How to Eat Healthy and Save Money

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commissary vegetables 1200
(Defense Commissary Agency)

I went to an amazing conference last week, where I had my picture taken. A lot. Now, I'm not particularly photogenic under the best of circumstances. (No, really, even my husband concedes it, and that's a risky stance but I appreciate his honesty.) But the photos emphasized just how out of shape I've gotten lately. These last few months have been really busy, and exercise has been out the window.

So, as I did my grocery shopping Tuesday, I was focused on making smart choices. Lots of vegetables, lean meats, no grains or dairy, and definitely nothing processed or junk food-y. My husband looked at the cart, and looked at me, and made a few choices for his own eating pleasure.

This got me thinking about what I call "aspirational grocery shopping." Aspirational grocery shopping is when you buy the things that you think you should eat, and then don't eat them. Has this ever happened to you? It happens to me all the time, and I am not alone. Research shows that "those who consume healthier diets waste more food than people who consume diets that are less healthy."

We can all see how that happens, right? You buy five avocados, thinking that you'll have one each day, and then they all ripen at once. Or you buy enough vegetables to get in five servings a day all week, and then you eat something else one day. My compost bin is full of previously fine foods that just weren't consumed in time.

Not only is this wasteful from a food perspective, it is a waste of your grocery dollars. So how do you solve this problem? There are a few ways.

Be Realistic

This is the key to the whole thing. You may want to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables every day, but DO YOU? If you've never finished an entire large clamshell of baby spinach, don't buy it just because you think this week will be different.

Pro Tip: Meal planning really helps with this.

Another place to be realistic is when introducing new products into your shopping. For example, you may have heard that adding a little wheat germ to your food is good for you. That's awesome, if you actually do it. But if that $4 bag of wheat germ turns rancid before you eat it, because you never get into the habit, then that's $4 in the trash can.

Another pro tip: Keep your wheat germ in the fridge. In a perfect world, keep ALL your whole grains in the fridge if they won't be used within a month.

Shop More Frequently

This can be hard if you have a jam-packed schedule, but consider shopping more often. This may mean shopping at more expensive stores, but the net cost may be lower if you're not throwing away as much food.

For example, my local grocery store is crazy expensive for just about everything. Cauliflower, one of my favorites, is about twice the price at the nearby store versus the discount chain 20 minutes away. But if I end up throwing away half of the stuff that I buy at the discount chain, it'd be the same cost to buy it from the more expensive store as I actually need it.

Embrace High-Quality Substitutes for Fresh

While fresh may usually be the healthiest way to eat, many frozen choices are just as good (or even better, depending on the situation). Freeze-dried herbs (found in the refrigerated produce section) last nearly forever, versus that cilantro getting slimy in the back of your fridge. Even canned goods can be a great resource. I keep canned corn on hand for salads and canned mushrooms for pasta dishes. They're not quite as good as fresh, but they're also not going to go bad for a very, very long time.

Eating healthy is important, but so is keeping your grocery budget in line. Being realistic about what you're actually going to eat, buying items as you need them, and embracing alternatives can help you eat healthy while still keeping costs in line and avoiding waste.

Now, I'm off to tackle all those vegetables that I bought!

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