Knowledge and skill improves the health of diets and food budgets.

Q: Is it more expensive to eat healthy?

A: Not necessarily. That eating healthy is more expensive is a myth that our program educators work hard to dispel. There are many reasons people associate “healthy” food with higher costs. One of the stickiest, according to recent research in the Journal of Consumer Research, is the implicit, or underlying, association people have that connects health and price, or quality and price, which is often not the case. We automatically associate the two and generalize this concept to include products to which it might not necessarily apply. This in turn affects our decision-making when purchasing foods, particularly when it comes to claims of “healthy” ingredients about which we’re unsure. When we don’t know about the benefits of a particular nutrient, says the study, we use our “default” judgment that the one that costs more must somehow be better for us. There are many tips and tricks to buying and preparing food to save money and time, and improve health. Often these are learned skills that come with time and practice, so if you haven’t had exposure to shopping, preparing or cooking food, allow yourself the time and space to learn and practice new recipes.

Q: How can I eat healthier on a limited budget?

A: “Healthy” looks different to each person based on a number of variables. Start by working with your heath care provider to ensure any dietary changes will be right for you. Generally speaking, caloric balance — so the number of calories you consume versus the amount you burn through physical activity — is a great place to start. If you regularly consume fewer or more calories than is recommended for your unique physical situation (which considers many variables such as age, weight, health factors and level of activity) then you’ll want to set goals for the amount of physical activity you get. The goal is to get enough nutrients and not so many calories that your body stores extra calories as added weight.

The next set of ideas to target: consider where the calories are coming from. The American Dietary Guidelines recommend following the My Plate model www.choosemyplate.gov and gives guidance on the Healthy Mediterranean Style and Healthy Vegetarian Style eating patterns. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/examples-of-other-healthy-eating-patterns.

These frameworks provide an overview of the types and amounts of nutrients you need to lead an active lifestyle. Once you have a plan with a caloric goal range and which types of food you will focus on consuming, you may find you’ll naturally spend less than you would if you go to the store or markets and buy whatever looks good.

Other basic tips: Shop using sale ads and coupons, but beware of “sales” of food products that contain empty calories or high amounts of fat, salt (sodium) and added sugars, top culprits of American diets. Just as high prices don’t equal health, nor does quantity necessarily equal value, particularly if the sale food doesn’t meet nutrient needs or has high amounts of empty calories.

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Remember my two favorite “rules” about cooking that make it more accessible:

1. Cooking is always a learning opportunity. You can substitute or experiment with ingredients to keep meals and snacks interesting and use what you have on hand. Even if the results are not perfect, you can still eat it; you always learn something and then you try something different next time.

2. Anyone who complains gets to make the next meal!

For more information on workshops, or hosting workshops that teach healthy eating within a budget, contact the UW-Extension FoodWIse program in Racine and Kenosha at 262-635-6824.

Terri Ward is administrator of the Racine County UW-Extension Nutrition Education Program.

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