COL Eating healthy without breaking the bank

Does it actually cost more to eat healthy?

According to Dr. David L. Katz, professor at Yale University School of Medicine, "The short answer is: No, it needn't. Most people trying to eat healthy go halfway, buying more fruits and vegetables or eating a bit less fast food. If you stop there, costs do go up: High-quality meats are costlier than burgers and fries, and produce costs more than Doritos and Cheez Doodles."

"There is nothing cheaper than refined grains, added sugar and added fat," says Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Empty calories simply cost very little. With nutrient-dense foods, consumers need to be prepared to pay more, but that's OK."

"It's not easy to plan every detail of your meals in advance, but if you do, the rewards are significant," says Hollie Raynor, a registered dietitian at The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control &; Diabetes Research Center in Providence, R.I. She recommends figuring out exactly what you're going to eat for the entire week or month.

Sure, preparing food from scratch saves money -- but what about all the time involved? "We would need about 15 to 20 hours each week to prepare all the meals for our families, but a typical working person only has about four to five," Drewnowski says. One suggestion is to set aside one "cooking and prep" day per week. You can freeze everything and simply defrost meals as needed.


Once you've planned your meals, it's time to make a list. To avoid impulse purchases and cut shopping time, write your list according to the store's layout. Shop on a full stomach -- hunger can lead to impulse buying, which brings up costs and calories.

Large supermarkets are less expensive and tend to have more sales than small delis or gourmet stores.

Look for store brands. You can always return to the name brand if you're not happy.

Don't buy gimmicky "diet" foods.

Avoid out-of-season produce. Nutrient-for-nutrient, in-season produce is one of the best bargains around.

Stick with basic staples like carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli and cabbage. Drewnowski advises avoiding fancy lettuces and "heirloom or imported produce." Don't feel you have to buy organic, and don't pay extra for pre-washed salad mixes or vegetable sticks. Buy heads of lettuce, bunches of broccoli and bags of carrots; then wash, clean and slice them yourself.

When fresh produce is too pricey, buy frozen or canned, which can be a great nutrition bargain. Unlike fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables don't go bad!

Stock up on grains and starches. Whole-grain breads and cereals offer the most nutrition for your money. Buy non-perishable items like 100 percent whole-grain bread, bagels, cereals, pasta, rice and beans when they're on sale, and store bread in the freezer to keep it from going stale.


Economize on protein. Purchase lean meats when they're on sale and freeze whatever you don't use right away. Chicken (leg quarters are least expensive) and turkey typically cost less than beef. If you're going to have red meat, try the less-expensive cuts.

Canned tuna, peanut butter, eggs and beans are inexpensive, protein-rich staples.

Upsize on dairy. Buying milk by the half-gallon is cheaper than pints or quarts. And keep in mind, skim is the same price as whole milk. Yogurt is a great, nutritious snack, but skip the costly 8-ounce containers and grab the less-expensive quarts instead.

Fill your pantry or refrigerator with foods that let you make dinner in 20 minutes or less, to avoid the fast-food temptation on busy nights.

A great sandwich from home costs less than a burger and fries. Or, make a little extra dinner so that you'll have leftovers for the next day.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a syndicated health, nutrition and fitness columnist and founder of iWellness Solutions. He can be reached at

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