Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish and low-fat milk are basic foods that are good for health. Yet, most children and their families do not eat enough of them. People often believe that healthy foods are not affordable.
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service indicates that healthy foods are often less expensive when we compare the average portion sizes of healthy foods to foods high in solid fat, added sugars or salt. For example, a medium apple costs less than a standard-size candy bar.
Eating healthy means knowing when foods that are low in calories but packed with nutrients are a good buy and how to make the most of limited food dollars. Here are some suggestions to make healthy eating affordable.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Know when fruits and vegetables are in season or a good buy. For example, tomatoes are in season in the summer and oranges are a good buy in the winter. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits may be less expensive than fresh, especially when the fresh varieties are not in season. Opt for frozen vegetables without sauces and fruits canned in juice to lower the amount of fat and sugar.
When purchasing fresh foods, choose items that your family will eat before they spoil. Throwing away food is equivalent to throwing away money. Consider buying fruits and vegetables that are less than perfect. A growing number of grocers sell imperfect produce such as ripe bananas, oddly shaped potatoes or yellowish cauliflower for a price lower than their more attractive counterparts.
Eating more fruits and vegetables can be as easy as putting them where they can be easily seen. For example, put fruit in bowls on tables or countertops so they are more visible and more likely to be eaten. Cut up vegetables like carrots, cucumbers and green peppers when you bring them home so they are readily available as snacks and can be used in recipes when time is tight.
Choose 100 percent whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice and pasta
Grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal and unsweetened whole-grain cereal, bought in bulk are usually a good buy. Compare nutrition facts on food labels, as well as prices, to find the best nutrition buy for your money. For example, the nutrition facts for a store brand whole grain breakfast cereal and name brand whole grain breakfast cereal might be the same, even though the name brand might cost more.
In most cases, the more processed a food is, the more it will cost. For example, popcorn that is already popped or in a convenience form usually costs more than popcorn that needs to be popped in a kettle or popcorn popper.
Vary your protein sources — eat seafood and beans
Canned tuna, canned pink salmon and some frozen fish are usually a good buy. Tuna salad, salmon patties and fish tacos are a quick and tasty way to eat fish.
You can vary your protein sources by purchasing dry beans and peas, such as black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans and split peas. Drain and rinse canned beans with water to remove about half of the sodium. Chili Bean Dip goes great with raw veggies and is easy to make.
Use dry beans in place of some or all of the ground meat in recipes. Cooked lentils are a great meat extender or substitute for meat in spaghetti sauce and meat loaf. Similarly, cooked pinto beans work well in burritos, enchiladas and tacos.