Every Penny Counts: Stretching your grocery budget

News flash: If you’re still buying unhealthy pizzas and burgers instead of salmon and veggies because you think it’s too expensive, you’re wrong. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that it only costs $1.50 more per day to eat what’s considered to be the “healthiest” diet — one rich in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins — than it costs to eat the “unhealthiest” one.

And now that your financial excuses are gone, here are some easy tips to make your diet a little healthier without shelling out extra cash.

Don’t Pay for Convenience

While premade foods like hamburger patties, shaved parmesan cheese and fruit salads can be a life-saver when you agreed to bring a dish to a party but got too caught up with class/work/life to actually make something, they have no business being in your healthy, cost-effective kitchen.

For example, it takes five minutes to wash and chop a $2 head of romaine lettuce that can make a week’s worth of salads. Prepackaged salads will easily cost double that.

I know what you’re thinking: If healthy foods were more convenient, I’d be more likely to eat them. An easy way to combine convenience and health without the extra cost is to start meal prepping. Spend a few hours on a Sunday chopping your fruits, vegetables and cooking meats so that you won’t be tempted to pay for that $6.99-per-pound salad bar in the middle of the week. Need inspiration? Check out some of these tips  to get started.

The Freezer is Your Friend

Decent-quality meat is expensive. Like, really expensive. But it can often be the easiest way to incorporate healthy proteins into your diet (hello, crock pot meals). So here’s what I do: My local grocery store runs their sales Wednesday through Tuesday. If I shop on Tuesday night, I’m guaranteed to find tons of marked-down packages of chicken breasts, ground turkey and pork chops — sometimes, even organic!

And then that meat goes straight in my freezer, because how am I supposed to use 10 pounds of chicken before it goes bad?

This rule doesn’t just go for meat. At the end of last summer, I found a five pound package of blueberries at a farmer’s market for only $10. After I was done shoveling them into my face by the blue handful, I put the rest in a freezer bag, and was still eating them in January when blueberries are going for $3 per pint.

Wondering how long something will keep in the freezer? Save this infographic from Huffington Post so you never have to wonder — or waste food — again. And that brings me to my last rule of healthy eating on a budget:

Buy in Bulk But be Smart About It

I’m not going to lie: When I go on what my husband likes to call my “cheap-meat excursions,” it’s really not cheap, because I’m buying a month’s worth of meat in one go. And let’s be real, if I’m buying New York strip steaks that I’m probably not going to make, it’s not worth it.

So when you buy food in bulk, it’s important to only buy things that you know you’ll use, or that have a long shelf life. Look for places that sell loose, unbranded options for kitchen staples, like a bulk-food store. Some things I like to stock up on are steel-cut oats, nuts, dried fruits, meats and spices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has great tips for healthy eating on a budget.

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