to Find Healthy Food
During Tough Economic Times
Are you having a
hard time stretching your grocery dollars during the current
economic downturn? You're not alone. But before you stop buying
fresh fruit, meat, vegetables and other items often perceived as
costing a lot, check out these tips from a University of
Michigan Health System dietitian.
Holly Scherer, R.D., says you can follow a few easy guidelines
and still buy healthy foods, rather than switching to a diet of
potato chips, macaroni and cheese, and a fast-food burger.
She suggests that you make your own coffee, buy fruits and
vegetables that are in season, occasionally replace meat with
protein sources like eggs and beans, and, no matter how tempting
it is, skip the fast-food drive-thru window.
"Hard economic times don't mean that you have to eat less well,"
says Scherer, a health educator with MFit, the health promotion
division of the U-M Health System.
"By planning ahead, shopping for sales and trying out those
generic or store brands, you really can save a significant
amount of money while also providing healthy, well-balanced food
for your family."
Fruits and vegetables:
Scherer debunks a popular myth: That produce is too expensive.
Wrong, she says. In fact, if you buy fruit and vegetables that
are in-season, the price typically is very reasonable, she says.
Buying fruit or vegetables by the bag instead of individually
also tends to be cheaper.
If the produce you want isn't in-season, canned and frozen
fruits and vegetables can cost less. They are just as nutritious
as fresh because they are packaged at their peak of freshness.
If you're feeling especially frugal –- and you have a green
thumb –- try growing your own, she says.
"A great way to get fresh fruits and vegetables right outside
your own door is to plant a vegetable garden, or, if you don't
have space, you can plant a few plants in a pot," Scherer notes.
"You may pay one to two dollars for a vegetable plant, but
you're going to get a very large amount of produce from that."
Protein can be a tricky thing to buy on a budget. Filet mignon
and fresh lobster are probably out of the picture, but you can
still find tasty meat for low prices.
First, Scherer says, it's better to buy the less-prepared items.
"You can season and marinate your own meat; you don't need the
store to do that for you," she says. You'll save money, and you
can also find nutritious, low-salt ways of preparing meat
compared with store-prepared items. In addition, buying chicken
with the bone and skin can cost a lot less, and you can remove
those easily to make a skinless boneless chicken breast.
And meat isn't your only option. Consider replacing meat with a
protein substitute a couple times a week. "You can pay sometimes
three times more per ounce for meat rather than buying a
substitute such as beans, eggs or peanut butter," Scherer says.
As with protein sources, buying less-processed grains is the way
to go. Stick with the plain brown rice instead of boxed rice
mixes. Buy big containers of quick-cooking oats instead of
individual packets of instant oatmeal.
And it's a good idea to buy bread, English muffins or whole
wheat tortillas when they're on sale and freeze any extras that
you're not going to use before the expiration date, Scherer
One of the biggest cost-savings can result from buying a filter
for your tap water instead of buying bottled water, Scherer
says. Also, buying the frozen juice concentrate instead of a
large bottle or can of juice can save some money.
For the triple-iced-latte lovers among you, coffee can cost a
lot less than $4 a cup. "Making your own coffee at home and
adding a specialty creamer or something that makes it a little
tastier is a lot less expensive than going out every morning for
that specialty coffee drink," Scherer says.
Instead of buying 100-calorie packs or individual bags of baked
chips or pretzels, buy the bigger box and package them yourself
in little snack bags. You'll pay about half of what you would if
you were buying the single-serve packs, she says.
* Look for the generic or store brand.
* Look for bigger containers and boxes to save some money. To
see if you are really getting a better deal, compare the unit
prices of the bigger and smaller containers on the store's
* Stock up on non-perishables when they go on sale.
* Avoid the temptation of the cookie aisle and the chip aisle.
"Spend more time in the perimeter of the store, where the fresh
products are, and really focus on the fruits and the vegetables
and the lean meats and the low-fat dairy," Scherer says.
* Use coupons, but only for things that you normally would buy
–- not a lot of high-fat, high-sugar foods.
* Cook at home instead of going out to eat.
* When you do eat out and you know that a restaurant serves
large portions, have them bag half the meal right when they
serve it and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Some quick and easy recipe ideas that are inexpensive include
black bean salad, vegetables and scrambled eggs, and peanut
butter and jelly in your brown bagged lunch.
For the black bean salad, cut up some of your favorite fresh
vegetables, add them to a can of rinsed black beans with a
squirt of lime juice and some cilantro, and serve in a tortilla
or with some baked tortilla chips, Scherer recommends.
I would recommend frequenting your local growers for fresh fruit
and produce. Many local farmers have road side stands filled
with just-picked produce at a far lower cost than grocery
For more information, visit these Web sites:
U-M Health System's MFit:
Healthy dining tips:
Tips from the American Dietetic Association:
Tips from the NIH:
University of Michigan Health System
About the author
Leslee Dru Browning is a 6th
generation Medical Herbalist & Nutritionist from the ancestral
line of Patty Bartlett Sessions; Pioneer Mid-Wife & Herbalist.
Leslee practiced Medical Herbalism and Nutritional Healing for
over 25 years and specialized in Cancer Wellness along with
Chronic Illness. She now devotes her career to teaching people,
through her writing, about Natural Healing from An Herbal