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Shopping healthy on a budget

It is possible to feed your family healthy foods while sticking to a budget. Learn strategies for saving while at the store to maximize your food budget.

Just about everyone is looking to save a few dollars, especially at the grocery store. Food budgets tend to be one of the first things families look at when trying to tighten their budgets since, depending on the size of the family, food expenses can be a major piece of the family income. The challenge is then finding ways to eat healthy without spending a lot of money. There are some very simple strategies that anyone can use when going grocery shopping to make healthy choices fit within a tight budget.

  • Compare unit prices. Unit prices are small print that is usually on the tag on the grocery store shelf. It tells the consumer what the cost of a particular item is per unit, usually by the ounce. This gives shoppers an objective way to compare different brands of the same food item, different sizes of the same item, fresh versus frozen versus canned of the same food product, etc. Looking at unit prices is a great way to find the best deal without having to do the math.
  • Limit convenience foods. Convenience foods may be the pre-packaged box foods, frozen meals, or even a bag of salad mix. These items are convenient because most or all of the prep work is already done, but it comes at a higher price and might have added ingredients that may not be as healthy for you. If you are looking to save money it is generally less expensive to make food yourself and divide it up for meals later. For example, make a double batch of chili and freezing the extra into individual lunch servings instead of buying canned soup. Preparing your own convenience foods also helps you to control what goes in your food.
  • Buy in bulk – When it works for your family. Bulk foods tend to be less expensive than their smaller size counterparts. To be sure, remember to check the unit prices so you know it is the best deal. Also, keep in mind your family size and their likes, as well as your storage space. For example, if only one of your family members likes a particular fruit, you may not want to buy in bulk because it may rot before there is an opportunity to eat it. Also, keep in mind your ability to store larger amounts of food either in the refrigerator, freezer or in the cupboard.
  • Buy whole foods. Purchasing whole units of food items (whole chicken versus boneless, skinless pieces, whole pineapple versus cut pineapple, etc.) saves money because you aren’t paying for someone else to do your prep work. A little bit of time invested at home cutting up whole food items can mean big savings at the store.

These are just some strategies you and your family can use to help increase the amount of healthy foods served at home, while keeping to your food budget. For more information and programs on healthy eating on a budget, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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