How healthy eating can be affordable and easy!

 

When trying to improve your diet, there are many excuses that get in the way:

Healthy food is too expensive. I have no time to cook. It takes too long to prepare nutritious meals. But what if these well-heard tenets were debunked as myths? What if good-for-you meals could be healthy, easy and affordable? With a little effort, improving your diet can be a whole lot easier than you think.

Problem: Healthy food is too expensive. 

There’s a common belief that healthy food is more costly than processed food, but a study by the UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that’s not the case. They showed that healthier groceries actually cost less per pound than their unhealthier, highly-processed counterparts.

It’s the “per pound” part that’s important. Previous studies concluded that processed foods were cheaper than healthy food by looking at the cost per calorie. And while the price may be lower per calorie, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course a larger quantity of low calorie vegetables would cost more money! That’s simple logic. Using this method of comparison, crisps, pizza and chocolate have a lower cost because they are so high in calories!

So here’s why the IEA research matters. Rather than focusing on cost per calorie, IEA measured the cost per weight or portion size of food. With this new angle, they found that the cheapest ready-made meals cost more than £2 ($2.53 US) per kilogram, but nourishing foods like lentils, fruit and vegetables cost less than £2 ($2.53 US) per kilogram. In fact, they showed that £1 ($1.27 US) could buy you a cheeseburger, but could be better spent on 1 kg (2.2 lbs) sweet potatoes, 2 kg (4.4 lbs) carrots or 10 apples.

What you can do: Buying healthier items means you’ll have nutritious food on-hand for meals and snacks, resulting in dietary improvement. If you want to fill a grocery cart with healthy and more affordable choices, you have to do some price comparisons when you shop. Here are some tips for making nutritious, cost-effective choices.

  • Remember that raw ingredients cost less than processed foods
  • Buy intact instead of prepared (shredded, sliced, bagged) foods
  • Look for non-perishable items on sale and use as needed
  • Purchase frozen vegetables and fruit, which cost less and won’t spoil easily
  • Shop the “reduced” section for day-old bread, vegetables and fruit
  • Swap prohibitively expensive health foods for lower-cost substitutes that are just as healthy:
Instead of expensive…Choose affordable…
QuinoaBrown rice
Acai berriesStrawberries
Albacore tunaSkipjack or yellowfin tuna
Almond butterPeanut butter
Pine nutsSunflower seeds
HalibutHaddock
Ground beefBrown lentils
AsparagusBroccoli
Omega-3 eggsRegular eggs
Boxed breakfast cerealOats

 

Problem: It takes too long to prepare nutritious meals

The raw ingredients that go into making healthy meals are more affordable than ready-to-eat processed foods. But people are prepared to pay a premium for convenience, and that’s the biggest stumbling block. We lead busy lives, leaving little time to cook. A frozen pizza costs more than a cup of lentils and a few carrots and tomatoes, but it’s easier to warm up a pizza than it is to make lentil stew from scratch.

But the bottom line is this: if you want your groceries to be affordable AND healthy, you need to do some cooking. The good news is that there’s no need for extravagant culinary creations; most people can pull a dinner together in just 20 minutes.

What you can do: The keys to making meals happen are to plan ahead, do some prep on weekends, and stock your pantry with ingredients that are nutritious, affordable and quick to prepare. Here are some grocery tips:

Choose inexpensive whole grains that cook in under 20 minutes such as parboiled brown rice, buckwheat, oats, whole grain pasta, millet and bulgur.

Make a quick salad! Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, broccoli, radishes and beets are affordable year round and require no cooking. Or, use frozen vegetables, which are often more affordable than fresh, and require no chopping. Huge time-saver.

Consider buying thinner cuts of proteins, so they will take less time to cook. Try chicken strips, trout, sole and minute steaks, which can be ready in 5-15 minutes. Or go meatless! Buy affordable canned beans or tofu. Or, use dry lentils, which take 20 minutes to prepare from scratch.

Using the ingredients mentioned above, here are some ideas for quick weeknight meals:

Of course, everyone has a different financial situation, cooking skill level and taste preference. But in most cases, revising your grocery cart and cooking more often can happen if you take small steps and make one change at a time. As the changes add up, your dietary habits slowly improve and your wallet will thank you.

Cara’s book, Nourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nut and Beans is available on Amazon.

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Cara Rosenbloom is a Registered Dietician, celebrated author and international columnist, active as a food blogger, recipe developer and nutrition educator.

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