensive than fancy shapes.

If you are familiar with these ideas, but need to learn cooking skills and want to get the most nutrients from fruits and vegetables, consider attending one of my upcoming cooking schools – March 13 (5-7 p.m.), March 14 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), March 27 (5-7 p.m.), or March 28 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.). For more information, send me an email – aelizer@utk.edu.

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