How to Eat Healthy When Food Costs Are On the Rise
Learn how to maintain a healthy diet and afford nutritious foods despite rising costs.
Eating healthy is crucial for a person’s overall well-being. Aside from maintaining physical and mental health, a healthy lifestyle can also help financial well-being. Rising food costs make it more difficult to get nutritious foods.
Inflation in food prices contributes to food insecurity, healthcare costs and health insurance. Maintaining a healthy diet while spending less money can help you overcome challenges and prevent various health-related issues.
The Challenges of Food Inflation
Inflation's impact can be felt in various sectors. For instance, food prices in the U.S. have shown an upward trend since the start of the year. The 12-month percentage increase was 10.9% in July 2022, the highest recorded jump since May 1979. This is also 1.1% higher than the food price inflation recorded a month ago.
Families all over the country are experiencing the impact of food price inflation. Aside from higher expenses affecting people’s finances, high food costs may also contribute to food insecurity.
Food price inflation endangers food security.
Food prices play an important role in ensuring food security. The rising food costs may prevent individuals and families from accessing nutritious food necessary to stay healthy. This may lead to various issues, including a change in eating habits, malnutrition, developing chronic illnesses and greater odds of being hospitalized.
Food price inflation makes it more challenging to get healthy foods.
Affordability is one of the factors individuals consider when making a purchase. Rising food inflation can make it harder to get the right types of food. Additionally, availability can also be an issue.
Price increase varies per food item, with eggs having the highest increase.
The rise in food costs can be observed in almost all types of foods. However, price changes may vary. Based on the latest Consumer Price Index report, eggs recorded the largest annual price growth of 38% in July 2022. They were followed by butter and margarine (26.4%), flour and prepared flour mixes (22.7%), coffee (20.3%) and other fats and oils, including peanut butter (19.4%). Healthier options, such as fruits and vegetables, were 9.3% more expensive than a year ago.
Poor diet leads to billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
Poor eating habits among Americans cost the country $50 billion per year in healthcare costs. Many individuals may settle for high-calorie foods and those with lower nutritional value. This may lead to various chronic diseases like obesity, heart diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Thus, causing higher healthcare costs and needs.
How Foods May Influence Your Physical and Financial Health
Eating healthy meals helps the body in a lot of ways. It allows each part to function correctly, which ensures good physical health. However, the impact of an individual’s diet goes beyond their body. It can also contribute to financial health.
Physical and financial health are highly connected. Being able to afford healthy foods can prevent substantial medical expenses. On the other hand, struggling physically or financially can cause stress that may trigger unhealthy habits.
That’s why eating healthy is something every individual needs to fulfill. Knowing how to obtain healthy foods amid food price inflation can help.
Unhealthy eating habits lead to higher healthcare costs
Unhealthy diets account for almost 20% of healthcare costs for cardiometabolic diseases (CMD), such as heart diseases, stroke and diabetes. It’s among the leading causes of poor health, which accounts for up to 45% of CMD-related deaths. The average cost of CMD-related expenses due to poor diets is $301 per person, translating to around $50 billion nationally.
Various chronic diseases are due to poor diet
Due to unhealthy eating habits, 60% of adults in the country have one or more diet-related chronic diseases. These include being overweight and obese, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and reduced muscle strength.
Having a chronic disease changes your health insurance needs
Chronic diseases cause illness, disability and death. Health insurance providers have rules and restrictions when it comes to chronic diseases. Make sure you review these when choosing a plan.
If you’re concerned about getting diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may consider getting chronic illness insurance. It’s a type of insurance that pays the policyholder in the event of an illness diagnosis causing the inability to perform certain daily activities.
What you eat affects your productivity
Food greatly produces energy for your body to function properly. Getting the right nutrients gives you the necessary boost to conduct your daily tasks and improve your work performance.
