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Healthy Eating on a Budget

Eating smart helps maintain good health. In tough economic times,
however, you may be wondering, “How can I afford to eat healthy and
still feed my family?”There are many cost-saving strategies that will
help you eat wisely and stay within your food budget.

Before shopping – make a plan
•   Take a few minutes to plan meals for the week. Make a list of both main
     and side dishes.
•   Check store flyers each week and incorporate foods that are on sale into
     your menu.
•   Make a shopping list based on your weekly menu. Stick to the list.
•   Use food coupons only for food that is a good buy and that you will use.
     Organize your coupons before shopping. Make sure that the coupon price
     is cheaper than alternatives. Shop at stores offering double or triple coupon
     values. Stock up when you discover good deals. Combine coupons with sale
     items. Join a coupon swapping organization in your area, or start your own
     swap at your workplace or child’s school.

Get the best deal
•   Download coupons online for frequently purchased items. There are
     several online sources. Check circulars from several stores. These are
     typically inserted into the Sunday or Wednesday newspaper or may be
     found at the front of the store. To get the best buys, shop at more than
     one store—but keep an eye on your gas bill.
•   Look for coupons on food packaging, in grocery store aisles, on grocery
     receipts, in magazines, and on the Internet. Coupon Cart (
     and Coolsavings ( offer lots of coupons, although you
     must register to access them. Hot Coupons ( and Valpak
     ( offer coupons without registration.
•   Use store loyalty cards to take advantage of special offers.

Practice money-saving strategies
•   Shop once a week or less often. You will save money (and time) by avoiding
     temptation and impulse purchases.
•   Use unit pricing to make sure you get the best buy. Bring a calculator to the store
     if necessary.
•   Find the lowest-cost package size. Biggest is not always the better buy. Individual-
     size containers can be twice as expensive.
•   Find the brand that costs less. Generic or store brands are often (but not always)
     lower in price.
•   Compare prices for different product forms, such as fresh, frozen, and canned
     items, as well as the cost of individual pieces of prepackaged food like bagels,
     muffins, or rolls.
•   Purchase what you need based on the cost per serving.
•   Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season. When fresh produce is too
     expensive, purchase canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Buy canned and
     frozen fruits and vegetables with no added sugar or sauce.
•   Avoid the junk and snack food aisles. Items like chips, soda, and snack foods are
     expensive. Your food dollar is better spent on more nutritious options such as fruit,
     nuts, cheese, or whole-grain crackers.
•   Compare prices of store and generic brands. If quality is similar, purchase the
     cheapest brand.
•   Check the price of bagged produce such as apples, oranges, potatoes, or onions.
     They may be cheaper than buying single items. Make sure you plan your menu to
     use all that you buy.
•   Purchase large portions of meats—whole chickens, large bags of chicken parts, and
     family packs. Divide into smaller containers and freeze.
•   Replace some of the meat in your diet with alternative protein sources such as beans.
     When you do serve meat, serve smaller portions or make dishes such as stir-fry or
     casseroles that use less meat.
•   Oatmeal makes a healthy and filling breakfast that is much less expensive than cold,
     ready-to-eat cereals. Make it with milk instead of water for added protein and calcium.
     Purchase plain oatmeal (quick cooking or old fashioned) instead of single-serving,
     flavored oatmeal.
•   Buy non-food items (medicine, cleaning, and hygiene products) at a discount store.

Shop at the right time for the best deals:
•   Shop for baked goods early in the day. The bakeries mark down yesterday’s
     items. Freeze part of the bread if you will not use it within the next few days.
•   Shop for meat later in the day. The meat department marks down items about
     to go past the “sell by” date. Use the same day or freeze immediately.
•   Don’t shop when you’re hungry or tired—you’re more likely to make impulse

Material used with permission from North Carolina State University
Cooperative Extension’s Successful Family Program


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