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How to Eat Healthy in Unhealthy Economic Times E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

Are you having afresh vegetables and fresh fruit hard time stretching your grocery dollars during the current economic downturn?  If you are, you are certainly not  alone. With gas prices continue to rise, and with the impact of rising gas prices on all facets of our life, including food prices due to increase processing and transportation costs, many people are finding themselves having to do more with less.

How to Eat Healthy in Unhealthy Economic Times

Before you stop buying the more expensive food staples, like fresh fruit, fresh poultry, fresh vegetables, meat and other items often perceived as costing a lot, check out these prudent tips from Los Angeles based nutrition and fitness expert Jeff Behar to help you stretch your grocery dollars. 

“If you are a smart shopper you can get the foods you want, without having to walk out of the grocery store with just half of your list completed, “according to Behar. “There are many ways to stretch your grocery budget. By employing some, or all of these money saving tips, it IS possible to decrease your food costs by 35% to 65%.” Here are just a few great tips to slash your grocery bill:

Beverages. One of the biggest cost-savings can result being smart and choosy when it comes to beverage purchasing. With millions of dollars spent each year on bottled water, I would like to start by making a simple recommendation NOT buy bottled water. It is the single source of wasted money when you are trying to get the most out of a limited food budget. Watching bottled water ads, you'd think that tap water might not be healthy. But it's not true."20/20" took five bottles of national brands of bottled water and a sample of tap water from a drinking fountain in the middle ofa major city and had the samples analyzed to test for bacteria that can make you sick. The test results showed that there was actually no difference between the domestic tap water and the bottled waters that were evaluated. Many scientists have run tests like that and have consistently found that tap water is as good for you as bottled waters that cost up to 500 times more.

What recent studies are starting to demonstrate however, that your bottled water may be the water that can be unsafe. There are studies that show that bottled water in some cases can be worse for your health than tap water, since the plastic bottles bottled water is stored in, can leak chemicals from the plastic bottle over time.  So one huge way to stretch your grocery dollars is NOT to buy bottled water. 

Many people say they buy bottled waters because they taste better. If taste is the reason, consider adding a carbon filter to your water line. They can be purchased in various shapes and sizes, some costing as little as $5 a month. Some can be attached to the faucet (e.g., Brita, Culligan, etc.), others, can be added to a pitcher (e.g., Brita filter pitcher filter). If you ditch the bottled water, not only will you have more money to spend on healthier food, but you may also be healthier by ditching the bottled, because of the potential leaching of chemicals from these petroleum based plastic bottles that most of the bottled water is packaged in.

Juices. If you like juice, consider buying it when it goes on sale. Other options to reduce your cost: go for generic, choose frozen varieties, or go for the large sizes. Third option, buy large and reuse bottles or purchase a thermos so you can take advantage of the larger size volume discounts.

Dairy. Forget $5 for a half gallon of milk, or $5 for a package of cheese. Consider buyng a cow and getting your milk naturally and on demand. You save money, your dairy is fresh. Nothing spoils. The cow has some fun. Your family gets a new pet. Its win win for all!!!  I am just KIDDING HERE!!! Even health and fitness writers, need to joke a bit right?

Go big when purchasing dry staples like rice, grains and pasta. Consider purchasing your rice, pasta, oats and whole grains at a warehouse store, since these items can be stocked for periods of time with no worries of spoiling.  Always stick with the plain brown rice instead of boxed rice mixes. Always purchase big containers of rolled oats instead of individual packets of instant oatmeal, many of which are loaded with sugar. 

Buy breads when they are on sale.  Breads can be frozen, and used when needed.  

Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. In fact, if you buy fruit and vegetables that are in-season, the price typically is very reasonable. If the produce you want is not in-season, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can cost less. They are just as nutritious as fresh because they are packaged at their peak of freshness. 

Plan ahead so you are not doing any impulse shopping. Planning ahead also allows you to go where the better deals are. 

Be a Coupon Clipper because the money savings is even hipper. Get over the stigma, that used to be associated with coupon clipping and you may save up to $400 to $500 a month, depending on your budget and your ingenuity. By using coupons you really can save a significant amount of money, leaving you more money to spend on the foods you really want. Coupons can be found on-line, in the daily paper, in magazine ads. 

Join your grocery stores frequent shopper club. By joining your grocery club, the savings can be quite significant. Additionally, by being a member of many loyalty programs you will receive special coupons throughout the year (which often includes 10 and 20% off your total bill coupons). If your privacy is important to you, use a dummy phone number, and set up a “junk email account” so that any mailings go to this account, and any phone calls result in a dead signal to the undesired marketers that your grocer may sell your information to help support the many benefits that you will receive by being part of their “loyalty club”. 

Consider generic or store brand for basic products. Off brand or “no frill” products as the generic store brand products are often called, can be 35% – 50% cheaper than their name brand counterparts. Sometimes the savings can even be greater! Start with products where name brand matter less, like salt, flour, detergent,  milk, eggs, bread, canned veggies, canned fruits, etc. and branch out as you feel comfortable. 

Be creative. Buying low fat protein on sale can sometimes be hard to do, but when a store does have a sale on the items you like, stock up, freeze some of it. Consider a high protein turkey chili dish a couple times a week. Not only is it easy to make from the can, but the canned stuff is still packed with nutritious punch, and cost approximately 75% less than going fresh. 

Look for bigger containers and boxes to save some money. You do not always need to go to warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club to save money and buy BIG. Many grocery stores also have bulk aisles where you can buy larger packages of your favorite foods. By buying value you packs you can typically save anywhere from 20 to 50% cost per serving. 

Stock up on non-perishables when they go on sale. By stocking up with these "loss leaders"; items often priced below cost to lure customers to the store and by higher profit margin items, you can save big bucks. Be careful however, not to buy more than you need if the items can spoil.  

Spend more time in the perimeter of the store. The items placed at the perimeter of the store are where the fresh products are. Really focus on the fruits and the vegetables and the lean meats and the low-fat dairy in these areas, and try to resist the temptation to "dive into" the inner portions of the market, as well as the display at the headers (the beginning front of each grocery aisle). 

Do not forget to look at foods at the upper and extreme lower shelves, instead of the items placed at eye level. Often better priced products can be found out of the "eye catching" premium shelf placement areas. 

Do the math.  To see if you are really getting a better deal, compare the unit prices of the bigger and smaller containers on the store  shelf. 

Consider the warehouse stores like Costco.  If you can buy in bulk and use it before it spoil, this option might be a good one to keep your costs down. 

Consider discount food stores.  Walmart has moved into the food business, offering an extensive men of grocery foods at their newest super stores. Additionally, stores like 99 cents stores are now also increasing their fresh food and dry food offerings at a fraction of the prices that mainstream grocery stores are charging.  

Consider the local farmers market or co-op for buys on fruits and vegetables. These stores often have the freshest food, and have it for less since their overhead is often much less.

Develop a “green thumb.” If you have a green thumb try growing your fruits and vegetables. Several fruit and vegetables grow rather easily and produce a lot of food and save you lots of money in the process. Strawberry bushes and tomato plants are just two examples of easy to care plants the produce huge amounts of produce with little effort needed. Herbs are very expensive in the store, but you can grow them for pennies in a window box, or in your yard. Not only is it fun and regarding to grow your own food, but by growing your own food you can be assured that the food is fresh, and pesticide free.

With the recent outbreaks of ecoli and salmonella illnesses to our food supply, and the spiraling food prices for organic and healthy fruits and vegetables growing your own food looks better and better every day.  

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