One of the studies done by the US Department of Agriculture found that healthy foods with low calories, such as fresh fruits and vegetables like berries and carrots, had a cheaper price per ounce than processed foods like pasta, frozen meals, cookies, and other treats full of sugar and calories. Plus, there are tons of other ways to save extra money like buying items on sale, buying in bulk, using coupons, and planning ahead to find the best deal and price. With a little bit of forward thinking and savvy shopping, you’ll be on your way to eating healthier, cheaper, and easier in no time.
Next time you’re getting ready to make a trip to the grocery store, try these helpful tips to some money in your wallet while making healthy choices that you and your family will love:
- Plan the shop, shop the plan. One of the best things you can do to save money at the store is meal plan. Write out the dishes you want to cook that week, and what you need to get to make them. That way, your grocery list will only consist of things you need and what you know you’ll use. Write it on paper or use an app to help you keep track. Don’t forget to stick to the plan when you’re at the store, but when you’re at home, too. It can be tempting to go out to dinner one night, or order take-out, but don’t do it, people! Save the calories, money, and eat the healthy food that is already in your fridge instead of dining out.
- Never go to the grocery store hungry. And yes, we’re speaking from experience here. Going to the store with an empty stomach is an easy way to “accidentally” end up with items that are impulse purchases (and most likely filled with sugar) in your cart. Another trick? Venture only into the center aisles when necessary. You’ll find most fresh, whole foods on the outer perimeter of stores and be less tempted by processed foods that will run up the price of the final tab.
- Buy things “whole.” By whole, we literally mean whole. For example: instead of buying shredded or sliced cheese, by the whole block and shred it yourself. Or instead of buying pre-made refried beans, buy the plain black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans. And instead of reaching for the baby carrots, grab the whole carrots; they’re still orange and full of vitamin C just like the small ones. Meat such as chicken or turkey can also come “whole,” which you can cut yourself and save for leftovers (nice to have on hand for convenience), or store for months in the freezer. In most cases, whole foods will be cheaper in price and sometimes you even get more for your dollar per ounce, too!
- Don’t be scared of generic brands. A lot of people avoid generic brands, in fear that they’re “knock-off” or contain less nutritional value than the name brand. But in all reality, many generic brands are manufactured by big brand names, just sold in different packaging and for a lower price. Whenever possible, reach for generic brands—especially for kitchen staples—they’re usually the ones that are on sale for a great deal!
- Choose to buy what’s in season. Depending on where you live, you’ve probably noticed that some fruits and vegetables are harder to find and have a higher price during the winter, like berries. That’s because they’re seasonal produce and need to be shipped in from warmer climates. If you have local farmers markets during the harvest season near you, check them out! You can get handfuls of fresh produce for the same—and oftentimes cheaper—price as at the grocery store. Buying in season fruits and veggies is a great way to save you money in the long run, plus they’ll taste better, too!
- Remember that meat isn’t the only healthy source of protein. Meat is typically the most expensive thing you’ll buy each grocery trip (even if it’s on sale), and while it has the most grams of protein per ounce, it’s not always the best thing for you. Studies have shown that eating a lot of meat—especially red meat—can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other health complications. When choosing meat, opt for cheaper cuts such as chicken tenderloins, or consider buying the whole chicken and putting the rest in the freezer for a better deal. Fish is also a fabulous source of protein that can be cheaper than many cuts of meat. Instead of fresh fish, grab for canned fish like tuna or salmon. And don’t forget about non-meat protein sources like Greek yogurt, cheese, black beans, lentils, or legumes.
When creating a healthy grocery list or meal plan for the week, it’s important to consider variety and balanced servings to make sure you’re getting all of the important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs like potassium, calcium, iron, and more. So this means incorporating a number of different foods from each of the food groups. Can’t remember what they are? Don’t worry, we’ll give you a hand and break it down for you in a snap.
What are the food groups and how much should you eat of each?
4 servings per day
Good source of: Potassium, fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants
Examples: Berries, apples, bananas, oranges
5 servings per day
Good source of: Potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants
Examples: Lettuce, spinach, carrots, broccoli, onions
6 servings per day
Good source of: Fiber, iron, magnesium, B vitamins
Examples: Pasta, bread, oatmeal, brown rice (not white rice), popcorn (yes, corn is a grain!)
Lean protein (Poultry, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils)
15+ servings per week (0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight a day)
Good source of: Vitamin B12, omega-3 (fatty acids), fiber, iron
Examples: chicken, turkey, fish, tuna, nuts, black beans, lentils
Low-fat and non-fat dairy
3 servings per day
Good source of: Calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin D
Examples: yogurt, cheese, milk, cottage cheese
Healthy fats and oils
3 servings per day
Good source of: Fatty acids, vitamin E, fiber
Examples: light dressings, olive oil, avocados
Studies show that a balanced, healthy diet is how your body gets its essential vitamins and minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants in order to survive, and it is the key to living a healthy life and avoiding risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. Similar to the main food groups, there are also seven groups of nutrients that are broken down into macronutrients (needed in large servings) and micronutrients (needed in smaller servings) that are less widely known. Many who are familiar with these two groups will actually track the amount of calories for each sub-category of the two. Although it may seem confusing, it’s important information so bear with us.
Macronutrients (AKA “macros”)
Micronutrients (AKA “micros”)
Minerals: calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, etc.
Vitamins: B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, etc.
By selecting foods from these categories, you are guaranteed to get the most nutritional value for your dollar. So what foods should you purchase? While ultimately it’s up to you to make that decision based on your likes and dislikes, here’s a sample grocery list to get you started. Each item is high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, in addition to being low in calories and sugar.
Sample Grocery List
Note: this grocery list feeds one person, not a family. If you are shopping for yourself and others, you will need to buy larger quantities of each item to have enough servings for each dish, or enough for leftovers—but that’s just our two cents.
- Bananas or Apples (4)
- Frozen berries mixture
- Spinach – 1 bag (16 ounces)
- Tomato (2)
- Bell pepper (1)
- Whole wheat bread – 1 loaf
- Oats – 1 container
- Brown rice – 2 cups – bulk section
- Chicken breast – 1 pound
- Turkey bacon – 1 package
- Eggs – 1 dozen
Low-fat and non-fat dairy
- Yogurt (2) 6 ounces
- Low-fat cheese – 1 block
Healthy fats and oils
- Peanut butter – 1 jar
- Olive oil (if you don’t already have it)
- Bananas (or Apples) & Peanut butter
- Yogurt & homemade granola – granola made from oats
- Hard boiled eggs
- Veggie omelet or frittata – spinach, tomato, pepper, and eggs
- Peanut butter toast – PB & whole wheat bread
- Green smoothie – spinach, banana, yogurt, ice, and water
- French toast – whole wheat bread and eggs
- Oatmeal with mixed fruit
- Grilled cheese sandwich – whole wheat bread and sliced cheese
- Chicken salad sandwich – chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, and whole wheat bread
- Peanut butter & banana sandwich – PB and banana on whole wheat bread
- Grilled or baked chicken breast (with spices and olive oil for flavor) with side salad and rice
- (Turkey) BSTs – turkey bacon, spinach, and tomato on whole wheat bread
- Chopped Salad – spinach, pepper, tomato, hard-boiled egg, turkey bacon bits, and shredded cheese (option to add diced chicken)