But when I look at a food, I look at what I'm getting from it. What's the value? How much nutrition does it offer?Heather Ashcraft, MS, RDN, LDN
The rising cost of living due to inflation has many families taking a hard look at their food expenses. Although there are some misconceptions about eating on the cheap, it can be achieved without losing sight of healthy nutrition, says Heather Ashcraft, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian with Cheshire Medical Center. We talked to Heather for some tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
“There are so many barriers to eating well, and cost is a huge one,” says Heather. “People also have the expectation that eating right is going to take a ton more time, and that they are going to have to eat things that they don't like. And that it’s expensive.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that food prices for people eating at home rose 11.4 percent in 2022. But Heather questions whether economics needs to be a barrier to people making healthier choices at the supermarket.
“I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with the prices going up so much,” she says. “But when I look at a food, I look at what I'm getting from it. What's the value? How much nutrition does it offer? If I compare a bag of highly-processed potato chips to a couple of apples for about the same price, the apples are packed with a lot more nutritional value. With the chips you’re getting empty carbohydrates, modified fats, and salt that can all make you unhealthy in the long run.”
“I try to get people to see food in a different way. How do they make their dollars buy the most satiety and also the best nutrition, the most vitamins, and proteins?”
Here are some tips and resources that Heather shared to make eating well on a budget easier:
See through the marketing
“The more you're tuned into commercials and other marketing, the less likely you are to be able to make good food choices,” says Heather. “You're being ‘sold to’ all the time, and it takes a lot of brain power to say no to something.”
Join Heather on Thursday, March 9, for an in-person presentation titled Navigating the Supermarket: Tips and Tricks for Healthier Shopping.
Down to earth
One of the things Heather recommends is to find foods that are as unprocessed as possible. “Take a step back and get as close as you can to things that come right from the ground,” she says. “I like the idea of frozen fruits and veggies because it's the best of both worlds. You get something that's a healthier choice, but you also get something that requires less effort on your part. Win!”
Love your legumes
“For the same price as a bag of cheese puffs, you could get two pounds of beans and have enough protein for the whole family for days.” Heather recommends using dried beans or lentils instead of meat a few times a week. “If you miss meat, it can be used more as a seasoning with the protein focus being on the legumes.”
Wherever Heather has worked, she has found that local extension offices have some of the best tips for things like preserving foods and making foods stretch farther. “Many of these extensions were started during World War II, when they were doing food rationing, so they’ve got that momentum helping people do more with less.” Learn some Simple and Delicious: Pantry Inspired Recipes at UNH Extension.
Get the app
Although she hasn’t always agreed with the USDA’s nutritional guidance, Heather recommends their “MyPlate” site which includes resources for planning, shopping, and cooking healthy meals on a budget. “I like their digital interface,” she says. “They’re actually a good resource.” Learn more at MyPlate.gov.
“You are what you eat,” says Heather. “Nutrition is what makes you, so making healthy food choices is important for your health.” It also makes good economic sense, she says, if you take time to understand the nutritional value you are getting for your dollar.