The Healthy Eater’s Guide to Thrifty Shopping

Find affordable foods for good health
The Healthy Eater’s Guide to Thrifty Shopping: Main Image
Inexpensive cuts of meat lend themselves to tenderizing marinades and rubs for added flavor

Fluctuating prices may make some of your familiar healthy habits feel like too much of an indulgance, but be assured that successfully managing your weekly grocery budget without sacrificing quality is possible.

Marie Simmons, author of Fresh & Fast: Inspired Cooking for Every Season and Every Day, says “Eating well and following a healthful diet while minding your food dollars can be both delicious and affordable with a little advance planning.” Add a few savvy shopping tips and you'll get satisfying meals that won’t devour the family pocketbook.

Begin with the basics

Along with the basics—planning meals in advance, shopping with a list, downloading and clipping store coupons—many food items are also terrific buys for the person who’s both health conscious and budget-minded. Choose nutrient-rich foods to earn the most health benefits per dollars spent.

  • Rice, beans, lentils, couscous, quinoa, bulgur, whole grains, and whole-wheat pasta are nutrition-packed and inexpensive too, particularly when purchased in bulk amounts.
  • Dry beans are always cheaper than canned; plan ahead and soak or cook dried beans overnight so they’re ready to use in soups, salads, or burritos the next day.

Choose some tasty toppings and sides

  • Using canned plum tomatoes as the base for easy, do-it-yourself pasta sauces cost far less than pre-made jarred sauces.
  • Seasonal fruit, berries, and vegetables are always more affordable than the same items out of season, but compare prices on frozen fruit too. Sometimes frozen costs even less and the flavor is often just as good.
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese are nutrient-dense foods, offering multiple healthful benefits to balance their cost.
  • Fish, shellfish, meat, and poultry are most economical when used in small amounts as flavor accents, not as the main dish—and they are just as satisfying.
  • Sustainable farm-raised American catfish and tilapia are healthful and affordable—and they’re also more ecologically conscious than other farmed fish varieties.
  • Inexpensive cuts of meat lend themselves to tenderizing marinades and rubs for added flavor.
  • Nuts and seeds—particularly unsalted, dry-roasted varieties—are a healthier and more cost efficient snack than packaged snacks and chips.

Add these savvy shopping tips

  • Try the store brands. They typically cost less than name brands, and even 10 or 20 cents per can or box adds up. These days, store-brand quality is tops in most categories, so it pays to put store labels in your cart and save.
  • Shop your pantry first; use up what’s on hand instead of shelling out more dollars for a new ingredient.
  • Decide on dishes to cook before you go to the store so you won’t be tempted to stray from your shopping list or menu plan.
  • Look for unadvertised in-store specials to save even more money on everyday favorites; stock the extras in your pantry.
  • Many grocery chains now have websites with downloadable coupons; check these out before you head to the store.

Judith H. Dern writes and cooks in Seattle where her favorite frugal dish is black bean chili.

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