Is it possible to eat right on a budget?

By Claudia Drum, Registered Dietitian, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 28, 2014

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Have you given up on eating healthy because you feel like it costs too much? Are you not sure how to save money while at the grocery store?

While it is true that more convenient items like pre-cut veggies cost more when compared to their made-from-scratch counterparts, it is possible to eat healthy while on a budget. Additionally, good nutrition, combined with adequate sleep and regular physical activity, are identified as key initiatives in the Army Medicine's "Performance Triad" for good overall health. Below are eight tips to help you stretch your food dollar, and "eat right" while shopping at the grocery store:

1. Plan menus and make a list: Wandering around the grocery store without a list only increases the likelihood that you will overspend. Plan a weekly menu, and write an ingredient list that matches up with the store aisles at your favorite grocery store.

2. Shop seasonally: Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season to help you get the freshest produce at the lowest cost. In addition, check your local farmer's market for deals on fresh fruits and vegetables. For produce that is not in season, frozen and/or canned fruits and vegetables (with little or no added salt or sugar) are a nutritious option.

3. Shop the perimeter; then think meatless: Start on the outer edge of the supermarket where you will find fresh produce, meats, dairy and breads. Then, shop the aisle(s) with meatless alternatives like beans. Dried or canned (low-sodium, without added fat) are less expensive than most meats, and they make a tasty meal that is not only high in protein and fiber, but also low in fat and saturated fat. Aim for at least one meatless meal/week. Go to for more tips and recipes ideas.

4. Use coupons and inserts: Check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales and coupons of the products you normally purchase. Clipping coupons or printing them from Web sites can save you 10--15 percent on your grocery bill. Consider joining your supermarket's shoppers club to enjoy price specials or to receive additional coupons. If you shop at the commissary, use your commissary rewards card. You can redeem coupons electronically after you register it online. Visit for more information on the benefits of registering your commissary rewards card.

5. Buy store (private label) brands: Choose the private label brand if it is comparable in size and ingredients. Oftentimes, private label brands are not only 15--20 percent less expensive, but also just as high in quality.

6. Compare unit prices: Locate the unit price (price per ounce, pound or pint) on the shelf tag directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to help you decide which item is the best buy. If your store doesn't list the unit price, bring a pocket-sized calculator or use the calculator on your phone to speed up the process. Be on the lookout for items labeled "more economical" because sometimes, after you have examined the price per unit, the larger size may not be the better buy.

7. Buy on sale and in bulk: Look for sales on shelf-stable items or products you use regularly. However, only buy larger quantities if you have proper storage space and/or if you will use the food before it expires or spoils.

8. Read food labels. Compare nutrients using the Percent Daily Value in the nutrition facts panel. Aim for low or less than 5 percent in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Aim for high or greater than 20 percent in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command