Elizabeth Somer tossing a watermelon


Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

MyPlate is the current nutrition guide from the U.S. Department of Agriculture providing simple healthy diet-planning guidelines in graphic form. It recommends that half of every plate should be fruits and vegetables, the rest is divided into grains, protein sources, and low-fat milk products. Its aim is to give Americans no-fuss rules for eating well.

Ah, but healthful eating costs more, right? Actually, no. Oh sure if you buy wild salmon and fresh blueberries out of season, that meal is more expensive than a fast-food burger. But if you make smart choices, shop carefully, and adopt some smart-shopping tricks, you can boost your health and shave enough off your food bill to afford a trip to the Caribbean next year.

You don’t need to spend freely to eat well. After all, pound for pound, health-boosting oatmeal, beans, and watermelon are a whole lot cheaper than eggs and bacon, steak, or even chips. Follow even some of the tips below and you’ll shave 100s of dollars off your annual food bill.

  1. Buy less expensive produce. Pound for pound, watermelon is the least expensive fruit in the produce department. In addition, unlike other fruits, where much of that weight is tossed with the peel or seed, you can eat the entire watermelon, rind, seeds, and all!
  2. Look for specials and use coupons. Buy discounted foods in quantity and store or freeze. For example, purchase watermelon when it goes on sale. Freeze to use in smoothies, add to lemonade, or make into sorbet later.
  3. Buy in bulk. Oatmeal, brown rice, nuts, tea, dried fruit, seasonings, and many other dry goods are available in bulk bins at supermarkets, health food stores, discount groceries, and food co-ops. You can buy the exact amount you need AND cut costs.
  4. Shop at warehouse clubs. Granted, you buy in larger quantities at these stores, but comparison shopping can save big bucks. No place to store the case of water-packed tuna? Shop with friends and split the food.
  5. Buy in season. For some fruits, such as berries, the cost is less during the summer. Other fruits, such as watermelon, are available all year around at affordable prices.
  6. Bean it up. Switch from expensive cuts of meat to legumes a few times a week and you’ll save hundreds of dollars over the course of the year!
  7. Grow your own. If you have the space and time, there is nothing fresher and more rewarding than home-grown watermelon, lettuce, carrots, corn, or other vegetables straight from the garden.
  8. Visit farmer’s markets. Locally grown produce often is less expensive and fresher than store bought.
  9. Bring food with you. Stuff your purse, briefcase, glove compartment, diaper bag, or desk drawer with a carton of watermelon chunks, low-fat cheese, peanut butter, whole wheat breads, carrot sticks, and other nutritious, low-cost foods so you’re less tempted by the vending machine or drive up window.
  10. Beware of impulse buying. That sushi from the deli looked good, but you never got around to eating it. How many bags of lettuce were tossed after sitting in the fridge for a week? Eat before you shop and bring a list to cut back on these wasted food dollars.
  11. Price compare. The whole chicken might appear cheaper than the boned and skinned chicken thighs, but when you factor in the amount that is thrown away - up to a third to a half the weight is skin, bones, and unusable parts - you might find that the more expensive cut is actually cheaper. When purchasing produce, consider which fruits and vegetables give you the most edible food for your buck. Watermelon is at the top of the list, since it is 100% usable!
  12. Eat in more. Americans spend a sizable chunk of their food dollars in restaurants, where food choices are higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and cost than homemade food. Limit dining out and you’ll be healthier AND pocket money for that white-water rafting trip or spa vacation.
  13. Buy generic. Store brands of frozen vegetables, canned fruit, milk, and other items usually cost less than brand names. Quality can vary, so pick and choose which brands are worth the extra cost.
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