Eating healthy can help improve your finances
Diet also impacts financial health. Staying healthy helps you focus and make well-informed decisions. It allows you to work longer if you want, making sure you still have a steady source of income despite your old age. Additionally, healthy eating can be cheaper if you know how to plan your meals properly.
What Is a Healthy Diet and How to Plan One?
A healthy diet refers to eating the most nutritious types of food. A balanced and healthy diet may vary per individual. Different factors, such as age, gender and lifestyle, should be considered. For instance, food prescription programs and medically-tailored meals are often prescribed to help those with certain health conditions improve their diet.
When creating a healthy diet plan, there are certain things to watch for. Below are a few of them.
Make sure you meet your nutritional needs
Nutritional needs depend on the life stage. Generally, infants around six months old or younger get nutrients from milk. Human milk (breast milk) is the best option, but adding iron-fortified formula during the first year may be an option if human milk is unavailable.
Infants can start having nutrient-dense complementary food at about six months. It’s also best to start introducing different foods from all food groups, especially those rich in iron and zinc.
From one year old through older adulthood, creating a healthy dietary pattern that helps ensure a healthy body weight and meet nutritional needs is essential. This also reduces the risk of developing a chronic disease.
Choose from each food group
A healthy diet plan is customized. That’s because each person has different needs, preferences, cultures and circumstances. One’s financial budget is also an important consideration. Make sure you choose different food items and beverages from each food group.
Be aware of portion size
Having nutritious food isn’t enough. You need to make sure you’re getting the right amount. This is especially important when having foods that aren’t nutrient-dense or aren’t high in vitamins and minerals.
Generally, you must watch your intake of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Recommended limits are as follows:
- Added sugars
— Avoid these for children younger than two-years-old
— Less than 10% of calories per day (two years old or older)
- Saturated fat: Less than 10% of calories per day (two years old or older)
- Sodium: Less than 2,300 milligrams per day (less for children below 14 years old)
- Added sugars
Tips on Building a Healthier Plate
Having a healthy and balanced dietary plan offers many benefits. It boosts your immunity, which protects your body against various harmful factors. It also supports muscles, bones and brain development. Additionally, it can lower the risk of chronic diseases.
Creating a healthy plate can be overwhelming, but understanding what elements to focus on can help you get started. That said, the key is consistency. It’s important to make eating healthy a habit.
The table below shows what to consider when building a healthy eating plate.
- VegetablesVegetables offer vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are good for the body. They can help improve digestive health, fight inflammation and lower blood pressure. The recommended daily amount of vegetable intake is two and a half cups.
- FruitsEating fruits help your body get vitamins and minerals essential for bodily functions. It can improve digestion, regulate blood pressure and boost energy. Fruit intake for a healthy dietary pattern should be two cups per day.
- GrainsThese are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They can help lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. They can also help with digestion and reduce inflammation. On average, an individual should eat six cups of grains per day.
- DairyThis helps reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. They are good for digestive and bone health. A healthy diet plan includes three cups of dairy per day.
- ProteinsFoods included in the protein group are meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds and soy products. Protein-rich foods help repair and grow tissue, produce hormones, maintain joint health and blood glucose levels, support the immune system and prevent bone diseases. The recommended health dietary plan for U.S. adults requires an average of five and a half cups of protein foods daily.
Eating and Staying Healthy While Spending Less Money
Eating nutritious food matters for a person’s overall health and well-being. While spending less on groceries while staying healthy may seem impossible, especially with rising food costs, there are strategies to make this achievable. Various government programs and nonprofit organizations also help low-income individuals and families.
Here are some tips to help you eat well while saving.
Plan Your Recipes
Try to start every week planning your meals. Determine what ingredients you’ll need. Scan your refrigerator and pantry to see what you already have. If there are foods near expiry, consider planning meals around them.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate website. You can find resources and recipes to help create a healthy meal plan.
Try to come up with dishes you can freeze. Look for budget-friendly soup or casserole recipes online and create a large batch that can last you throughout the week. Freeze leftovers that you can eat again later. Consider looking for ways to use leftovers to create new recipes.
