Is eating healthy expensive? The answer is that it can vary greatly depending on where you live and the kind of ingredients you are looking to buy. However, a simple and straightforward answer is possibly found in a Harvard School of Public Health study. Through a meta-analysis of more than 20 studies of the costs of healthier versus unhealthy food choices, it was determined that, on average, one can expect to pay the equivalent of an additional $1.50 per day to eat what would be considered a “healthy diet.” Now, as previously mentioned, the cost of healthy foods may vary greatly depending on factors like where you live, where you shop, and the kinds of foods you’re buying. (Healthland) Let’s take a closer look at whether eating healthy on a budget can be a reality.
A note on healthy eating:
For the sake of this article, we will define a healthy diet as one that consists of mostly fresh ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and low fat proteins. Supplementally, your diet will likely also contain smaller amounts of packaged goods, fats, sweets, and other food sources.
Where You Live:
Perhaps the most important factor when considering whether consuming a healthy diet on a budget is possible for you, is access. Access to health food stores, quality grocery stores, and fresh markets can be essential to eating healthy. Luckily, even big box stores tend to have a large selection of produce and meats to choose from.
Finding the right store for your needs is paramount. If you live in a rural area, you may have to rely on infrequent trips to large stores where you need to buy everything all in one place. This does not mean that eating healthy is impossible for you! Many fruits and vegetable freeze well and last for several weeks. Though you may have to get creative and do a little pre-planning, maintaining a healthy diet when the nearest store is a ways away is certainly doable.
Alternatively, if you live in a more urban or suburban setting, you likely have a multitude of shopping options. Staying budget-friendly might mean avoiding the trendy all-organic stores and instead relying on the less expensive but equally abundant grocery stores.
Where You Shop:
This brings us to the next key factor in eating healthy on a budget. Picking a grocery store that offers a wide selection of fresh produce and proteins while also meeting your other shopping needs is ideal. While some “natural foods stores” may scream healthy, they can be a real beating on the budget. Often these stores are heavily reliant on sales of supplements and only offer a small selection of groceries that are often significantly more expensive than your average grocery store.
Try choosing a store with a large fresh produce area that you feel confident is well-kept and remains fresh. If you’re lucky, this store will also have a butcher on sight, a fresh bakery, and a large selection of quality boxed, canned, and frozen goods to fill out your shopping needs.(webmd)
What to Buy:
The next step in healthy eating on a budget is figuring out what to buy. Is organic worth it? Do I have to eat salad every day? How much chicken do I buy? Of course, many of the answers are personalized and specific to your needs and preferences.
First and foremost, eating healthy does not have to mean “dieting” or hating everything you eat. With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to branch out and try new fruits and vegetables as well as new ways of eating them. You might be surprised how much you like something you thought you hated when it’s cooked differently.
About organic. People often associate organic with healthy. The fact of the matter is, organic and non-organic food sources are essentially identical nutritionally. In order to be labeled organic, a food must not have been treated with certain pesticides or chemical agents. So what does all this mean? It means you can buy the less-expensive, non-organic strawberries at the store and still be healthy. Thoroughly washing your produce is important regardless of whether you buy organic or not. Again, this is truly a preference factor as opposed to a healthy versus unhealthy debate.
Finally, we highly recommend some form of meal planning and budgeting. Choose produce that is in season to make sure you’re not only getting the freshest but also the least expensive option. For example: berries and melons tend to be in season through the Summer while apples and pears are best in the Fall. Buying frozen produce either in the off-seasons or for the purpose of preservation can also be a great option. Generally, try to avoid large amounts of packaged, processed, and sugary foods. Small amounts of these food options can round out a diet, but should never be your dominant source of nutrition. Try adding fruits and vegetables to each meal and making them the center of attention whenever possible. (webmd)
Can you eat healthy on a budget?
The bottom line? Yes. Once you’ve figured out the method of acquiring healthier foods that works best for you, it can be simple to maintain a nutritional diet while remaining budget-friendly. Find the best store where you live that offers healthful foods for a fair price. Stock up on quality food choices that you can use in multiple ways. Most importantly, pick foods you like and will actually eat! Thrown away food is the most expensive of all.