Want to eat healthy meals on a tight budget? Planning is a key ingredient
Drink fat-free or low-fat milk, and make sure half of the grains you eat are whole grains.
Do these healthy eating guidelines sound costly?
Researchers at the University of Washington raised eyebrows earlier this month with a study finding that a healthy diet is difficult for cash-strapped Americans to afford. And with the cost of food rising faster than other products - the Agriculture Department estimates that grocery prices will rise by 3.5 to 4.5 percent this year and another 3 percent to 4 percent in 2012 - it would seem that problem may only get worse.
Frugal foodies say it’s still possible to eat well on a budget - it just takes some smart strategies.
The path starts with understanding what’s healthy. That’s where the federal government comes in. The USDA has updated its recommendations with the aim of helping people make better food choices. Details of the new “plate’’ that replaced the “food pyramid’’ earlier this year can be found on www.choosemyplate.gov. The site explains what types of foods provide different nutrients, which empty calories provide little nutrition, and provides recipes for meals.
It’s easiest to save if you have some basic cooking skills. Cooking is almost always going to be less expensive than buying prepared meals or eating out.
Healthy meals don’t have to be gourmet concoctions, said Kelly Hancock, the author of the soon-to-be-released book “Saving Savvy’’ and a blogger at FaithfulProvisions.com.
Once armed with the knowledge of what to eat and how to pull it together, getting the most out of every grocery dollar requires a system. Instead of focusing on clipping and organizing coupons, put your time into planning, said Steve Economides, who with his wife, Annette, operates the website AmericasCheapestFamily.com.
Here’s a recipe for grocery saving success:
■ Plan meals and shopping trips to cut impulse buys.
The Economides family makes one major shopping trip per month, with a second to pick up necessities in between. They advocate minimizing trips as much as possible. “The more times you go into a store, the more you’re going to pick up unplanned items,’’ said Annette Economides.
■ Shop sales to keep your pantry and freezer stocked.
Be sure to put whatever storage space you have available to work. Building a stockpile of staples is an important step in stretching a budget.
■ Learn what’s in season.
The height of summer is prime time for many fruits and vegetables, and prices drop as the various crops hit their peak.
Find a farmer’s market for really fresh bargains. If you shop at the end of the market hours, you’ll typically find steep discounts. Freezing or canning any extras can extend the life of those deals through the off-season.
Eileen AJ Connelly writes for the Associated Press.