Eat Healthy on a Budget? Yes, We Can!

First of all, I have to apologize for my absence. I have missed all of you! I just saw that my last post was over a month ago, which mortifies me. I hope you are all still out there, having EAGERLY anticipated my next post, and so I’ve made it a good one for you (I hope!!!) ūüôā

I want to talk about eating healthy on a budget. I could safely say that it’s the most common nutrition-related obstacle identified by my clients. They say things like,¬†“I can’t afford to eat healthy” or “Produce is just so expensive!” There seems to be a great deal of misconception in regards to what you can really get for your money. I decided, as both a dietitian and consumer, to help my fellow consumers¬†save money without sacrificing their nutrition. I even did some incognito prowling of the grocery store aisles to show you some product comparisons. Read on, for my top tips on savvy shopping!

1) Think outside the box. It’s a fairly well-kept secret that discount stores can have some really great finds. There is a chain here in Virginia called Big Lots, which calls itself a closeout store. They¬†sell¬†overstocks, discontinued products, off-brand items, etc at a deep discount; they have everything from furniture to cleaning products to Christmas trees. The Big Lots in my town just¬†so happens to be a treasure trove of organic and natural products. For example, they have an entire section of Bob’s Red Mill products, many of which are hard to find in this small town (think coconut flour and organic¬†rolled oats). Not only is the selection huge, but they are something close to 40% off of retail. I have also found Kashi products, organic dried fruit, and these amazing imported Italian cookies I’ve never seen in the US. Check out this haul from my most recent Big Lots trip:

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Major score! I paid $4 for the PB2, which retails closer to $5 in most stores.

I also recommend¬†scouring places like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Ross, where I’ve found goodies like organic popcorn, gluten-free cookies, jarred roasted red peppers, and trail mix for, again, significantly below retail. It’s true! (And hey, you might even find a cute scarf or a designer dress while you’re at it!)

2) Do a little comparison shopping. Don’t write off the store brand — many big-chain grocers are even making their own organic and/or natural brands. Food Lion has their own brand, as does Farm Fresh, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and likely others that I don’t have around here! A money-saving example:

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The ingredients were identical — I checked! Yet the price difference was a whole dollar.

While comparing name brand with store brand is a good way to go, you can also compare different sizes of the same product to see which is a better deal. Sometimes, you’ll find that buying the larger or multi-pack container is more economical. It takes a little math to determine the cost per pound or per ounce, but it’s worth it! Some stores, like Food Lion (where I did my research¬†today) lists that cost right on the price tag so the math is done for you (no headache for you, hurray!) Today, for example, I was buying Greek yogurt for my son’s lunch.

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Note the price of the individual yogurt. The 4-pack of the same brand, flavor, and size was $3.89, making the price 97 cents per yogurt. While an 18-cent savings may not seem like much, think about how that would add up in a $200 shopping trip!

3) Look for sale items. Food Lion has a small “natural foods” section, and while a lot of the items are overpriced, I keep finding deals all over the place! Several items were marked as closeout, and some were on sale with the store’s loyalty card. See for yourself:

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This was the find of the day!! I love these single-serving almond milks for a snack at work or post-workout.

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They had my favorite crackers on sale; next to them you can see some of the closeout items as well.

4) When it comes to fresh produce, I cannot emphasize this enough — BUY IN SEASON!!! I have compared prices on foods¬†that I know grow here (apples, for example) during their respective on- and off-seasons, and the difference is not insignificant. That being said, if it’s in season, you should be able to buy it from a local grower. Look at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, even random pickup trucks in parking lots (an enormous quantity¬†of watermelons are¬†sold this way around here!!!). Other fruits are always cheap, like bananas. Make sure they have the Rainforest Alliance sticker, though, for responsible consumerism! If you can’t get in season and/or feel the food item costs too much, head to the freezer section. Frozen fruits & vegetables are a great alternative — they retain the fresh taste and nutrient content of fresh without the high price tag. A word to the wise: avoid canned vegetables if possible — they are often high in sodium and the nutrient content is subpar at best. Ever put a fresh green bean next to a canned one? Yeah. No comparison. I rest my case on that one.

5) Last but not least — this part may seem obvious, but it’s absolutely worth it to clip coupons. I get coupons in the mail, troll for them online, (try http://www.coupons.com, http://www.valupak.com, and manufacturer’s websites) and look through the weekly store ads. Find out what day is “double coupon” day at whatever store(s) you frequent. Also, almost all large grocery chains have a loyalty membership card, which is always free, and the payoff is often huge! My husband makes fun of me, but I have all of the local stores’¬†cards on my keyring, and I am not ashamed! You can often visit the store’s website for additional coupons, as well. Many of them can even be used more than once, so the savings continue until the coupon expires. I know, couponing (is that a word?) can be time-consuming, but in my humble opinion, it’s a small price to pay (pun intended!) for the money you will save. ¬†You don’t have to be one of those Extreme Couponers from reality TV who end up with an 80-cent grocery bill (how is that even possible?), but every little bit of savings helps!

Adding up my coupons and MVP store card, I saved $12.68.

I know it’s hard to read, but adding up my coupons and MVP store card, I saved $12.68 on my $98 grocery bill. Not too shabby, eh??

Thanks for hanging in there. This is what happens when I don’t blog for a while — I get wordy! Next entry will be full of beautiful pictures, because I’m going to feature my favorite meal —- BREAKFAST!!!! I’ve been taking pictures of my morning concoctions¬†for weeks now, so be prepared…..and I promise to get it to you sooner rather than later.

As always, have a healthy and happy week!