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We know you had every intention of eating the broccoli that's been buried in your fridge for weeks (hey, we've been there). Same goes for the lettuce that you planned to turn into a crisp salad for dinner (yep, guilty of that one, too) and the bananas you meant to bring to work for a snack (ditto). If it sometimes seems that you can't eat the healthy food you buy fast enough, you've got plenty of company.
The average family of four in the United States tosses out about $1,350 in groceries every year, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of the new book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It). "Fruits and vegetables top the list of most-wasted foods," Bloom says. "It's often because we forget what we bought. Things get pushed to the back of the produce drawer, and out of sight is out of mind."
Shop a little smarter and you won't have to trash good food or your hard-earned cash. As a bonus, you'll boost your diet and your bank account at the same time. Check out these mega money-saving ideas before you hit the checkout line.
The single best way to save at the supermarket is to map out your dinners for the week and shop with a list, experts say. Sounds like a no-brainer, but most of us don't do it. That's how we end up buying things we already have. Take a quick inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer so you know what you've got on hand. Then decide on the recipes you want to make for the week. Jot down the ingredients you need and head to the supermarket.
The freshest foods have better flavor and more nutrients, and they're also less expensive. In the off-season, try frozen fruits and veggies, which offer the same healthy benefits for low prices.Get more than you pay for.
Grocery stores across the country are going the extra mile to help you eat healthy. For instance, Safeway stores' online Food Flex program gives you a nutritional snapshot of your purchases and shows you better alternatives. Whole Foods Market holds weekly value tours of its stores to point out good-for-you deals. (Who-knew secret: You can taste most foods at Whole Foods to make sure you like them before buying. Ask for details at the service desk.)Veg out.
Go vegetarian one or more days a week and you'll slash your grocery bill big-time. Angela Barton, author of the blog My Year Without Spending, says that since she and her husband switched to eating meat just a few times weekly, she saves 25 percent every time she shops. Swap beef and chicken for beans, grains, and eggs.
"Plenty of fruits and vegetables are both nutrient dense and inexpensive," says Lauren Futrell Dunaway, RD, program manager at the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. Her best budget-friendly, vitamin-packed produce picks:
Bananas contain plenty of potassium as well as vitamins B6 and C.
Cabbage is loaded with vitamin C. Every cup of cooked, shredded cabbage that you eat provides 75 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of C.
Cantaloupe is high in vitamins A and C.
Carrots have more vitamin A than any other vegetable, and they're rich in vitamins C and B6.
Greens, such as spinach and turnip, mustard, and collard greens, are full of vitamin A.
Honeydew melon is high in vitamin C.
Oranges and grapefruits each supply more than 100 percent of your RDA of vitamin C.
Plums are packed with healthy antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Potatoes are a good source of vitamins C and B6 and potassium.
Don't be lured into buying mass quantities of anything -- whether it's chicken, condiments, or paper products -- at a warehouse store. It's a myth that bigger is cheaper, says Joanie Demer, coauthor of Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey. Truth is, you'll actually end up spending more.Know when not to go natural.
"People think that if they eat everything organic, they'll be healthier, but organic butter and sugar have the same fat and calories as regular butter and sugar," points out Jennifer Welper, executive chef at Hilton Head Health, a weight-loss spa in South Carolina. Plus, organic foods are often more expensive. When you're choosing snacks, look for tasty, good-for-you foods that will fill you up for around 150 calories. A handful (about one ounce) of almonds, a piece of fruit, or a plain nonfat yogurt with berries is a much smarter choice than all-natural cookies or chips.
Yes, olive oil is heart healthy, but it's also costly. Save it for when flavor really counts, as in salads, and use canola oil for cooking. "It's much less expensive, and it gives you healthy monounsaturated fats as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids," says Erin Palinski, RD, a nutritionist in Franklin, New Jersey.Stick close to home.
You can find bargains on fruits and vegetables grown locally -- and they're typically treated with fewer pesticides, too. Go to farmers' markets late in the day for the best prices. "Most growers will do two-for-one deals when they're ready to pack up," says Latham Thomas, a nutrition counselor and the founder of Tender Shoots Wellness in New York City. Also, consider joining a community-supported-agriculture (CSA) program, which gives you a weekly or biweekly box of produce from a nearby farm for a flat fee. If you can't use the whole box yourself, split it -- and the cost -- with a friend or neighbor.Fish for good deals.
Despite the hoopla about fresh wild-caught salmon -- which is rich in DHA, a type of healthy omega-3 fatty acid -- it isn't your only option in the sea. "All fish have DHA," points out Mary Harris, RD, PhD, professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "Some types have more than others, but the most important thing is to buy the kind of fish you like and aim to eat it once or twice a week." Tell the clerk to throw in a marinade while you're at it. Most grocery-store seafood counters will give you one free, but you have to ask.Bulk up.
Check the bins in the bulk section of your supermarket for healthy staples such as almonds, oatmeal, grains, and dried beans. You can purchase the exact amount you need, usually for a lot less than the packaged versions.Save time -- and money.
The right equipment can cut your food prep and cook time in half, says Jill Nussinow, author of The Veggie Queen. That makes it a whole lot easier to create healthy dishes. Consider investing in these genius kitchen tools:
Food Processor: Make quick work of slicing and dicing and avoid the temptation to purchase precut veggies, "which can cost five to 10 times more," Nussinow says. (About $135 for a nine-cup food processor at amazon.com)
Pressure Cooker: It cooks grains and dried beans in a flash. Think lentil soup in 20 minutes, start to finish. (About $60 at jcpenney.com)
Rice Steamer: Just set it and forget it. No more pots of boiled-over or burned rice. (About $40 at bedbathandbeyond.com)
"I've seen it over and over in my research: People buy things they wouldn't normally choose, because they have a coupon," says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, PhD, coauthor of Gen BuY. "Cheap prices allow you to rationalize less-healthy purchases." Ask yourself if you would want it without the coupon. No? Skip it.Shop after you eat.
"When you're famished, you naturally crave the most calorie-rich foods," Yarrow says. The next thing you know, you're piling your cart with corn chips and doughnuts.Leave the kids home.
As soon as you walk into the store, they start up: "I want candy/cupcakes/ice cream. Please, please, please!" Cue the tears. You end up buying more than you planned to. Have your husband watch them while you shop. Or trade babysitting time with another mom.Eat Better, Save Money, Cut Calories
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2010.