Save Money While Eating Healthy


Everyone faces barriers to eating healthy. By now, you may have identified some of your personal barriers. Some Lark DPP check-ins have brought up common challenges, and you may have thought of your own. You may also have seen that for most challenges, there is a workable solution that can let you lose weight and lower type 2 diabetes risk while it fits into your lifestyle.

The most recent check-in talked about a barrier that many people face: the cost of eating healthy. On the surface, healthy eating is more expensive. For example, you might order a $6 salad from a fast food restaurant compared to a $3 burger. But, the truth goes deeper, There are ways to save money while eating healthy so your food budget does not take a hit.

 

Money-Saving Strategies


Healthy eating can be cost-prohibitive if you are not careful, but it does not need to be. There are several money-saving strategies you can use. For example…

  • Clip coupons. Check weekly ads, Sunday newspapers, and online store and money-saving sites to get all possible coupons.

  • Check weekly ads for sales and plan your menus based on what is on sale.

  • Be flexible while at the store. You may see some in-season produce, “day-old” bread, dairy products, or other items, or overstocked items that are available for discounted prices.

  • Buy in bulk if it is cheaper. If items are perishable, as in the case for chicken, fish, and vegetables, cook them quickly and freeze them for later use.

  • Buy items in larger packages rather than in single-serving packs. You can make your own “single-serving” packs by packing them yourself in baggies at home.

  • Choose store brands instead of national name brands when possible. The store brands are usually high-quality and are often identical products with no difference except for the label.

  • Look for less-processed versions, such as whole fruits and vegetables instead of cut or bagged, dried beans and whole-grain rice instead of canned, plain tofu instead of pre-seasoned, and raw chicken instead of cooked.

 

Cost of Poor Health


If you are still feeling daunted by the cost of healthier eating, you might remind yourself of the alternative. Poor eating habits can prevent you from being in control of your weight. They can also lead to you consuming fewer blood sugar-lowering nutrients and more blood sugar-raising or insulin-interfering nutrients. Without eating healthy, you might:

  • Consume calorie-dense (high-calorie) foods and gain weight.

  • Consume fewer low-calorie foods, leaving room for higher-calorie foods and weight gain.

  • Consume less fiber, selenium, chromium, iron, whole grains, vegetables, and zinc, leading to poorer blood sugar control.

  • Consume more saturated and trans fat, sugar, refined starches, and processed meats, leading to higher blood sugar and greater insulin resistance.

These eating patterns raise risk for diabetes, which comes with its own costs. You might expect to spend $500 or more per month on insulin and/or other prescription medications, doctor’s visits, ketone strips, and glucose test strips.

 

Comparing Costs of Healthy and Unhealthy Foods


You need not take our word for it that you can eat healthy on a budget. Research has shown that a day of healthy eating can cost as little as $1.50 more than that day of unhealthy eating. This includes, for example, choosing lean over fatty proteins, high-fiber over low-fiber grains, and eating a balanced diet at home instead of going for fast food.

 If you are feeling stuck and unsure how to get started with your budget-friendly eating plan, here are a few sample meals and the costs associated with them. Each meal’s quantities and costs are listed for four people.

The prices are based on national averages provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics when available. You may be able to get your food for less by using some of the strategies outlined above.

Breakfast: Southwest Egg Scramble Estimated Restaurant Meal Cost: $32
Item Cost Item Cost
4 eggs and 8 egg whites
$1.36
8 eggs
$0.90
1 tablespoon olive oil
$0.13
1 tablespoon butter
$0.13
1 cup black beans, cooked from dried
$0.16
12 oz. ground beef
$2.75
2 small diced tomatoes
$0.90
½ cup sour cream
$0.55
1 bunch cilantro
$0.13
1 cup salsa
$1.20
12 oz. sweet potato
$0.93
12 oz. frozen hash browns
$0.60
1 small avocado
$1.75
Total Cost
$6.02
Total Cost
$6.08
 
Lunch: Tuna Sandwich and Caesar Salad Estimated Restaurant Meal Cost: $40
Item Cost Item Cost
Whole-grain bread, 8 1-ounce slices
$0.91
White bread, 8 1-ounce slices
$0.64
2 5-ounce cans tuna in water
$2.38
2 5-ounce cans tuna in oil
$2.38
2 stalks celery and ½ cup onion
$0.25
2 stalks celery and ½ cup onion
$0.25
1 cup peas
$0.95
2.5 oz. croutons
$1.39
2 teaspoons mustard, other seasonings
$0.05
2 teaspoons mustard, other seasonings
$0.05
¼ cup plain yogurt
$0.19
¼ cup mayo
$0.31
1 lb. romaine lettuce
$2.12
1 lb. iceberg lettuce
$1.08
2 ounces parmesan cheese
$1.00
2 ounces parmesan cheese
$1.00
½ cup salad dressing
$0.75
½ cup salad dressing
$0.75
1 lb. strawberries
$2.07
4 2-ounce chocolate chip cookies
$1.75
Total Cost
$10.72
Total Cost
$9.60
 
Dinner: Stir Fry with Rice Estimated Restaurant Meal Cost: $52
Item Cost Item Cost
1 lb. skinless chicken
$3.05
1 lb. chuck steak
$5.51
2 tablespoons oil
$0.25
2 tablespoons oil
$0.25
2 cups broccoli
$0.97
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
$3.49
1 large bell pepper
$1.18
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
2 carrots
$0.5
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
2 cups cabbage
$0.34
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
8 oz. mushrooms
$1.99
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
2 tablespoons soy sauce
$0.10
2 tablespoons soy sauce
$0.10
4 oz. brown rice
$0.30
4 oz. white rice
$0.20
2 oz. cashews
$2.00
2 oz. cashews
$2.00
2 bananas
$0.58
4 cups ice cream
$2.32
2 oz. dark chocolate
$2.00
10-ounce bag of stir fry vegetables
Total Cost
$13.26
Total Cost
$13.88
 

You can see that eating healthy does not need to cost much more! Compared to the right, less-healthy column, the left, healthier column for the above menus costs nearly the same. It is:

  • Higher in vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

  • Lower in added sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats.

  • Lower in calories.

Plus, the healthier meal suggestions are just as easy to prepare!

Healthy eating can be affordable if you make a few smart choices. It becomes even more cost-effective when you factor in the potential cost of unhealthy eating, whether you think about diabetes, heart disease, or other possible health concerns linked to poor diets.

Lark can support you as you work to eat healthier, including helping you lower costs as you plan ahead and remember to look for sales. With Lark in your pocket 24/7, you can stay on top of healthy eating to lose weight and lower diabetes risk.

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health