Here’s How a Nutritionist Suggests to Shop If You’re on a Tight Food Budget

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles

Welcome to #Adulting, the ultimate breakdown of all your grown-up needs. These articles are here to help you feel less alone and answer all your personal, financial, and career questions that weren’t answered in school (no judgment, we get it!). Whether you’re looking to find out how to tackle laundry or you want a deep breakdown on how to make a savings plan—we’ve got you covered. Come back every month to find out what life skills we’re upgrading next and how.

We are living in not just unprecedented, but scary times. Not only are we witnessing something that hasn’t happened in 100 years—a worldwide pandemic—but, also life as we knew it no longer exists. And while some privileged individuals have been doing fine, for the most part, others aren’t so lucky. With unemployment rates at 10.2% for the month of July and job security hanging in the balance for people across the U.S., Americans have had to readjust their finances just to make ends meet—especially when it comes to budgeting food.

According to Center Budget and Policy Priorities, a website that discusses nonpartisan research and policy, more than six million people in America have signed up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits between February 2020 to May 2020. This means that millions of people have experienced a loss (whether it’s a job, a decrease in pay, increase medical bills) significant enough in their lives due to the pandemic to reevaluate their needs and ask for assistance from the government.

But just because finances might not be the same as they used to and eating and staying healthy is necessary to stay, well, alive, it’s still important to learn how to shop for the times—especially if you’re on a very tight budget. That’s why we connected with a few nutritionists to find out the nine different ways you can stretch your dollar and still be able to eat healthily during this unstable time.

1. Come up with a budget.

Because we are in the midst of an economic crisis, with so many people unemployed or furloughed, a daily budget is necessary for a lot of people right now. A 2018 study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that Americans spent close to 10% on food: 5% on groceries and 4.7% at restaurants. Granted, that was two years ago, in a world free of masks, social distancing, and the coronavirus, so naturally, those figures have dipped—especially when it comes to restaurants.

If you’re not sure what your food budget should be, every month the USDA publishes a food budget that ranges from the “thrifty plan” to the “liberal plan.” It includes budgets for families, of varying size, as well as for single adults. For example, they suggest females between 19 and 50 who need to stick to the “thrifty plan,” should budget no more than $39.70 a week or $172.20 a month for food (of course, it depends on where you live in America as food might be more expensive in New York compared to Utah). There are four degrees of cost plans and a great guide for those who don’t even know where to start when it comes to budgeting money for food.

2. Buy in bulk.

If there’s one thing that every nutritionist and dietician suggests, it’s to buy in bulk—especially things like rice and beans that have a very long shelf life.

“This does not mean to stock up on large quantities of highly processed foods with empty calories such as chips, candy, packaged pastries and crackers,” Lynell Ross, a certified health wellness coach, nutritionist, and founder and managing editor of Zivadream, an education advocacy website dedicated to helping people improve their lives. “If you are on a tight budget, then every dollar needs to count towards nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat/poultry, spices, and healthy oils. Buying beans, rice, and whole grains in large packages will last you a long time and save a lot of money, over purchasing pre-packaged and seasoned rice mixes.”

3. Buy canned fish.

Although you may really want to roll into the closest sushi joint and eat your weight in sashimi (we’ve all been there), when you’re on a budget—and one you’re sticking to—canned fish isn’t only your best alternative, but a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, according to Rima Kleiner, MS, RD from Dish on Fish. As Kleiner explains, canned or poached tuna and salmon, as well as sardines, aren’t just easy on the wallet, but “promote a healthy heart, brain, eyes and immune system.”

Canned fish can easily be added to salads, pasta dishes (pasta also being a very inexpensive food to buy), rice dishes, and so much more.

Getty Images

4. Get creative.

Because you don’t want to waste any food that you’ve bought, hang on to those leftovers and find
a use for them. Take that canned salmon and make a salmon burger. And tuna can be made into delicious croquettes. Ultimately, you want to find alternative ways to make your food stretch rather than throwing out the food you think may not look right or is no longer a viable option. According to Feeding America, 72 billion pounds of food goes to waste and 52 billion pounds of “food from manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants end up in landfills.”

