Dear Food Speak: I know healthy eating helps cut America's health care costs, but how can I save money when healthy food is more expensive?



With a little thought and planning, you can eat right on a budget.

To reduce food costs, take a closer look at your current expenses. Over the next month, collect receipts from all food purchases you and your family make. Tally these expenses, making note of how much was spent and where. You may be surprised to learn that you've been eating out or giving in to impulse buys more than you'd like to admit.

Once you understand how you've been over-budget, you can set goals to limit dining out and stretch your grocery dollars. When you practice smarter grocery-shopping skills, the urge to eat out will be less.

Gear up for your next supermarket trip by creating a master shopping list, highlighting nutritious foods your family likes. Plan your family's weekly menu for the list. Include a few favorite dishes that involve minimal preparation, like quesadillas or stir fries.

To make life even easier, include on your list ingredients necessary for cooking some batch recipes that you can cook and freeze single portions for leftovers. Commit to trying out one new recipe a month so you can add more family favorites.

Organize your shopping list according to the layout of your favorite grocery store. Follow the perimeter of the building since that's where most healthy foods are. Bypass expensive and unhealthy processed foods in the center aisles, often displayed at eye level to garner more attention.

While these aisles are a junk food minefield, realize they do offer some healthy options. Nutritional bargains there include legumes; nuts and nut butters; canned salmon; tomatoes; reduced sodium broths; whole grains, like barley, oats and quinoa; popping corn; flavorful condiments, like mustards and salsas; herbs and spices; olive oil; and flavored sparkling waters and teas.

To stay abreast of the best grocery prices, keep an eye on weekly store ads. This gets you used to food costs so you can better identify real deals. Good deals can usually be had by purchasing store brands over name brands, buying in bulk those items you use a lot, and by choosing more seasonal produce.

Frozen produce tends to be cheaper, not to mention just as nutritious as fresh. Look to discounted racks for riper produce that's deeply discounted. Even better, start your own vegetable and herb garden, even if it means planting one seed in a sunny spot in your home for now.

As for coupons, avoid ones that try to sell you foods you don't typically eat, such as processed snack foods. To limit pricey snack foods, make a family decision to choose one treat per grocery trip from two categories, such as chips and cookies, then purchase one of each for the week.

Avoid reduced calorie snack bags, since these are expensive and you can portion your own. Speaking of snacks, don't shop hungry so you can clearly separate wants from needs.

After a few months of devoting a little more energy to your shopping and your kitchen, you're pocketbook -- not to mention your health and well-being -- will thank you.

Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Food Speak column appears monthly. Email your questions to: