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Basic Shopping List for Healthy Meals on a Budget

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/20/2011

Healthy eating is too expensive! This is what many people think, but it's a myth. Sure, there are choices to be made, and sometimes convenience foods bump up grocery prices, but it is possible to eat healthy meals on a budget. Here's how to develop a low budget shopping list for healthy meals.

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    Healthy and Cheap

    Eating healthy can be difficult when your family's budget is low. Healthy foods, such as fresh produce are notoriously expensive, while less nutritious options can be more affordable. This is probably why many low income families fall into poor nutrition habits. According to a bulletin provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one quarter of children ages two to eleven years old don't get at least three vegetables in their diet each day, and less than one half eat at least two fruits per day. Healthy meals can happen on a tight budget, but it does require a little planning ahead. Get some tips on smart, healthy eating as well as planning a healthy grocery list on a budget.

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    Back to the Basics

    Avoid Pre-packaged & Processed Foods

    Choosing healthy and inexpensive food items at the same time are the challenge. Pre-packaged foods cost a lot of money and usually are not good for you either. So when hitting the food aisles, you'll need to get back to the basics.

    Cheap Breakfast Staples:

    For example, oatmeal is a very healthy breakfast food. It can be purchased in large canisters for much less than the instant flavored envelopes that are so popular. Regular oatmeal in the canister can be bought as a "one minute variety" which actually takes little time to prepare. You can add your own flavorings, such as honey and nuts or fruit. You'll get much more servings from the large canister of oatmeal than that small box of instant.

    Another healthy and cheap breakfast food is pancakes. You can make them with the staples you probably keep in your pantry. Replace half the flour with whole wheat or buckwheat flour. You can make pancakes or waffles and freeze them ahead of time for quick breakfasts any day of the week.

    For additional tips on affordable and healthy breakfast choices, please read this article on how to eat more wholesome breakfast foods while spending less money.

    Budget Lunch & Dinner Essentials:

    Buy large boxes of store brand whole wheat pastas and brown rice instead of their white counterparts. The price is comparable, but whole wheat pasta and brown rice are much healthier. Brown rice contains B vitamins that are stripped away with the hulling process used to make white rice.

    Purchase potatoes for vitamin C-rich meal options that are as frugal as they are versatile. Whether baked, boiled, mashed, or made into potato salads, the same potato can offer many different menu options. You can't beat the price when 10lb cost less than $7 in a typical supermarket.

    Another low cost item that offers great health benefits is the egg. Eggs are great for any meal, as they can be added to stir frys, made into fritattas, or scrambled up for breakfast. They contain protein and B vitamins and are very healthy choices.

    Finally, dried beans shouldn't be forgotten when planning healthy and frugal meals. High in protein, they can be made in burritos, refried for dips, eaten on salads, or ladled up in soups.

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    Fresh, Frozen, or Canned?

    We all know the importance of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, but when planning your grocery list on a budget, somehow fruits and vegetables tend to fall by the wayside when we notice the prices. But fruits and vegetables can be included in budget-wise meals with a little foreknowledge.

    The most expensive produce will be found in the grocery store produce section, but that's not necessarily where the most nutrient-dense produce is found. This produce has been picked and shipped days or even weeks before it ends up in the store. Instead, roll that cart on over to the frozen foods section for a huge variety of frozen fruits and veggies that have been flash-frozen on the day they were picked for optimal freshness and nutrition. You can also buy many different kinds of frozen vegetable blends, which offer a rainbow of variety, which is even healthier. Using coupons or store brands will reduce the cost of frozen fruits and veggies even more. Look for frozen produce that doesn't have added ingredients, such as cream sauces, butter, or added sugars. Buy large bags, and use portions as needed.

    Most people do enjoy some fresh fruits in their diet, and salads require fresh produce too. To lower your fresh produce costs, try local fruit stands and farmer's markets. You'll enjoy fresher, possibly organic produce at typically lower costs. Also, consider growing your own favorites. Growing a garden and planting bushes and trees can be a great family project that will yield fresh produce for years to come.

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    Low Cost Items to Add to Your Grocery List

    ___potatoes, large bag

    ___onions

    ___frozen broccoli

    ___frozen vegetable blends

    ___frozen blueberries (sprinkle on cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, smoothies or eat alone)

    ___frozen peaches, strawberries, or fruit blends (same as blueberries)

    ___whole wheat pasta

    ___brown rice (in bulk)

    ___eggs

    ___bananas

    ___dried beans (in bulk)

    ___popcorn (snack) (for air popping)

    ___mixed nuts (snack item) (store brand or coupon)

    ___ green tea bags (store brand)

    ___100% fruit juice (gallon size) (coupon or store brand)

    ___frozen chicken tenderloins (large bag) (makes 3 meals)

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    Eating healthy should never be a luxury! With a little forethought and planning, and some smart budgeting, you can make smart choices at the grocery store for healthy meals for your family.

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    Resources

    1. www.healthline.com

    2. www.healthcastle.com

    3. www.rwjf.org : "Improving Access to Healthy Foods"

    4. www.fruitsand veggiesmorematters.org

    5. Journal of the American Dietetic Association: December, 2008.