Save money by eating healthy — and at home

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As I’m sure you realize by now, I am a big proponent of healthy eating. I try to coach all of my clients to improve their diets as well. Lately, though, people are telling me that it is too expensive to eat healthier. I can understand with the current state of the economy that people want to hold on to a little more money, but this seems a bit extreme to me. Yes, healthy food can cost a slightly more than the alternative, but I fully believe every American could eat a healthy diet and save money. This month, I am going to show you some easy ways to improve your nutrition and save some cash too.

I recently tried to persuade a client to eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts rather than chicken thighs. The breast meat is very lean while the thigh is dark meat and has a much higher amount of fat. She responded by telling me that the breasts were too expensive. This took me by surprise, because at my grocery store they are not that different in price. The grocery store in my neighborhood charges $3.99 for a pound of chicken breasts and $2.49 for the thighs. She has been trading extra calories per meal to save $1.50. I think investing a couple dollars toward better health is more than worthwhile, but she needed to be convinced.

As we looked at her normal grocery list, we were able to find more than enough “junk food” to cut out, which more than made up for the price difference. If she just buys one less bag of potato chips, she will save $3.50.

While cutting junk food from your grocery list is an easy way to save money, there are other ways as well. Many people are busy in the morning and rush out without eating or even getting a cup of coffee. If you are one of the people who stand in that really long Starbucks line every morning, you can probably save a lot of money if you just wake up 15 minutes earlier. I would guess that an average breakfast at Starbucks is about $5.50. Having a cup of coffee, an egg white omelet and a bowl of oatmeal at home will set you back about 75 cents. Not only is it a far superior breakfast in terms of nutrition, but it’s probably more satisfying and saves you a ton of money.

The simple way to eat healthier while saving money is to do most of your own cooking. It makes sense that if you skip the fast food-place and prepare your own food, you will have healthier meals and spend less. If your family eats out several times each week, try cooking at home one extra night.

Preparing your own meals also has another distinct advantage: You have control of what goes into the food. If you are trying to be healthier, you will want to make sure you are not eating too much fat or sugar. At restaurants, the primary concern is taste, not nutrition. That means they use butter, whole milk, heavy cream, sugar and lots of other ingredients that taste great but pack on the pounds. At home, you can make substitutions that save calories and still taste good. A few examples are using less butter, using skim milk instead of whole, substituting applesauce for oil, and the list goes on.

While it’s true there are cheaper alternatives to healthy foods, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to eat a nutritious diet. After all, it will cost significantly more to pay for a poor diet if you consider the potential medications, illnesses and surgeries. To improve your diet without breaking the bank, start by looking for simple things you can eliminate from your grocery list and try to cook at home a little more.

Remember, your health is a long-term investment. You need to put in now to receive a much larger payoff later.

Jared Carter, CSCS, owns Move Forward Fitness Personal Training Studio, 1616 Walnut St. Visit www.moveforwardfitness.com to sign up for his free newsletter, or reach him at (215) 399-3541 or [email protected].