March 1, 2023

Healthy on a Budget

General Health

The True Cost of Good Nutrition

Most of us love a good dollar menu, but the reality is that eating heavily processed, cheap foods costs us in the long run. Nutrition is important not just for maintaining your energy throughout the day, improving your sleep quality, and increasing your overall mood, but also for protecting against preventable cancers. Around 40% of cancer cases and cancer deaths in high-income countries are thought to occur because of unhealthy lifestyle choices, including nutrition.

The problem? Fresh food is expensive. Due to many factors such as increased labor costs (it’s people, not machines doing the labor), shorter shelf-life, lack of government subsidies, and the cost of refrigeration, fresh food is simply more expensive than highly processed foods, leading many people to choose price over quality.

The true cost of a bad diet, however, is likely to be felt down the road. Chronic illnesses, cancers, diabetes, and other health conditions have been shown to be linked to poor nutrition. Penny-pinching at the grocery store could have costly repercussions over time.

The good news is that there are ways to eat well on a budget. Making good choices and being deliberate with what you put in your cart—and where you get it from—can help ensure you and your family get the nutrition you need to stay healthy.

Follow these simple tips to get the most nutritional bang for your buck:

1) Make a Plan

Choose what you’re going to eat before you go to the store. Weekly meal plans are a great way to prioritize what’s already in your pantry and what’s on sale in your weekly grocery ad. Plan recipes that contain similar ingredients to get the most out of what you buy. At the store, you won’t be tricked into buying items you already have simply because you forgot you already do.

2) Stick to Your List

Don’t waste time wandering aisles you don’t need to be in. Buy only what you planned for. Impulse items can add up quick. This will also help prevent you from forgetting what you need, which could mean more, smaller trips to the store throughout the week—and the temptation to buy more—and spend more—with each visit.

3) Read Your Receipt

When the grocery clerk asks, “Want your receipt?”, don’t say no. Receipts aren’t just the record of what you bought, but what you paid. Collect and compare receipts for common items that you buy from different stores. Are they cheaper in one store than another? Can you get the same quality in bulk at a discount store? What about a local market, orchard, or farm? Once you get in the habit, you’ll remember where you can get your staple foods for cheap.

4) Stock Your Pantry

Buying generic or store brand items in bulk can save you 20% to 30% on your groceries. Whole grains, dried beans, and frozen vegetables are packed with nutrients and can be stored far longer than other perishable foods. On average, canned beans are more than twice as expensive than dried beans. As long as you plan ahead, you won’t need to grab that can of precooked beans when you already have dried on hand.

5) Zero Waste

If you make a plan, stick to your list, and keep a stocked pantry, you might not even run into the issue of food waste at all. Throwing out food is just money down the drain. Eat leftovers for lunch the next day or even breakfast. Cook in big batches and freeze portions for later. You can even save kitchen scraps like onion peels and roasted bones to make stocks for soups or stews.

6) Go Meatless Once a Week

You don’t have to remove meat from your diet to make a positive impact on your gut and heart health. One day a week, cut out meat, poultry, and seafood and fill up on beans, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber fills you up, and many plant-based foods have the same proteins, vitamins, and minerals found in many meats. Cutting out meat once a week can save you over $1,000 in a year, not to mention have positive health benefits that will improve quality of life.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Shop Hungry

When you’re hungry, you’re going to make bad decisions. In a grocery store this looks like buying fattier foods, sugary snacks, or whatever has the most vibrant and colorful packaging. Do yourself a favor and have a healthy snack —raw nuts, carrot sticks, or applesauce—that you can munch on between errands. Don’t forget to always have some on hand so you don’t have an excuse to dash into the McDonald’s drive thru when you are in a rush.

The Bottom Line

Eating healthy is more expensive, but bad health can have a heavier cost. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to prioritize good nutrition on a budget, but it’s still important. We hope even one of these tips helps you see a reduction in your grocery bill while still putting good food on the table. You can also find out if you are eligible for Nutrition Assistance through the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Wisconsin’s FoodShare program.