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Survey Results: Economical Eating

The most recent Small Bites survey asked visitors to classify eating healthy on a budget as:

“Possible and easy” (27%)
“Challenging, but doable” (58%)

“Very hard” (13%)

“Impossible” (1%)

I am very happy to see that a solid 85% of voters consider it to at least be “doable.”

The truth is, healthy eating (which I defined as “balanced, nutritious, and meeting most nutrient daily values”) does not need to be a wallet-buster.

Let’s clarify a few issues.

1. Healthy eating does not need to be organic.

If you can afford organic, go for it. If your budget doesn’t allow for it, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly healthy and balanced diet.

Whole wheat pasta will always contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, organic or not, and both organic and conventional peanuts are a wonderful source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Besides, as far as our bodies are concerned, there is no difference between an organic and conventional 400-calorie chocolate chip cookie.

2. Healthy eating does not need to be exotic.

Every few months some new “miracle” fruit comes along.

I am sure you are familiar with the process by now.

It is usually from another continent and, after being profiled in the mass media, is quickly turned into a juice drink packed in a beautifully shaped glass bottle (displaying a brand name with an accented vowel) that retails for a ridiculous price.

Here’s the thing: ALL fruits are healthy.

Yes, some offer more nutrients than others, but there is no such thing as a fruit that is unhealthy or should be avoided.

Similarly, I don’t like to label any food as a “miracle” or “superior” one.

Besides, acai berries are exotic in the United States, but as run of the mill as apples are to us in their native Brazil.

3. Nature is cheaper than major food companies.

Instead of tortilla chips with flaxseeds (which aren’t even grounded up, meaning you aren’t absorbing any lignans,) buy ground flaxseed and sprinkle it onto different foods.

A standard bag of ground flaxseed retails for $5 (almost as much as gourmet tortilla chips) and lasts for months if you only use up a tablespoon each day — which is plenty.

Remember, what drives up food costs isn’t so much nutrition as it is convenience.

A six-pack of single-serving applesauce containers may be convenient, but for that same amount of money you can buy enough apples to make five times that much applesauce.

I specifically mention apples because they can sit in a fruit bowl for days before they start to rot.

They are portable, delicious, and you don’t need any utensils to eat them. Talk about convenient!

A Luna bar may be convenient, but so is packing a small Ziploc bag of peanuts and raisins to snack on later in the day (the latter is also significantly cheaper.)

4. Sometimes a big name isn’t a good deal.

Many foods (canned beans, plain oatmeal, raisins, and frozen vegetables) are equally nutritious whether they are made by a generic or well-known brand.

5. Speaking of beans…

… they are a wonderful and inexpensive way to get protein and fiber.

Use them for vegetarian chilis, bean salads, or even to make your own hummus at home (it’s simple – just blend together chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt!).

In conclusion…

Junk food is very financially accessible, but so are many nutritious foods.

PS: I’m interested in reading YOUR tips for eating healthy when money is tight. Post away!



  1. aishchai said on July 31st, 2008

    For me, to be honest, its not so much about cost as it is about time. Its more challenging to make things from scratch when you have to squeeze in dinner between arriving home at work at 6.00 and being out at the gym/volunteering somewhere/doing more work from home at 7.00. Not that there still isn’t plenty that can be done quickly too, its just finding the energy to do it.

  2. Jennifer Armstrong said on July 31st, 2008

    Another frugal method is home canning. I grew up doing home canning with my mom, and I’m surprised how few people are willing to do it. It’s really not hard to do, and it saves an enormous amount of money – the staples we use in our house, like applesauce and tomato sauce — are ridiculously easy to make cheaply at home, and can be ridiculously expensive to buy. It can be a little time consuming, but you can take advantage of the farmers’ bounty at the peak of the season. Think of the time spent on canning as time you don’t have to spend at the grocery store stocking up on yet another jar of spaghetti sauce.
    It’s a great project to do with kids. It teaches a great lesson in valuing food, and in self-reliance, and if nothing else you can give it at the holidays as a home-made gift.
    You need a few basic things like a couple of big pots and some tongs you can use for taking things out of boiling water, but otherwise you just get the jars and the lids and go for it.

  3. blah said on July 31st, 2008

    1. All-natural nut and seed butters. At our house, we eat peanut butter, soybean butter, and sunflower seed butter.

    2. Canned salmon.

    Both of these are relatively economical sources of healthy fats and proteins.

  4. Norma said on August 9th, 2008

    I think the media perpetuates the myth that it is more expensive to eat healthy. Yesterday I bought 16 oz. of organic, dark sweet cherries for $3 (for snacks or treats). I can’t even buy a bag of potato chips for that or 6 oz. of cookies! I don’t know what they contain in calories or nutrients, but I’m not going to eat the entire container while watching TV!

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