By now you know which foods are healthy and which are not. Fruits and veggies should be snack staples, while Doritos and Red Bull really shouldn’t be part of your daily intake. Though you have a handle on where and what to buy, your new year’s resolution to eat healthier seemingly conflicts with your other goal to spend less money.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the average cost of fresh fruits and vegetables will increase between 3.5 and 4 percent in 2013. Not surprisingly, that’s higher than the estimated increase for sugar and sweets.
Despite these projections, healthy food doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your bank account. Follow these 13 strategies for smarter health-food shopping on a budget.
1. Plan meals through circulars.
Meal-planning is one of the fundamental rules of saving money at the grocery store and eating healthy. Take your planning session to the next level by reviewing store circulars for weekly sales. Find out which healthy and fresh foods are available for less and create your menu with those ingredients.
2. Go beyond the supermarket.
These days you can find healthy, vitamin-rich food in the same retail space as furniture and home decor. Broaden your grocery store horizons to include places like World Market, and save on everything from quinoa to organic coffee by using discount gift cards. Sites such as GiftCardGranny.com offer World Market gift cards for up to 10-percent off, yielding instant savings without coupons.
3. Opt for frozen berries.
Berries offer a number of health benefits: They’re low in calories, high in fiber and contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which promote optimum health and wellness. When not in season, however, fresh berries are expensive. As a cheap alternative — and one that offers a longer shelf life — opt for bags of frozen berries. Though nothing beats fresh fruit in season, frozen fruit tastes just as great in yogurt, oatmeal and smoothies.
4. Choose a cheaper fish.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week, ideally those that contain omega-3 fatty acid like sole, tuna and salmon. We all know fresh fish comes with a high price tag, but luckily there are a few ways around expensive varieties. Frozen salmon and canned tuna (in water) boast the same health benefits as fresh fish at a lower cost. Look for deals on these alternatives and stock up during sale time.
5. Look for manager markdowns.
From bruised produce to meat nearing the recommended sell-by date, grocery stores typically feature an entire section devoted to discounted food — also known as manager markdowns. These items are perfectly safe for you to consume as long as you eat or freeze them immediately.
6. Buy whole produce.
When shopping for produce, always choose the whole fruit and vegetable. Bags of shredded carrots, cubed melon and sliced mushrooms are convenient, but ultimately costly. Any food that has been diced, chopped, sliced, minced, peeled or bagged is more expensive — a whopping 30 to 40 percent more, in fact. If time is an issue, set aside an hour one night each week to do all the prep work at once.
7. Go in on a side of meat.
Lean beef is a good source of protein and other nutrients when eaten in moderation. Thanks to last year’s drought, however, rising feed costs are transferring to consumers in the form of higher prices. That’s why going in on a side of grass-fed beef with a few other families is a good idea. Though you’ll need storage space, you’ll pay the same price for tenderloin as ground beef ($3 to $5 per pound on average) and get healthier, tastier meat.
8. Avoid select organic produce.
Being picky about what you put in your body is a good thing, but not all organic produce is created equal. Many fruits and veggies with tough or inedible peels — like pineapples, bananas, and avocados — are a waste of money when purchased organic. That’s because most of the pesticides are absorbed by the skin, so check this list from The Environmental Working Group to learn which produce you can skip in the organic section.
9. Try generic brands.
The organic movement has become so popular, many supermarkets have started selling their own organic food. Buying generic will save you up to 30 percent, so review store shelves for these private-label alternatives the next time you shop.
10. Buy select items in bulk.
Buying perishable items in bulk may not make sense for your family, but certain healthy staples represent the best value when purchased en masse. For example, olive oil is a healthy fat that may help lower your risk of heart disease. I save over 50 percent on Bertolli-brand olive oil by purchasing it from Sam’s Club every six months or so.
11. Go meatless.
“Meatless Mondays” is a movement started by mom bloggers who wanted to find healthy meat alternatives while cutting monthly grocery bills. Take a cue from their collective wisdom and cut meat from your menu at least once per week. You may go meatless more often once you see the health and budget benefits.
12. Get clipping.
Most people assume coupons are reserved for processed and otherwise bad-for-you foods. That’s actually a myth, as deals are available for most foods when you know where to look. Whole Foods, Brown Cow and Nature Made all have coupons available on their websites. Kashi includes coupons on their cereal and granola bar product boxes which I use when I need to restock. Ultimately, it’s best to check store or brand websites, social media profiles and email newsletters for coupons.
13. Grow your own.
Those with space for a small garden can benefit both their pocketbook and waistline by growing their own veggies. Tomatoes, bell peppers and various herbs are easy to grow and can reduce the amount you spend on produce. Use HGTV’s tips to build a small garden, and be sure to limit your plant selection to vegetables you consume and purchase frequently.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.