Healthy on a Budget

By Charlyn Fargo

January 31, 2020 6 min read

With roughly 10% of the typical American paycheck spent on food, it's easy to assume that eating healthy costs a bundle. I hear it often as I counsel patients. But research says otherwise. According to the May 2019 Cost of Food Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average adult can eat a nutritious diet for as little as $40 a week per person.

So, how can you slash your food bill and still have a kitchen packed with nutritious food?

Here are a few tips to help get you started:

Start with a plan. Cooking at home can translate into big savings and much healthier eating. Before you go shopping, plan your meals for the week. That way you're only buying what you're going to eat. Then check what you have in your pantry and what you need to put on the grocery list.

Eat what you cook. The average American tosses more than 240 pounds of food a year. Wow. Decrease your food waste and you'll automatically save money. Repurpose leftovers. Eat from your freezer.

Shop the ads. My mom was the queen of finding — and buying — what was on sale at the grocery store. She scanned the ads and then made her meal plan for the week based on what was on sale. If it was hamburger, we'd have meatloaf. If it was chicken breasts, she'd make a chicken and broccoli casserole. Her inspiration came from the grocery ads.

Look for the digital coupons. These days, most stores have an app with weekly digital coupons. It's the new alternative to clipping coupons.

Shop in season. This time of year, oranges are plentiful — and reasonably priced. We all need to include more fruits and vegetables on our plate. The best way is to buy seasonal produce.

Wander through the frozen aisle. Frozen produce can be a way to eat healthfully on a budget. There are so many new products in the frozen vegetable aisle. They are frozen at the peak of freshness, they keep well, and they save you prep time. Consider frozen berries, spinach, broccoli and veggie/protein blends.

Stock up on canned goods, such as peanut butter, tuna, beans and salmon, when they're on sale and then store them in a cool, dry spot.

Q and A

Q: I've heard carbohydrates end up as sugar. Is it a bad thing to eat carbs?

A: Carbohydrates are our bodies' fuel. Your body wants to use carbohydrates more than anything else. Our brain runs off carbs, and muscles prefer carbs for energy. We use glucose every time we walk and talk. Once carbs are broken down into glucose from the food we eat, the body doesn't care what the source was — an orange or a doughnut. It's used the same way. But that doesn't mean eating an orange will have the same impact on blood sugar or on our health. Some carbs — like the doughnut — enter the bloodstream quickly, spiking blood sugar, while others — like the orange — take longer to digest, slowing the absorption of glucose.


It's Super Bowl time, and that means a lot of snacks, sometimes not-so-healthy snacks. Here's a recipe to bring to your next event that's a healthier twist to the usual nachos. It's from Eating Well magazine.


1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, trimmed

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)

1 tablespoon sliced garlic (from 3 garlic cloves)

8 ounces baked multigrain tortilla chips

4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded, about 1 cup

1/2 cup diced tomato (from 1 tomato)

1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons whole milk

8 lime wedges

Sprinkle the pork with 1 teaspoon salt, and place in 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Drizzle with the honey and lime juice; top with garlic slices. Cover, and cook on low until a thermometer registers 140 degrees F, 2 to 3 hours. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, reserving the drippings in the slow cooker; let the pork rest 10 minutes. Cut the pork into small cubes and toss with the reserved drippings in the slow cooker. Preheat the broiler to high with the oven rack 6 inches from the heat. Arrange the chips in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the pork and cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Top with the tomato, onion, cilantro and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk together the sour cream and milk in a small bowl, and drizzle over the nachos. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 8 (1 cup each).

Per serving: 349 calories; 25 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams fat; 3 grams fiber; 10 grams sugar (6 grams added); 561 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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