5. Look above and below eye level.

What that means is that the most expensive items tend to be at eye-level in most grocery stores, according to Amanda Izquierdo, MPH, RD, LDN. “Look up and down on the shelves for less expensive store brands,” says Izquierdo. It’s important to realize that when it comes to name-brand foods, you’re paying for the name and not the product. A can of green beans by Green Giant most likely isn’t going to taste any different or any have fewer nutrients just because of the name on the label.

6. Avoid fast food.

It’s understandable: fast food is cheap, convenient, and you can pick it up, eat it, and not have to put in any labor of cooking it. Hence its name, “fast food.” But considering the uncertainty we’ve all found ourselves in, we need to think long-term. Long-term means having rice, beans, and other non-perishable items stocked in our kitchen and not consuming something that’s not only bad for us but will take a toll on our bodies over time. Of course, it’ important to be aware that there are plenty of situations where fast food is a viable option for extremely tight budgets or situations where cooking is simply not an option. But if have the ability to cook food at home right now, it’s never a bad idea to opt for home-cooked meals over fast food to feel healthy.

Overall, it’s ideal to try to remove as much processed food off your grocery list, says Dr. Vikram Tarugu, a gastroenterologist and medical professional, and CEO of Detox of South Florida. “You’d be shocked to know how much you’ll spend for coffee, crackers, biscuits, prepackaged meals, and fast food.”

Yes, unfortunately, those prepared frozen meals that you toss in the microwave count as fast food. How could they not? They’re chockfull of processed ingredients to preserve them and that’s why they’re cheaper and easy to cook. (This is also because American chooses to make healthier options much more expensive.) As Dr. Tarugu explains, stepping away from fast food and processed food as much as you can, will give you the chance to “invest more of the money on nutritious, better quality products while avoiding the refined and unhealthy items.”

7. Get in the habit of meal prepping.

Not a fan of cooking every single meal? Me neither. But if you prep in advance you can avoid being bogged down every day making meals for either just yourself or, if you have tiny mouths to feed, for your family too.

“When you set aside a few hours on a single day and dedicate it to meal preparation for the entire week, there’s no temptation to pick-up takeout or convenience food later in the week,” says Aimée Ricca, an ISSA certified nutritionist. “You already have everything prepped and ready—that is the ultimate convenience!” Ricca also says you can have your partner or kids participate in the prep so that it becomes a fun activity. “It’s a good idea to include some items you are going to store in the freezer so that you always have freezer meals available for times when life makes it difficult to prep,” she explains.

Et voilà! Cooking for the week is DONE.

8. Don’t shun frozen vegetables.

For some reason, frozen vegetables get a bad rap, but that stops now. Contrary to what you might think, freezing vegetables can help retain the same amount of nutrients as fresh items, as long as you don’t let them sit in the freezer too long. Certain veggies and fruit can lose their nutrients if they’re not used within a year.

“Frozen vegetables or meats are wonderful, healthy meal options,” says Melanie Betz, a registered dietician. “They tend to be cheaper than fresh, and will help you reduce food waste because they last longer. Stick with plain frozen foods without sauces or breading to help keep the salt down.”

If you’re iffy on buying already-frozen vegetables, then you can buy your own—in-season vegetables are always more affordable than out of season ones, says Ross—then freeze them. This also goes back to the concept of buying in bulk. Zucchinis on sale? Load up, keep what you know you can eat before they spoil in the fridge, then freeze the rest.

9. Never shop on an empty stomach.

Similar to not going into a grocery store stoned, don’t go food shopping hungry either. If you do, there’s a very good chance you’ll stray from your list, go way over budget, and head home realizing you’re going to have to put your electric bill on hold for one more month. Instead, go food shopping after having had a meal.

“Going to the store on a full stomach will help you keep to your grocery list and limit buying additional snack foods that look good while you are in the store,” says Izquierdo.

Next Post

Grilling your burgers wrong could kill you this holiday weekend

This Labor Day weekend is the unofficial final grilling weekend of the summer, and the first weekend of National Food Safety Education Month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to practicing social distancing and wearing face masks when appropriate this weekend – and washing your hands regularly – […]

You May Like