8 Ways to Save $$ and Eat Healthfully

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Think it's easy to eat healthfully only if your wallet is overflowing and you have a personal chef on call? Think again.

It's easy for the rest of us, too, and all we have to do is alter our shopping and eating habits slightly.

The latest issue of Consumer Reports offers 20 tips for healthful eating on a budget. Here are some of our favorite quick and painless tips:

Plan ahead. Make a menu for the week and aim to get everything you need in one or two trips to save on gas (and impulse buying). Watch for flyers or visit your supermarket online to check for sales, and let those drive your menu.

Buy in season. That means no strawberries in December in Maine, when you'll pay for shipping from some far-off warm place. Seasonal picks include cherries, melon, peaches, tomatoes, and peppers in summer; snow peas, spinach, and strawberries in spring; and carrots, cauliflower, citrus fruits, and cranberries in fall.

Eat beans. They're inexpensive, versatile, and a great source of protein and fiber. Add them to salads, soups, chili, and pasta dishes to increase bulk. Canned beans are the easiest to use, but for maximum economy buy dried beans.

Try tofu. It's a low-cost, nutrient-packed substitute for meat and cheese. Add tofu to salads, or sautť it with vegetables and something savory such as chili sauce or tamari and serve over brown rice. If you don't like tofu, experiment with tempeh, a related product with a meatier texture.

For produce, go frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables, often flash-frozen soon after picking, can be more nutritious than "fresh" items that have sat on store shelves for a while. And you don't have to worry about the frozen variety spoiling before it's eaten.

Choose store brands. Also called "private label," they are often just as good as the name brand and can save you money.

Buy a whole bird. Get a whole chicken and cut it up (or not) as you wish. It's more economical than buying separate breasts, thighs, etc., and you can get a nutrient packed broth out of it, too. Freeze pieces that you're not using right away in individual freezer bags.

Use your scraps. Cook leftover vegetables and potatoes into a frittata, even for dinner; eggs are a great source of protein. Use bones, meat scraps, or vegetable trimmings to make broth.

For more tips, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

How do you save money at the supermarket? For me, bulk bins, big-batch cooking and shopping local help keep my grocery bill low.

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I REALLY need to get better at this. Between meal planning & planning my trip to the grocery store with a LIST of items. I'm terrible with planning ahead, budget, etc. Awesome article & a good reminder to me that I have to work on this. Report
It was nice to see most of those things on that list I've been doing right. :) Buying a whole chicken was a really new idea for me, though. I've always gone straight for the store brand cuts to save money. Didn't think to get the whole bird! Report
Planning ahead really does make a huge difference! I usually have menus made up at least 2 weeks in advance. It helps cut the grocery budget, but also, less like to have waste from using half of something and throwing the rest out. I still prefer fresh vegetables when we can get them, but we shop for price leaders and have whatever is on sale that week for a side veggie or fruit. Report
Meal planning helps so much. . . it is great not to have to figure out what to eat after a day of work, only to discover you don't have the necessary ingredients. I love knowing what I am eating, being able to fix things ahead of time, and having all the groceries I need ahead of time. It has massively cut down on impulse and splurge buying . . . since I go in with a list, and only go to the store once a week. Report
What I've learned from living in a small town and having to shop at the one store available to me is to buy what they have on sale and create your meals around that. It gives you some sense of order to your meal planning, but it's still flexible enough to change it up if you want to. My sister who lives in a bigger city spends more time and money driving to multiple stores with her ads, coupons, and store saver cards than it's worth in my opinion. It's actually fun to try to come up with a meal with what's on hand and I find that I'm more creative and resourceful than if I plan everything out. As long as you only keep on hand things that you should be eating, and committ to creating something at home from what you've got, you can't go wrong and it's sometimes a better way to go about it if you're not a personality type who can handle being tied to a menu.

