7 Steps to Getting Better Nutrition For Your Money

I was picking up a few groceries at the Superstore in Aurora yesterday afternoon and I always like to check out what kind of things people are buying while I am standing in the cashier line.

The woman in front of me was with her son, who looked about 9 or 10 years old, and they first caught my attention and made me smile because they were telling jokes and just having fun hanging out in the checkout line.  The cashier started ringing through her purchase–2 blocks of “no name” salted butter, 1 box Neapolitan “no name” ice cream, 12 cans Coca Cola, kid’s chicken nugget “lunchables”, 2 large bars or Dairy Milk chocolate, a case of water, a few sanitary items, and a few boxes of take out fried chicken and potato wedges from the hot deli.  The bill came to $56.

Now it was my turn–a box of mushrooms, 1 mini watermelon, 1 cantaloupe, 1 pineapple, 5 navel oranges, 2 bottles Renee’s salad dressing, 1 carton So Nice organic soy milk, 1 bag of red grapes, 1 bunch green onion, 1 carton half & half, 1 container Hellman’s mayo, 1 tub PC plain Greek yogurt, a small piece of ginger root, and 3 boxes of clearance valentine’s cards.  My bill came to $43.04.

Now, I’m not trying to sound condescending or judgemental here…for all I know the family in front me may have done their groceries for fruits & veggies on another day.  But my point in this comparison is that, for less money, it is possible to buy high nutrition foods (high in vitamins and antioxidants, and even some natural anti-inflammatories) versus negative nutrition foods (high fat, more preservatives, carcinogenic chemicals, etc.).

My patients often tell me that it is expensive to eat healthy and struggle make the dietary changes I suggest.  For example, switching from regular yogurt (which is full of sugar and lower in protein) to plain Greek yogurt (which has little or no sugar and has as much protein per serving as legumes does) is difficult, because Greek yogurt costs 1.5X more (at regular price).  Yes, I agree it’s expensive to eat purely organic, but I would argue that it is still possible to eat healthy on a budget if you know how to shop and plan your meals.

So, here are 7 simple tips on eating healthy on a budget:
1.  Know how much you spend.  First of all, you need to track how much you actually spend per month on groceries.  I have been tracking for the last few years and it is so helpful.  All you need is to use a program like Microsoft Excel, or if you want to get fancier you can use Quickbooks or some online apps.  Keep all your receipts for the next 3 months and track them in four basic categories: Regular groceries, Organic groceries, Eating out (includes coffee/tea trips), Alcohol (if you drink).
2.  Determine your food budget.  From tracking your bills and looking at where your money is going, re-structure what categories you want your money to go every month.  Keep tracking for the next few months to see if the re-structuring is realistic for your family and adjust it as needed.
3.  Check your weekly flyers for sales.  Now chances are, if you are on a budget, you are already doing this, so no need to expand.  Some grocery stores price-match, so instead of running store to store, carry all the flyers with you to show the cashier.
4.  Buy in multiples as much as possible.  For example, if brown rice, whole wheat pasta or frozen berries is on sale, buy a few of them.
5.  Stop buying bottled water.  Most inexpensive bottled water is the same as drinking from your tap.  Save your money and carry a glass bottle (I carry a Perrier one that I reuse) so you can fill it wherever you go for free.  If you go out for lunch, ask for a glass of tap water instead of buying a bottle of water.  Yes, filtered water is the best, but occasionally drinking tap water is not going to be detrimental to your health.
6. Only buy organic for the high-pesticide fruits & veggies.  Check out www.foodnews.org for a list of the most highly sprayed produce.
7. And now the most important: MEAL PLAN!!  When I tell patients to do this, they are a bit overwhelmed and feel like it will take a lot of time.  But trust me, it will only take 1 hour of your time every week and will SAVE you time and money in the long term.  Start with finding your favourite recipes.   Choose 5 of them, and that is your plan for the week.  (Yes there are 7 days in a week, but one day is usually left-over day, and another is eating out day.)  Now make your grocery list from these recipes, taking into account that you will make more each night to cover your lunch for the next day.  This will prevent last minute shopping (and paying higher prices) and grabbing take-out.   Every Thursday night when the weekly flyers come to your door, sit down and plan your meals and make your shopping list.

Does meal planning still sound overwhelming to you?  I can help with that!  Book your Naturopathic appointment and I can work together with you to develop a meal plan that will fit your cooking-comfort level and healthy recipes to get you started.

There are two things that are most important to health–the food you put in your body and exercise.  Is it time you invested in your health and your family’s health?

Some “food” for thought from your friendly neighbourhood Richmond Hill Naturopath,

Dr. Misa

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