Healthy eating is a vital part of diabetes management. Yet, do you find yourself thinking, “But I can’t afford to eat healthy”? A recent Gallup poll reports that Americans spend an average of $151 per week on food. I know that each dollar must stretch more than ever to cover rising food costs, not to mention medications, monitoring supplies, and healthcare visits (read about more moneysaving tricks and tips here). However, eating food that’s part of a diabetes meal plan does not have to blow the budget! Consult with your health care team about the guidelines that best fit your diabetes and nutrition needs, then consider these pennywise pointers to eat healthy for less.
Make meal planning a habit
A goal to eat healthfully, without a plan in place, is just a wish! Meal planning is the first step toward stretching your food dollar, while providing meals that meet your nutrition needs. And, planning may reduce stress – no more wondering “What’s for dinner?”
Plan five meals in five steps
Overwhelmed at the thought of planning a week’s worth of menus? Start with just five evening meals. Here’s how to do it:
- Set your food budget
- Decide where you’ll shop, to incorporate store specials and coupons
- Determine how many people will eat at each meal, so you don’t buy too much
- Check out the pantry, to see what you need to buy
- Make a shopping list. Try a downloadable online free grocery list template to get you started
Practiced planners can often plan five meals in five minutes – I’ve seen it happen!
Count on some cooking, but keep it simple
Convenience foods do save time, but can be real budget busters. To control food costs, a little cooking will be in order, but I’m a fan of keeping it simple. Start by using recipes that:
- Are quick to assemble
- Require five ingredients or less
- Use uncomplicated cooking techniques
You’re more likely to stick to your shopping list and avoid costly, lower-nutrition impulse buys if you:
- Shop alone
- Shop when you’re not hungry
- Shop early in the day (tired shoppers let their guard down)
- Shop from a list to stay focused
Skip the “special” foods
While foods labelled “sugar-free” or “diabetic” may fit in a diabetes meal plan, in my opinion, they are not essential, and often carry a higher price tag. One example I saw recently in the candy aisle was peanut butter cup candies. The sugar-free version costs six times more than the regular, and was actually slightly higher in carbohydrates!
Try generic or store brands
They often taste just as good as name brands, and may save at least 20-30%.
Cut costs with coupons
It’s not necessary to take up extreme couponing, but using coupons or store loyalty rewards on items you normally purchase can take a bite out of the bill.
Pinch pennies aisle by aisle
Fruits: Buy fruits when they in season. You can often get an even better deal when you buy by the bag! Bag of oranges? Eat the perfect pieces and use the less than perfect pieces in a salad.
Vegetables: Go for fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt – whichever can fit in your budget. Buying bagged fresh veggies? Weigh a few bags and choose the heaviest. There may be up to ¾ pound difference between 5-pound bags of onions.
Grains: Three of my favorite buys are: oats, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice. I find the best deals on these grains are in the bulk foods aisle. Convenience costs money! Seasoned rice mixes are often three times the cost of plain rice you season yourself (the same is true for beans).
Protein: To really save money, I recommend incorporating more beans into your diet. Beans generally cost only pennies per pound. When you do consider the cost of meat and seafood, however, try to compare them on price per serving, rather than price per pound. Price per pound is not always a good basis for cost comparisons because of the varying amounts of bone and skin. For example:
1 pound round steak = Three 3-ounce lean edible servings
1 pound ribs = One edible serving
Dairy: Buy in bulk when it economically makes sense. So, instead of small, more costly containers of low-fat yogurt, buy a quart and portion it into ½ cup servings yourself. Add your own stir-ins to suit your preferences.
Oils: You’ll make a bottle of oil last much longer – and use less in your meals – by spraying, rather than pouring it into the pan. I make my own cooking spritzer by putting virgin olive oil in a spray bottle. Reserve the more costly, flavorful extra virgin variety for uses where flavor matters.
Saving just $5 a week can fatten your piggy bank by $260 per year!
Tami A. Ross, RD, LD, CDE* is the president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the co-author of Diabetes Meals on $7 a Day – Or Less! and What Do I Eat Now? A Step-by-Step Guide to Eating Right with Type 2 Diabetes. Ross is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience