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Healthy Eating On a Budget


LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 18, 2008) − With gas and food prices soaring, many Kentuckians may be finding themselves struggling to pay bills and make regular purchases such as groceries.  But according to Maria G. Boosalis, director of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky’s College of Health Sciences, eating on a budget doesn’t mean sacrificing health or quality.

When shopping for groceries, Boosalis says to take more time in the grocery store, specifically shopping the perimeter of the store, use money-saving coupons and check for store specials whenever possible.

“The more processed foods and foods that are often higher in sugar and fat like soda pop and chips tend to be placed in the middle aisles of the store,” she says.  “By shopping the perimeter of the store, you can avoid some of those items all together.”

Boosalis also says to save money while shopping for groceries, read the nutrition labels, be familiar with prices so you can recognize a great deal, consider buying a generic or store brand and choose foods from each of the recommended food groups of My Pyramid.


Fruits and Vegetables

Now that farmer’s markets are beginning to open, Boosalis suggests buying local might be one way to get great tasting fruits and vegetables without the high price.

“Buying fruits and vegetables in season also makes them more affordable,” she says.  “This is also a great time to try raising a few staples such as lettuce and tomatoes in a home garden.”

In addition, Boosalis suggests looking for frozen alternatives, since many frozen fruits and vegetables can be bought cheaper in bulk and kept frozen until you need them, to avoid spoilage or waste.  To get the most nutritional value though, purchase frozen fruits without added sugar and frozen vegetables without added salt.  If canned foods are only in your budget, purchase fruits packaged in their own juice or in light syrup and vegetables with a minimal amount of salt.


Whole grains

To get the recommended intake of whole grains, Boosalis suggests buying 100 percent whole wheat or 100 percent whole grain breads whenever they are on sale and freezing one or more loaves for later use.  To increase nutrient value, make sure the first ingredient listed is 100 percent whole grain whenever possible. If your family likes to eat enriched white bread, try to increase the nutrient value of a sandwich by making it with one slice of 100 percent whole wheat bread and one slice of the enriched white bread in the beginning until getting used to the 100 percent whole wheat bread alone.

Boosalis also suggests incorporating other whole grains into your day to increase nutritional value.  You can do this by eating other whole grain cereals like oatmeal, 100 percent brown rice and/or 100 percent whole wheat pasta.

“In addition to getting your recommended amount of grain servings, consuming whole grain foods along with fruits and vegetables also provide additional fiber that your body needs.  An added benefit to eating fiber is that it can keep you feeling full longer which also may help you eat less,” Boosalis said.


Lean Protein

Lean sources of protein such as meat, poultry and fish are probably one of the most expensive items on a grocery list, says Boosalis.  To reduce costs, try alternate protein sources such as dried beans and/or legumes for one or two of your meals each week. Boosalis also suggests adding cooked or drained canned beans to the dish.  To do this, you can either halve the amount of browned, ground meat used and add beans – which can be dried or canned (as long as they are rinsed to remove excess salt) or brown all of the meat and add the beans to extend the number of servings you make.

“Including dried or canned beans to your diet is another way to increase the fiber content of your day’s intake,” Boosalis said.



Although it hasn’t always been the case, Boosalis says that whole milk, 2 percent, 1percent, and/or fat-free/skim milk are now all priced the same, so choosing either fat free/skim or 1 percent milk doesn’t cost more and it’s good for both your body and your wallet.  You can also save the ‘liquid’ milk to drink and use non-fat milk powder in cooked dishes which may also save some money.

In the end, Boosalis says cooking healthier on a budget doesn’t have to mean sacrificing taste, quality or nutritional value.  Small changes like removing the skin of the chicken before cooking, draining fat from meat, baking fish instead of frying it and choosing to supplement/substitute meat with beans, can make a difference.  So experiment with a favorite dish, seek out assistance on nutrition, gardening and recipe preparation from local resources such as your county extension office, combine shopping trips to save gas and choose wisely when in the store.

My Pyramid can help you plan a menu, learn more about nutrition recommendations, track your food intake, level of physical activity and more.


The University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences consists of nine programs: Athletic Training; Communication Sciences and Disorders; Physical Therapy; Rehabilitation Sciences PhD Program; Clinical and Reproductive Sciences; Clinical Nutrition; Physician Assistant Studies; Radiation Sciences; and Clinical Leadership and Management.


Photo:  Maria BoosalisMaria G. Boosalis, Ph.D., is the director of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky's College of Health Sciences.