Can We Buy Healthy Food by Lower Price

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healthy-food_cFresh fruits, crunchy veggies and lean meats are becoming some of the highest priced foods in grocery stores. Meanwhile, heavily processed foods sport prices that appear more appealing to the college student living on her own or the financially strapped mother of four looking for a bargain in a sour economy.

Ever wonder why it's sometimes hard to enjoy good-for-you foods?

Here's a hint: it's not the taste. It's the price.

Fresh fruits, crunchy veggies and lean meats are becoming some of the highest priced foods in grocery stores. Meanwhile, heavily processed foods sport prices that appear more appealing to the college student living on her own or the financially strapped mother of four looking for a bargain in a sour economy.

However, it is possible to eat healthy - without paying the price - by putting health first, shopping smart, and making the most from your meals.

Health first

Avoiding pre-packaged, wildly "manipulated" foods can be easy if you make good health the primary focus when visiting the grocery store.

Dr. Paul Mach of the Holistic Healthcare Alliance in Springfield says putting health first means considering the nutritional value gained when paying an extra dollar for organic foods.

"A five-pound bag of organic carrots may be a dollar more than regular carrots," Mach says. "But when you compare nutritional value - for example, a $3 bag verses a $4 bag - the $3 bag is not going to give you the color, flavor, or nutrients you will get with a $4 bag of organic carrots. From this perspective, you're actually getting more for your money because of the density of the nutrients and the flavor, taste, and overall quality of the product."

Shopping smart

For some shoppers, however, the buck stops with the numbers on the price tag. This is when savvy shopping comes in handy.

Cost comparisons are one way to shop smart and avoid the financial pitfalls that can come with healthy living.

Christina Rollins, a clinical dietician with Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, says customers should look at the unit price when shopping for bargains.

"The price tag will read 'price per unit,'" she says. "When you compare price per serving, you're actually getting more servings when you buy fresh produce. For example, you can buy a bag of potatoes for a higher price, but a bag of potatoes will give you more servings and more nutritional value than buying a box of processed potatoes."

Farmer's markets are also great money-savers for fresh food items.

"When you compare the costs of fresh produce at a farmer's market with the cost of produce sold at local grocery stores, you will often find that fruits and vegetables in season are usually sold at a cheaper price," Mach says.

Rollins says some farmers markets sell large tomato plants for $3, which buyers can then plant in their gardens.

"Gardening is great exercise," she says. "Farmers markets allow you to eat healthy, stay active, and support your local food-growers at a low price."

In addition to farmers markets, grocery stores sell some fruits and vegetables at lower prices than others. Mach says apples - in season - are generally reasonably priced. Blueberries are also a less expensive seller.

Kelly Powell, a dietician at the Southern Illinois University Department of Internal Medicine, says apples may be as cheap as 19 cents per pound when in season. Avoiding packaged fruits such as apples that have been pre-cut or pre-sliced can also save a bundle.

"Don't pay for someone else's labor," Powell says.

Vegetables such as spinach, carrots, celery, and potatoes can satisfy your mid-afternoon cravings without emptying your wallet.

Relatively inexpensive protein items include organic chicken and beef.

"You can buy chicken fresh in bulk," Rollins says. "Ground chuck or ground turkey are some of the cheaper meat items."

When buying meat, Rollins also suggests looking for the words "round" or "loin," such as "ground round" or "pork loin," to save money.

Making meals last

Shopping savvy goes hand in hand with knowing how to get the most from your meals. Mach lists several ways to help shoppers make their portions last.

"Cooking with brown rice is a smart way to get the most from what you buy at the store," he says. "I'll take some rice and put several servings into a baggie. Then I'll put it into the freezer to stir-fry later in the week with some vegetables."

And don't throw out those extra vegetables from dinner. Veggies that were cooked the night before make a handsome addition to omelets for the next morning's breakfast.

Green bags, sold at some pharmacy stores, keep vegetables and fruits fresh longer. "It increases the length of time you can keep produce by slowing the ripening," Powell says.

Rollins recommends seasoning meat and freezing it in individual servings to make store-bought food last.

"This works great for tacos or spaghetti," she says. "You can also make meat your side dish. For instance, have a big salad with a 3-ounce side of pork loin."

Fish, very inexpensive when bought in bulk, can be seasoned and frozen to use for two or three meals.


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