The idea that in order to eat a healthy diet, you’ll have to spend a lot of money, couldn’t be further from the truth. This statement is too broad and doesn’t acknowledge the subjectivity that is the word “expensive”, and it also doesn’t explore the complex subject that is the question “What is Healthy Eating?”. There are, however, several common mistakes people make when trying to improve their eating habits which can result in a larger grocery bill. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, a study by McDermott and Stephens showed that opting for healthier foods can be less expensive than unhealthy fast/convenience foods (1). To help you tap into the savings healthy food can entail, here are eight mistakes you want to avoid making.
Do you have a food budget? Do you check the weekly sales and plan your meals accordingly? If you fail to plan these in advance, don’t be surprised that your bill for the month of groceries is higher than you hoped for. When we shop without planning in advance, we are more likely to buy things on impulse, and make more trips to the grocery store in general.
Falling for Clever Marketing and Scare Tactics
Organic foods and non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods have what are called “health halos”, meaning that they have a reputation of being healthier than they are actually are. Moreover, these foods are normally more expensive than their alternatives. Currently, there is no evidence that organic or non-GMO foods are significantly more nutritious and safe than their inorganic or GMO alternatives. Many “super” foods, such as kale and Greek-yogurt, carry loads of nutrients. At the same time, they are also very pricey. But did you know that these products are not that nutritionally superior to less expensive alternatives (2,3)? Marketers coined the phrase “superfoods” to help foods sell better. For instance, kale is loaded with fibre and iron just like many other leafy greens. Additionally, Greek yogurt is filled with protein, just like other yogurts and dairy products.
Buying Foods Out of Season
Different products are available at cheaper prices in different seasons. Fresh corn or strawberries will be more expensive in the winter than in the summer and asparagus or rhubarb will be more expensive in the winter than in the spring.
Buying in Small Quantities
Buying foods in small quantities can be more expensive due to packaging premiums. In some cases, buying a product in bulk and storing the remainder for future use, can save you money in the long run. Some examples include lentils, rice, fresh produce, nuts, and meat.
Forgetting to Compare Costs
Different products have a different unit costs (e.g., price per pound, price per 100g, etc). When comparing products, make sure you are comparing the unit price to get the best deal, especially when products are sold in bulk. Products in bulk packaging aren’t always cheaper.
Buying Premade Foods
Our markets are responding the consumer need for convenient healthy foods. As a result, there are many healthy products such as premade healthy frozen dishes, precut veggies, bagged salads and even fully prepped meals available. However, remember you are paying a premium for saved time and effort.
Throwing Out Left-Overs
Food waste has become an increasingly concerning problem in Canada. According to a Value Chain Management Centre Report, Canadians throw out $31 billion dollars worth of food each year (4). When you throw food away, it’s throwing away your money.
Shopping at Premium Grocery Stores
Shopping at specialty or premium grocery stores can be a fun way to get inspired in the kitchen, but buying all of your groceries from these stores is a sure fire way to overspend. You are paying a premium for photogenic produce, niche products, and for the pretty stores themselves.
To sum it up: The reasons why one might believe that in order to eat healthily, one will have to shell out many hard-earned dollars could, in fact, be related to several common mistakes which lead to overspending. If we become more aware of these mistakes, a plan can be crafted to overcome them, and healthy eating can become attainable.
Do you make any of these mistakes?
What pitfalls beyond this list have you noticed causes you to overspend on groceries?
Thanks to student volunteer Nawal Omran for contributing to this article.