Watching your food budget? Here are a few tips for economical, but healthy food shopping.

Thrifty food budget tips

Hand Shopping Bag

If grocery bills are wiping out your budget, you may be tempted to reach for unhealthy, less expensive items. Stay in budget and eat healthy at the same time by planning ahead.

Here are some tips for economical, but healthy food shopping.

  • Plan meals ahead so that you will have the ingredients on hand for home cooked meals. Spontaneous meal purchases often mean more-expensive convenience foods, eating out or picking up a meal on the way home.
  • Avoid impulse shopping – that’s when many expensive items find their way into your shopping cart. Go to the grocery store armed with a list and stick to it! There are some great apps that can help with maintaining a shopping throughout the week:  GroceryIQ and Out of Milk are just two.
  • Avoid convenience foods in the supermarket. Anything that saves you time in the kitchen will be costly. For example: Seasoned canned beans are more expensive than plain canned beans which are more expensive than a bag of dried beans. Plain rolled oats is cheaper than the packets of instant oatmeal. Fish from the fish counter is cheaper than frozen pre-cut seasoned fish patties.
  • Rethink organic. This may or may not be a better choice nutritionally – the research is still out on the subject - but if you are going organic be selective. For example, you are going to peel a banana whether it is organic or not, so this might not be the wisest choice financially to go organic.  And organic is becoming more mainstream but can still cost 50 percent higher. Some of the cleanest produce with the least amount of pesticide residue includes avocados, pineapple, cabbage and cantaloupe, so you may not need to buy these organic.
  • It can help to buy food in bulk if it will not go to waste. For example, items with a long shelf life are good to bulk purchase, like peanut butter and oils.
  • Take advantage of the shelf pricing tags displayed below each item – it provides the unit price and you can easily compare with the other brands to select the lowest price.
  • With produce you want to buy in season, and often it is cheaper to buy frozen or canned.
  • Plan on leftovers from a meal to incorporate into another meal on another busy day. Cook once, eat twice.

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.