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Healthy Eating on a Budget

Contributed by by Nancy Burke, R.D.; Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D. and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., C.S.O. University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

image of fresh tomatoes and green beans

You don't need to break your budget to eat healthy. It doesn't take any extra time to shop wisely or change your staple foods but these very easy strategies can reduce your shopping budget. And with a few minutes of extra planning, you can further reduce your grocery bill.

The following budgeting tips and strategies are divided into categories by the amount of time that each will entail, from no time at all to up to 10 minutes a week. That way, you focus on the changes your schedule will allow.

Minimal time and effort:

    Shop satisfied: In other words, shop after a meal and avoid impulse buying due to hunger. Shopping when satisfied allows you to buy only what you need, which will limit your total grocery bill each and every time.

    Shop by season: Buying fruit and vegetables that are in season can lead to considerable savings. Check out for a summer season list. If you want to make a dish with off season fruits or vegetables, canned fruit or frozen vegetables likely would be more budget friendly.

Change your staples:

    Protein: Shift the focus of your plate from meat to other low-cost proteins such as beans and lentils, eggs or whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and bulgur. Use these alternatives in place of meat or add these to meat dishes to allow you to decrease the amount of meat in each meal. Either method can significantly reduce your budget without any coupon clipping or bargain hunting.

    Breakfast: Switch from box cereal to oatmeal. Name-brand oatmeal can cost almost half of the amount of an equivalent size of boxed cereal. You can save even more buying the store brand or generic versions. Not only will you save money, but you will likely decrease the salt and sugar content of your breakfast.

10 minutes or less per week (each)::

    Make a plan: Take time to plan a menu for the week. This will allow you to go to the store with a list to limit your impulse buying. It will also limit additional trips to the store that will save you time, gas and limit additional impulse buys.

    Read up: Plan your meals based on what is on sale in your local grocery store weekly ad. This can also help you to save by stocking up on items you use regularly when they are on sale. Make sure to only buy as much as you can use before the expiration date or are able to freeze for later use.

    Join the club: If your grocery store has a loyalty card or rewards program, take the few minutes to sign up and remember to swipe your card or type in your member number at each visit to start earning rewards.

    Make double: When you are cooking freezer friendly foods such as soups and casseroles, make a double batch and freeze the second. This will limit spending extra money on take out on the nights you don’t have the time, or energy, to cook.

    Avoid convenience: Single serving packages, shredded cheese and pre-cut fruit or vegetables cost considerably more. Instead buy boxes of snacks and measure out single servings into plastic storage bags or containers. Buy leaf lettuce or whole carrots and wash and cut them yourself. Buy block cheese and shred it when you get home.

Armed with these tips, you can eat right even when money is tight.

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