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Is Eating Healthy on a Budget During the Holidays an Oxymoron?

RADFORD -- Today’s holiday grocery shopper is often thinking three things when they go to the supermarket: fast, tasty and inexpensive. This, unfortunately, can shortchange nutrition. With a little advanced planning and supermarket “savvy,” however, it is possible for families to enjoy healthy meals and a sound budget this holiday season, according to a nutrition expert at Radford University.

holiday dining
Holiday feasts can present nutritional challenges.

“The recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans contends that ‘good health and optimal functionality across the life span are achievable goals but require a lifestyle approach including a total diet that is energy balanced and nutrient dense,’” said Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics Mary Jean Miller. “The holidays pose special challenges as we are traveling or visiting with friends and family. However, by making moderate but sustainable changes we can achieve this goal.”

It does cost a bit more to eat well and it has become more difficult to eat healthy on a budget in current economic times, according to Miller.  The cost of nutrient-dense foods has risen considerably more than foods high in solid fats and added sugars. 

Miller offers these tips for holiday shoppers:

  • Frozen entrees are really not a bargain. For almost the same price as a frozen dinner, you can buy fresh vegetables and broil a meat.
  • Watch for coupons. Turkey and ham are the traditional meats of choice during the holidays. They’re usually on sale every week during the holidays.
  • Think globally. Shop locally. Consider buying holiday meats and vegetables right from the source. Visit local farmers and learn more about what they may be able to offer.
  • Less is best. Foods with the least amount of processing are the best. If you can pluck it, pick it or grow it, it’s usually a good deal nutritionally and economically.
  • Make a list before you go to the store and stick to it.  Consumers who shop without a list are more likely to buy things they do not need and go over their budget.
  • Remember the calculator and don’t be ashamed to use it. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll want to know what the total is before you get to the checkout line.
  • Traveling for the holidays? If you’re going more than four hours away, there needs to be a food break. Prepare food in advance and take it with you. It may cost some time in shopping, preparing and packaging the food but you will reap dividends from the early planning. Preparing your own food for trips will
    1. cut time off the trip (you won’t be stopping as often);
    2. save money (you won’t be paying restaurant bills); and
    3. allow you to eat healthier (you’ll know the ingredients and nutrient value because you prepared it yourself).

Miller also encourages individuals to remember one final aspect of mealtime this holiday season.  “Eating has importance for us beyond the need to nourish our bodies,” said Miller.  “Sharing meals together, especially during the holidays, is a means of celebrating tradition and connecting with family and friends.”

December 16, 2010
Bonnie Roberts Erickson; 540-831-5804

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