My husband's been out of work for a month now, and one thing we've had to do is significantly cut down on our grocery bill. To do this, I now do most of my shopping at ALDI—a discount supermarket chain carrying mostly generic brands at super low prices. For those of you who don't have one in your area, it's similar to Save-A-Lot.
Healthy food is the one thing I refuse to compromise on because I see a well-balanced diet as an investment in our long-term health. At first, I was skeptical that it was possible to eat healthy on such a tight budget, particularly because the selection at discount chains is often limited and heavy on processed food. But I asked a licensed nutritionist to help me find healthy groceries at ALDI and was surprised at how many options were available.
It is possible to eat healthy on a tight budget. Here's how to do it...
Jennifer Vimbor, MS, RD, is a Chicago-based licensed nutritionist who assists clients in treatment for weight-management, diabetes, heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. What follows is her assessment of groceries I typically buy at ALDI. For each item I've listed: ALDI's price; the regular price (in parenthesis) of the item at a regular grocery store near me so you can see how much I saved; and whether or not Jennifer thought the item was a good, healthy choice.
Instant oatmeal, 10-pack, $1.49 ($3.69)
Bran flakes dry cereal, 17.3 oz, $1.49 ($3.49)
What Jennifer said: These are great choices as long as 1) the product has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving; and 2) when you look at the ingredient list, the first two ingredients are things like bran, wheat, oats, etc. If it says sugar, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, then stay away from those products. But fiber is most important, because it helps with weight management, and preventing cancers, diabetes, and gastrointestinal disorders. The higher in fiber, the better.
Dozen large grade A eggs, $1.09 ($2.19)
What Jennifer said: This is an excellent choice. The egg is 100 percent protein, and particularly the egg white, gives you everything you need in terms of protein.
Macaroni and cheese, $0.35 ($0.79)
What Jennifer said: [Jennifer and I are both shocked that it's so cheap. At that price, we agree that you can't leave it on the shelf, even though it isn't the healthiest choice]. Mac and cheese is low on nutritionalvalue, but you can mix in vegetables and a protein like tuna or turkey so that it gives you a good balance of nutrients and your family can be satisfied longer.
Canned tuna in water, $0.62 ($1.79)
Sliced turkey deli meat, 9 oz, $2.49 ($4.99)
What Jennifer said: Tuna and turkey are both awesome choices. Just be sure when choosing a brand of turkey to go with the one that is the leanest (has the least fat).
Loaf of whole wheat bread, $1.69 ($2.89)
What Jennifer said: Go for it!
Dried fruit, 16 oz, $1.39 ($3.29)
What Jennifer said: Not the best choice. It's better to eat fresh fruit. Because dried fruit is dehydrated, you've lost nutrients. If you are going for dried fruit, then you should monitor it--only have 1 serving because the calories and sugar can add up really quickly.
Thin wheat crackers,10 oz, $1.29 ($4.19)
Oats and peanut butter bars, 5-pack, $1.99 ($3.89)
What Jennifer said: Again, check the fiber. If the product has less than 3 grams of fiber per serving, then there are better choices.
Individual peaches in light syrup bowls, 4-pack, $1.59 ($2.69)
What Jennifer said: Good choice. Just be sure to rinse the fruit to get rid of the extra sugar and syrup.
Individual applesauce bowls made with high fructose corn syrup, 4-pack, $0.99 ($2.49)
What Jennifer said: Not as good as the peaches because of the high fructose.
Enriched long grain rice, 10-lb bag, $4.99 ($8.69)
What Jennifer said: A 10-lb bag for $5?? I want to go here. The rice is a good choice.
Wheat pasta penne, 12 oz, $1.09 ($1.79)
What Jennifer said: Because it's made with 100 percent whole wheat flour, this is a perfect choice.
Crushed tomatoes, 28 oz, $0.89 ($1.49)
Jarred spaghetti sauce, $0.99 ($2.39)
What Jennifer said: Check the label. If the jarred spaghetti sauce is made with high fructose corn syrup, it wouldn't be a bad idea to buy the crushed tomatoes instead and add some garlic, Italian seasoning, or any herbs and spices you have on hand. It will still take only five minutes too cook, and will be more healthy.
Fresh, ground turkey, 19.2 oz, $2.49 ($5.49)
Fresh, Tyson boneless, skinless chicken breast, $2.99 per pound ($5.29 per pound)
What Jennifer said: Good choices here. Again, look for leanest cut—97 percent fat free and/or 5 grams of fat or less per serving.
Sweet potatoes, 3-lb bag, $1.99 ($2.37)
What Jennifer said: One suggestion I usually mention with starchy vegetables—potatoes, corn, and squash—is to treat them like a carbohydrate. Have that instead of rice or instead of pasta but in addition to other vegetables.
Baby carrots, 2-lb bag, $1.19 ($3.29)
Bell peppers, 3-pack, $2.49 ($6)
Broccoli florets, 14 oz, $1.69 ($1.99)
Bag of fresh spinach, 9 oz, $1.99 ($2.99)
Fit and Active Light Italian Salad Dressing,16 oz, $1.19 ($3.49)
What Jennifer said: Good choices on the fresh veggies/salad ingredients. Be sure to avoid creamy salad dressing (Caesar, ranch, blue cheese); light Italian or vinaigrette dressing is a better choice.
Frozen peas, 16 oz, $0.95 ($1)
Frozen corn, 16 oz, $0.95 ($1)
What Jennifer said: Frozen is fantastic. Take a look at the fresh veggies. If they don't look so great, then frozen works just as well. It's a good back-up so that you can always have fruits and vegetables in the house.
Canned kidney beans, 15.5 oz, $0.55 ($1.09)
What Jennifer said: All beans are great sources of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Be sure to rinse off canned beans to get rid of the extra sodium.