Finding Healthy Convenience Foods on a Budget

There’s been a lot of press lately on the cost of foods after a USDA report found that healthier foods are not necessarily more expensive.

But one reason people turn to less healthy options is because often, they are just more convenient. Take the time to make your own popcorn and you’ll get whole grain goodness with only 31 calories; microwaving a pre-packed bag saves time but runs about 85 calories. Cooking up brown rice, spices and veggies doesn’t cost that much, but sometimes it’s a lot easier to grab the box. Those packaged, boxed meals or convenience foods are…convenient. They are also typically heavy on the calories, sodium, and fat.

But they don’t have to be. There are ways you can get all the convenience of those packaged foods, save money, and eat a cancer-protective diet. In my last blog I wrote about a study to promote healthy purchasing in a low-income area of Baltimore. Here are some budget-friendly tips we used:

1.     Snack seasonally.

Rather than grabbing chips or cookies, take a piece of fruit or a vegetable that you can have on the go. The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables changes with the time of year, and when they are in season you can buy them for a lot less money (and help support local farmers, too!). Peaches are in peak season right now, and packed with vitamin C.

Here’s the best time to buy these other popular fruits and veggies:

  • Apples: August – November
  • Grapes: July – December
  • Strawberries: March – October
  • Grapefruit: December – April
  • Asparagus: February – June
  • Tomatoes: June – October

Looking for produce that is always a good price? Bananas, broccoli and lettuce can usually be bought year-round at a reasonable cost.

2.     Cook in Bulk.

When it comes to cooking, prepare enough to have leftovers. I like to cook a big batch of pasta salad (like this veggie-filled chicken pasta salad) on a Sunday and have it over the next few days). That way you save both time and money during the hectic week. You can also add frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables instead of fresh ones to save money – they are still loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants and nutrients.

3.     Look at the labels.

Not all convenience foods are bad for you. Keep an eye out for varieties of foods you like that are lower in calories, fat, and sodium. By comparing labels, you can make better choices. Take Campbell’s classic chicken noodle soup. Canned soup is cheap and easy to make, but the label on the traditional soup reads a whopping 790 mg of sodium per serving! For roughly the same price, you can get Campbell’s low sodium chicken with noodles soup, which the label says has just 140 mg of sodium.

Comparing labels like these can help you make better choices, with foods that still fit your budget.

What are your money saving shopping tips?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a research program coordinator at Johns Hopkins leading a supermarket intervention study. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.


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