On Nutrition

Are you feeling the pinch at the grocery store? Recent consumer research by Bellevue-based Hartman Group found that rising prices are changing how people shop, with some people with lower income buying less food overall, and others switching to lower-cost items, including those from store brands. Here are some time-tested tips for making your grocery budget go further.

Eat out less and cook more at home

There’s no getting around the fact that meals prepared at home are generally less expensive (and often more nutritious) than restaurant meals. If you’ve been enjoying dining out with friends again, consider getting together for barbecues, picnics or potlucks.

Eat more meatless meals

Beans are a low-cost, nutritious powerhouse — rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals — whether you prepare them from scratch by soaking and cooking dried beans or opt for canned beans. Dried lentils are also an option that doesn’t require soaking and has a shorter cooking time. When you do eat meat, poultry and fish, try just adding small amounts to main-dish salads, stir-fries, soups or pasta sauces.

Ignore dietary dogma

Many trendy diets demonize perfectly nutritious and inexpensive foods such as potatoes, pasta, rice, and frozen and canned produce — pity, because combining leftover vegetables and meat or poultry with a pot of pasta or rice can make for a quick, inexpensive dinner. Even beans get thrown under the bus with extreme low-carb diets. While you can certainly find research studies supporting low-fat diets, low-carb diets and everything in between, the most compelling evidence comes from research showing that the quality of our food counts more for nutrition and health than any specific ratio of carbs, protein and fat.

Reduce food waste

When you have to throw away food that you spent good money on, guilt often comes along for the ride — no matter what your food budget. If you’re in the habit of reaching for “convenience produce” like prewashed salad greens and presliced fruits and veggies, consider that these ready-to-eat items usually cost more — and spoil faster — than whole produce. If you need convenience plus shelf life, canned and frozen produce are options. They usually cost less and require less preparation than fresh produce, and they’re just as nutritious, sometimes even more nutritious, because they’re frozen or canned immediately after harvest.

Have a plan

Making a weekly meal plan — at least a loose one — and creating a flexible shopping list can help you take advantage of sales and make use of leftovers. That reduces food waste and saves money. Your list should cover what you need without locking in specific brands or varieties. For example, if you need to buy fruit, note it on your list then buy what’s on sale (provided it’s something you like). Having a plan and a list can also prevent overbuying. That’s important, because if you buy more than you can use, that “good buy” just turns into food waste.

To make it easier to use up fresh fruits and veggies, take time to wash and prep produce when you get home from the store. Still have some veggies from your previous shopping trip that are looking a little tired? Incorporate them into a stir-fry or a pot of soup or chili.

Need a resource for tasty, nutritious, budget-friendly recipes? I often recommend the cookbook “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” by Leanne Brown, which is available as a free downloadable PDF.