As Americans struggle to cope with tough economic times, family budgets are being stretched for everything from housing and utilities to holiday shopping and travel. Food prices have been affected as well, but the American Dietetic Association wants to debunk the myth that it is more expensive to eat healthfully.
 
According to registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Katherine Tallmadge, a healthy eating plan which includes fruits and vegetables is less expensive in the long run than buying fast food or less healthy alternatives at the grocery store. “The reality is, fresh produce gives you some of the best bang for your buck. In fact, in June 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service studied the prices of produce throughout the country. They concluded a person needing 2,000 calories per day could meet the dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetables for under $2.50 per day,” Tallmadge says.
 
At the grocery store, less healthful foods such as bakery goods, snack foods and sodas also can be more expensive than a healthier alternative. Tallmadge notes that while a 10-ounce bag of potato chips costs about $2.59 and may seem like a cheap source of calories, consumers could buy four pounds (16 servings) of fiber and vitamin C-rich fresh red potatoes or three pounds (12 servings) of vitamin,- mineral- and beta-carotene-rich carrots for the same price.
 
The key to keeping food costs low, Tallmadge says, is to have a plan when it’s time to go shopping. “Take an inventory of what you have on hand and what you’ll need and make a shopping list to avoid impulse purchases or costly mistakes.” Also, buy store brands, sometimes called private label, instead of their name brand counterparts, to save you money. Store brands are nutritionally equivalent to the name brand items.
 
Other ways to reduce cost and control portions and quality are:
 
  • Bring lunch to work instead of dining out
  • Buy cheaper meat cuts such as the beef round
  • Buy whole chickens to cut up into batches to cook, dividing them into servings and saving the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for future meals.
 
Fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally grown will usually cost less. The less distance food has to be shipped, Tallmadge notes, the less cost is incurred in transportation expenses like fuel and labor. Additionally, buying frozen or canned foods can sometimes save consumers money even more than buying fresh produce. “Having to throw out rotted fresh produce is no savings, which is why planning your weekly meals and shopping with a list is always an important money saver,” Tallmadge says.
 
Perceptions about nutritious food costs can be changed, Tallmadge says, with some education and a little quick math when making eating decisions. “Some people don’t mind paying 75 cents for a soft drink but would object to paying 75 cents for an apple. There’s a perception that these aren’t important foods, that they’re side dishes. But plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are the foundation of a healthy diet.”
 
The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org.

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