We also do "buffets" at home often - the kids love it since they can pick what looks good to them, and it really works to eat up leftovers or produce that's nearing the end of it's life. Again, as long as it's all heathly, I don't have to monitor what the kids pick and they love that they get to choose. They actually have learned through this that they really like a lot of fruit and veggies, and eat them! And since you're saving time not making something new, I sometimes add one new thing to the mix, maybe cooking it in a way that I usually don't have the time to, but that I know everyone will be really excited about (my favorite is roasting squash - any kind - with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, and olive oil - the kids think of it as the dessert on the buffet!).

I also try not to throw anything away - sometimes that last little bit of onion, or tomato, or leftover chicken is enough to spark an idea for a meal with other staple pantry items. And I also freeze overripe bananas and other fruit for smoothies or baking. Others that freeze well for these uses are strawberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, and cantalope.

Coupons can be great for items that aren't available or that you don't like as a generic brand, but I've cut back a lot on my use of them at stores like Wal-Mart because most of the time, their store brands are just as good on staple items and cost way less than the brand name using a coupon. I only cut out the coupons that I know I will use so that I'm not tempted to use it just because I have it. Also at our Wal-Mart, their deli roasted chickens are cheaper than buying raw chicken in the meat dept. and they're already cooked. I bring it home for dinner that night, removing all of the skin and bones before serving, and then have plenty left over for several more meals later. Report
I envy the people who live in California who have a year round growing season. I miss having really fresh fruit and veggies to eat during the winter months. It's not easy to eat "locally" during the winter. I wish I could, but the growing season is short in the Northeast.

As for generic brands. I have found generics to be every bit as good as brand name items.

This is some really good info!!! Report
My husband and I plant a big garden and freeze or can in jars all our veggies. I also use the grocery sale ads in our weekly paper to plan my menus. Living in the country, we also get deer meat every winter. I also stay away from the processed foods as much as possible. Homemade is much better and I can control the ingredients. Report
There are excellent tips - another one I would have is to buy ingredients rather than prepackeged foods. I find that I can cook a meal cheaper than buying frozen and it's a lot healthier....and if you are crunched for time (aren't we all!) just cook it in batches and freeze the leftovers. That way I have home made frozen dinners for when I'm on the go! Report
When we plan ahead, we save money and eat healthier foods. We have a small hanging folder basket with Spark recipes separated by meats (pork, chicken, beef, fish, etc.) and side dishes. We select one recipe from each folder, and then refile the recipes after we've cooked them. Report
We buy farm fresh from farmers markets during the growing season (eat locally and seasonally as much as possible). Everything is MUCH less expensive than the grocery store (and fresher!). I buy whole chickens from the farmers all year (my eggs too!). We put the chickens in the rotisserie. When I'm done with the carcass, it goes in the freezer for the next time we need chicken broth. We NEVER buy broth. We save it from our cooking and freeze it until we need it (beef broth, too). The other way to save money is to stop buying processed foods (or significantly cut down). Shop the perimeter of the store & only go in the center for some staples like natural peanut butter & some frozen fruits & veggies. I make my own ketchup and mayo (the store bought ones all contain sugar!). Saves tons of $$. Buy the meats that have been marked down. You'll need to cook them right away but they're still good. We save the bacon grease like grandma did. Its not nearly as bad for you as all the sugars added to all the processed foods! Report
I try to buy only what I need. We've cut out a lot of the junk we used to buy. And if I need something, I always look to see if I have a coupon and compare the savings to the store brand price. Report
We have a very small budget...about $120 every 2 weeks for groceries in our family of 5. All of these tips are great :) In fact last night I made what I cal a "3 day chicken" I use whole chicken and make one recipe then recycle the leftover the following day. I can make that one whole chicken last for 3-4 meals for our family. Report
Great tips! I am still working on the shopping thing, reading labels, making the right choices, etc. Reading this makes me alittle more comfortable with some of my choices, and keeping it all affordable is essential. THANKS! Report
Great advice.

I have to learn to discipline myself to actually do these things.

