A commonly cited excuse for unhealthy eating is that produce, organic and other healthy foods tend to be significantly more expensive than their empty calorie counterparts. Is that classic excuse legitimate, though? In 2012 the USDA made it their mission to find out.
The title of the report, “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends How You Measure The Price,” sums up the findings pretty succinctly. In past studies, food prices were measured on a per calorie basis. This is problematic because 150 calories worth of carrots is, well, a whole lot of carrots. Meanwhile, it takes just a handful of potato chips to meet the same calorie quota.
The new USDA study took a different approach, looking instead at price per average portion. As it turns out, the new measurement system busts the “unhealthy is cheap” myth once and for all. When measured on average portion size, healthy food like grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy foods are actually less expensive than most protein and food higher in saturated fat, added sugars and/or sodium. The report also notes that the cheapest foods overall are pastas, rice, breads and other grains.
Still not convinced that you and your family can stock the kitchen with healthy foods while maintaining a tight budget? For tips on buying healthy groceries without breaking the bank, we turned to Megan Roosevelt, a registered dietician and founder of Healthy Grocery Girl. Here are Roosevelt’s top healthy shopping tips, conveniently broken down by grocery store aisle.
“Only buy what you plan to eat that week,” Roosevelt says. “This means you already have meals planned for those ingredients or you are buying produce you know you eat every day like bananas and apples. Buying produce with ‘hopeful intensions’ of eating healthy, yet no game-plan, often leads to wasted food.”
Buying in bulk
“The general thought is that buying in bulk is cheaper, but this isn’t always true,” says Roosevelt. “To truly know the cost of what you are paying for, look at the cost per ounce and compare that to the competitive product. Overall the cost may be higher for a certain product, but if the cost per ounce is lower, go for that one.”
Roosevelt also recommends buying by the case, which many grocers offer for an enticing 10% off. “You can buy produce, snacks and condiments in bulk or case pricing,” she says. Talk to your local grocer to find out if they offer this option.
“Flash frozen foods actually mean that nutrients are locked in right after they are picked, which means that their health benefits last longer than fresh foods that have traveled in varying conditions and temperatures,” Roosevelt says. “Choose organic frozen items and stay away from frozen options that have sauces, seasonings and other additives that increase the overall cost and decrease the health benefits due to their naturally high amounts of sodium, fat and sugar.”
Eat more plant-based foods
“Organic can get expensive if you are buying organic meats, organic dairy and many name-brand organic foods,” notes Roosevelt. “But organic plant-based foods such as beans, brown rice, nuts and produce can be extremely affordable and also extremely good for you.”
On a parting note, Roosevelt offered her top ten affordable healthy grocery items:
- Brown rice
- Natural organic peanut butter
- Almond or raw nuts
- Sweet potatoes
- Coconut butter
Looking for more affordable ways to get back into shape? Check out our post on working out on a budget.