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Budgeting for health

Variety of ways people can save money to maintain a nutritious diet

August 21, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

When it comes to affording a healthy diet, Nan Ransom said, people need to remember to get back to the basics, which includes planning their meals, clipping coupons and checking the price per unit on the items.

Ransom, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator for St. Mary's Healthcare in?Amsterdam, said that also includes cooking. Some healthy foods are not as appealing if someone cannot prepare them.

"I see that a lot with younger families," she said.

Article Photos

Nan Ransom, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator for St. Mary’s Healthcare in?Amsterdam, uses props to show what a healthy meal can look like in her office on Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs noted meeting U.S. nutritional guidelines can be expensive. The latest guidelines urge Americans to eat more foods with vital nutrients, but doing so could add hundreds of dollars to a person's grocery bill.

Eating a healthy diet does not have to be expensive, Ransom said. The cost of a diet depends on a number of factors, including whether the foods are being purchased in season or if the product is the cheapest option available

Ransom said she tends to emphasize eating whole grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables. She also suggests people carefully watch and limit how many foods with high fat or high sodium content they consume.

Ultimately, Ransom said, she tries to help people make the best choices they can with the money they have.

Simple steps

To that end, she said, many people could benefit by following some simple steps, including:

Writing a menu each week. Ransom said people should check their own pantry and freezer to see what they already have. Also, while checking food ads, people can plan their meals to match.

Clip or download coupons.

Ransom suggested people make their shopping list after getting their menu together.

With their shopping list in hand, people know what they need to purchase, she said. That helps reduce the temptation of impulse buying.

"Impulse buying can wreck a food budget," Ransom said.

As an example, she cited the trend towards snack products that are portioned out in 100-calorie pack.

While the calorie number makes people think they are healthy snacks, Ransom said the reality is some provide no true nutrition, and people pay up to $12-a-pound for the items.

Ransom noted the items people could easily prepare on their own for a snack that have 100 calories or less, including a medium -sized apple, 60 oyster crackers or a hard-boiled egg.

"People are being fooled by packaging," she said.

While shopping, people should always check the unit price of products. The unit price is the price customers pay for each unit - pound, ounce - of a product.

Ransom said while steps like these are basic, a number of people do not think to bother with them.

For example, one woman Ransom talked to had enough money for food at the start of the month. However, the woman bought all of her produce at the beginning of the month. By the end of the month, the produce was rotting and she did not have the money to replace it.

"It sounds simple, but we've gotten away from it," she said.

Another basic skill that has become a problem for some people: cooking.

Ransom said in some younger families, no one knows how to take basic, healthy foods and turn them into a meal.

In addition to finding recipes on the internet, Ransom suggested local farmers markets as a source of information. Not only can people get fresh fruits, vegetables and other items, she said, many of the people who grow produce can instruct a novice in how to prepare their purchase.

By being able to prepare and eat a wider variety of foods, she said, people can substitute different foods if an item becomes too expensive.

Made fresh

Timothy?Forte, general manager of nutrition services at Nathan?Littauer?Hospital and Nursing Home, said trying to serve food to people who have a taste for high fat and high salt food can be a huge hurdle.

To help counteract that, The hospital is researching making healthier versions of foods that are not normally considered healthy, such as French fries, Forte said.

By starting with fresh ingredients and using different cooking techniques, he said, it is possible to make a healthier version of a food many people enjoy. For example, he said, by taking hand-cut french fries and oven roasting them, they can produce a healthier side than they would get from buying many pre-made versions.

About 1,300 meals are served between the hospital and nursing home every day, Forte said. There is a misconception that hospital food is not quality food, he said. By working with a team of nutritionists and sourcing the products locally, he said, the hospital and nursing home provide tasty, healthy meals that stay under budget.

Forte said at work and at home, he has found the best value people can get comes from buying whole, fresh foods.

As an alternative, fresh foods that have been frozen also can provide good value. For seasonal fruits like blueberries, buying them frozen can save money when they are out of season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control's Fruits & Veggies Matter website - - there are a variety of ways people can stretch their food budget to get the healthy food they need.

People can cook enough food for several meals and freeze the leftovers. This can entice people to eat healthy food at home more often, rather than going out and spending money on less-healthy food, the website said.

The website said people also can save money by mixing their own juices at home and cutting their own fruits and vegetables. Pre-cut produce and pre-bottled juice can cost much more than whole fruits and vegetables, and 100 percent juice from frozen concentrate, the website said.


According to the journal Health Affairs, the federal government is calling on people to eat more foods containing dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin D and calcium.

However, the study found introducing more potassium in a diet is likely to add $380 per year to the average consumer's food costs.

People who spend the most on food tend to get the closest to meeting the federal guidelines for potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium, the study found. Those who spend the least have the lowest intakes of the four recommended nutrients and the highest consumption of saturated fat and added sugar.

However, Parke Wilde, associated professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said it's not expensive to get all the nutrients a body needs to meet the federal guidelines.

What is expensive, in Wilde's opinion, are the choices Americans make while getting those nutrients.

He said diets get more and more expensive depending on how many rules a person applies to himself, such as eating organic or seeking local sources for food or eating vegetables out of season.

"The longer your list gets, the more expensive your list will be," he said.



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