Good "Nutrition Economics" Can Help You Manage Your Grocery Budget

Comparing Cost Per Nutrient Can Lead Shoppers to the Best Value
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Think healthy eating has to be expensive? Think again. "Expensive" really depends on how you measure cost, according to a newly released USDA report. In fact, an inexpensive food that provides few nutrients may actually be "expensive" for the consumer, whereas a food with a higher retail price that provides large amounts of nutrients may actually be a great value when you consider health costs and added benefits.

Comparing cost per nutrients when searching for nutrient-rich fruits, veggies, whole grains and milk can not only save you money, but it can affect your health in the long run. Opting for in-season vegetables to keep veggie costs down, buying staples like whole grain cereals in bulk and really looking at what you get for your dollar in the dairy aisle can help you manage your budget when it comes to healthy essentials – increasingly important during times of economic struggle. In fact, according to a recent national poll, the majority of woman shoppers (57 percent) say the cost of healthful foods is the top deterrent that keeps them from eating healthy.

"We're all watching our budgets these days," said Michelle Dudash, registered dietitian, mom and author of the upcoming, Clean Eating for Busy Families. "But, there are important health and nutrition trade-offs that we need to consider. The truth is, Americans need a crash course in "Nutrition Economics."

Dudash says we need to change our mindset and learn a new way to shop. It's not just about the dollar value of the food – it's about the full value the food offers. Is an inexpensive, but nutrient-void, soda really worth the cost or is that food dollar better spent elsewhere?  Whether it's picking the most nutrient-rich foods, or finding ways to keep the costs down within important food groups like fruits, veggies and milk, she also emphasizes that "Nutrition Economics" doesn't mean making everything from scratch – it means doing a little advance work in knowing what you're buying. The "pay off" will be returned to you in lower grocery bills and delicious, healthy eating.

Making "Cents" of Your Beverage Choices
When it comes to getting the most nutritional bang for your buck, beverages are often overlooked. Drinks can be a large part of a family's food budget and poor drink choices can negatively affect your grocery bill AND the nutritional value of your meal. Experts advise limiting the sugary, nutrient-void drinks, and instead opting for lowfat or fat free milk or water at meals.

"Penny for penny, ounce for ounce, milk delivers more nutrition than just about any drink," said Dudash. "There really is no good substitute for milk in our diets. Milk is one of the most economical sources of protein and an extremely cost-efficient source of calcium. Even some of the beverages that are manufactured to mimic milk's nutrition, often cost nearly twice as much as milk and just don't stand up when it comes to value for your dollar."

Milk costs just 25 cents a glass, and provides nine essential nutrients we all need, including calcium and vitamin D and potassium. Other drinks manufactured to be like dairy milk just can't provide the same nutrition for your dollar. In fact, substituting milk with other calcium sources like a fortified soy drink or fortified orange juice can increase diet costs and can lead to gaps in calcium along with other key nutrients like protein, phosphorus and B vitamins, according to research. And not only do Americans love the taste of milk (it's in nearly all US refrigerators), they prefer it to some of the other milk "imitators" found in the dairy aisle, like soy and almond beverages, according to a recent nationally representative survey.

According to the research:

>>Three quarters (75 percent) of adults like the taste of milk and feel good serving it to their entire family, compared to less than one third who feel the same way about soy or almond drinks (27-30 percent)

>>One out of three adults (33-35 percent) mistakenly believe that soy or almond drinks are naturally nutrient rich, when in reality, milk is a natural source of key nutrients, like calcium and potassium, and provides 9 nutrients not always found in all other milk-like beverages.

Plus, milk provides high quality protein – with two to seven more grams of protein compared to soy, almond or coconut drinks, which helps keeps you feeling full so you're less likely to snack.

"Value-able" Tips and Tools
Now more than ever Americans should focus on the economic and nutritional value of the foods and beverages filling their grocery carts to make sure they're getting the most for their money. From maximizing the seasons to save on produce to planning ahead to avoid food waste, you can find easy budget-friendly recipes and more ideas from Michelle to make the most of your household grocery budgets at TheBreakfastProject.com.