Do Grocery Shopping Properly
Once you already have a meal plan for the week, create a detailed list of all ingredients you’ll need. Bring the list when you go to the grocery store. This makes shopping easier and faster. You avoid forgetting essential ingredients. At the same time, it prevents you from buying unnecessary items on impulse.
If you value convenience, consider installing a grocery list app on your mobile phone. Some help you find deals and discounts, such as the GroceryPal App.
Choose Canned or Frozen Foods
Consider canned or frozen fruits and vegetables if you can’t find affordable fresh produce in your area. These are also great alternatives if you want healthy foods that last longer. Many times, they’re also cheaper. You can find frozen fruits and vegetables in resealable packaging, which makes storing them easier. If you want, you can also repack the products into smaller packaging so that you don’t have to defrost everything just to get a small portion.
When buying canned vegetables and fruits, try to look for those that come in water instead of syrup. Check the label. Some canned goods have added sugar or salt. Avoid these as much as possible. Frozen foods with added butter or sauce also tend to have added sugar, salt or even empty calories, which aren’t healthy.
Find Discounts or Use Coupons
Coupons are among the best ways to save money on grocery bills. Look for coupons based on the ingredients you have on your grocery list. You can start your search online. No matter how small the discount may seem, it can lead to significant savings when added.
Money-saving deals can be tempting. However, it’s important to be strategic when it comes to coupons. Sort them out and choose quality deals. Don’t be tempted by big discounts if they’re for unhealthy processed foods.
Take advantage of coupons for other home items, such as cleaning products. By saving on these, you can have a higher budget for healthy foods.
Consider Growing a Garden
Another cheap way of getting nutritious foods is to grow your produce. You can grow a garden even if you don’t have a spacious yard. Start with potted vegetables, herbs and fruits you can leave on your balcony or patio.
You can also check if there’s a community garden in your neighborhood that you can join. This will give you access to various fresh produce.
For some, growing a garden isn’t possible. If such is the case for you, it’s important to shop smart for produce. Generally, choosing what’s in season can save you money. It also ensures that the fruit or vegetable is fully ripe when harvested.
Cook at Home
Cooking at home will save you a lot of money in the long run. Eating out tends to cost more, especially for families. Aside from this, it’s harder to ensure that only quality and healthy ingredients are being used.
That said, it doesn’t mean you should never eat out. Just make sure you limit it.
Include the food you bring to work or school when creating meal plans. Packing your lunch and snacks gives you complete control over the type of food you eat. This helps when building a healthy eating habit.
Take Advantage of Sales
If possible, stock up on your favorite products or those you often use when they go on sale. That said, you have to ensure they’ll last for a while. Don’t buy things in bulk if they’re about to expire.
Depending on the product, choosing store brands or generic options can save you a significant amount. For instance, canned and frozen fruits or vegetables usually have cheaper store-brand versions.
If you’re shopping for the family, go for larger portions. Products in smaller packaging tend to cost more when added up than those sold in bulk.
To determine the price per unit of a large-sized item, divide the price by the weight stated on the package. Then, compare that to the cost of the individually packed option.
How to Store and Keep Healthy Foods Fresh for Longer
Saving on your grocery bills doesn’t end when you check out your items. You also have to ensure you maximize the foods you have bought. Knowing how to store and keep your produce fresh for longer reduces your waste and will also help you save more money in the long run.
Here are some steps you can take.
Always check best before dates
Best before dates are there to give you an idea of how long a product will stay in its best condition. Some items only have use-by dates. This refers to the date the manufacturers think the food is in prime.
Know what items to wash and when
It’s best to wash off fruits and vegetables before eating them. This is to prevent contracting illnesses due to bacteria.
For green leafy vegetables, it’s best to soak them in cold water for about five minutes. Herbs are best stored like a bouquet. Put them in the refrigerator with a. damp paper towel.
