How to Shop Healthy on a Tight Budget?

farmers market

In clinic, I was discussing with a young mother the struggles of affording healthy food. She had two little kids under the age of 5 and had a tight budget. She said that breakfast was typically a fruit-colored or sugary cereal bought in bulk, they made lots of pasta, sauce from jars, mac & cheese and frozen processed meats and pizzas. Often they made trips to a local fast food restaurant, usually more than once a week. She mentioned that snacks were typically packaged cookies and chips, usually brand names.

So, frequently patients will share the misconception that it is too expensive to eat healthy. Unfortunately, the price to pay will be later in healthcare bills and prescriptions. Stretching your dollars to feed a family can be difficult. Just a few savvy shopping tips may help your wallet and your health!

  1. Farmer’s Markets! Weekend trips to a farmers market can yield the freshest, locally grown, in season produce that is dirt cheap. (I personally love Singh Farms in my area). Organic produce that is locally grown is not only amazingly healthy but also inexpensive compared to supermarkets. Remember, you are paying less for a fruit or vegetable that hasn’t traveled half way around the world. To find a farmer’s market closest to you visit  the USDA site.
  2. Cook in Bulk! Plan your meals in advance. A meal can stretch to two or three meals when you make large stews, soups, lasagna, chili, casseroles, stir-fry, burritos or salads. Rather than buying pre-cut veggies, buy in bulk and cut them up yourself- much cheaper! Better yet, make it a family activity and divide up the prep work. Families that cook together, eat together 🙂
  3. Buy Less Processed Junk Foods!  Despite this big misconception, boxes of processed cereal, cookies, chips, fruit snacks, shredded cheese, frozen waffles, soda and juice will rack up quickly at the register.  Not only do these foods have no nutritional value,  they add chemicals and sugar to your body and they kill your budget. A more frugal option is to buy in whole oats, millet, barley, lentils, nuts, brown rice, frozen fruit and vegetables, canned beans and whole grain flour. You can buy them in larger quantities, they keep for long time and they are a much cheaper option.
  4. Replace your Meat! The biggest ticket items are usually meat, dairy and grains. Try protein alternatives once or twice a week. Add in canned fish, eggs, beans, legumes and whole organic tofu to your dishes.
  5. Don’t Buy Brand & Get Coupons! Marketing ads has programmed us for brand recognition. We seek the familiar brands and pay the extra price. Read labels, compare, download coupons and become a savvy shopper. Buy things in season and look for sales. Buy your favorite items in bulk when they are on sale and freeze them.
  6. Frozen is Good! Vegetables and fruit in the freezer section maintain their nutrient value so if you can’t buy fresh, buy frozen. It’s great for cooking, smoothies, topping on your oatmeal or yogurt. And you can buy them in bulk!
  7. Pack Your Lunch! Lead by example! Encourage your co-workers to bring sack lunches. Cook at home too, skip the trips through the drive-through and eating out. Eating out is very expensive. If you cook in bulk, left overs are a great way to save money and stay healthy and make great lunches. Set an example for your kids and pack your lunch starting today.
  8. Grow your Own Food! Okay, so you knew I would recommend you grow your own food 🙂 Home grown food tastes so much better and seeds are cheap. A great activity with your kids and teaching them where food comes from and building good habits. Small indoor pots are affordable and rewarding if you lack outdoor space!
  9. Make a List! Impulsive buys can add up quickly. Plan your meals and stick to your list. Stay on the perimeter of the store, buy whole and fresh. Stay away from the middle aisles which will tempt you to buy processed, pre-packaged expensive items.

Often I hear the same excuses, “the kids won’t eat it”, “my husband needs his treats”, “it’s easier to eat out”. If saving money is a priority in your household and improving the health of your loved ones, convince your family to try the above recommendations. Bad food leads to bad health, foul mood, weight gain, low energy and bigger medical bills. Your health is worth investing in!

The light in me, bows to the light in you~ Namaste

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Dr. Patel was named one of the TOP DOCS in Phoenix Magazine 2009, 2016 and Internist of the Year 2011 by the American College of Physicians Arizona Chapter. She is uniquely trained, board-certified and practices both Pediatrics and Internal Medicine in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She is additionally fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. 

She has a passion for teaching medicine and acts as a preceptor for both medical residents and providers in training. Dr. Patel has a special interest in Integrative Medicine, Women’s health, Pediatric & Adolescent care, Nutrition and Medical Cosmetics.

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