MARQUETTE - If you compare the sticker price of healthy food like fruits and vegetables with a candy bar, potato chips or fast food, it might seem close to impossible to shop for healthy foods on a limited budget. If you take away pre-packaged items, which are convenient but often just as unhealthy as junk food, the time it takes to make a healthy meal can also seem daunting.
With some planning and strategic purchases, however, feeding yourself and your family a healthy diet isn't impossible and can even save you money.
"Healthy eating requires changing what and how you eat, not just simply switching from conventional food to the organic or local versions of the same thing," said Natasha Gill, outreach coordinator for the Marquette Food Co-op.
Matt Leahy of Sand River reads his shopping list at the Marquette Food Co-op last week. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Organic pop, after all, is still a lot of empty calories in sugar without much other nutritional value.
In 2010, the co-op compared the prices of locally-grown items with the same conventionally-produced items sold in grocery stores. When purchased in season, items like beets, onions, basil, cucumbers, snap peas and zucchini were all less expensive when purchased from the local grower. In the comparison, most items were at least 20 cents cheaper locally, except for potatoes and head lettuce, which were slightly higher than the conventional prices.
In general, those who want to start eating healthy should limit how much junk food and alcohol they purchase and consume, limiting the number of salty or sugary foods. Processed foods often contain larger amounts of salt and sugar. Avoid items containing ingredients that you wouldn't find in your own pantry or that you can't pronounce.
A canister of oats, for example, can provide 30 servings of oatmeal, whereas a box of cereal only provides seven servings for the same or a higher price.
For some help getting started, try some of these tips, provided by the co-op and other sources.
- Find time each week to plan out your meals for the following seven days.
- Take 10 minutes at night to pack a healthy lunch for work so you don't have to spend money at a restaurant.
- Make a budget so you know how much you can spend on groceries. That will help you set priorities at the store.
- Check the Internet and cookbooks for new recipe ideas so you aren't always eating the same thing. New recipes can also give you ideas of what to do with the seasonal vegetables you find locally.
- Plan your meals around your perishable items. To avoid having food go to waste, use the most perishable items first.
- Make a list before you head to the store. Having a list in hand will help keep you concentrated on the items you need and not the impulses that can drive up your grocery bill.
- Shop the outside of your grocery store. Grocery stores are organized with produce, meats and dairy products located on the periphery of the store, with higher priced and often unhealthy pre-packaged items in the middle.
- Buy fruits and vegetables when they're in season. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also be good choices.
- Buy items like grains, beans and pasta in bulk to save money and reduce the amount of packaging for your purchases.
- Stock up on items that are on sale, particularly if they're non-perishable, and clip coupons to get an extra discount.
- Check out local farms or the local farmers market to buy seasonal produce.
When you get home
- Wash and prep fruits and vegetables when you return from shopping so they're convenient and ready to eat. Fresh veggies are a more healthy snack than chips. Having fresh fruit in a bowl on the kitchen table will put it within easy reach.
- Cook staple items like rice in large batches, then freeze the extras so they can be used when needed throughout the week. Soups and other meals can also be easily frozen to be used when you're short on time to put dinner together.
- Try making some vegetarian meals, with beans or lentils, which are less expensive than meat, but still provide protein.
- Be creative with your leftovers. Chicken from one meal can be used to make sandwiches or a casserole later in the week. Doubling your recipes can give you several days worth of meals with the same amount of work.
- Try eating smaller portions of more expensive items, like meat. A serving size of meat is typically about the size of a deck of cards, not the portion of steak or the hamburger you might find in a restaurant.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org