Save Money on Food Without Squandering Your Health

In a recession, you can’t afford to get sick. Keep healthy and strong with smart food choices.

April 6, 2009

A healthy meal doesn't have to cost a bundle.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new poll shows that more than 80 percent of people in the U.S. are making an effort to limit spending on food and groceries, and 40 percent admit they’re sacrificing nutrition for cheaper, less-healthy foods.


THE DETAILS: Multi-sponsor Surveys conducted the 2009 Economic Impact Market Segmentation Study, questioning 1,008 adults about their spending habits, well-being, and financial situations during the current recession. While cuts in entertainment, clothing, and dining out topped the list of ways to trim budgets, spending less on food was right behind them. When asked what foods they were eating more often in an effort to save money, those most frequently mentioned by the respondents were: Pasta and macaroni, sandwiches, soup, eggs, cold cereal, bread, peanut butter, tuna fish, beans, and hotdogs.

WHAT IT MEANS: Please don’t eat hotdogs for dinner every night. You can have the best of both worlds, saving money and eating nutritious foods, with a little planning. A tough economy shouldn’t rob you of the right to eat good food. Besides, with money tight, it’s more important than ever to eat well so you’ll stay healthy and out of the doctor’s office.

Here’s how to find nutritious food without breaking the bank:

• Buy beans, baby. The health benefits of beans and legumes are endless, plus they’re filling. Looking for fiber and antioxidants? Reach for black, garbanzo, and pinto beans. Legumes, such as lentils, are packed with protein (especially important if you cut back on meat to save money). To get the most bang for your buck, buy dried beans and soak them overnight. If you’re not eating many beans already, raise the bean content of your meals gradually so your body gets used to digesting them.

• Shop along the perimeter. Supermarkets are marketing-savvy, with the stores designed to manipulate you into filling your cart with stuff you don’t need. Make a list before you go in, and shop along the edges of the store—that’s usually where you’ll find the healthiest ingredients, such as fat-free and low-fat dairy, fresh produce, and fish.

• Seek neighborhood eggs. Search Local Harvest to find farmers in your area. You could save money on eggs, dairy, and fresh produce by cutting out the middleman and buying directly from the grower. If there’s not a farm or farmer’s market nearby, get together with friends and carpool to one on a weekend.

• Buy in bulk and in season. Avoid spending extra on exotic or out-of-season fruits, and buy what’s growing locally. If you wait a week or two after the first harvest, prices usually drop at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Buying whole grains, dried beans and legumes, seeds and nuts, and cereals in bulk are surefire ways to save cash on healthy eats, too.

• Put meat in the backseat. A recent study suggests that heavy red-meat and any processed-meat consumption can shave years off your life, while eating chicken and fish lowers your chance of death. Cut out the hotdogs and processed lunch meats altogether, drastically cut back on red meat, and focus on a few vegetarian dishes a week. Favor lentils: They’re protein-rich, and research shows they can help control blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Turn to the Rodale Recipe Finder for healthy meal ideas.

• Reach for whole wheat. Avoid white bread and pasta products; choose their 100 percent whole wheat counterparts to avoid nasty additives and unhealthy sugars.

• Grow some of your own. Grow pesticide-free, nutrient-dense veggies at home this season. It’s ok if you’re new to it: Organic Gardening magazine has a complete beginner’s guide to get you started.