A registered dietitian nutritionist shares 3 ways to get the nutrient-rich foods you need as grocery costs rise

Though Gas prices are lower now than it has been in months, inflation continues to send the price of groceries higher than it has been in 43 yearsmaking it a little harder for many Americans to afford the food they need.

The home eating index is up 13.5% from last year, according to Most recent consumer price index data.

Here’s a snapshot of how much the prices of some essential foods have increased in the last 12 months:

  • cereals and cereal products (17.4%)
  • dairy and related products (16.2%)
  • fruits and vegetables (9.4%).

Shopping for groceries, especially those that are nutrient-dense, is harder than it has been since 1979, but there are still ways to get the healthy foods you need if you’re on a tighter budget.

Usually when shopping on a budget, the common advice is to use coupons, says Felicia Porrazza, a Pennsylvania-based registered dietitian nutritionist.

While coupons can be helpful, sometimes using them can encourage people to buy things they don’t need or won’t use, he says.

“I usually suggest using coupons for things you normally buy, and not things that say ‘Oh, I have a coupon for that,’ which can also be added to your grocery bill,” says Porrazza.

And while methods like shopping in season and buying groceries locally are effective, they’re not the only ways to save money.

3 Ways to Get Nutrient-Rich Foods on a Budget

1. Meal preparation

Shop with intent by thinking about the meals you plan to cook for the week before you even walk into the grocery store, says Porrazza.

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“It can get pretty difficult when people buy fresh produce and don’t have a plan for it, so it sits in the fridge and sadly ends up dying unused,” Porrazza says. “It’s money that is essentially being wasted.”

When planning meals, you should also look in your pantry to see what nonperishables you already have and take inventory of everything in the fridge and freezer, she says.

2. Buy frozen and canned foods

Consider buying frozen or canned foods instead of some of the fresh foods you normally buy, says Porrazza. Those foods tend to cost less and will last longer than fresh, she says.

“There’s a lot of variety there in terms of everything from green beans to chickpeas, and those are nutrient-dense foods,” says Porrazza. “The only thing you really have to consider with canned goods is the sodium aspect.”

For vegetables, look options that say “no added salt” or low sodium while shopping, she says. You can also drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce sodium content.

For canned fruits, the concern is the sugar content. You should aim for options with no added sugar or canned in 100% juice or water, Porrazza says.

3. Try protein alternatives

Meat and fish are more expensive than most foods these days, and even if you’re not following a plant-based diet, using different sources of protein as the main basis for one or two meals throughout the week could reduce the price of your purchases, Porrazza says.

Some suggested alternatives are:

  • tofu
  • Recipes based on beans such as chili
  • Textured Vegetable Protein
  • tempeh
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“Just vary that protein source. You still get a protein source, but it doesn’t necessarily increase the cost,” says Porrazza.

Tips for creating your shopping list

You may need to cut back on your shopping list to save money. In those cases, these top 10 foods should always be on your shopping list, according to Porrazza:

  • Protein (two items)
  • Grains/Carbohydrates (two items)
  • Fruits (two items)
  • Vegetables (one starchy, one non-starchy)
  • Plugins (two elements)

You can put together your own personalized nutritional value shopping list using the chart below:

Nutrient-dense foods to prioritize, even when you’re on a budget

Try to get two different items from each category. For vegetables, get one starchy and one non-starchy.

🥩 protein

• Textured vegetable protein (soy meat)

• Tofu

• Lean meats

Fish (high in Omega-3 like salmon or rainbow trout)

Chicken (without skin)

Lamb (roast or leg)

Pork tenderloin*

Low fat beef* (98% lean or sirloin)

🍚 cereals + carbohydrates

• Quinoa

• Pasta

• Rice

🍎 fruits

• Apples

• Bananas

• Blueberries

• Oranges

• Strawberries

• Tomatoes

🥬 Vegetables


• Corn

• Legumes (beans)

• Potatoes

• Sweet potatoes

starch free

• Broccoli

• Carrots

• Cauliflower

• Celery

• Cucumbers

• Kale

• Lettuce

• Spinach

• Courgettes

🥜 Accessories

• Peanut butter

• Flax seeds

• Oatmeal

• Other fun additions

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