Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Its hard for families to maintain a healthy diet; between long days at work and school, extracurricular activities and trying to stay on a diet, its difficult to even get food on the table before 8:00pm.

A recent University of Washington study reports eating healthy requires you to spend more money at the food store, which is bad news for cash-strapped consumers. A healthy diet is expensive, the study says, referring to the United States Department of Agricultures (USDA) myplate guidelines for nutritional eating. But other experts disagree.

Myplate helps people visualize how foods should fit on a plate: vegetables and fruit take up half the space; grains and protein divide the other half; a serving of dairy sits off to the side. Jennifer Felice, a registered dietitian and Wegmans corporate nutritionist, says the new guidelines, combined with getting back to basics in the way you plan, prep and store food for daily menus, can create healthy eating and maintain a budget, too. Its not always realistic to regularly have a family meal, Felice says, but that shouldnt stop you from eating healthy. Felice suggests parents make the most of their time: make Saturdays and Sundays days for menu planning, shopping and prep that put you on track for the entire week. Weekends often present spaces of time for the family to sit down together for a breakfast, lunch or brunch.Know Your Familys Eating Preferences Before even putting pencil to paper, Felice suggests looking into your pantry to refresh yourself on what your family likes to eat and whats in the house. Then stock up on staples and nonperishables to accommodate these preferences, which will require you to shop less. Felice says research shows that going less times to the storeperhaps once a weeksaves money. For nonperishables, you might even try going to the store once a month or every couple of weeks.Check Labels Felice refrains from vilifying too many food components. But she also advises avoiding transfats and hydrogenated foods. Sugar represents more of a red flag for her than sodium. Felice says sodium is actually used as a preservative in processed foods: Thats why you find more sodium in store-bought items and why our palates get used to having more salt in our food. Our moms and grandmoms cooked from scratch, she says, noting cooking from scratch gives you more control over the ingredients used in your meals. By seasoning things ourselves, we can get away from using too much sodium. Cooking dried beans instead of canned and making desserts like cookies from scratch allows you to put a lid on the quantity of sugar or sodium. Its also better on your budget, Felice says.Be Half-Plate Healthy Always strive to have your plate filled half with fruits and vegetables and the other half with protein (meat or fish) and grains. This leaves less room on your plate for more calorie dense foods, Felice says. Concentrate on doing this even when youre eating out. At lunch, many of us tend to grab for two slices of pizza. But everything should be in moderation. Have maybe a slice of pizza, but have salad, too, Felice says. If you go back for seconds dont reach for four slices because you ate wisely on your first go-round. And develop clarity over the low-calorie maintenance issuean idea that Felice says can be slightly misinterpreted. For example, you could buy 100-calorie snack packs for your children but this is not real food, and not as satisfying or filling as, for example, an apple. Also, tofu, fish, eggs may provide you with a higher calorie count than vegetables, but these are smart calories. The important message about calories is getting smart calories with nutritional density. Apply the same thinking to snacks. Snack dont just have to be chips, or cheese and crackers. Carrots and hummus are even better as is a bowl or plate of berries with some yogurt on top.Back to the Earth 

Planting a vegetable garden in the spring or tomato seeds in a pot on a window sill, is an affordable way to consume veggies and can be done with kids. Not only does this add to family time, but it also puts children in touch with what real food is. Theyll also come to understand that cookies, for example, dont just appear in the bright blue bag at the supermarket, Felice says. I learned long ago, too, that theres not one right way to eat, says Felice. Some people function better with three square meals a day, and do not like to snack in between. Others prefer to eat six small meals daily. The main point is to avoid cravings and nonhealthy impulse purchases at the vending machine. And, have an apple at the ready for that moment when you do start to feel a little hungry. The key, says Felice, is finding what works for you by learning to listen to your body. Remember, too, that your activity level and eating habits may change at different stages of your life, requiring you to rethink your patterns. And, dont forget to exercise; you can begin to include exercise in your daily regimen by making small changes in your routine. When at the office, walk back and forth to the water cooler or your office mailbox a couple of times each day. These small changes from a bit of exercise to nurturing and watching a tomato plant grow on your window sill are simple, basic and cost-efficient ways to make you and your family live and eat healthy.

Here are more tips from Felice to eat a healthy diet without breaking the bank.Buy in bulk. This applies to meat, like a big bag of pork chops, but also to produce like oranges and carrots or a family-sized bag of dried beans that can be used in several meals.Dont Shy Away From Prep. Youll save money buying items like bulk bags of carrots that you do have to cut the green tops off and peel. These are considerably less expensive than the already cut and peeled ones you buy in the bag.If youre buying chicken, buy a whole one. Cut it up yourself, or have the butcher at the stores meat counter do it for you. A lot of markets do this free of charge. Its a little more work, but less expensive, and youll have the bones to make great stock.Buy frozen vegetables and off-brand-label or store brands. These are cheaper and the components are often better for you. Plus, they are easy to store and take out of the fridge to cook quickly but nutritiously.Use a crock pot or slow cooker. Slow cooking in a crock pot for one-dish meals can save time and money. Even if your work and your childrens activities get all of you home at different times, there will always be a healthy, home-cooked meal ready.Save and use leftovers Get several meals out of one item. Theres nothing like chicken salad in the summer or a great chicken casserole in the fall.Go vegetarian at least one night a week. Whether its beans, tofu or eggs its easy and healthy to incorporate these foods into your meal planning. Eggs are a high-quality protein and relatively inexpensive. Theyve just gotten a bad rap, says Felice.Buy cans of tuna and salmon. These are great for getting your Omega-3s and they make for great burgers at lunch and/or a casserole at dinner. This is a healthy option that is fairly inexpensive.Keep the good stuff available. Nuts, raisins, veggies and other fruits packed away in a small snack bag are great to tote along when going to sports and other events. Allocate some time on Sunday night to pack a variety of week-worth portions. It will save time and money from running through the drive through at a fast-food chain.Eat with your eyes first. Realistically, no matter how healthy and how balanced, if food doesnt look good or taste good you wont want to eat it. Fruits, vegetables and salads are not only good for you; they look lovely on your plate. Eat with your eyes first, says Felice. Say Wow thats gorgeous. Then indulge.