I'm finally back to coupon shopping and I ask for rainchecks for items on special that they're out of whether or not I need the item then - I can always use it later.

Thanks for a great article. Report
I always shop discount stores, like Aldi Foods and Walmart, I use coupons when I have one for an item I want/use, and if something we use a lot is on sale I'll buy two. I also plan all my meals for the week, and keep it simple (like pizza or eggs) on weekends, plus we usually dine out a couple times over the weekend. On average I spend about $130/$150 a week on groceries (with personal care items, cleaning supplies, stuff like that included), and that's with running my own daycare in my home (so it's 3 meals a day, plus a snack). I think I do pretty good! Report
Great tips - I would add: shop the farmers' market (talk about local and seasonal!) if you have one, and buy only whole, close-to-the-source ingredients. You'd be amazed how much you'd cut if you cut out anything that has less than 5 ingredients on the label list! Report
I always shop with my local market's circular in hand and coupons. There are times when I've cut my bill by 2/3, simply because I had a coupon and and item I wanted was on sale. Oh, and it's never junk food or unhealthy stuff.

Tofu: never touch the stuff, unless it's been fermented. It may be cheap, but it will do a number on your system. Report
I did everything on this list except the tofu and seldom ate beans since I raised my kids as a single mother. In fact, I roast a 7# chicken yesterday that was marked down twice. Got it for a little over 80cents a pound. I put the bones and scraps and my bag of frozen veggie & herb scraps[there were 3 bay leaves] in the crockpot after supper. Filled it with water and turned on low over night. I just unplugged it this morning. Next I will strain it. I sometimes need a coffee filter to help with straining. Then chill it so that the fat can be skimmed off.

Since joining spark people, I have added beans to our diet several times a week. We surprised at how well we like them. Tofu....I think DH would still want meat. I don't think it would save anything. Report
it's true I find it a lot easier if I plan for the week ahead - and the kids love to see the "menu" on the fridge! Report
Impulse shopping is a terrible risk. Stores do all they can to encourage it and sometimes itís hard to resist, so staying out of the stores as much as possible is an excellent strategy.

I try to hit stores once a week and only when there is a specific reason, usually a great deal, to lure me there. That helps a lot. Itís also a good idea to avoid stores when Iím tired, hungry, blue, or hassled. Any of those moods seem to make it more likely Iíll succumb to unnecessary impulse buys.

I love big batch cooking and I hate strict menu planning, and basically what I cook depends largely on what the good buys are. I buy as much as I can afford when the price is best and take the time to portion it out and freeze for later.

For those who hate to stick to a menu, Iíd suggest using your freezer and pantry to allow you a little more flexibility. Freeze meats in just the right portions for quicker thawing in the microwave or over night in the fridge. You can buy the frozen chicken breast or bone your own chicken and freeze them individually for easy last minute microwave thawing. When you bone your own, make sure you freeze the carcasses to make broth later, or stew them right away and freeze the broth for later, works well either way.

And look through your recipes and choose some easy ones made entirely with ingredients you can keep on hand all the time. Then when you get home from shopping you use your fresh and perishable ingredients first and that stuff that you bought because it really looked good to you right now. Then towards the end of the week switch to the pantry/freezer recipes. If youíre well stocked up youíll have loads of options to choose from. Just make sure you donít let things stay around so long you have to toss them.

