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How to buy healthy food on a tight budget
August 21st, 2012
11:18 AM ET

How to buy healthy food on a tight budget

It’s hard to argue with a $1 double cheeseburger. Perhaps that’s why so many believe that eating healthy is expensive.

The myth has become so pervasive that everyone from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to health care providers is attempting to dispel it. Now the Environmental Working Group is joining in.

The EWG has combined forces with anti-hunger group Share Our Strength to create a healthy shopping guide for low-income households: “Good Food on a Tight Budget.”

The guide contains lists of “best buys” – those that pack the most nutrition for the lowest cost – in each food group, cooking/shopping tips, recipes, a meal planner and a price tracker.

Best buys include bananas, watermelons, broccoli, raisins, romaine lettuce, barley, tuna, lentils/beans, eggs, turkey and cottage cheese.

Price was the primary concern for the group’s choices, EWG nutritionist and lead author Dawn Undurraga said. Experts then screened out foods that contain a lot of chemicals, like pesticides, or whose production creates greenhouse gases.

“Your food choice is one of the most powerful choices that you make everyday that affects your environment,” Undurraga said.

Some of the guide’s top tips include buying grains in bulk, cooking dried beans to save money, mixing your own cooking sprays and substituting yogurt for cream in recipes.

Researchers based the weekly plan on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) budget of $5 to $6 a day. The example meals total $35 using average food prices.

Still, the EWG understands that giving up fast food for family meals isn’t always easy.

“Healthy food is affordable, but it’s definitely a different style of eating,” Undurraga said. “It’s a back-to-basics style of eating. There’s not a lot of room for extras. It’s challenging.”

“Good Food on a Tight Budget” released Tuesday. It’s available as a free download or online from EWG.org/goodfood. The EWG has also connected with local community centers and food banks to distribute the pamphlet.


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