Trying to eat healthy on a budget is as difficult as winning a cooking competition against Chef Gordon Ramsey.
In the average Wal-Mart, there are more than 225,000 foods to choose from. And deciding what to pick--and whether you can afford it--can be even more complicated if most of your buying power takes the form of government assistance.
For some families, it’s a choice between maintaining a roof over their heads or buying the cheaper juice drink instead of real juice.
Ana Maria Miranda, a stay-at-home mother of two, plans her shopping based on her husband’s earnings and the family’s food stamp benefits.
“Organically produced foods are healthier for my family, but its cost is too high for me to buy on a weekly basis,” said Miranda.
Having ruled out organic foods, she’s looking for affordable alternatives.
“I know I should stay away from high calories and focus on the nutritional value of foods, but when it comes down to it, money, time, energy and a lack of knowledge prevents me from eating healthier,” she said.
Avian Sanchez faces the same issues. She works full-time for the Clarke County School District, she has five children, and she would need more money and more than 24 hours in a day to feed her family a healthy diet.
“With my hectic schedule, a husband who works, my five children and bills, who has time to consistently shop and eat healthy?” said Sanchez.“Sometimes the only thing I have time for are value meals.” By this she means featured specials at fast-food restaurants.
“Lots of people make the comparisons between going and getting a value meal somewhere and going to the grocery store. I can spend $4.50 and get a meal, or go to the grocery store and spend $10 to $12,” said Ben Gray a registered dietician at the University of Georgia (UGA). “The thing is that when you go to the grocery store you will get at least 5 servings from that $10.”
Gray helps run the nutrition kitchen at UGA, where he teaches students how to prepare healthy meals, understand good nutrition, and limit prep time.
The key to living within your food budget is planning. “In all parts of life, people have to plan for things. Meal preparation is no different,” he said.
Gray suggests that people on a budget start by spending two to three hours preparing their family’s meal plan for a week. This includes research, such as finding what’s on sale in supermarkets and looking for healthy recipes.
“People can use the USDA 2010 dietary guidelines, and ChooseMyPlate.gov, which is the extension of the dietary guidelines,” he said.
ChooseMyPlate.gov helps people understand the benefits of eating more vegetables, low fat dairy and lean proteins. It also coaches people to cut down on bad fats, sugars and sodium.
When it comes to prepping meals, Gray advises, “It’s really about practice and doing it just as slow as starting a workout regimen. If we are doing it with food, pick one recipe a week for 10 weeks, and you will have a bank of recipes.”