How flexible is your dollar?

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

Recently the St. Louis Jewish Light published a compelling article on the ever-increasing needs of our area food banks. As I read it, I could feel the despair that these families must be experiencing, since the rising costs at our grocery stores can make healthy eating a seemingly impossible task. Very often I ponder the structure of our country’s “financial food pyramid,” as I refer to it…the upside-down logic that makes unhealthy food so inexpensive and readily available, while healthier fare is so costly.

Stretching the food dollar can be a challenge, but eating healthy on a budget can be accomplished with some dedication to advance planning. In order to ensure that your body is receiving the nutrients necessary for survival, it helps to break a meal down into food groups: protein sources, fruits/vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.

Planning a shopping trip around the grocery stores’ weekly ads is an excellent way to get the most for your money. Be on the lookout for sales on chicken, beef and fish. If you need to buy a larger quantity than your family needs in order to get the sale price, make good use of your freezer.  Separate meat into serving-size portions, wrap well, and it should keep nicely in the freezer. Eggs are a delicious and nutritious alternative to more costly sources of protein; buying the store-brand cartons is always less expensive and just as healthy.  

If you are particular about fresh veggies yet do not want to spend a fortune, stick with only what is in season. Many nutrient-dense dark green leafy vegetables are abundant in cooler weather, so plan a meal around what is on sale. Frozen bulk bags of vegetables can be a healthy alternative to fresh; even canned vegetables are better than none at all. If sodium is a concern, simply place the vegetables from the can into a colander and run some water over them for a minute or so. Most of the sodium, but none of the vitamins, will wash away.

The challenge of saving money with complex carbohydrates is much less daunting. Generic  whole-wheat breads and pastas are every bit as tasty as the fancy name-brands, and the ingredients panels are usually identical. Making a hearty soup using canned or frozen vegetables and whole-wheat pasta can go a long way toward feeding a hungry family on a budget. Adding some less expensive cuts of meat will help stretch your protein dollar too, and these beef choices are ideally suited for soups and stews as they will become tender as they simmer in the broth.

Choosing healthy recipes in advance of the weekly shopping trip can help to avoid impulse purchases.  Buy just what is needed and nothing more. You will be surprised how those last-minute items can add up over time!  Also, one of my carved-in-stone money-saving rules is this: Never go to the grocery when you are hungry. Shopping after a big meal is the best way to ensure that you will stick to your list.

As the weather warms up – whenever that may be – take full advantage of Farmer’s Markets and buy locally-grown produce. Not only is it cheaper than the grocery prices; but you are also helping to sustain local farmers, which in turn helps support our economy.

With just a little extra planning, you will soon find that your dollar can become every bit as flexible as your healthy active body.