Healthbytes - Eating healthy on a budget

As a registered dietitian, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “I can’t afford to eat healthy,” or, “healthy food is so expensive.” The truth is, as individuals and as a society, we can no longer afford NOT to eat healthy! Obesity related costs are estimated to be $147-210 billion per year. These individuals spend 42 percent more on health care, and studies show that obesity may shorten life expectancy by up to 14 years. No matter what your budget is, it’s time to eat healthy! All you need are a few basic skills, a little change in behavior and an open mind.

First, let’s think about the cost of buying food at a restaurant, cafeteria or fast-food establishment. You are charged for three things: the food, the packaging and the labor it took to make and serve your food. By learning basic cooking skills and eating the majority of your meals at home, you will save a significant amount of money. Is it really worth paying someone else to make your food when you could do it just as well or even better yourself? Eat at home and you will see savings!

In the grocery store, you are still paying for food, packaging and labor, although in this case, the labor expense comes from the processing of foods. If your food is in a box or an airtight bag, it is likely processed and probably not very healthy. Focus on buying whole foods rather than processed foods. Whole foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, but in this sense may also include individual ingredients rather than buying a pre-made meal in the frozen or convenience section. For example, instead of buying frozen lasagna you could buy noodles, a can of tomato sauce, a block of cheese, and some vegetables. The results will be more wholesome and will make far more servings of lasagna than the frozen variety. You may be able to make two lasagnas instead of one and then freeze the second for later or even have it for leftovers throughout the week. (Note: learn to love leftovers! This will save you a lot of money! Always prepare more food than you need and then save it for lunches or a night when you don’t feel like cooking.)

Lastly, eat less meat. Before you reject this idea entirely — hear me out! Going vegetarian at least once a week can not only save you money, but it’s also better for the environment and your health! A recent study of 26,000 African-American participants showed that vegetarians could reduce the risk of hypertension by nearly 50 percent and obesity by greater than 40 percent. Most adults only need 5-6 ounces of lean meat or other protein per day, so don’t break the bank trying to load up on additional meat. Even if you don’t cut out meat entirely, reducing the frequency and portion sizes of meat in your meals may be beneficial to your health. Try limiting meat to only dinner, or perhaps participate in the global effort of “Meatless Mondays.” Remember, meat is one of the most expensive food items, so if you can replace it with other types of protein such as beans, soy products, or nuts, you may save your health and your money!

Claudia Carberry, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science Degree in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Tennessee. She is the Clinical Nutrition Manager in JRMC’s Nutritional Services Department. If you have a question for Carberry, send her an email at