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7 tips for eating a balanced diet on a budget

It's no secret that eating a healthy and balanced diet is generally more expensive than a one rich in salt, sugar and saturated fats. Organic produce is invariably costlier, and stores will often boast great deals on processed and frozen food items that lack nutritional value. In a widely cited 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the British Medical Journal, diets that are deemed the most healthy cost on average around $1.50 more than diets that are comparably less nutritious. And although this number may not seem significant, for those on a tight budget making the switch to healthier foods can take a notable financial toll. 

Thankfully, eating a nutritious and balanced diet needn't be overly expensive. There are a number of simple tips and tricks that you can employ to ensure that you feed yourself and your family well, for less. 

1. Scout out savings
Grocery stores will almost always have sales and special offers, and it's important to be aware of the great deals before you even arrive at the store. The Kitchn advised looking online and in your local newspapers to learn about deals and collect coupons. There are also now a number of smartphone apps that can be used to learn about local sales at grocery stores in your area. The Kitchn elaborated that you should research sales and good deals before you consider what you are going to cook in a given week. With your knowledge of the best sales, you can plan the week's recipes on the groceries that will be cheapest. So, for example, if there is a sale on organic chicken breasts, consider making a low-sodium casserole, or if there is a great deal on apples, consider a low-fat apple crisp for dessert.

2. Plan ahead
As outlined above, planning is key to saving money. If you play it by ear and buy food on a daily basis, you'll no doubt spend more. Planning for the week ahead, and calculating roughly how much money you have to spend and how much each meal will cost, is therefore an effective way to reduce expenses. As U.S. News & World Report explained, with a solid shopping strategy of what you need to buy and how much money you have to spend, you'll reduce the chance of being tempted by special promotions on less nutritious items that you simply don't need - think cookies or that tub of chocolate ice cream.

3. Prepare your own vegetables
Pre-cut and packaged vegetables and salads in particular are generally far more expensive that buying the vegetables separately yourself and preparing them at home, Eating Well noted. And although preparing a salad or chopping those carrots can be time-consuming, you'll begin to notice savings that will make it more than worth it. If you opt for pre-packed vegetables, head to the supermarket freezer. Frozen vegetables are typically less costly and, according to U.S. News & World Report, just as good for you as fresh produce.

4. Buy in season
Fruits and vegetables that are out of season are always more expensive. Therefore a good money-saving strategy is to buy only the produce that's in season, Eat Right explained. So, for example, according to CUESA, peppers and summer squash make for great side dishes in the warmer months, while Brussel​s sprouts and asparagus are wonderful for winter meals.

5. Buy in bulk
A great strategy is to purchase healthy foods in bulk when they are on sale. This is an especially effective strategy when it comes to items that can be frozen, such as cuts of meat and bread, the Today Show explained. Be careful with this strategy though. If the food isn't on sale and you buy in bulk and don't end up using all the produce, you'll obviously lose money. 

6. Buy off-brand
When it comes to healthy items, it doesn't necessarily matter whether you buy the store brand version, because, as U.S. News & World Report, there is rarely any difference in terms of nutritional value. When it comes to brand-name items, you're essentially paying extra for the packaging only. 

7. Beans and whole grains
Beans and whole grains such as pasta and quinoa are generally pretty cheap, especially if purchased in bulk, the Kitchn detailed. Better still, these ingredients are versatile and can be used in a number of healthy dishes. Cook a large batch of pasta or rice at the start of the week and then use it during each weeknight meal. It's  simple yet effective way to save money.

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