Have you ever bypassed the produce or deli sections at the grocery store because you didn’t have enough money or time to buy healthy foods and prepare a nutritious meal? Did you then swing by a fast-food restaurant on the way home to pick up a quick, easy and cheap dinner?
If so, you’re not alone, said registered dietician Tami Best, coordinator of diabetes education and outpatient nutrition therapy at Thompson Health in Canandaigua.
"A lot of times there’s the perception (that families) can’t afford to buy the healthy foods, but they keep pulling through the drive-through at McDonald’s or all the fast-food restaurants," Best said.
Fast food often is appealing because it’s quick, cheap, and convenient when you’re hungry and either don’t have food with you or don’t want to wait to prepare a meal. In the long run, however, eating fast food on a regular basis ends up costing more for both your wallet and your waistline, Best said.
Instead, Best suggests planning ahead and packing a turkey sandwich or healthy snacks ahead of time.
"Carry things with you. It’s going to be much less expensive if you just plan ahead," she said.
A budget-conscious lunch at a fast-food restaurant might only cost $3 or $4 a day, but that quickly adds up to $15 to $20 per work week. On the other hand, a loaf of wheat bread, a container of sliced deli turkey and a package of sliced American cheese cost a grand total of $8.37 at one local grocery store the Catholic Courier visited in late June.
OK, so you’ve turned away from the fast-food restaurant and pulled into a grocery store’s parking lot. Now the hard part is over, right?
Not so, Best said. You still have to decide which foods to buy, based on both their price tags and their nutritional value.
"There’s no doubt that some of the produce and things like that can make your grocery bill go up. However, it certainly isn’t the case across the board," Best said.
Buying produce from a local farmers market or roadside stand is the best way to get fresh produce at a good price, Best said. If you must buy your produce from a grocery store, however, choose wisely.
"Choose produce that is in season for your area or you’re going to increase your costs," she advised.
Frozen or canned vegetables can provide a cheaper yet still-healthy alternative to fresh vegetables, provided one buys the low-sodium varieties and rinse them before preparing them, Best said. The grocery store the Courier recently visited sold fresh green beans for $1.99 per pound and a 14.5-ounce can of green beans for 39 cents.
There are other ways to save money and make healthy purchases at the grocery store, Best said. Many stores sell their own store brands, which are significantly cheaper but of comparable quality. Clipping and using store or manufacturer coupons is another good way to save some cash, she added.
"All these things will help streamline the grocery bill while allowing the family to eat healthy foods," Best said.
Of course, one’s eating habits are just as important as the foods one eats, she noted.
"The bottom line is any food can be included into a diet. It’s the way people treat it (that matters)," she said.
Establishing a baseline — usually by recording or journaling your food intake — is one of the first steps toward establishing healthier eating habits, Best said.
"Make yourself aware of your current eating habits. Look at these and make reasonable, measurable goals for the family," she said. "Make the first goal for the family to get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables (per day)."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site, www.MyPyramid.gov, is another good place to start, Best said. This site offers a number of free resources, including dietary guidelines, personalized eating plans and menu planners. Anyone interested in learning about and changing their eating habits also may obtain from a primary-care physician a referral to see a registered dietician.
"It’s a great way to get started down the path (to healthy eating)," Best said.
Healthy foods aren’t always more expensive
The American public holds a common perception that healthy foods are more expensive than their less nutritious counterparts, according to Tami Best, coordinator of diabetes education and outpatient nutrition therapy at Thompson Health in Canandaigua. Many times this is true, but there are exceptions. Here’s what the Catholic Courier found on a recent trip to a local grocery store:
* Loaf of store-brand white bread: $1.99; loaf of store-brand wheat bread: $1.99.
* Package of Kraft White American singles: $2.89; package of Kraft White American Fat-Free Singles: $4.19.
* Single serving of store-brand yogurt: 45 cents; single serving of store-brand light yogurt: 45 cents.
* Gallon of 2-percent milk: $1.80; gallon of 1-percent milk: $1.74; gallon of fat-free milk: $1.69.
* Can of store-brand chicken-noodle soup: 50 cents; can of store-brand low-sodium chicken-noodle soup: 79 cents.
* 17-ounce box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes: $2.99; 17.3-ounce box of Kellogg’s All Bran Wheat Flakes: $3.89
* 11-ounce bag of Lay’s potato chips: $3; 9-ounce bag of Baked Lay’s potato chips: $3.79.