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5 Tips for Buying Healthy Food without Breaking the Bank

Whether you shop the farmers’ market or larger supermarkets, you know that “healthier” items can often have a premium price. And it can be particularly challenging on the bank account to stock a pantry with super-nourishing foods for a whole family. With a few smart shopping strategies, you can actually eat a lot healthier for a whole lot less. Here are five tips to help you save bucks at the store:

1.  Mind your protein.
Per ounce, protein typically costs more than any other category—whether that’s Alaskan salmon or vegan protein powder. Staples like yogurt, cheese, eggs, nuts, and nut butters also add up. The exception? Beans and bean-based protein foods, like organic tempeh or tofu. Beans are about as economic—and tremendously healthy—as you can get in the protein category. Filled with soluble fiber essential to heart health, beans contain between 12 and 18 grams of protein per cup (cooked), and energy-stabilizing complex carbs too.

2.  Eat in season, locally if possible.
Produce is the one area of the store you can usually trust the sale items. Two-for-one kale? A bag of organic apples at less than a dollar per pound? Yes, please. The benefits of eating in season are fourfold: lower prices, higher nutrients, better taste, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions in transportation. You’ll be getting more for your buck nutrient-wise: Vitamins C, D, A, and E; B vitamins; and many antioxidants begin to degrade the moment produce is picked and continue to degrade in transit and storage. Sure, you can buy South American–grown fruit at triple the price per pound in the winter, but buying from a nearby North American grower in the summer tastes (and feels) so good—from your bank statement to your body.

3.  Is it really convenient?
Items that come in single-serve bottles and packages can seem deceptively cheap. You might be surprised how much small snack and drink items can add up over time. Say each member of your four-person family gets a ready-to-drink bottled drink and granola or protein bar every day. At $1.50 to $5 per drink and $1.00 to $2.50 per bar, in seven days you’re looking at $70 to $210 for these items alone. At the upper end, you can likely fill a cart with an entire week’s worth of groceries for the cost of those little snacks.

4.  Shop price per ounce, not price per item.
Shopping bulk is an easy way to do this, since bins are clearly marked with the price per weight. Most shelf prices will tell you how much an item costs per ounce (or other weight unit). Especially in the aisles of packaged goods, you can ignore total cost. You may be comparing for other factors, such as organic versus conventional, but price per ounce is your biggest savings factor.

5.  Make a list and stick to it.
Stores are designed to stoke our creative fires and get us to spend a little—or a lot—more than we intend. Sale items are strategically placed at the entrance in order to provide a sense of bargain, but the minute you walk further into any area of the store, you’ll inevitably see a must-have item, such as a wedge of Italian cheese, at a high price tag. You might be tempted to think that because you just bought apples on sale, a $10 piece of cheese flown all the way from Italy isn’t such a big deal. These little splurges add up over time. We’re certainly not suggesting that you forgo all indulgences! But being mindful of premium items and using a list to be true to your actual grocery needs can save you a ton.