Eating Healthy on a Budget

Environmental Working Group (EWG) wants more Americans to put apricots, avocados and sweet potatoes in their shopping carts. Last week, the nonprofit public health organization released Good Food on a Tight Budget—a first-of-its-kind comprehensive science-based shopping guide of the top 100 healthy, cheap, clean and green foods. EWG researchers assessed nearly 1,200 foods, comparing prices, nutrients, pesticide and mercury contamination and greenhouse gas production in order to identify the most nutritious, wallet- and planet-friendly foods available at supermarkets. Inside the user-friendly guide, shoppers will find lists of conventional fruits, veggies, grains, protein, dairy, cooking oils and spices that “give consumers the biggest nutritional bang for their buck,” as well as simple tips for eating well and 15 easy-to-prepare recipes that average less than $1 per serving.

“Eating for health and wellness need not be expensive, and the Good Food on a Tight Budget shopping guide proves it,” said Dr. Andrew Weil, a bestselling author and leading medical expert. “There’s excellent information here, especially the lists of commonly available foods that provide the most nutrition for the lowest cost. I also like the recipe section, which features quick, whole-food dishes that are perfect for time pressed modern families.”

For breakfast, EWG’s guide recommends non-fat plain yogurt sweetened with fruit or their “Tasty Oatmeal” recipe, as one serving of filling oats costs about half the amount of a bowl of sugar cereal. Eggs, black beans, salmon, roasted turkey, ricotta cheese, chickpeas and black eyed peas were listed as optimal choices for nutritious, low-cost and low-carbon protein sources—and simply sprinkling parsley on dishes containing these items was shown to add a “nutritional punch as potent as kale for a quarter of the cost.”

“Putting good food on your family’s table on a $5-or-$6-dollar-a-day budget is tough, but it’s possible,” said report co-author Dawn Undurraga, EWG nutritionist and registered dietitian. “When shoppers fill their grocery carts with the foods on EWG’s lists, they’ll be doing something good for their health and the environment, meanwhile lowering their grocery bills and exposures to the worst chemicals.”

Raw cabbage was the top-ranked vegetable based on nutrition and price—at less than a dime a serving, it’s cheaper than potatoes and can be served as a salad, stuffed, or used in sandwiches, stir-fries, stews and soups. Carrots, bananas, frozen broccoli and pears — which were shown to have fewer pesticide residues and more fiber, potassium and folate than apples—received high marks for nutrition and ring up at less than 30 cents per serving. Garlic, pepper, salt, lemons and cinnamon were listed as handy to have around “to create tasty, low cost home-cooked meals in a flash.” And to make healthy (but costly) olive oil last longer, EWG recommends dispensing it with a spray bottle—you’ll use less oil and save money.

“All families want to make healthy, affordable meals at home,” said Laura Seman, senior manager of program development and evaluation for Cooking Matters. “Practical tools like Good Food on a Tight Budget can help families stretch their food dollar in a healthy way.”