Dollars and Diet: Parkwest dietitian says healthy eating isn't as expensive as your might think

Healthy Eating on a Budget

There is a common misconception that it costs more to eat healthy foods than it does to consume an unhealthy diet. Parkwest dietitian Sybil Pritchard, RD, is debunking that myth and says fighting the battle of the bulge doesn’t have to break the bank. “If you go about it the right way, eating healthy foods can even help you save money,” she  says. Pritchard emphasizes that preplanning is the key to enjoying those savings. “Take inventory of what you’ve got in the pantry,” she says. “Plan your meals. Make a grocery  list and stick to it.”

headshot of Sybil Pritchard

At the grocery store, get the best bargains on produce by purchasing what’s in season. If your recipes call for produce that’s out of season, get the frozen version. Many fresh fruits and veggies can  also be frozen for later use. Stay smart about what the store is trying to sell, too. “More expensive items tend to be at  eye level or on end caps in the grocery store,” Pritchard says.

Packaging that promises convenience lures a lot of us into unhealthy choices. Pritchard says if you  go for the unaltered basics, you’ll usually only need a small amount of added effort for the same  great meal. “A bag of precut salad greens or cut vegetables is going to be more expensive than  buying the head of lettuce or a whole vegetable and cutting it up yourself,” Pritchard says. “Plain frozen vegetables without sauces or seasonings can be easily  added to dishes with minimal prep time, and they cost only about a dollar a bag.”

Another way to save money and boost your health is to slow down on spending money for
beverages. “The cheapest and healthiest beverage is water,” Pritchard says. “If water is too boring, make your own flavored waters by adding a splash of juice, cut fruit or  cucumber.”

For the Love of Leftovers

Cheap, fast food meals are tempting, but Pritchard says you might not be saving as much money as  you think. “Making a meal yourself will almost always be cheaper than buying it out,” she says. For example, a fast-food burger and fries may seem like a good way to eat economically, but the  bargain ends as soon as the wrappers are empty. “If you made the burger and fries at home, the ingredients would last for multiple meals  and you could feed more people,” Pritchard points out. “You could also freeze leftovers.”

Pritchard recommends cooking large meals that can last multiple days. “Use a crockpot if you have one,” she says. Pritchard likes to build meals around inexpensive staple items like dried beans, rice and  potatoes. “I make a lot of soups and casseroles that can be complete meals with less work and time involved,” she says.

If it’s become a habit to hit the drive-thru for a quick meal or snack, eating healthy on a budget might take a little extra self-discipline. The most important motivation for eating a well-balanced diet of nutritious foods is that doing so can pay off in the long run with better health.

The foods you choose to fuel your body can have an impact on your risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. A healthy diet lays the foundation for your overall well-being. With Pritchard’s tips, a healthy diet can be in the best interest of your wallet, too.

To learn more about nutrition, or to find out if a visit with a registered dietitian might be right for you, talk to your physician.

Look at That Label

woman reading food label

Can I trust the labels on the food I buy at the grocery store?
Ignore the health claims on the front. They aren’t always truthful. Certain manufacturers may add labels so they can increase the price. The term “natural” means nothing and is not regulated by the FDA. Products labeled as “trans fat free” might still have hidden trans fat if the product has less than 0.5 grams per serving.

Are foods labeled “fat free” healthier?
The calorie content can be the same or greater, depending on the product. Sometimes foods that are labeled “ fat free” have more added sugar than the regular version. It’s a way of making up for the flavor lost when fat is removed.

If I can’t trust the label, how do I know if the food is good for me?
The only information you need is the nutrition facts label on the back. And there are plenty of healthy foods without any labels at all, such as fresh fruits and vegetables!

How many calories can I have in a day?
It depends on age, sex, weight and activity factors. The average person consumes 2,000 calories a day, but this is not appropriate for everyone. A dietitian can help you calculate your individualized caloric needs.

What’s the right amount of sodium?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day for most of us. If you have a heart condition you are encouraged to consume even less, around 1,500 mg per day.

Which eggs are the healthiest? Cage free? Free range? Organic?
Nutritionally, there is no significant difference in eggs based on their labeling. The claims on the label have more to do with how the chicken is cared for than the nutritional quality of the egg. If a label makes health claims about eggs, check the product’s website.

Should I be buying food that has extra vitamins added to it?
This depends on the food. Some items, like kids’ cereal, have added vitamins but high sugar content. The vitamins added are not enough to make them healthy choices in my opinion. However, all foods can fit into a healthy diet, it just depends on how often we are eating the unhealthy stuff. Some of these fortified foods are a great way to meet caloric and protein needs for those who may have a difficult time otherwise.

I tried eating some prepackaged foods with added fiber. It didn’t go well. Any advice?
Gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet to give your gut time to adjust. Eating a significantly greater amount of fiber than you normally eat can lead to an upset tummy and gas. Also, remember to drink plenty of water to prevent constipation when increasing your fiber intake.

The Dietitian’s Difference

group of parkwest dietitians

There are plenty of people around town who claim to have the knowledge to guide you toward the  right nutrition plan. Only a registered dietitian has the education to back up such a claim.

Each of the registered dietitians at Parkwest Medical Center has completed a four-year didactic degree program in nutrition, accomplished 1,200 hours of supervised practice internship and has passed a board exam. The nutrition plans these dietitians develop are based on science, but personalized to meet the needs of the individual. Parkwest offers nutrition education for hospital patients, and on an outpatient basis with a phys referral. To learn more, visit

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