Ever thought about cleaning up your diet but worry about the price tags on all that healthy food? You’re not alone. Whole Foods Market, often nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” for its prices, recently announced the launch of a new, budget-friendly store geared toward millennial shoppers who share these cost concerns.
“It’s really challenging for people to make the right choices when price is sometimes the thing that strikes them in the face,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson, Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, a nutrition and cooking coach in the Philadelphia area.
But is there really merit to the claims that cost makes eating clean unattainable for budget-minded people? And how can you reap the benefits if you’re not willing to fork over huge amounts of cash?
The Price of Clean Eating
If you’ve ever walked down the snack food aisle or visited a convenience store, you know that you can buy a jumbo-sized bag of chips for less than the price of a bag of baby spinach. A recent Cambridge University study found healthy foods to be three times as expensive per calorie as unhealthy foods. And researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that healthier diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts cost about $1.50 more per day — or $550 more per year — than the least healthy diets rich in processed foods, meats and refined grains.
As far as organic foods are concerned, while they will cost you more than their non-organic counterparts, the price gap is getting smaller, says Allison Enke, RD, a product compliance and nutrition analyst for Whole Foods Market. “In general, as demand for organic products has grown and volume has increased, prices have become more competitive over time,” she says.
Clean Eating on the Cheap
While clean eating can be a money sucker if you let it, it doesn’t have to break the bank. These tips and shortcuts will help you plan and shop smarter, so you can save those hard earned dollars for something more fun than groceries (or, you know, for paying your rent).
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1. Emphasize in-season produce. During harvest time, the costs of in-season produce often drop due to increased availability, explains Enke. That also happens to be when fruits and vegetables are at their peak in terms of both flavor and nutrition. If you’re not sure what’s in season when, staff in the produce department can usually help point shoppers in the right direction. During summer months, organic strawberries, stone fruits (like peaches, apricots, cherries and plums) and melons are some of the best values, Enke notes.
2. Know when to skip organic. Certain foods, such as corn, onions, pineapples, avocadoes, and cabbage absorb a minimal amount of crop chemicals and are OK to buy conventionally grown. Others known as the “dirty dozen,” including apples, strawberries, grapes, celery and peaches, can have high levels of pesticide residue, so splurging on organic will eliminate your chance of consuming chemicals.
3. Don’t be afraid of store brands. Unlike knockoff handbags and clothing, you don’t have to sacrifice quality when choosing store brand products at the supermarket. Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value line, for example, features more than 3,000 food products, almost half of which are organic. Other brands to look for at supermarkets include Safeway’s O Organics, Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop’s Nature’s Promise and Wegmans Organic.
4. Buy in bulk. Buying up supersized quantities of everyday staples like grains, beans, nut butters, spices and olive oil can help you score big savings, Enke says. “[It] also helps eliminate excess packaging and reduce spoilage and waste, which means even more savings,” Enke says. Grains, such as rice, barley and quinoa, are especially good bulk buys, because they’ll double in size once cooked, explains Mills.
5. Take advantage of frozen convenience. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a great, affordable option when it comes to eating clean on a budget, says Mills. “Whether it’s summer or winter they are often more nutritious than the fresh vegetables and fruits,” she says. That’s because they go right from the farm where they’re picked to the processing company where they’re flash frozen at the peak of ripeness, so there’s very little time for the produce nutrients to deteriorate from air exposure. Plus, retailers will often have their store brand of frozen fruits and veggies for sale, which means you can stock up at an additional discount.
6. Save some for later. Preparing leftovers can help cut back on food waste, and will allow you to take advantage of produce when it’s at its peak (and cheapest), says Mills. “If your casserole calls for tomatoes during tomato season when they’ll be at the height of flavor, nutrition and most available, then why not make a double recipe of that casserole?” she says. “When you’re done eating for the evening package the leftovers in usable quantities and freeze it for another time.”