Are healthy meals healthy for your wallet?

Published 9:03 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

A grilled chicken salad could easily be considered healthy eating choice, but what about a wise financial choice?

A package of chicken breasts — $1.99. A head of lettuce — $1.49. Carrots — $1.39. Package of cherry tomatoes — $3.99. Onions — $.99 a pound. Block of cheese — $3.99. Regular bottle of salad dressing — $2.79. A box of croutons — $1.75.

A simple salad turns costly when the total racks up to approximately $20, including tax.

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A couple aisles over, frozen pizzas are two for $6.

With the economic crisis the nation is facing, it’s a temptation to forego physical health for financial health.

But do the financial savings outweigh heath and wellness?

Gerald Jackson, director of the dietary department at Natchez Community Hospital, doesn’t think so.

“Are we cutting our health to save $1? In some places we are, and that’s not good,” Jackson said.

He said it’s all about adjusting to the economy, just like people did when gas prices skyrocketed. People learned to cut back, but not in a harmful way.

He said trying to save money by buying cheaper, unhealthy food is altogether wrong.

“It would be better to eat healthy now. Eventually what you eat is going to show later,” Jackson said.

Diane Tidwell, associate professor in the department of science, nutrition and health promotion at Mississippi State University, said spending a little more money on healthy food will benefit in the long run.

“When you eat healthy, you prevent chronic disease,” she said, listing heart disease and hypertension.

“Paying up front saves healthcare dollars in the end,” Tidwell said.

Jackson said health and finance should not be considered side by side.

“It shouldn’t be a cost decision,” he said. “If you put cost before health then there’s going to be a disaster in the end.”

Tidwell said there are ways to save some when buying healthy foods.

“I think when you buy fresh fruit the cost evens out as opposed to buying processed refined snacks,” she said.

And small adjustments count, too.

“Making little changes goes a long way,” she said.

Having a dietary overhaul doesn’t work out permanently, Tidwell said.

“People who do try to change their whole diet in a hurry usually aren’t able to stick with it because it’s too much of a change. But if you want lasting positive changes they need to come about in small steps,” Tidwell said.

Jackson said buying canned vegetables is a cheaper option than fresh vegetables.

But as far as the frozen section, steer clear. Things that may even seem healthy — like Lean Cuisine — are loaded with sodium.

“More natural foods are where the health comes from,” he said. “I think that’s just a marketing tool.”

Barry Loy, retail operations manager for The Markets, said a good way to shop smart is to already have meals planned out in your head before going to the store.

“If you plan your meal you can actually do a better job of eating better and saving money,” he said.

And, always, grocery stores offer special discounts.

“Right now people are on a budget, they are penny pinching. They are looking at specials, advertising specials, in store specials,” Loy said.