Dinner on a Dime: Budgeting for Healthier Family Meals

Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 17, 2013Written by The Healthline Editorial Team
woman gathering produce in market

You want to eat healthy, but sometimes it seems like fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are the priciest items in the grocery store. Don't despair--with proper planning, there are a number of easy ways to reduce your food budget while prioritizing healthy foods.

Buy Seasonal Produce
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises consumers that one of the best ways to eat healthily on a budget is to choose fruits and vegetables when they are in season.

As we enter the fall months, consider choosing pears and persimmons among your seasonal fruit choices. For vegetables, pick up broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard. Budget-friendly options for winter include clementines, grapefruit, and collard greens.

In addition, remember that some healthy foods usually remain low-cost year round, including apples, carrots, beans, bananas, and mushrooms.

Stock Up on Frozen and Canned Produce
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables sometimes get a bad rap, and it's always great to be able to buy fresh produce. However, frozen and canned produce lasts longer--this means they can be purchased in bigger quantities when they're on sale. The USDA suggests choosing canned vegetables with less salt; look for "low sodium" or "no sodium" on the label. For canned fruits, choose those canned in fruit juice, not syrup.

Avoid Pre-cut Fruits and Veggies
Pre-cut produce is very convenient, and it can be tempting to grab it when you're in a hurry. But think twice before passing the aisle with whole fruits and veggies. Because pre-cut produce takes more time to prepare, it's often more expensive than buying the food uncut. The same principle holds for other foods packaged for convenience, such as small yogurt cups and instant rice.

Shop the Perimeter
When it comes to making healthy food choices, where you push your cart in the supermarket can make a big difference. Health advocates cited in The Huffington Post recommend, "shopping the perimeter." This means avoiding the inner aisles of the supermarket where sugar-filled snacks and other processed foods reside. These items are often high-priced, but low in nutritional value. Instead, stick to the outer regions of the supermarket that include the produce, meat, and dairy sections.

Buy Items in Bulk
If you can find food in bulk, you can save money. If you have the storage space, consider buying bulk packages or family packs, which usually cost less than smaller serving sizes. Many discount stores offer food in bulk; shop around to find the best prices. Even when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, the same rule generally holds true: The larger the bag, the better the buy.

HealthAhead Hint: Fight the Urge to Splurge
Though it may not always seem like it, in the long run, buying healthy groceries is less expensive than a trip to a fast food restaurant or grabbing processed foods from the store. A 2012 report from National Public Radio shows that Americans are spending more than ever on processed foods and sweets. Fight the urge to splurge on these less nutritious choices. Instead, take control by remembering simple ways to reduce how much you spend on food, while also improving your diet.

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