Convinced that eating a healthy diet will take a big bite out of your budget? Put the brakes on your next fast food trip, because food that comes through a window may be low in cost but high in fat and calories. And your health will pay the price!
“Many unhealthy foods are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and low in important nutrients, whether you get them from a drive-through or a grocery store,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University.
In fact, many ready-made and processed foods cost more than homemade foods. They can also hurt your heart and cause the pounds to pile on. A poor diet can lead to serious long-term health problems, and being overweight is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
But you might say that your to-do list is already full, and eating healthier didn’t make the cut. News flash: Getting the nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods your body needs may be easier — and cheaper — than you think.
Planning is key
“Preparing menus and meals ahead of time decreases spontaneous food choices, which often aren’t healthy,” Kris-Etherton said. “With a little planning, you can make healthy, easy-to-prepare meals.”
Try these time-saving tips to make eating healthier simpler for you and your family:
- Plan out two to four weeks of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sit down and map out meals that include your family’s heart-healthy favorites. Update your list as you come across new recipe ideas.
- Use the weekend to make menus. Start by using the list from the first tip and make sure you grab the ingredients you need when you go grocery shopping. Keep an eye out for fresh, seasonal items that are on sale.
- If you work during the week, cook over the weekend and store leftovers in the fridge or freezer. Meals can be hassle-free when you’re just thawing and reheating for quick lunches and dinners.
- Cut up vegetables and keep them handy in the fridge. You’ll have ready-made nutritious snacks and ingredients.
Practice makes perfect
Developing new heart-healthy routines takes practice, so don’t expect perfection — and don’t give up! Your health and the health of your family depend on it.
Stock up on ideas for practicing healthy habits in your kitchen and at the grocery store:
- Shop sales, clip coupons and buy fruits and vegetables in season. Look for less-expensive items. For example, blueberries cost less in spring and summer, when they’re in season in the U.S. You’ll pay more in the fall and winter when they’re shipped from warmer continents.
- Skip the ready-made foods. They can be higher in sodium and often cost more than homemade foods.
- Replace high-calorie or high-fat favorites with nutrition-rich ones one at a time. Your family won’t feel shocked or deprived of their favorites if the changes to their diets are not all-of-the-sudden. Try one change per week as a starting point.
- Remember that there is more than one way to shop for healthy produce. Buying local at a farmer’s market is one option that can help you know where your food is coming from. It’s also fresher because it wasn’t picked before ripening to travel on a truck long-distance to get to you. Buying from a farmer’s market also helps your local economy. You can save money by buying in bulk and splitting the cost with friends or extended family.
- Make your own healthy snacks — it’s healthier and cheaper! Cut up fruits and vegetables into individual servings. Buy a large container of raisins or unsalted nuts and separate them into small portions. Check the nutrition facts to learn how much fat, salt and sugar are in a serving.
- Involve the whole family in mealtime. Let your kids be chef for a day, and assign each family member to a particular meal. Encourage older kids to make a game of reading food labels at the grocery store. Let younger kids wash the fruit or toss the salad.
And learn more about when it makes sense to go organic with The dirty dozen and clean 15 of produce.