How to get nutritious foods on a budget, from a RD nutritionist

Although gas prices are now at their lowest in months, inflation is driving food prices higher than they have been in 43 years, making it a little harder for many Americans to afford the groceries they need.

The food-at-home index is up 13.5% since last year, according to the latest CPI data.

Here’s a snapshot of how much the prices of some key commodities have risen over the past 12 months:

  • Cereals and cereal products (17.4%)
  • Dairy and related products (16.2%)
  • Fruits and vegetables (9.4%).

Grocery shopping, especially nutrient-dense ones, is more difficult than it has been since 1979, but there are still ways to get the healthy foods you need when you’re on a tighter budget.

If you’re shopping on a budget, it’s usually recommended to use coupons, says Felicia Porrazza, a Pennsylvania-based nutritionist.

Although coupons can be useful, sometimes using them can encourage people to buy things they don’t need or won’t use, she says.

“I usually suggest using coupons for things that you typically buy, rather than things where you’re like, ‘Oh, I have a coupon for that,’ which can also add to the grocery bill,” says Porrazza.

And while methods like shopping in season and buying groceries locally are effective, they’re not the only ways to save money.

3 ways to get nutrient dense foods on a budget

1. Meal preparation

Shop with intention by thinking of the meals you want to make throughout the week before you even go to the grocery store, says Porrazza.

“It can get pretty sticky when people buy fresh produce and don’t have a plan, so they sit in the fridge and sadly end up dying without being used,” notes Porrazza. “It’s money that’s essentially wasted.”

When planning meals, you should also check your pantry to see what non-perishable foods you already have and inventory everything in the fridge and freezer, she says.

2. Buy frozen and canned foods

Consider buying frozen or canned foods instead of some of the fresh foods you would normally buy, Porrazza says. These foods tend to cost less and last longer than fresh ones, she says.

“There’s a lot of variety there in terms of everything from green beans to chickpeas, and these are nutrient-dense foods,” says Porrazza. “The only thing to really watch out for in canned food is the sodium aspect.”

Look for vegetables Options that say “no salt added” or low sodium while shopping, she says. You can also drain and rinse canned vegetables to lower the sodium content.

When it comes to canned fruit, it’s all about the sugar content. You should aim for a choice with no added sugar or cans with 100% juice or water, notes Porrazza.

3. Try protein alternatives

Meat and fish are more expensive than most groceries these days, and even if you’re not on a plant-based diet, using a variety of protein sources as your main staple for a meal or two throughout the week could lower the price of your groceries, Porrazza says.

Some alternatives she suggests are:

  • tofu
  • Bean-based recipes like chili
  • Structured vegetable protein
  • tempeh

“Just vary that protein source. You still get a source of protein, but you don’t necessarily drive up the cost,” says Porrazza.

Tips for creating your shopping list

You may need to narrow down your shopping list to save money. In those cases, these top 10 foods should always be on your shopping list, according to Porrazza:

  • Protein (two items)
  • Grains/carbs (two items)
  • fruits (two items)
  • Vegetables (one starchy, one non-starchy)
  • Add-ins (two items)

You can use the graphic below to create your own personalized nutritional shopping list:

Prioritize nutrient-dense foods even if you’re on a budget

Try to get two different items from each category. For vegetables, get one starchy and one non-starchy.

🥩 proteins

• Textured vegetable protein (soy meat)

• Tofu

• Lean meat

fishes (rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon or rainbow trout)

Chicken (no skin)

lamb (roast or leg)

pork meat Filet*

Low fat beef* (98% lean or roast beef)

🍚 grain + carbohydrates

• Andean millet

• Pasta

• Rice

🍎 fruit

• Apples

• Bananas

• Blueberries

• Oranges

• Strawberries

• Tomatoes

🥬 vegetables


• Corn

• Legumes (beans)

• Potatoes

• Sweet potatoes

Not starchy

• Broccoli

• carrots

• Cauliflower

• Celery

• Cucumbers

• Kale

• Lettuce

• Spinach

• Zucchini

🥜 add-ins

• Peanut butter

• Flaxseed

• Oats

• Other fun additions

How to manage your money when inflation is high

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