How to eat healthy even when money is tight and you have a family to feed

How to eat healthy even when money is tight and you have a family to feed

A strain many Americans are now facing is how to keep food on the table, especially for those who have a family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping two weeks’ worth of food on hand if possible, but nearly 17 million people in the US have filed for unemployment in the past few weeks. Others might have had their work hours cut, or found that once plentiful freelance assignments are few and far between.

Being food insecure isn’t just stressful — it could also put your immune system at risk, which is needed to help stave off the possibility of a coronavirus infection.

If you’re challenged with determining how to eat sufficiently and tastefully with minimal funds, there are grocery tips and hacks you can put into practice to keep you and your family well.

Incrementally, or all at once

In its guidelines for shopping for essentials, the CDC recommends only visiting the grocery store in person when you absolutely need to. That definition may vary from household to household — for those without the space to store bulk food, going more than once a week may be necessary. Or maybe it seems too expensive to do a large grocery haul all at once rather than little by little as funds allow.

Whenever you need to go to the store, sticking to a list that’s “intentional and purposeful with the money you have and planning ahead as much as possible” can help cut down on any extra spending, said Caroline Passerrello, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To take advantage of the best deals and receive more savings, you could also join a store’s bonus or reward card program. When you’re heading into the store, check out the sales flier or any coupon booklets.

Low-cost, highly nutritious foods

If you have little money to work with and you’re questioning what you should buy, “really look at what is key,” Passerrello said.

This includes following dietary guidelines and recommendations for nutrient dense protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Though it can be hard to avoid junk food during stressful times — that stress make us naturally gravitate toward processed carbs — there’s no monetary room for discretion, Passerrello said.

“There’s no discretionary money for discretionary calories, so make sure that everything you purchase and eat is as nutrient dense as possible,” she added.

Options for foods that offer high nutrition value for the least amount of money include eggs, dry beans, wheat bread, tortillas and peanut butter.

“Those types of items are really nutrient dense,” Passerrello said. “They have a good shelf life. If you’re able to plan ahead, they’re pretty versatile and you can use them in different ways. Almost at every meal you could incorporate those items.”

To really get more bang for your buck, look closely at a price tag’s unit price to find out how much you’re paying per ounce.

“A can of beans is usually about three and a half servings, somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar depending on what brand,” Passerrello said, adding that “low-sodium canned beans are a good option if you don’t have the ability to buy the dry beans and soak them ahead of time.”

But if you compared the unit price of dry beans versus canned beans, you’ll see which option has the best value. “The bag of beans I have is 25 servings and it was 75 cents,” Passerrello said. “And you just use them in the same way.”

Non-instant oatmeal is another inexpensive option that’s packed with iron, calcium, fiber and B-vitamins. It’s great for breakfast with butter, nuts and syrup or honey, and it can also be a treat for dinner if you’d enjoy a savory take.

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