Many have heard it said that it costs too much to eat healthy, but agents from K-State Research and Extension Wildcat District offered tips Friday to eating healthy on a budget.
Barbara Ames and Kylie Ludwig asked those in attendance at Friday’s Lunch & Learn sponsored by Labette Health four questions, to which they could answer frequently, sometimes or almost never.
The questions were:
How many times do you plan your meals in advance?
How often do you shop with a grocery list?
How often do you use unit pricing labels to get the best buy?
How often do you incorporate leftovers into a meal later in the week?
Those who answered frequently to those four questions deserve a gold star, Ames said, though in gauging by the responses of hands showed, everyone present had some room for improvement.
One of the biggest questions most consumers face is what is healthy?
“I understand people are kind of confused about what healthy is … given what is on the internet all the time and what’s in newspapers. Sometimes we’re not exactly sure what healthy is because you see things about, ‘You should never eat this food,’ and ‘You should always eat this food,’ and ‘That food group, just completely get rid of it,’” Ames said.
The Wildcat District’s workshops are based on the dietary guidelines for Americans and the physical activity guidelines for Americans established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA dietary guidelines are science-based advice for making food choices that promote good health and healthy weight and help prevent disease.
“We’re all about helping people make decisions that will help them to stay healthy, or get healthy, or remain healthy,” Ames said. “Everything that you drink and eat over time does matter. The right mix of things can help you be healthier now and in the future. All the research points to the fact, our lifestyle choices, like what we eat and drink and our physical activity are directly related to our risk for chronic illnesses, diseases like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.”
It is suggested when people make up their plates, half should be fruits and vegetables, with vegetables being the larger portion. Also it is suggested to make half of all grains whole grains as they contain more nutrition and fiber. Fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt for dairy are preferred. It is recommended people should vary their protein routine, rotating between meats, nuts, seeds, eggs and other items. Lastly, it is recommended people limit their sodium intake, saturated fats, transfats and added sugars.
Eating well and exercising are the basic building blocks of a healthier life.
Can people afford to eat healthy on a tight budget? There are definitely steps people can take to make eating healthy more affordable.
First off, Ludwig said there are three easy steps people can take in the areas of planning, purchasing and preparing food that can help people not be so tempted to order that pizza or hit the fast-food restaurants.
One of the key components is to plan meals for the week before heading to the store. People can pull out a cookbook or pull up recipes online to plan for the week. Thinking about planning meals that will stretch food dollars is a big benefit. For example, stews, casseroles and stir fries can use a small amount of meat and then other items, such as legumes, can be added to stretch the amount, Ames said.
Shopping to get the most value for the money is the second key component.
If meals are planned based on sale circulars that are mailed out each week, and coupons that can be clipped, that can save money. Shopping at discount grocery stores and buying generic brands rather than name brands can save even more money. Ludwig dumped two different brands of canned peaches in clear jars and asked if people could tell which was cheaper. The only difference to speak of was one was packed in juice and the other had no sugar added. The name brand cost $1.79 a can and the generic was $1.12. If someone happens to buy one can of peaches every week, that savings of 64 cents a can could add up to $33.28 in savings a year, Ludwig said. If a person considers such savings on other items they purchase on a regular basis, one can begin to imagine the savings to their budget, not just monthly, but yearly.
“Using these things together, you’re going to save a lot of money,” Ludwig said. “You’re going to get more bang for your buck.”
Using loyalty cards that give points and discounts is another way to save.
Buying foods that typically cost less, such as beans versus meat, and buying fruits and vegetables in season can save money. If fruits and vegetables are not in season, buying them frozen can save money while not compromising nutritional value.
Once a meal plan is developed, a person should check to see what is already on hand, and then shoppers can make up their list and if they stick buy it, rather than buying random items, they can save. One way to help ensure that is done is not to go to the store hungry, Ludwig said.
Buying in bulk, then making single-serving packs at home can sometimes save a lot of money.
Buying refrigerator and freezer foods last makes them last longer, giving them a longer shelf life, which saves money, too, Ludwig said.
Another key to saving money is to pay close attention to the unit pricing listed on items. Unit pricing tells how much per ounce, or pound, or item something costs. It used to be that buying something family size or in bulk cost less, but that is often not the case now. Stores will price those items higher nowadays, so shoppers have to be savvy and make sure they compare prices not only between brands but between sizes.
“Buying things that are precut, such as vegetables, are convenient and can save time but usually cost more and eat away at your budget. If you actually take the time to peel your own carrots and chop them up, that’s going to save you money as well,” Ludwig said. “Buying single-serving packages, those products typically cost more, too.”
If there is more in a package than needed for a meal, a second meal should be planned to use the rest, or it can be frozen, depending on the item.
Cooking cost-cutting meals is the third component. Buying items that can be used to make more than one meal saves money. Making meals or side dishes from leftovers is another way to save. Chilies, soups, casseroles or tacos are a great way to use leftovers.
“When I do have time to cook a meal, I like to double or triple it. I will make it for the day I eat it, and then put one or two batches in the freezer, so you can pull it out on busy days, so you are not running to the fast-food store or calling for pizza,” Ames said.
Going meatless on some meals can really save money. Replacing meat with legumes, kidney beans or black-eyed peas is a much cheaper way to get protein.
“Beans and brown rice are nutritious ways to stretch the dollars,” Ames said. “Another suggestion is to make breakfast for dinner. Eggs are a fairly inexpensive source of protein. One of my favorite meals is to scramble some eggs and stir fry some vegetables and bind that together with some low-fat, honey-mustard dressing.”
Paying attention to nutrition labels can help people determine which food is the healthiest.
ChooseMyPlate.gov website offers some great information and ideas, Ames said.
“One thing people should keep in mind is getting their nutrition and energy through nutrient-dense foods are whole foods like apples and vegetables before they are processed. Those foods offer the most nutrients per calorie. That is what you want to look for,” Ames said. “Cookies and chips and soda and those things are more calorie dense. You don’t get much nutrient per calorie on those things, so those are the things you want to stay away from.”