The rest of my suggestions Iíll post on my SparkPage should anyone be interested.
Get tips, thanks for the info. Report
I simply buy foods that are good for healthy eating. Frozen fish, chicken and some diet entree's when I just don't feel like cooking. Frozen Veggies is such a good idea. I've been throwing too much away because I didn't cook it soon enough. My current problem has been holiday foods that got into the house as gifts from relatives and friends via holiday celebrations. Time to clean out the bad stuff and have only the good in the house. Water, water, water and a tiny bit of walnuts staves off the hunger. I'm working on it. Report
Did you know that if you put bananas in the fridge when they are as ripe as you want they will stop ripening. They peel may get yucky, but the fruit inside is great. Report
I spent $36.00 on fruit this week. Granted I don't do the shopping, that's my husbands job (he is better at it then l am). I think I over did it on the quantity of fruits I purchased.
I think a menu and a weekly plan will help me substantially with cost.
Meme Report
Helpful hint for freezing bananas - peel your overripe bananas and put them in a ziploc bag to freeze. It eliminates looking at ugly black bananas everytime you open your freezer and they can be squeezed out of the bag into a recipe. Bonus: no messy hands!!!
Someone asked about suggestions with menu planning. I plan meal sets instead of meals for specific days. I know that for this week I have these 7 meals. That still gives me the freedom to pick what I am in the mood for from those 7 meals, but when shopping, it keeps me on track. I usually also have the ingredients for a couple of back up meals "just in case". Report
If your bananas have over-ripened or you purchase over-ripe bananas on sale, you can freeze them and use them later in banana bread or a smoothie. Be aware, the peelings will turn black and the "meat" of the banana will be mushy but the taste will be normal... only the appearance and texture will alter. Report
Menu planning, clipping coupons, and checking sales ads does not work for me - mainly due to the lack of time. As a single mother with five children, who is also employed and a student working towards providing a better future for my family, I average 4 hours a sleep per night & I'm not about to give that up to search ads to save a few cents. However, most retailers have their products on a rotation for price reductions. Even without looking at the sale ads, you can stock up on sale items looking at the shelf tags (also check unit prices - sometimes the sales price of one size is still more expensive than another size, and bigger isn't always a better price). So, if you consistantly go to one store, you usually save just as much as hopping from store to store to chase sales ads without all the stress & extra gas money.

I usually by store brands, and save as much money using them and often more than using a coupon on a national brand (plus I didn't have to pay for the paper to get the coupons). I have had great success with the quality at Kroger. (There are only a few items that I won't do generic.) Also know that most stores carry a guarantee on their store brands - if you don't like it as well as the national brand, they'll replace it or refund your money. So take a chance and try out a few store brands each time - just keep your receipt.

However, despite using generic products regularly, I refuse to shop at Aldi's. Tried it once - the meat was spoiled, as were part of the canned goods, bugs in the flour - totally horrid experience & they would not refund my money - so the result was I went hungry that month! I've never been back and that was probably 15 - 20 years ago. The few items that were safe to eat were of poor quality. Also, check items from there carefully - according to a report I read recently, many are from China. With the food scandels they have had lately, I'd be afraid.

More positive tips:
Buy whole grains. While they cost more, they fill you up for longer, so you eat less which saves you money in the long run!

A butcher once told me that it is actually the same price for a whole chicken and boneless skinless chicken breasts. They stores calculate the waste (bones & skin) in their final cost. If you aren't going to use the waste to make broth, its no more expensive to use boneless, skinless breasts & much less hassle.

Finally - don't take your kids to the store with you. They love to beg for extras - most of the time food one shouldn't be eating anyhow.
Good ideas and tips. I like to buy in bulk. I love my Food Vacuum packer. I load up my freezer with all the goodies. For those items thar are perishable, I usually share the extra with my extended family. Sometimes the prices on bulk at Costco are cheaper for me than buying the item at the grocery store and then sharing the excess. Report
Love all ideas and have been following most of them already.
For those who shy away from store brands note this... Some of the store brand sugar is made by Dominos, some of the store brand canned veggies are made by Del Monte, etc... so don't be afraid to try them. I learned this little secret while working for one of the supermarket chains while in college.... Report
like all the ideas, I am into the bulk buying & portioning things out & freezing them. I works. Very seldomn am I totally out of anything meat or frozen veggies. Love them and keep a whole freezer drawer full. We have been lucky that a couple of stores have them on sale for 10 - 10 dollars. I stock up on them big time. I can thaw them out a bit & add them to salads or whatever.