Freeze what you can
For meat and vegetables, consider cooking them for storage. You can do this by putting them in the microwave. Then, put them in the freezer. This will make them last longer. You can simply defrost them when you need to use them.
Learn the right way of storing
The right way of storing depends on the type of food. For instance, berries should be rinsed in vinegar, spread on a paper towel to dry and put in the refrigerator. Broccoli should be wrapped in foil to make it last up to four weeks. Bananas should be stored away from other produce. Lettuce must be kept with a kitchen towel.
Turn old produce into stock
Once your vegetables and herbs start turning, it’s best to freeze them in a plastic bag. Then, when you have the time, use them to create a vegetable stock. That said, avoid using starchy vegetables.
Food as Medicine: Do Health Insurance Plans Cover Nutritious Meals?
Health insurance protects you from substantial medical expenses. But staying healthy can prevent you from needing expensive medical attention in the first place. Additionally, health insurance plans cover medically tailored, nutritious meals and food prescriptions. Among these are Medicare, Medicaid, Food is Medicine Coalition and Humana.
Consider these options and weigh the pros and cons to determine the best health insurance.
Medicare consists of three parts. Each has different coverage. Part A refers to hospital insurance, Part B is for medical insurance and Part D is for prescription drug coverage. Medicare Part B offers nutrition therapy services coverage.
Medicare is a government program that caters to people aged 65 or older. Younger individuals with disabilities may also qualify.
Eligible individuals can submit a completed application for enrollment in Medicare Part B. You can also check with your local Social Security office.
Medicaid is both a federal and a state program. It provides health insurance coverage to qualified individuals under the age of 65.
Coverages vary per state. Among the optional benefits include nutritional coverage. Some may also offer prevention programs for diet-related illnesses. Contact your local Social Security office to determine if you’re eligible to receive diet-related coverage.
Medicaid provides health insurance to low-income individuals and families. Children, pregnant women, elderly adults, people with disabilities and individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may also qualify. That said, specific eligibility requirements may vary depending on the state.
Food is Medicine Coalition
The Food is Medicine Coalition is a nonprofit that focuses on advancing evidence-based medical and nutrition intervention. It advocates for public policy focusing on access to food and nutrition services for individuals with chronic and critical illnesses. It’s composed of different nonprofits and medically tailored and nutrition services providers across the country.
Food is Medicine Coalition is composed of different nonprofits and medically tailored and nutrition service providers across the country. Among them are God’s Love We Deliver, Project Angel Heart and Project Open Hand.
Generally, programs are for people with chronic or severe diseases. Specific organizations may have different eligibility requirements, so it’s best to contact the nonprofit directly.
Essential Tips to Reduce Your Health Insurance Costs
Inflation can be felt in various aspects and industries, including the health insurance industry. That’s why health insurance premiums continue rising. This additional expense can prevent you from accessing healthy meals. That said, there are ways to get affordable health insurance.
Get employer-sponsored coverage
Employers have different benefits packages for their employees. Ask your company if you’re qualified to get health insurance. Typically, it’s a cheaper option compared to private individual health insurance. You may also add your eligible family members as dependents.
Review government programs
Check if you’re eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. These are programs catering to low-income individuals and families. They tend to offer the cheapest health plans.
Check for discounts
Depending on the health insurance provider, you may qualify to receive significant discounts. Ask your insurance agent or visit the company’s website.
The best way to find the cheapest insurance policy is to shop around and compare prices. You can start your search in the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can also ask for personalized quotes from private insurance companies. MoneyGeek has a health insurance comparison tool you can use to get an idea of how much your policy will cost.
What You Can Do if You Need Help With Healthy Meals
Many often state they would eat better if nutritious foods were more accessible and affordable. However, there are many community food resources available to all. Find a variety of services below that help provide healthy food for low-income families, seniors, those on fixed incomes and all community members.
