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Diets rich in healthy options like veggies, fish, fruit and nuts are more expensive than diets full of processed foods, meats and refined grains — about $1.50 more per day, per person on average.
That doesn’t seem like a lot, but over time it forms a barrier that a lot of low-income families — and seniors on fixed incomes — can’t get past. Yearly it averages to $550 per person.
But keep in mind that the cost of eating healthier is small compared to what it costs to treat diet-related chronic disease. Statistics show that the annual cost to treat diabetes is about $1,200 per person — $650 more per year than the cost of healthier groceries. If at all possible, spend a little bit more at the supermarket to spend a lot less at the doctor’s office and pharmacy.
One way to stretch your dollar is to make sure the produce you buy doesn’t spoil before it’s eaten. Another way is to consider store brands, many of which are just as nutritious as their full-priced competitors. These tips can get you started:
Store your lettuce with a dry paper towel. Lettuce leaves start seeping water as soon as they’re harvested. At the same time, bacteria and mold start growing which makes lettuce slimy and inedible. To avoid both of these issues, wash your lettuce as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Dry it in a salad spinner or by blotting it with paper towels. Once the leaves are dry, store them in an air-tight container along with a dry paper towel which will wick away moisture. Whenever the paper towel gets saturated, switch it out with a dry one.
Coat cut fruits and avocados in lemon or lime juice. You’ve seen it happen; it’s been three minutes since you cut fruit and it’s already turning brown. But there’s a fix! The citric acid found in lemons and limes inactivates the enzymes that cause foods to brown due to oxygen exposure. Just squirt or brush lemon or lime juice, whichever you like better, on sliced fruits or avocados before storing them in an air-tight container. Of course, you don’t want to cut fruit until you’re ready to eat it, but this comes in handy for when you only want half an apple or avocado, but don’t want to waste the rest.
Store bananas bunched in the refrigerator. This one was a surprise to me. I have always kept my bananas out on the counter… but it turns out that storing them in the refrigerator will keep the inside fruit fresher for longer. Warning—the skins will darken more quickly in the fridge, but the insides will still be good. Also, leaving the bunch intact — meaning not pulling one off the bunch until you’re ready to eat it — will help reduce spoilage.
Set tomatoes on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Tomatoes are persnickety. When you leave them at room temperature they ripen too quickly. When you put them in the refrigerator the water inside them can start to crystallize. Luckily there’s a “warm” spot inside the fridge that’s just right for these little divas. The top shelf of the refrigerator is slightly warmer than the rest, making it the perfect spot to store tomatoes.
Store potatoes in a brown paper bag. Potatoes turn green when they are exposed to too much light. Green potatoes not only taste gross, which is bad enough, but they can also make you sick. To keep potatoes safe, keep them in a brown paper bag in a cool environment. Definitely don’t store them in the refrigerator though — that’s too cold and can turn the starch in the potatoes into sugar.
Buy cheap olive oil; store it in a cool, dark place. Don’t spend a lot of money on olive oil. Some of the best olive oils are the cheaper brands. Bonus: There are no GMOs in olive oil and it’s heart-friendly. Store olive oil in a cool, dark place to keep it at its best.
Buy cheap (whole wheat) pasta. All pasta is made from the same basic recipe. Don’t splurge — it’s all the same. Do look for the whole-wheat version of pasta though. It’s an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and has a good amount of fiber. As of this moment, there’s not a genetically modified version of wheat, so there’s no need to buy a more expensive version labeled “organic” — on pasta, that’s just a company’s way of tricking you into paying more.