Eating healthy doesn't have to come with a hefty price tag. It's possible to make good nutritional choices without breaking the bank, and easier if you know the cost-saving tricks.
Here are 12 helpful tips for eating on a budget, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA).
To nip overspending and buying unnecessary items in the bud, create a monthly budget, and write your weekly grocery list based on it. That way, if you overbuy during the first or second week of the month, you can balance out your budget by making smarter decisions during weeks three and four. [10 New Ways to Eat Well ]
Plan your meals and snacks for the week according to the established budget, the USDA suggests. By including on your grocery list only the meals you plan to cook that week, will save money by buying only what you need, limiting frivolous purchases in the process.
Buy groceries when you are not hungry and when you are not too rushed, the USDA advises. Stick to your grocery list, and stay out of the aisles that don't contain items on your list, so you won't be tempted. When paying for your purchases, pick the checkout line that doesn't have a candy display to avoid the temptation of unhealthy impulse purchases .
The lowest sticker price isn't always the best price. Instead of looking at prices, find and compare the "unit price" or "unit cost" listed on the shelf directly below the item. This price reveals the cost per pound, per gallon or per ounce, which will help you determine the item with the best value.
Before heading to the store, check for sales and coupons in the local paper, the USDA advises. But couponing is no longer limited to snipping from papers, with plenty of websites now available that offer deals on items you're looking for. In fact, some sites don't even require you to print the coupons, as they can automatically upload them onto certain stores' rewards cards, cutting out the hassle of coupons altogether.
Consider shopping at discount grocery stores. Some major chain discount retailers, such as Walmart and Target, have grocery and meat sections in some of their stores. Wherever you decide to shop, scan the weekly or daily specials to check if any of the items on your shopping list are on sale.
Loyalty cards can also be a great way to save, as some stores' cards automatically discount any on-sale items at checkout if you are a member. Many stores' membership cards also tally up your "spending points," which can add up to several dollars a month that can be redeemed towards a future purchase. Some stores have mailing lists you can join to receive weekly emails with deals and special promotions.
Avoid brand-name tunnel vision: you can often get the same or similar product for a cheaper price. "No frills" products, which are sold without the bells and whistles of non-essential features including flashy packaging or catchy slogans are generally cheaper than their full-priced, brand-name counterparts.
These products are able to keep their prices low because they don't advertise or try to entice customers, but that also ends up making them less popular.
Buying items in bulk or as family packs usually cost less, according to the USDA. But in some instances, such as with fresh vegetables and fruits, buying in bulk can end up costing you, because they don't keep well and may go bad before you have a chance to eat them all.
Buy easily perishable foods in small amounts to ensure that you eat them before they spoil.
For some perishable items such as meat, fish and even bread, freezing and then thawing as needed is always an option that allows for buying in bulk.
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are often cheaper than during other parts of the year. For example, the peak time for oranges and tangerines is in January, so that would be the perfect time to buy your vitamin C sources at lower prices. Your local farmer's market is a great source of fresh, seasonal produce.
If the fruits and veggies on your shopping list are out of season, buying them frozen or canned is a great money-saving option. Canned or frozen items have a much longer shelf-life than their fresh counterparts, so you can buy them in bulk if they are on sale and not have to worry about them going bad.
Many frozen and canned vegetables are equally as nutritious as their fresh versions. However, canned food usually contains more preservatives, salt and sugar than fresh fruits and vegetables. For canned items, the USDA recommends choosing fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice, and vegetables labeled "low sodium" or "no salt added."
Studies have found varying levels of the potential carcinogen bisphenol A (BPA) in canned food products, with the BPA believed to have leached into the food from the inner liner of the cans. To play it safe, you can buy preserved fruits and vegetables in glass containers instead of cans.
Although it may be tempting to buy one of those convenient, pre-cut, neatly arranged vegetable or fruit party platters, they are much more expensive than buying the produce separately and cutting them yourself.
The USDA recommends buying vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Any pre-cut, pre-washed or ready-to-eat vegetables are sold at steeper prices than those in their basic forms. While it may take a few extra minutes, your wallet will thank you for washing and chopping your produce at home.
Rather than tossing leftovers, incorporate them into your next meal. Leftover vegetables can be added to a casserole or blended to make soup, the USDA suggests. Leftover or overripe fruit is perfect for making smoothies or baking.
To get more mileage out of your meals, the USDA advises doubling or tripling up on recipe ingredients to make more portions. The extra food can then be divided into individual portions, then placed into meal?sized containers and frozen.
To save money on meat and improve your health in the process try having several meatless meals a week. The USDA advises substituting a few meat meals with protein-rich beans and peas. Other savory meat replacements include hearty sweet potatoes or flavor-rich rice pilaf.
"No?cook" meals, such as salads and tacos stuffed with veggies, beans and low-fat cheese, can make meatless meals more enjoyable and feel like a treat rather than a sacrifice.