Unhealthy eating on a budget is easy -- picture boxed macaroni and cheese. But how can you stay within a modest budget and eat the nutritious foods that health experts recommend, such as whole grains, fresh produce and lean meats?
While it takes a little planning, it can be done. Consider these tips for enjoying a diet that will impress your doctor without draining your saving account:
1. Purchase whole foods
Prepared foods and the packaging they come in are expensive. Study the ingredients on healthy food packages and you're likely to discover that you can prepare the same food for at least 50 percent less money.
2. Buy in bulk when there's a sale
It doesn't happen as frequently as conventional foods, but organic items do go on sale occasionally. Keep an eye out for specials on your favorite organic products -- including produce -- and buy in bulk. If organic apples are on sale, purchase extra and use the fruit you don't consume to make applesauce or a pie.
3. Use meat wisely
High-quality cuts of meat and organic poultry tend to be pricey, but it's not necessary to cut these products out completely. Instead of making meat the center of each meal -- which nutrition experts advise against anyway -- use diced meats and poultry to flavor meals, such as stir-fries, soups and casseroles.
4. Incorporate inexpensive protein
Bagged or canned beans make it possible to cook nutritious meals for cents per serving.
5. Rely on grains
Meals featuring whole-grain pasta and brown rice cost very little and make a filling meal when paired with smaller amounts of more expensive items like free-range chicken and organic vegetables.
6. Grow your own produce
Cultivating organic fruits and vegetables in your backyard can save a substantial amount of money over the long haul. One $3 tomato plant, for instance, can yield 10 pounds or more of tomatoes over the course of a summer. Similarly, a peach tree may only cost a few dollars when young, but once it matures it can give you hundreds of dollars in produce each season.
7. Preserve excess
Whether you grow a large crop of plums or find them on sale, use every avenue to preserve them, from canning to drying to freezing. Many vegetables and fruits can be blanched whole and frozen for later use.
8. Eat with the seasons
You're most likely to find produce for sale when it's being harvested. Shop first to see what you find in abundance and then plan your meals. Also visit your local farmer's markets where you'll find the freshest, in-season fruits and vegetables.
9. Shop stores right before closing
Many grocers discount items such as meat and bread products by as much as 70 to 80 percent when they are about to expire. Cook the meat that night or freeze it. Bread products can be toasted and eaten or frozen for later.
10. Buy store brands and generics
Good-for-you food doesn't need a brand-name label. Foods like rice, pasta, milk, eggs, bread and yogurt taste just as good or even better for half the price.
Enjoying healthy foods on a budget does take some initiative, but the results of improved health, lower food bills and more money for your saving account are well worth the effort.