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Inexpensive Groceries Can Boost Your Health

October 2016

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Last year's hottest supermarket craze was low-carb products but they are not the rage this year. Instead, food preferences are constantly changing. Americans are obsessed with dieting and we have seen low-fat, fat-free, sugar-free, low-carb, and no-carb foods come and go with little impact on our weight. In fact, as a nation, we're heavier than ever.

What to do? You can cut food costs by eating more meals at home and by making sure they feature some of the healthiest foods from your supermarket -- foods like whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, fish and beans.  Many of these foods only cost a few dollars a package.  For example, a 1-pound bag of brown rice sells for about $1.75 and cooks up into about 10 servings--that's just 18 cents a serving. Check out the list below for more examples. Prices may vary based on the store, location, and time of year.

Brown Rice – Great for side dishes, rice salad, casseroles, soups and stews. A serving is ½ cup cooked which is about 170 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.  Price per serving is only 18 cents.

Whole-Wheat or Multigrain Pasta – Works well as a base for hot and cold pasta dishes.  A cooked serving is about one cup.  A typical box of pasta means you get about 7 cooked servings per box. The price per serving is about 24 cents and a 13-16 ounce box or bag of store brand dried pasta sells for about $1.69.  One serving is about 200 calories, 7 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber.

100% Whole-Wheat Bread—Good for hot and cold sandwiches, bread stuffing, bread pudding, and breakfast strata.  What's a serving? 2 slices.  Bread labels usually list a serving as 1 slice of bread (about 28 grams per slice), but for now use the amount you would use to make a sandwich.  2 slices are about 18 cents. You can get a 22-ounce loaf of store-brand whole-wheat bread for about $1.99 (on sale). Each loaf has about 22 slices, or 11 servings of 2 slices each.  Nutrition info per serving (2 slices): About 120 calories, 6 grams protein, and 3 grams fiber.

Nonfat Greek Yogurt - A quick snack, and taste great in parfaits made with fruit and granola, and smoothies.  Most individual servings come in 6-ounce or 8-ounce containers. You can save money by buying a larger container of Greek yogurt and then taking a 6- or 8-ounce portion from it. Individual servings (6- to 8-ounce containers) cost about 89 cents each and sometimes less when found on sale. The nutrition information per serving (for a 6-ounce serving of honey vanilla): 150 calories, 0 grams fiber, and 14 grams protein.

Old-Fashioned Oats – Use for hot or cold cereal, granola, crumb toppings for desserts, and muffins. A serving is½  cup dry oats.  The price per serving is 13 cents. A 42-ounce container of store brand oats costs around $3.99, and each container makes about 30 servings, based on a serving being 1/2-cup of dry oats. The nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 4 grams fiber, and 5 grams protein.

Frozen Vegetables – Great for side dishes, casseroles and soups.  A serving is 1 cup. The price per serving is around 25 cents.  Frozen vegetables come in 12-ounce to 24-ounce bags that cost anywhere from $1.75 to $2.25 and contain 6-8 cups, depending on the vegetable and the size of the bag. At one national store, you can buy a bag of frozen organic green beans for $1.79. A bag of petite peas will cost you $1.19, and a 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach costs $1.19. The nutrition information per serving for a 1-cup serving of frozen mixed vegetables (classic mix) is 82 calories, 6 grams fiber, 4 grams protein, 115% of the Daily Value for vitamin A, 8% of the Daily Value for vitamin C, and 7% of the Daily Value for potassium.

What new foods can you add to your grocery list for healthier eating?  Take small steps to eat a nutritious diet while keeping your grocery bill low and within your food budget.