DETROIT – At Prince Valley Market on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, the shelves are full and the choices are plentiful.
Customers say they pay close attention to how much things cost everywhere.
“The prices are really high,” said Dora Hopkins of Southfield.
Hopkins places a high value on buying healthy foods, but compares prices carefully.
“It’s good for my health. Certain things are just high, you know, so I’m trying to find something that might be cheaper,” Hopkins said.
It’s a great approach, said Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian with Henry Ford Health.
“I hear people say healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food all the time and I don’t buy it for a minute. I think there are many ways we can eat healthier and spend less,” Thayer said.
As food prices continue to rise dramatically, many families are faced with difficult purchasing decisions. We asked Thayer to go shopping with us to share her tips and tricks for saving on healthy groceries.
She said saving starts before you leave home.
“Planning ahead is the best way to save money at the grocery store, and it’s also the method that people don’t do,” Thayer said. “They do it rather spontaneously.”
Thayer recommends planning your meals for the week, reviewing what you already have at home, and then making a grocery list.
“Putting that on a grocery list not only helps you shop better at the store, but it also helps you avoid over-buying and wasting money on groceries you’re not even going to eat.”
Two more top tips:
“You’ve heard it before, don’t come into the store hungry. You’ll start buying things you didn’t mean to buy,” Thayer said. “And number two, try to come alone. If you come with other people, you’re more likely to be persuaded to buy something else.”
In the produce department, focus on whole fruit versus already prepared options. Thayer quickly found a prime example of the savings potential.
“This whole watermelon is $7.99 versus this half watermelon which is $8.84 and this (small) container which is $5.02.”
When it comes to fruit and veg, don’t assume that pre-packaged is better. Calculate!
We found that individual haloes cost four for a dollar—that makes them 25 cents each. The three pound bag of halos was $7.99 which sounded like a savings but when we actually counted there were only 16 halos inside making them 50 cents each!
This big difference surprised even our expert.
Thayer says you can also save by buying non-organic products.
“A lot of people think they are doing their families a favor by buying organic vegetables. From a nutritional perspective, they’re actually the same, but organic costs a lot more,” Thayer said.
Thayer says onions and potatoes are an inexpensive way to stretch meals year-round.
“A great way to add some flavor to some of your heartier dishes and potatoes without using salt — a great source of things like vitamin C and potassium,” Thayer explained.
As we headed down to the cereal aisle, we realized that bagged raisin bran was a better deal than boxed.
“We found that the bag of cereal is 27 ounces for $5 compared to 25 ounces for $6. So save $1 and get a little bit more,” Thayer said.
With the oatmeal, bigger was better. A tin and a box of ten individual envelopes were almost the same price, but the tin had three times the number of servings.
For grains in general, Thayer said the healthier whole grain option is often the same price as the less nutritious version. That was true of the pasta and the breads we reviewed.
Cooking oils tend to be expensive. Thayer said canola oil and olive oil are both good sources of monounsaturated fats, but canola is a much cheaper option, especially for baking or frying.
“It’s a little over $2 in this case versus a little over $6 for the olive oil,” Thayer explained.
When it comes to meat, buying on sale is key. Thayer also recommends serving more “meatless meals” and watching your portions.
“You only need about three ounces, or the size of your palm,” Thayer said.
Frozen fish is another healthy, cost-saving option.
“Tilapia tends to be a lower-priced fish. And again, it’s a very lean protein source that’s delicious in a lot of different ways. Salmon is usually where people go, and sometimes you can get a really good price on salmon, especially when it’s frozen,” Thayer said.
If you often throw away fresh produce that spoils before you can use it, head to the freezer section.
“Buying frozen is a good way to save some money because we can pour out what we want and then put it back in the freezer for another time,” Thayer said.
When it comes to healthy drinks, Thayer recommends sticking to tap water and low-fat dairy.
“One way to save money at the grocery store is not to spend it on drinks. You can spend a lot of money in the beverage department and not get a lot of food,” Thayer said.
Finally, be careful with bulk purchases. People often think they’ll save money by buying healthy foods in bulk, but Thayer stressed that you have to do the math and make sure you can actually use those foods before they go bad.
While it takes a little more planning and time to save at the grocery store, Thayer says it’s time well spent.
“People are starting to make decisions and hopefully more informed decisions about what to buy.”
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