It's a common belief that eating healthy is more expensive. In fact, keeping healthy food affordable was among the top five most concerning life issues revealed by an annual consumer study by The Center for Food Integrity. The truth is, eating healthy can be quick, easy and affordable. You can have value without compromise.
However, the produce section can pose a special challenge to grocery shoppers. Mixed information about the value of organic foods and confusion about the benefits of fresh versus canned or frozen produce make it hard to shop smart, especially when budget is a factor.
Nutrition experts caution that while fresh foods are always a treat for the senses, consumers should be careful to avoid making the assumption that in-season produce or organic are more "fresh" and, therefore, nutritionally superior, to traditional fruits and vegetables that are canned or frozen.
"We know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but when we think they have to be fresh and organic, that just adds more barriers to getting our fruits and vegetables," said Melissa Joy Dobbins, mom, wife and registered dietitian. "I hope my children learn that nutrition doesn't have to be complicated. I want them to enjoy, savor and celebrate food with health in mind."
Use these smart shopping strategies from Dobbins, the "Guilt-Free RD," to save time and money as you work your way toward a healthier approach to eating within your budget.
- Look to the freezer and pantry to help supplement and complement fresh produce choices. Canned, frozen and packaged foods are affordable, nutritious and convenient.
- When you're reading food labels, look for lower sodium or no salt added canned vegetables or fruit packed in its own juice instead of added sugars.
- Forget the crisper drawer. Put produce on a top shelf so you can always see it and know what needs to be eaten before it goes bad, and you end up wasting not only food but money.
- Focus on nutrient-rich foods and limit the empty calorie foods, such as sugary snacks that can swell your budget and your waistline.
Dobbins adds that having a plan when you go grocery shopping is also empowering when balancing your budget with food needs.
"I've learned through counseling thousands of people and through my own experiences that feeling guilty about food is very counter-productive," she said. "On the contrary, when you feel empowered, you make better choices, you feel good about those choices and you are better able to maintain healthier choices and behaviors."