Five Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget
There’s a reason ramen noodles are every broke college student’s best friend: They’re cheap. What’s not so cheap? Pretty much everything you’re supposed to eat. Even the most well-intentioned healthy eater sometimes gets scared away from the good stuff because of a tight budget and the promise of less expensive, longer lasting foods that are just a few aisles over. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We asked Lauren Ferraro, a registered dietitian at Boston University’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, for her best tips for eating healthy on a budget.
Make a list beforehand
When it comes to budgeting, Ferraro, who teaches a class about healthy cooking on a budget at the Sargent Center, says planning is everything. “Sometimes when we go into the supermarket and we don’t have a plan, we end up buying things that we wouldn’t normally purchase,” she says, “[and] it might not necessarily fit within our nutrition needs but also within our budget.” Ferraro recommends figuring out exactly what you need before you set foot in the store so you don’t get tempted by those intriguing end caps and delicious bakery displays (again).
“People usually think that because something’s been frozen it might have been more processed, but it’s usually not the case,” Ferraro says. In fact, she says buying frozen produce, especially, is a great way to save money and get more nutrient-rich food. “When something’s been frozen, it’s basically eliminating all those elements that might really change the nutrients that might have been locked in there [like air and light],” Ferraro explains. “It allows you to have more nutritious food, and usually those things are a lot cheaper.”
Know when to buy organic
Organic may be a hit to your bank account, but it’s always worth it, right? Wrong. Ferraro cites the “Dirty Dozen“—12 kinds of produce known to have especially high pesticide levels, like strawberries, apples, peaches, and nectarines—as the most important things to buy organic, along with dairy, but says many things aren’t worth the extra cost, like fruits with a hard outer shell, produce without many natural predators (thereby not requiring many pesticides), and fish.
Ferraro recommends Food on the Table, an app that updates users on sales and bargains currently going on at their local supermarkets, and even filters results based on what the user’s food preferences are. “It allows you kind of to make these informed choices ahead of time where you might not have been able to make them before because you didn’t realize what was on sale,” she explains.
Cook in more than you eat out
No matter where you shop, whether at Whole Foods, a boutique health food store, or Shaw’s, Ferraro says you’re taking an important first step. “No matter what recipe you’re making, it’s usually going to be far more cost effective than if you went out and bought the same thing at a supermarket or a to-go place,” she says. “You can shop heathfully in your own supermarket if you have the right ideas and the right information to make the best choices.”