college · Health And Nutrition · My Life · wellness

Does Eating A Healthy Diet Cost More?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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,

Kathleen

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19 thoughts on “Does Eating A Healthy Diet Cost More?

  1. These are some great tips, and I definitely believe that eating a healthy diet can be worth the extra cost. After all, not all healthy foods are more expensive than processed foods; things like lentils, oatmeal, and dried beans are fairly cheap if you purchase generic brands. That being said, it truly IS very frustrating that junk food is often cheaper than healthier options–if we want to improve the health of Americans, food companies need to rethink the way they price such food. I love that quote by Benjamin Franklin, because it holds so much truth in it! Though not all diseases are caused by an unhealthy diet, many of them are, and the “Standard American Diet” is doing nothing to alleviate this problem. I think your suggestions could be very helpful to people, especially the one about preparing food ahead of time. If people are starving, they tend to reach for the most convenient and quick option, which often tends to be some type of processed or pre-made frozen dinner. I also like your tip on buying the large bags of frozen vegetables; I always look at the price-per-unit label, which is a more accurate gauge than the overall price. Larger bags are often a better deal! Even though I am a vegetarian, I usually avoid buying so-called “fake meats” and pre-made vegetarian meals, simply because they are quite pricey. Like you said, sometimes simpler is better, and even some vegan food products can be just as bad for you as non-vegan processed food!

    1. I absolutely agree with you, Kendra. Some diseases are not caused by lifestyle, but many of them are. If we are to improve our nation’s health we have to start treating the cause of the deteriorating health instead of just treating the symptoms. It’s sad how so many unhealthy foods are the cheaper foods. Thankfully some healthful foods (like the ones you mentioned) are still relatively cheap — it helps alleviate the higher costs of the other healthful foods that cost a little more.

  2. These are great tips! I actually would have guessed that healthy eating would cost even more per year, but I guess it could depend on a lot of other factors. Hopefully your tips will help people save a little money and eat healthier!

    1. It does depend on a lot of different factors, including the availability of certain foods, transportation, size of family, foods you buy/eat, etc. But thankfully the benefits of healthy living helps downsize the costs of other medical bills.

      Thanks for your comment, Liz!

  3. I love all of your ideas! I think I read that article, or maybe one like it a while back. I definitly agree with you that it’s worth the extra cost! (Although it is hard for some people) The government subsidizes a lot of crops (like corn for corn syrup) can you imagine how nice it would be if they gave bigger subsidies for things like brussels sprouts and kale?? haha.

  4. I think a lot of people who are just beginning to eat healthier think that to do so they need to buy all of those nutrition/granola bars, “lighter” frozen meals, 100 calorie packs, fruit cups, etc. I know I was this way when I first started too. All they know is the convenient, processed foods that they eat 24/7 so they inherently try to replace those foods with a (sort of) healthier version. Those items are so overpriced though and I think that’s part of where this expensive stigma comes from. Really, a piece of produce like a banana or apple at my dining hall was about 50 cents. However, a protein bar was about 2.00. That’s .50/100 calories for produce vs. 1.00/100 calories for a processed “healthy” food. And yet, what I saw all of those “healthy” people eating were those bars. Those downright expensive bars.

    Preparing and making your food at home is key I think. Even if that means microwaving your sweet potato or cooking your rice in the microwave, that saves so much money compared to buying it precooked…. I also always want to roll my eyes at those prechopped vegetables and fruit at the grocery store. Sure, the convenience is nice and if that’s what it takes to get you to eat healthier, I am all for it. But if you have even five minutes the cutting and cleaning doesn’t take THAT much time.

    I love that your mom shared that article with you because it sparked such a great discussion! Thanks Kathleen. Keep on eating healthy at college— it will be worth it in the end, more expensive or not!

  5. From experience I have to say that I completely disagree that healthy eating cost more!
    When my husband changed his diet to eating more plant-based whole foods we cut our grocery bill IN HALF!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And as you mentioned it doesn’t have to be complicated plant foods – basic ones and simple meals are so easy to make and so delicious, and also the cheapest!!! 🙂

    1. Wow! Cut your bill in half?! That’s great! Yeah for plant-based diets! ❤ If you're not purchasing the processed "health" foods, then yes, I do think a healthful diet can cost less. You get more bang for your buck. That's one of the primary reasons I eat a almost vegan diet during the semester. It saves me a lot of money, which is hard to come by while I'm at school.

  6. Great post! I’m always telling my family that it actually costs less in the long run to eat healthy because you will be saving on medical bills later! How are you? Are you back at BYU Idaho? I’m off track now but maybe I’ll see you in the Spring if I’m not working to save for my mission!

    1. Hey Kayla! I’m doing alright. Yes, I am back at BYU-Idaho, enduring the cold once again. 😉 I might be here in the Spring, but it depends on when I get my mission call and when the Lord wants to send me. I’m hoping to be off on my mission during the Spring Semester. We’ll see! It’d be great to see you!

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