- Community-based nutrition programs
for senior citizens, women, low-income
individuals, members of minority groups
and those with medical conditions
- Free meals, either home-delivered or
through congregate nutrition sites
Individuals with diminished mobility may
qualify. There may be age requirements
set by local programs.
- Community-based nutrition programs
- Free groceries through mobile pantries
- Drive-thru pantries
- Free meals or groceries for seniors
- Free easy-to-make meals during
weekends and school breaks for children
and families through the BackPack
- Summer Meal Programs for children,
teens and families
- School pantries for students and
- Free snacks and meals for kids through
the Kids Cafes programs
Feeding America supports individuals
from different groups, especially
children, senior citizens and families.
There’s no need to apply or sign up to
qualify for Feeding America’s programs.
Simply visit one of their pantries.
Staff members may ask where you live and
how many are in your family.
SNAP is a government program that
provides financial assistance to needy
families to help them buy healthy
Eligibility requirements are based on
state agencies. Typically, low-income
individuals and families are qualified.
- Financial assistance through a free
CalFresh EBT card to help individuals
- Free grocery delivery for participants
who cannot leave their homes
Low-income citizens and residents are
eligible to apply. Undocumented
immigrants may not be eligible, but
their children are qualified if they’re
legal U.S. citizens or residents.
- Financial assistance through a free
SFSP is a federally-funded program but
is state administered. It provides free
meals and snacks to eligible children.
Children 18 years old or below
Expert Insight on Staying Healthy While Saving
Eating healthy can be a challenge, especially while considering saving money. A few experts share their insights and tips to help you on your journey to a healthier you.
- What financial management or money-saving tips can you share with individuals or families struggling to eat healthy due to food price inflation?
- What resources and tools are best for people who want to stay healthy while saving on rising food costs?
- There are various programs and projects available to low-income individuals and families. What alternative resources are available to those who don’t qualify for such programs but struggle with healthy eating due to food price inflation?
Registered Dietitian, Environmental Health Specialist, Adjunct Professor and Consultant with Balance One Supplements
Certified Professional Career Coach, Parenting Consultant and Former Therapist
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Chef and Author
Professor and Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist at North Dakota State University
EdD, MS, RDN, LD, Clinical Associate Professor, Director FACS Education Program at the University of Georgia and Associate Director at National Center for Home Food Preservation
Resources for Healthy Eating
Maintaining a healthy diet can be difficult due to various barriers, such as accessibility and affordability. With rising food costs, it may be more challenging. Finding the right resources and tools can help you with your journey.
Resources and Tools
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Learn about food insecurity, different programs and how to promote food security for children in this report.
- Daily Strength: Find helpful tips and support from others in this online forum for healthy eating.
- Healthy Eating Plate: The Harvard School of Public Health created a healthy eating plate guide to help people make healthy, balanced meals.
- Healthy Weight Diary: Monitor your healthy diet journey using the CDC’s sample food diary.
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Find a step-by-step guide to help you create a meal plan on a budget.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Find handbooks, tips, tools and other resources to help create a healthy diet plan.
Financial Assistance, Grants and Food Banks
- Benefits.gov: Find a government program suitable for your needs. Learn how to apply for financial assistance and benefits programs.
- Foodbank Locator: Look for a local food bank near you using this online search tool.
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Find grant opportunities you can apply to as you start your journey to healthy living.
- USDA National Hunger Hotline: Contact (866) 3-HUNGRY or (87) 8-HAMBRE from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) if you need food assistance. You can text (914) 342-7744 for any questions about free food and meals.
- Why Hunger: Find different emergency food providers and community pantries.
About the Author
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital. "Healthy Diet Could Save $50B in Health Care Costs." Accessed August 12, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Benefits of Healthy Eating." Accessed August 12, 2022.
- DietaryGuidelines.gov. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025." Accessed August 12, 2022.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Consumer Price Index Summary." Accessed August 12, 2022.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Table 2. Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): U.S. City Average, by Detailed Expenditure Category, July 2022." Accessed August 13, 2022.