Maximize Nutrition, Minimize Cost: A Guide To Eating Healthy

The U.S. economy may be on the mend, but for many Americans, the last five years were rough on our wallets.

Forget for a second the crippling anxiety we get from looking at gas prices, rent or mortgages, student loans, health costs, and any other litany of bills. What about basic needs like healthy food? That's pretty costly, too. And here's the kicker: Unhealthy meals, such as fast food or prepackaged dinners, cost less.

Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture published findings from a study that stated that "moderation foods" — those high in calories, saturated fats, and added sugars — cost less per calorie than low-calorie fruits and vegetables. In short, unhealthy foods cost less than healthy ones, so people with tight budgets are less likely to eat well.

A tight budget doesn't mean that your health has to suffer. Let's take a look at some ways to eat healthy without breaking the bank:

The Three P's 

As we've found with most things in life, having a game plan helps reduce the likelihood of straying from our goals. The same can be said for food on a budget, especially using the USDA's three P's: plan, purchase, prepare.

This means establishing a weekly budget for food; planning out meals that are easy, nutritious, and won't cost a lot; looking for sales or coupons; purchasing groceries when you're not hungry to avoid splurging; buying in bulk for cost savings; and preparing meals ahead of time (like using a slow cooker set before school or work in the morning). Cook in bulk, freeze excess food, and stretch those foods out by recycling yesterday's chicken salad into tonight's taco dinner.

Choose wisely 

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but don't have to be expensive. You can reduce the cost by choosing in-season produce, items that aren't organic (organic = $$$) and preparing them in enzyme-rich raw form to maximize nutritional benefits.

Buy this, not that

Small changes really do go a long way when it comes to healthy eating for the budget-conscious eater. Consuming milk or water is much healthier than sugary juices or sodas, despite your grandma's complaint about the price of milk, which still is less than those added-sugar drinks. 

Likewise, pantry items, such as dried beans and whole-grain rice, still keep well for a long amount of time, but without the added sodium of processed counterparts, such as canned vegetables or instant mashed potatoes. Plus, beans are great protein and can be substituted for a meat. Finally, speaking of meat, purchasing a whole chicken instead of individual thighs, breasts, and legs also will reduce your grocery bill.

— Laura Van Wert, HellaWella


More From HellaWella:

• Foods to keep in your kitchen for no-cook summer meals

• 5 signs you might be addicted to food

• Fill up without filling out: How to feel more satisfied with less food

• 6 foods that will keep your eyes healthy

• 7 best (and FREE!) healthy eating apps for your smartphone