Making Healthy Food Choices on a Budget

DANVILLE – The current economic climate has impacted every aspect of our lives, even our health. Many turn to fast food or unhealthy selections because it seems to be easier on the wallet. But it is possible to make healthy food choices on a budget.

“It is simple and inexpensive to develop healthy eating habits. Following some basic guidelines will provide a foundation for a diet that is rich in all the basic food groups,” said Karen Bird, RD, a registered dietitian at Geisinger Medical Center.

According to Bird, simple steps like opting for frozen vegetables and fruits can impact your wallet and health.

“First of all, frozen produce actually can be healthier than the fresh variety. It is on the plant or tree longer than the fresh variety, so it’s packed with a higher nutrient value,” she said. “An added bonus is the fact that frozen vegetables and fruits are much more cost-effective, their prices are lower and they have a longer shelf life. An array of varieties is available and they are ready to use at a moment’s notice.”

Pastas and rice are inexpensive and healthful pantry staples that offer diversity in the kitchen.

“Again, these are items that have a long shelf life and there are many different ways to utilize them. These are the foods that are on the base of the food pyramid, which means the bulk of your diet should be comprised of these grains, which are inherently less costly,” said Bird. “Meats – which are more costly – are higher on the pyramid and should be limited in their consumption, another money-saver.”

Bird recommends chili, tacos, stews/soups and stir-fry as simple-to-make dishes that incorporate inexpensive ingredients, including frozen vegetables and grains. They also are dishes that can be used for several meals and can be frozen for future use.

And eating out impacts your wallet and your health. “A pasta dinner purchased at a restaurant costs many times more than it would take to make the meal at home. An added benefit is that at home, you can control the ingredients, ensuring a healthy dish for your family,” said Bird. “While fast food may seem inexpensive and quick, the price you pay from a health perspective is much greater.”

Other helpful hints to keep your health and budget on track include:
• Proper planning: Map out meals for the week and base your grocery shopping off that meal list.
• Buy in bulk: Most of the time this will save you a lot of money, especially opting for perishable items you can freeze including meat, bread and non-perishables that store for long periods of time such as canned foods, beans and grains.
• Go generic: Don’t shy away from generic varieties. Most of the time they are of the same caliber as their name-brand counterparts.
• One-pot convenience: One-pot dishes are great all-around: They save on prep time, money and dishwashing, and often make great leftovers.

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