Shopping MyPlate on a Budget

Healthy eating does not need to cost a fortune.  Fine-tuning your grocery shopping habits by focusing on MyPlate foods first, then adding in the “extras” can go a long way to improving your family’s health and saving you money at the grocery store. Before you get to the store, make a grocery list and check the store circular for specials and coupons. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry, it leads to impulse purchases which can blow your budget.

Fruits & Vegetables:  Starting with the MyPlate visual that half your plate is vegetables and fruits, the produce section is the best place to start shopping.  If half of every meal should be vegetables and fruits, then half the grocery cart should be, too. Fill up on seasonal produce, it’s cheaper because it is plentiful and you can’t beat the flavor. Instead of fresh, opt for frozen vegetables and fruits as well as dried fruits.  Frozen and dried foods last longer.  Choose frozen vegetables without sauces and dried fruits without added sugar or reduced sugar. Check for sales, coupons and deals on these items. Buy salad dressings when they are on sale.  These items often have a long shelf-life, so buy them when they are on sale.

Whole Grains: Next, head straight for the aisles with whole grain products.  Whole grains give a feeling of fullness, which helps you eat less, and consequently, spend less for meals. To get the best bang for your buck, buy bulk products like whole grain pasta, brown rice, couscous and cereals. If you are new to shopping the bulk food aisle, ask for help. The people who work in this section of the store are extremely helpful and very willing to support new customers.

Dairy: Move on to the dairy section next. Unless you have children under the age of two, keep your dairy selections low fat, skim, or fat free. You won’t get a huge price savings here but you will decrease the amount of cholesterol and fat in your family’s daily food plan. To find the best deals, the container size can be deceiving and make you think the bigger container is the better deal. It is best to read the cost per unit on the store’s price signs. Reading these signs will tell you the best deal ‘per ounce’ or ‘per pound’. Remember though, dairy products are perishable, and you don’t want to buy a family-sized container of an item that will expire before you have time to use it all. Sometimes buying a smaller container is the right choice for your family.  Always check the sell by date to make sure you’re buying the freshest dairy products that will last the longest time. Store brands also tend to be less expensive than name brands when buying cheese, yogurt, and milk.

Proteins: Finish up with proteins which tend to be located all over the store. Keep in mind canned and dried beans and peas are excellent sources of protein and per serving are often are more affordable than meats and seafood.  Including meatless meals in your weekly menu is a healthy way to shrink your grocery budget. If you are shopping for proteins that are going to be eaten the same or next day, the “reduced for quick sale” items can be a good choice beef, chicken, or pork. Always check the expiration date on the price sticker.  Buying larger packages of meats and poultry cost less per pound. Large packs can be separated into smaller ‘meal-sized’ portions, placed in freezer bags and frozen for later use. Canned tuna (or other fish) and peanut butter are also affordable protein options. And don’t forget about eggs! They’re a great low-cost option that’s easy to prepare.

Now, a little about the extras. Choose healthy fats for cooking such as olive oil and canola oil; keep butter for special recipes only. When cooking, use less oil and butter and you’ll save money and make your meals healthier. Snacks like cookies, crackers, chips, candy, and ice cream are fun treats. However, including them in your regular weekly grocery order adds up to excess spending and excess calories. Keep your budget in mind and a calculator handy when you shop for groceries.  If there is a little money left over splurge on a treat or two and make them last.