Healthy Food Bites To-Go: Healthy Eating on a Budget

There is a general sense that eating healthy is limiting for those trying to stretch a dollar. Whole Foods Market has had to live down the nickname ‘Whole Paycheck’, labeled as such by thrifty customers who find themselves pouring the majority of their hard-earned dollars into too few shopping bags filled with groceries. But the fact is that there are many more retailers these days offering healthy food options at affordable pricing. Large store chains including Target, Walmart, Costco and this fan’s favorite Trader Joe’s offer health seekers big savings on good-for-you groceries. Even supermarkets have really stepped up their healthy eating game with more focus on local fruits and vegetable offerings.

In light of our nation’s epic health crisis and the explosive growth of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, food markets have capitalized on health trends by merchandising food sections as heart healthy, gluten-free and (refined) sugar-free to lure the health-seeking shopper. Look there for value items – the store brand and sale items. Read the ingredient list before the label. The produce section too has been beefed up with even more local, organic, seasonal, and varietal offerings competitively priced – especially in-season.

Grocery shopping in general can be overwhelming. Add to that the pressures of building a healthier shopping cart with too few dollars and it’s enough to send you down the chip and ice cream aisles for emotional back-up. But the evidence and nutritional payoff of eating a whole food, plant-strong diet, in both preventing illness and promoting optimized health is too good to ignore.

Here are some tips for building a smart shopping cart while keeping your wallet and taste buds happy:

1. Choose foods that are fresh, local and unprocessed.

Produce marked local in the market may not be certified organic but still be free of pesticides since it grows under the watchful eye of a farmer and does not travel far.

2. Shop in season.

Some of the best-tasting fall apples, pears, grapes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower heads, dark leafy greens, brussel sprouts, hard squash and root vegetables are in great abundance now and discounted. Fall pantry staples – pumpkin, fig and cranberry butters and high quality maple syrup (use sparingly) are worth stocking up on.

3. Stretch meals and dollars by using animal foods as a ‘condiment’.

Consider a 3-4 ounce serving rather than the customary 6-8 ounce serving of poultry, fish and particularly beef. Plant-based protein sources including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and leafy greens need not break the bank.

4. Grab store flyers, shop the house brand and be on the lookout for coupons.

Are you registered online user at the website of market where you shop? Are you following them on social media? Writing to manufactures to gush about your favorite things can land you special savings.

5. Hang out in the frozen food section.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are typically harvested in season at the peak of their nutritional density. When you purchase produce out of season you can save big. When these items go on sale they’re a steal. Stock up.

6. Cook once, eat thrice.

Make meals in multiple batches. It saves time and stretches a buck. Freeze or brown bag some of tonight’s leftovers for breakfast or lunch tomorrow.

7. Prepare your own food.

It is a lot cheaper than sit-down restaurants or all-day takeout. You need not be a cook to prep personal meals and snacks. Be an assembler of healthy ingredients!

A small commitment to taking baby steps in planning, shopping for and eating healthy on-the-run is sure to fatten your wallet. Pour what you save into that smart shopping cart you’re pushing and you will be on your way to a lifestyle that’s truly money in the bank.

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