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Healthy eating on a budget

diabetes diet on a budget

As we struggle to meet rising costs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the added challenge of catering to diabetes dietary needs. But did you know that eating healthily can actually cost less? It’s a fact! And that’s good news for everyone - not just people with diabetes.

Check out these tips for healthy eating on a budget.

Foods to eat more often

  • High fibre foods! People with diabetes should aim to fill half the plate with vegetables, a quarter of the plate with high-fibre starchy foods like whole grain pasta or rice, and just the remaining quarter with a protein like meat, poultry or fish. This is good news since meats and poultry are the most expensive parts of a typical meal.
  • Substitute fish for meat. Frozen and canned fish can be inexpensive, and fish is good for health.
  • Meat alternatives like legumes (dried or canned beans and peas such as kidney beans, chick peas and lentils) are good value and can help to lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
  • In-season vegetables. These are cheaper than vegetables that have to be transported over long distances. Freeze extra for use out of season. Also out of season, buy big bags of frozen veggies and cook only what you need for one meal at a time.
  • Brown rice. Buy large bags – it’s much cheaper.
  • Whole grain pasta. Buy the most common shapes. Common plain shaped pasta costs less than fancy varieties.

Foods to eat less often

  • Processed pre-seasoned foods like flavoured rice, canned pasta and frozen pre-prepared dishes. These usually cost more than plain foods, and are often unhealthily high in sodium. Instead, buy un-processed foods and cook from scratch.
  • Pre-mixed instant hot cereals. Far better – and cheaper – to buy plain oatmeal and add your own flavourings like cinnamon or apple sauce.
  • Pre-prepared frozen vegetables in sauces or with added flavouring. Instead, buy plain vegetables and steam, grill or roast them.
  • Pre-mixed salad dressings. Make your own dressings instead in a small mason jar with a tight lid. Use olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, plus crushed garlic if you like, and shake to mix. You can also make store-bought mayo healthier – and make it go further – by mixing it with a little fat-free sour cream.
  • Frozen fish in batter, bread crumbs or sauces. These cost more than plain frozen fish fillets or steaks, and are less healthy.

Planning is everything!

Investing a little time in meal planning can lead to big savings. It is a great idea to draw up a menu for the week. Here are some tips to help stretch the food budget:

  • Check store flyers. If a favourite food is on special, buy enough to cook for two or three meals. For example, if lean ground beef is on special, make an extra-large chili or spaghetti sauce and freeze in separate containers for future meals.
  • Plan for leftovers. For example, leftovers from a roast chicken on the weekend can also provide chicken wraps and chicken fajitas or can be used for casseroles, soups and pastas.
  • Instead of buying high-sodium processed cold meats, use leftover meat for packed lunches. You can add the meat to whole wheat pasta and brown rice salads with added veggies. Cold cooked meats or fish are also great in whole grain wraps.

Smart shopping tips

  • When dry items like pasta, grains and legumes are on sale, buy extra and store for later use. Do the same with canned foods like beans or tomatoes.
  • Don’t be brand loyal! Store brands are often much less expensive than name brands and are just as good for you. Keep an eye on specials too, and buy whichever labels are the best value each week.
  • When shopping, look for day-old vegetables and breads on the discount stands and plan to use them up quickly or freeze extras.  Never buy more fresh food than you know you will use.

Ask a dietitian for more ideas, and read our healthy eating expert’s blog ‘One Pantry Fits All

About Diabetes Care

Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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