Recently, a coworker mentioned that she finds eating healthy is just too expensive. She agreed that it was her preference to feed her family healthy meals, but she found it financially difficult.
Since I am obviously a big promoter of healthy eating, I gave her my best argument to dispute her view. But the thought stuck with me. Helping others to change their shopping and eating habits is not just about nutrition and taste. There are plenty of other barriers, too, money being a big consideration.
So I decided to pull out my calculator and formulate a shopping list with more of the green stuff that still stayed within my budget.
Each person has different nutrient needs, but two cups of fruits and 2½ cups of vegetables per day is a good starting point for most teens and adults. I began by looking at what it cost to get those recommended servings per day.
Eating a banana, an apple, a half cup of broccoli, a half cup of carrots, a large green salad with cucumber and tomato and a medium sweet potato costs about $2.44 per person, per day. So for $17.08 per week it is possible to eat 4½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily. That is six different fruits or veggies, so I took the equivalent servings of less nutrient dense foods and compared the two.
A serving each of Oreos, ginger ale, chips, Pop Tarts, ice cream and a chocolate bar came to 2.42 per person, per day. The cost of eating six servings of these lower-nutrient foods a day using the recommended serving size found on the package is roughly the same as the cost of fruits and veggies.
In my little study, eating the fruits and veggies was not any more expensive than eating the other stuff.
With this in mind, one way to reduce costs is to add more of the best and less of the rest to the shopping cart. In addition, consider that the $2.42 just covers the recommended serving size listed on the package. That means only three Oreos, one cup of soda, 11 chips, one Pop Tart pastry, ½ cup ice cream and a 2.07 ounce chocolate bar. While the cost is equivalent, with those serving sizes, it would increase dramatically in my house where my kids would likely scoff at just two or three Oreos or only a half cup of ice cream. When the serving size goes up, so does the cost per serving.
Food costs more than it did last year. Even where the prices look the same, almost all of the boxes and packages have gotten smaller. You get less and pay the same. It is a bummer.
Financial budgeting is important and necessary, but nutrient budgeting should be part of the equation, too. Obviously, calories will be higher in the junk food cart and nutrients richer in the produce cart. Looking long term, including fresh fruits and vegetables is a little bit like health insurance.
We don’t have any guarantees, but few will argue that eating more fruits and vegetables is going to do anything but improve our health.
In addition to replacing less nutrient-dense food with more choices from the produce section, include only in-season produce for the best price and quality.
Don’t ever let fresh produce spoil. That is just like throwing money down the toilet (yikes). Use nearly-too-ripe fruit for smoothies, muffin or side dishes. If fresh fruit is heading out of date before you can fit it in as a snack, freeze it and use it later for smoothies or in cooking.
Buy produce whole versus already cut for the best bargain. A bag of unpeeled, unwashed carrots will be cheaper than a bag of ready to eat baby carrots. Peruse your refrigerator produce drawer frequently so you are always aware of what you have. Buying fruits and veggies is an investment in your health.
When you look at nutrition as well as the cost, fruits and veggies are an incredible bargain.
Crumpacker is a registered dietitian and owner of Go Nutritious. Visit Barbra at gonutritious.com or email her at email@example.com.