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Eating Well on a Budget

by Anita H. King, DNP, FNP-C, FAADE

The economic downturn of recent years has been an eye-opener for nearly all Americans. Poverty levels are at an all-time high, and a growing number of people belong to the “new poor,” meaning that they were previously middle class. Everyone, it seems, is trying to stretch a dollar. This is especially true when it comes to food, since there is such a wide range of options (and prices) available.

Regardless of their economic situation, many people with diabetes hold the misperception that healthy foods are unaffordable. In reality, foods that are packed with nutrition can be both affordable and simple to prepare. Eating well is the cornerstone of diabetes treatment, although specific dietary recommendations vary somewhat based on the individual. A registered dietitian can help you develop a meal plan that fits your medical needs, food preferences, lifestyle, and budget.

Eating well on a budget may require a number of behavioral changes. You may be in the habit of buying convenience foods at the grocery store, getting fast-food meals from the drive-through, or eating out frequently. All three of these options can be expensive, unhealthy, or both. The first step in developing a budget-minded approach toward food is to consider whether you are spending more than you should on convenience foods and other nonessential expenses. Where does the cash in your wallet go? How much do you spend on cups of coffee or bottled water? Developing and following a food budget can make you both richer and healthier. This is true regardless of your income level; following a budget simply means managing your finances rather than letting your finances manage you.

Preparing and maintaining a budget may be a new habit for you. If this seems daunting, remember that a budget is simply a written or typed summary of your income and expenses, accounting for both fixed costs (mortgage or rent, heating, electricity, car payments, etc.) and discretionary spending. There are many resources for managing personal and household budgets available in bookstores, online, and at your local public library. If you are new to budgeting, be aware that it takes focus, discipline, and time (some experts say four weeks) to form a new habit. Don’t resolve to rid yourself of negative habits, like spending too much money on food or buying too much junk food. Instead, focus on a positive goal and take steps to keep it in the front of your mind. For example, set a monthly or yearly savings goal for food, then post that goal and the main steps you’ll take to achieve it on your refrigerator. It can help to have a reminder that the $50 you save every month translates into $600 for the year.

Your entire family can participate in the household action plan for saving food dollars. They’ll benefit, too, from eating more nutritious foods, and you’ll likely have more time together the more you prepare healthful meals at home rather than eating out or buying premade foods. Your family will also likely feel the benefits if you improve your diabetes control through better eating and reduce your financial anxiety at the same time.

The following 12 tips and tactics offer suggestions for eating well on a budget.

Know yourself
Behavior changes will probably not be very sustainable if you buy items for salads when you are really a “meat and potatoes” sort of person. Take some time to honestly assess your personal preferences. Tally your food likes and dislikes, including low-calorie snacks and the meal schedule that best fits your lifestyle. Is your life a perpetual hurry that requires quick meal preparation, or are you an accomplished cook who loves to spend time in the kitchen? Do you prefer eating large meals three times a day, or are you a “grazer” who enjoys eating small amounts of food frequently? Evaluate the relationship between your thought patterns and food habits. Does stress or do emotions (positive or negative) lead you to eat impulsively, even when you’re not really hungry? Knowing your personal preferences, and your strengths and weaknesses, will help you in planning how to eat well on a budget.

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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