Grocery prices rose 6.2% from October 2010 to October 2011, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service. The agency predicts a further 3 to 4% increase in grocery prices in 2012. If you're having trouble sticking to your household grocery budget, don't stop buying more expensive healthy foods in favor of cheap junk foods. Instead, start looking for foods that are both nutritious and affordable. (To help you save in the grocery story, check out A Map To Grocery Store Savings.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Here are six to get you started:
"Apples are nature's most perfect food. They make for an energizing snack and contain a large quantity of soluble fiber, which means they do a good job of regulating blood sugar," says Christine Eubanks, CHHC, a nutritionist and health coach for the website Love and Tomatoes.
Fiber fills you up with fewer calories, slows down digestion and decreases absorption of fat and calories. It also prevents disease, and foods that are high in fiber also tend to be high in other important nutrients. Consuming 35 to 40g of fiber per day is ideal, yet most people get less than 10g. Apples are also inexpensive and have a longer shelf life than most fresh produce.
"High in fiber and low in fat, beans are a great source of protein," says Jackie Keller, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and founding director of Los Angeles-based healthy meal delivery service NutriFit. "They supply high amounts of zinc, fiber and magnesium. Beans are also extremely versatile and inexpensive and can be a key ingredient in soups, salads, chilis and many main or side dishes," she adds.
According to Monica Reinagel, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast and author of the book "Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet," "Beans are a very economical source of protein, especially if you buy them dry. By soaking them in a crock pot over high heat, you can dramatically speed up the rehydration process."
"However, beans are not a complete protein, so you'll need to eat them along with a whole grain, like brown rice, for the best nutrition," Reinagel adds. (For more ways you can save on your shopping, see 5 Easy Ways To Save On Groceries.)
"To make white rice, the milling process removes the first few layers of the grain, where all the nutrients live. Brown rice is a whole grain. The processing of brown rice removes only the hull, preserving the nutritional value of the grain," says Carol Cottrill, CNC. "Brown rice contains more fiber and provides you with essential minerals like magnesium and zinc," she adds.
Brown rice takes a long time to cook, but doesn't require your attention. In fact, it requires even less effort than pasta. You don't have to wait for water to boil; you add the rice and water to the pot at the same time. Throw some spices in the pot to add flavor inexpensively.
Vilasi Venkatachalam, MSc, MS, and RD, says sweet potatoes are one of the top five foods to buy if you're searching for loose change in your couch cushions. She recommends these tubers for being rich in caratenoids and fiber and sweet in flavor. Other inexpensive and healthy vegetables she suggests are cabbage, radishes and onions.
When shopping for vegetables, be aware that processing can impact their nutritional content. According to Reinagel, canned vegetables have fewer nutrients than fresh or frozen vegetables. The canning process requires high temperatures for sterilizing the product to make it shelf stable and the vegetables sit in liquid in the cans. Both of these aspects of canning cause nutrient loss. Canned vegetables are also generally higher in sodium than their fresh or frozen counterparts. (To see which products are increase in price, read 5 Grocery Staples That Are Going Up In Price.)
"Many people who turn their nose up at this little fish have never given it the shot it deserves," says Janel Ovrut Funk, MS, RD, and LDN. "Canned sardines are inexpensive but loaded with protein and heart-healthy omega 3 fats, making it easy to get the recommended two servings per week of heart healthy fish in our diets."
Canned sardines are much less expensive than heart-healthy salmon, and they're easy to store. Funk recommends boneless, skinless, oil-packed sardines for newcomers. "They have a light, flaky texture similar to canned tuna and nice briny flavor that pairs well with diced tomatoes or olives," she says. Try mixing them into tomato sauces or casseroles. Sardines that do have bones are also a good source of calcium.
Plain yogurt can be much cheaper than flavored yogurt because it's sold in large containers. It's also healthier because it's unsweetened. Plain yogurt is low in calories, high in calcium and has a decent amount of protein. If you find it bland on its own, add your own sweetener or fruit.
Randy Rabnet, author of the book "Delicious for Life: Your Everyday Guide to Making Quick and Healthy Meals," recommends yogurt or kefir.
"Instead of getting all of your dairy from milk, try the naturally fermented versions which will not only provide the benefits of milk but also help boost your immunity," he says. "Be careful to choose something that doesn't contain artificial colors, flavors and heavily refined sweeteners," he adds.
The Bottom Line
You don't have to resort to eating junk food because grocery prices are increasing. You just need to learn a few tricks for getting good nutrition on a budget. (For more on how you can save on that holiday budget, see 6 Tips For Feasting On A Budget.)