Tofu is where it's at. :) Report
Great tips!

I have started a garden, Califormia weather, and my family goes fishing so we get a lot of our food at little or no cost and much better taste.

We also buy (more than we need for the week) when something is on sale for a great price and freeze it for the following weeks. In the long run, this saves lots--as the following weeks shopping trip, we don't need those items and we bought them at the best price possible. Works great. Overtime, you get a feel for when each item will be "on sale" again. Report
I love cooking with fresh veggies and making colorful fresh salads. My solution is to walk to the grocery store with only enough cash to buy the veggies on my list. I get exercise, stay on budget and still serve the foods we love. Report
Just read the tips, now I will try to do this.Thanks everyone. Report
Great Tips. We also shop Aldi's or Sav-A-Lot. They are terrific for lower priced produce and off brands. I also noticed Aldi's Light-n-Fit line salad dressing has less calories than Kraft's Light Done Right!! Report
I've seen these tips before and they are definitely good ones. The one I usually have the most trouble with is planning a weekly menu. I'm not good at determining what to eat unless I'm hungry so it takes real willpower for me to do this, then 8 times out of 10, I'm not in the mood for whatever I planned for. Suggestions? Report
Asian and hispanic markets, have cheaper prices.
I buy powdered milk. - It saves me going out for milk, there fore I don't pick up "extras" at the store.
Soup. Home made.
More beans, rice
I get bread at our factory outlet- 1.10-1.50 a loaf.
Produce markets- like produce junction- or
Stores like:
compare prices btwn store and name brand. Sometimes the store brand is more expensive!
Use coupons- online and from newspapers.

* i have found the hardest thing with saving $$ and eating healthy. - Is variety. It can get boring, but that's just me. Report
Also, remember that Asian and Hispanic grocery stores have products at significantly lower prices! Report
I think this is a great list and who can't use to shop cheaper in these tougher times. Luckily here everything is in season almost all year, but it is costly year round. Report
This definitely cuts down on impulse buying and spending money on things you can do without this week Report
Good topic: beans and in-season veggies are great suggestions, not only for the body but for mama earth. Don't forget soup! Soup is a staple across the world, partly because it is economical. You can make a big batch of soup, and freeze it or have a soup swap with other like-minded friends. Report
I must start doing this - we tend to buy on impulse a lot, although there are the usual staples like pasta too... Report
I just found some recipes using TVP. Its a soy product and meat substitute. Very easy to use and inexpensive. I made a chilli recipe in the crock pot with TVP and canned beans. Healthy, hearty and cheap! Report
Frozen fruit - I love the berries and frozen bananas (peeled and cut) are great when processed in skim milk as a smoothie (just like a thickshake).

Frozen vege ? - no thanks! Most are soggy excuses for the real thing. The only ones I buy frozen are peas and spinach. Even corn on the cob is full of water - so much my 12 year old won't touch it. I l do try to pick fruit and veges that are in season now, and I think those have far more flavour. I'd highly recommend that you seek out a cookbook or other book to find out your local produce seasons. I have an Australian cookbook by Stephanie Alexander (it's my kitchen bible) and it tells me everything about each ingredient, including the best seasons for our states. They artificially grow the produce (they use greenhouses with lighting and temperature control to emulate the climate sometimes) sometimes to keep them coming outside seasons. Other times they keep a heap in storage to extend the season, so it is no wonder it tastes ordinary. Report
One thing I do is I buy my meat from a wholesale restaurant supply...you need to buy quantity but I would rather buy 40 pounds of chicken breast at a time for 1.57 a pound vs 2.47 for only 6 pounds at SAMS Report
Excellent ideas. I have been on a fresh fruit and veggies kick.. after going to the grocery store today (and reading this) I think I will be back to frozen. My salads will not have quite the appeal though :( Report
I recently began looking through all of the adds that come in the mail and the newspaper. Great tip: Let the sales drive my menu. I will begin doing this.

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