A few days ago my mother shared an article with me by the Harvard Gazette titled “Pinpointing the higher cost of a healthy diet.”
In this news article posted earlier this month, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health examined the difference in cost between eating a nutritious diet and eating an unhealthy diet. Summarizing their results, they reported that “On average, a day’s worth of the healthiest diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones. … Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year.”
$550 per person per year is a lot of money. That extra cost could be really hard for some families.
I even witness this when I go out to eat at restaurants. The more healthful dishes at restaurants tend to be more expensive than the alternatives. This does not help invite families to adopt healthful lifestyles.
Not only does a healthy diet cost more, it can also require more time and effort to prepare. I find this up at college as well. When life gets hectic and stressful, it can be hard to find time for preparing healthful foods. However, these times are some of the most important times for me to eat healthfully so my body can run and heal efficiently.
Even though eating a nutritious diet can cost more, I believe the costs are worth it in the long run. As the researchers from Harvard discovered, the price difference “is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.”
A healthier diet helps promote better sleep, more sustained energy throughout the day, higher levels of immunity, faster healing, and more strength. In addition, this can lead to fewer sick days, taken from work, fewer doctor visits, and fewer medical bills and pricey medications. These benefits can help offset the higher cost of healthier food. As Benjamin Franklin once related: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Nonetheless, are there ways we can cut down on the costs of healthful foods?
Here are my tips on saving money and time for buying and preparing healthful foods.
1. Keep it simple.
When you’re in a rush, you don’t have to spend hours preparing a four-course meal. I love meals that can be quickly thrown together based on what I have on hand. When throwing together a meal, I try to have: a vegetable(s), a fruit, whole grain/starchy veg, protein (usually beans since they’re cheaper than meat), and a source of healthful fat in every meal. Lentils, whole grain pasta, mixed vegetables, and marinara sauce. Lentil soup, spinach, orange. Soymilk, apple, kale, ground flaxseed, oatmeal, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
2. Prepare foods ahead of time.
If weekends are the time you have to make some things, prepare your meals a week ahead to help with the craziness later in the week. This is one reasons why I love my crock pot and Rubbermaid containers. I can prepare a meal earlier in the day and have dinner cooking for me while I’m at class. I can also prepare my own beans instead of buying the canned beans. One bag of dry beans gets me over eight cans worth of beans for a mere fraction of the cost.
3. Have easy and healthy snacks on hand and available.
I always have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. I also like to keep some Progresso Lentil Soup on hand, as well as homemade hummus. If I want a quick meal/snack, I grab my container of hummus and Ziploc bags of veggies and dig in while reading or working on a school assignment.
4. Cut, prepare, and cook things yourself at home.
Instead of spending the extra money on pre-cut vegetables and fruit, you can cut your own baby carrots, celery sticks, cauliflower florets, apple slices, etc. A head of lettuce only takes a couple minutes to be chopped at home instead of spending twice as much on a pre-chopped bag. Carrots can be sliced into sticks, as well as celery into celery sticks. Beans can be prepared in a slow cooker or on the stove. (One bag of dry beans can make multiple cans worth of beans for a fraction of the cost.)
5. Eat at home. Make your own version of “fast food” meals.
Sadly, the more healthful dishes at the restaurants cost more than preparing the food at home. One thing I love to do is make “copycats” at home of certain foods I love from stores and restaurants. (For example, my Panera Inspired Black Bean Soup, my Great Harvest Inspired Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Great Harvest Inspired Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread, homemade soft serve, granola bars, etc.)
6. Check the sales at the grocery store!
If one of your staples goes on sale, stock up on it (if you know you’ll use it and it can store well)! Check the sales, compare to generic versions, and purchase produce closer in season.
7. Go to the store with a list.
This helps me stay focused while I’m walking the aisles of the stores and helps me get in, get out, and have a few moments at home to chop, bag, and put things away. This also helps when I’m planning my meals for the week.
8. Use coupons smartly.
Coupons are great for products you already use, but sometimes coupons aren’t worth it. Sometimes the coupons would just make your bill larger without buying you the things you really need. Sometimes the generic version is still cheaper than the name brand with a coupon.
9. If you buy frozen vegetables, buy the LARGE bags.
Typically these are cheaper, and you can use Ziploc bags to divide the large bag into smaller and easier to use servings.
10. Don’t buy things you won’t use.
This last semester I bought a jar of salsa that I figured I’d use some time or another, but I NEVER used it. I didn’t even want it. If you won’t use a large bag of something before it goes bad, don’t buy it. Buy what you know you will use and pass the rest.
11. Make large batches.
If I’m going to spend time preparing a meal, I like to prepare certain foods in large batches (like lentils, black beans, chickpeas, grains, soups, etc.) and store the extras in the fridge for the next few days. This helps when life gets hectic. I can grab a container of this and a container of that, throw in a vegetable or fruit and call it a meal.
12. Use smart tools.
With a little creativity you can make meals cheaper at home instead of spending a fortune at the store.
- I love using a misting spray bottle to make my own homemade non-stick cooking spray. Pour the oil into the spray bottle along with some water, shake, and mist over the skillet. Much cheaper and environmentally friendly than the alternative, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put together or use.
- In addition to my crock pot and blender, I love my microwave steamer – While my pasta is cooking on the stove, I can steam my vegetables in the microwave. Much more compact than taking out a large steamer. It’s also faster, cooking my vegetables in half the time.
What are your thoughts on the higher costs of eating healthy diets?
Is the extra $1.50 per person per day worth it?
What are ways you save money while eating healthfully?
What is one of your goals for this coming new year? (Happy 2014!)
with lots of hugs,