13 Healthy Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bill
If you're feeling the economic pinch, chances are, it's showing on your waistline. Americans are packing on "recession pounds," health experts are noticing, spurred on by the fact that, as money gets tight, we stop spending it on our health. For one, people are dropping gym memberships to save money. Secondly, they're switching from healthy foods to cheap, processed convenience foods out of the (mis)perception that they're cheaper. Compounding all that is stress. People stress out about persistent unemployment, or the job they think they might lose, or the job that's become so stressful because everyone else has been laid off and suddenly, workloads have tripled. And all that stress triggers cortisol levels that lead people to eat fatty, sugary, high-calorie foods. It also depletes serotonin levels, which causes depression and cravings for simple carbs (think ice cream and donuts).
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But put down the donut. You don't have to let recession pounds creep up on you, writes Martina Cartwright, PhD, RD, in this month's issue of the IDEA Journal, a trade publication for the fitness industry. While you may not be able to do much about your job situation, there are actually a lot of easy ways to stick to a healthy diet so it won't cause you to binge on unhealthy junk:
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• Favor frozen over fresh. Fresh produce that you find at a local farmer's market is more affordable in season, but out of season, frozen fruits and veggies are less expensive and less perishable than their fresh equivalents, and just as nutritious. Cartwright writes that Americans trash 15 to 25 percent of their food, with fresh produce accounting for 35 to 40 percent of that. That adds up to about $1,350 to $2,200 for an average family.
• Seek bargain proteins. Protein doesn't need to come from animals. In fact, beans and certain grains can more than meet your daily protein requirements for half the cost. Another benefit? They never go bad.
• Use spices. A little goes a long way and they can jazz up an ordinary dish.
• Keep it simple. Fancy recipes require unusual ingredients that usually need to come from an expensive specialty or gourmet grocery store. Sticking with family favorites and basic staples can save you a bundle on those ingredients you buy and only use once.
• Take stock before you shop. Buying what you already have can add up. Know what's in the fridge and in your cupboard before you shop, and make a list of what you need—that curbs impulse buys.
• Take advantage of sales—but know if it's really a sale. Grocery stores use things like endcaps and large signs to make you think an item is on sale when it really isn't. Keep a notebook handy and keep track of the price on items you buy frequently. After a few weeks of doing that, you'll know whether that sale on bread is a true markdown of the price.
• Bulk buyer, beware. A 10-pound brick of cheese for $5 may seem like a deal—until you have to throw 50 percent of it out because it went moldy. Same goes for huge bags of lettuce and other produce, Cartwright advises. Buy reasonable portions you know you'll consume. But do visit the bulk foods aisle; nonperishable bulk goods such as rice, beans and coffee can save you serious dough in the checkout line.
• Use coupons with caution. A study from Washington University in St. Louis found that people who clip coupons can really spend more when they shop, either because people reward themselves with other impulse buys for saving money, or people buy a more expensive version of an item, like meat, for which they have a coupon rather than a cheaper cut or generic product.
• Pay in cash. Weird but true: People who pay with cash buy healthier foods and spend less on unhealthy impulses, a study from Cornell University found. Paying with cash is a more "painful" experience, the study authors suggested, and we're more likely to budget and select what we buy carefully when cash is involved.
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