For all that we spend on food, Americans aren’t eating nearly as well as we think.
Consumers eat 12.4% less healthy than they think they do, according to Massive Health. The health startup crunched data from its app Eatery, which track foods its users eat. Nearly three-quarters of the time, eaters gave foods a healthier assessment than other people did, they report.
Fortunately, picking up healthier habits has multiple benefits. You can fatten your wallet at the same time you whittle your waistline. Here’s how expert tips tie in with some of the healthier habits from the Massive Health findings, plus other ways to save while eating healthy:
Eat less meat
Vegetarians eat 21.9% healthier than people who eat everything, according to data from Massive Health. The site’s take: “By having any restriction on your diet, you think more about what you’re putting in your mouth.”
Going meatless at least a few times a week is a smart way to cut your bills. “Meat used as a protein source is already expensive, and in this economy it’s not getting any cheaper,” says Al Hulaton, of MealPlanRescue.com.
Ground beef is 7% more expensive than last year, whole chickens, 8%. Hulaton also suggests taking meat from the meal centerpiece to a complement. “Instead of a huge hunk of steak for dinner, cut it into strips and serve it with grilled onions, carrots and bell peppers with a few tortillas, beans and rice to make fajitas,” he says.
Start the day with oatmeal
Residents of New York — the healthiest-eating U.S. city in Massive Health’s data — eat twice as much oatmeal as people in other cities. But to reap the health benefits, don’t pick instant, says savings expert Andrea Woroch.
“Look for Quaker Oats which need to be cooked on the stove,” she says. “Spice it up with a tablespoon of peanut butter for protein, fresh blueberries or a sprinkle of brown sugar or cinnamon.” Oats can cost as little as 17 cents per serving, but shoppers can cut the cost further by buying from the bulk bins.
Chow down on legumes
Residents of Sao Paolo — one of the world’s healthiest cities, per Massive Health data — eat 2.4 times as many beans as people in other locales. Good call, says Jackie Keller, founding director of NutriFit.
Lentils, split peas, beans and legumes “are an exceptional source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and the best quality carbohydrates we can have,” she says.
They’re also the cheapest, coming in at 15 cents a serving.
Buy in season
It’ll help you get the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables on your plate for less. “Produce in season tends to be cheaper, tastier, and more likely to be sourced locally than off season,” Hulaton says.
You might see tomatoes for $1 per pound instead of $3, for example, or blueberries for $2 a pint instead of $4. Here’s a great list of spring farmer’s market produce.
Experiment with greens
A recurring theme among Massive Health’s healthiest cities: leafy greens. San Franciscans’ No. 1 logged food item is salad, and they eat Brussels sprouts 4.4 times as often as do other cities. New Yorkers eat 3.2 times as much arugula. Residents of Copenhagen consume 7.9 times as much cabbage, and in Sao Paolo, kale is on the menu 4.8 times as often.
Start with salad, but then look for ways to incorporate more greens for soups, sides and other recipes. This time of year, one cheap way to try new greens is to grow your own.
Another bargain resource: local markets. “Go to your nearest Chinatown and other ethic neighborhood markets to buy these at their freshest and get the lowest prices,” says Joyce Weinberg, president of CityFoodTours.com
Cut back portions
Considering that consumers tend to overestimate the healthiness of the foods we eat, it’s probably a smart idea to eat less of them. Portion control is a simple way to cut calories and costs, Woroch says.
“Just because you prepare a big meal doesn’t mean you have to eat everything,” she says. “Store leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day and save on what you’d spend on the other meal.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.