Nutrition Counseling

Healthful Eating on a Budget

For nearly all clients, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables is a great start to improving their health. However, many perceive the cost of healthful foods as a barrier to following a nutritious dietary pattern. While some healthful foods are expensive, clients can find affordable options that may be less costly than eating convenience foods if they have the right shopping strategies. Suggest clients try the following four tips:

1. Peruse weekly circulars. Often, in-season produce costs less since it’s frequently discounted. For example, I’ve seen cabbage—typically in season October through January—in my region cost as little as 33 cents per pound. While patients may not know how to use cabbage or other fruits and vegetables that are on sale and/or in season, dietitians can assist by offering easy serving ideas and affordable, delicious, healthful recipes.

Looking for discounted items also is a great strategy for choosing proteins for the week. Clients and patients don’t need to have a different protein option each night of the week; instead, RDs can encourage them to purchase one or two protein choices on sale and offer ideas on how to serve them differently at each meal. For example, a client can buy a whole chicken and roast it on Sunday for roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables on Monday, shred the leftover chicken for chicken sandwiches or enchiladas on Tuesday, and use any other pieces for chicken soup on Wednesday.

RDs can guide clients through a local store’s weekly circular to look for sales and suggest which advertised items are more healthful choices and what to eat in moderation.

2. Stick with store brands. Many grocery store chains offer private label frozen vegetables for 50 to 99 cents? per bag, and sales on store-brand foods are common.

3. Choose canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Many clients believe frozen and canned vegetables are less healthful than fresh and therefore don’t buy them. But canned and frozen produce tends to be more affordable than fresh and lasts longer, reducing the chance of food waste and making it easier for clients to save even more money by buying it in bulk. Remind clients to select low-sodium canned vegetables and canned fruit without added sugars when possible.

4. Give plant proteins a try. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have gotten more comfortable incorporating beans into their meals. Dietitians can and should capitalize on this time by telling clients that beans—and other pulses such as lentils—are always healthful, affordable options, whether they’re canned or dried. Suggest clients check the sodium content on nutrition labels and select low-sodium varieties when possible. RDs can provide clients with recipes and ideas on how to prepare and cook with beans and other plant-based protein sources such as tempeh and tofu—both of which tend to be less expensive per pound than meat, poultry, and fish—in ways that are creative, easy, and fun.

Sharing these strategies to encourage more creativity and resourcefulness is an excellent way to open clients’ eyes to opportunities for delicious, healthful, and affordable eating.

— Jena Tucci, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian in Columbus, Ohio. Having worked in foodservice and in the community with an infant mortality taskforce, she looks for ways beyond the inpatient stay to maximize patients’ nutrition status.

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