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Don’t Let Inflation Keep You from Eating Healthily

Many of us are feeling the squeeze rampant inflation puts on food budgets. Those of us on fixed incomes may feel it more acutely than others.

To give you an idea of the pressures we are facing, food prices have spiked more than 13 percent over the past year. Some specific grocery items, such as sugar, fats, and oils, have seen increases of almost 17 percent.

These increases, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are the largest since 1979. And estimates that food prices may increase another 10 percent over the next year make matters even more challenging.

Translating all this into dollars and cents, it means that if you live in a two-person household, a year ago you were probably spending around $600 a month for groceries. With inflation, you’re now most likely spending closer to $700 a month for the same shopping bag – this is a whopping $1,200 a year! Many boomers can’t just go out and make extra money. The only solution is to cut grocery and other costs to make ends meet.

What Do We Usually Save from?

The risk here, of course, is that some of us may start reducing our spending on things that could impact our health, such as buying less nutritious foods, skipping meals, rationing medications, and reducing energy use for heating.

These steps, unfortunately, can put our health in jeopardy by increasing the chances of falling into food insecurity (women are at greater risk for food insecurity than men), greater risk of not being able to effectively manage chronic disease, and suffering the effects of living in a cold home.

These cuts are already happening, with 75 percent of older Americans reporting that the rising costs of groceries are impacting them. And, according to the University of Michigan, almost 33 percent admit that inflation is forcing them to eat less nutritiously. What is truly concerning is that almost 4 percent of boomers say that they worry they could run out of food before they have the funds to purchase more.

The good news, however, is there are ways to help ensure we are eating nutritious foods even when money is tight. The first are changes we can make to how we shop for and prepare and serve food. The second is being more flexible and selective with the foods we purchase. Let’s look at each.

Make the Effort to Plan More Meals

Perhaps one of the most important things we can do is plan meals. We all have heard about how we should not go food shopping when we are hungry to minimize impulse purchases. But it’s equally important to know exactly what we are going to purchase before going to the store.

The easiest way to do this is to plan for a week’s worth of healthy meals with a focus on getting the nutrients your body needs. Then check to see what you already may have at home to prepare them and what you still need.

Last, make a list of the “need” and stick to it at the grocery store. Also consider checking out generic store brands (many of which are manufactured by the same companies that offer well-known brands) as well as comparison shopping among different grocery stores and big-box outlets.

As I’ve written here before, I also recommend cooking your meals at home which can save a bundle on restaurant bills. The added nutritional benefit of preparing your own meals is that you will know exactly what you are eating.

You can also make a little more than you need so you have some extra for future meals. One of my favorite things is to make a large pot of hearty chicken and vegetable soup and freeze it in meal-size containers which I can thaw when I am ready.

Depending on where you live, you could also try your hand at planting your own vegetable garden. In addition to saving money, you’ll get fresh produce along with a sense of accomplishment. You could also “food pool” with your neighbors to take advantage of bulk savings or host neighborhood “bring a dish” parties. In addition to saving money, these also will give you a chance to socialize, which is very important for our emotional health since many of us live alone.

If you are finding that you consistently have more “month than money” for your food budget, check with your local government and senior resources center to see what programs may be available in your area.

I know that where I live the senior centers all offer healthy lunches either for a modest fee or for a contribution. Also, don’t overlook government food assistance programs – research shows that most adults over 50 who qualify for these programs are not enrolled in them.

Be More Flexible in Your Food Choice

Unfortunately for our nutritional wellbeing, we tend to reduce the number of fresh fruits and vegetables we purchase – or we cut them entirely from our shopping lists – when money is tight since they tend to be more expensive than high calorie, processed, and nutritionally void foods.

This is especially true if we are accustomed to buying out-of-season fruits and vegetables. But with a little effort and substitutions, we can continue to eat healthy on a stricter budget.

Here are some lower cost fruits, grains and vegetables that are nutrient dense that you may want to consider:

  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Brown rice
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cabbage
  • Butternut squash
  • Oatmeal
  • Bananas
  • Beans (fresh and canned)
  • Potatoes and yams
  • Carrots
  • Edamame (one of my favorites)
  • Tomatoes (even canned)
  • Spinach
  • Kiwi
  • Berries (fresh or frozen)
  • Quinoa

I also suggest that you consider swapping some of your summer fruit and veggie favorites for their winter cousins (and I am not talking about pumpkin pies!). Doing so can not only help you save money, but also add some variety to your diet. These include:

  • Parsnips
  • Cranberries
  • Rutabagas
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Kale
  • Beetroots
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Turnips
  • Pomegranates
  • Avocados
  • Collard greens
  • Persimmons
  • Fennel
  • Radicchio

All of the above are packed with nutrients as well as flavor. They also tend to be easy to prepare and work as great substitutions for higher-priced items in your favorite recipes. With a little creativity, you may find yourself eating even more fruits and vegetables than before!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How has inflation affected your ability to continue purchasing healthy foods and especially fresh fruits and vegetables? What have you been doing to help make ends meet with your food budget? Are there any foods you have cut out from your budget? If so, what have you replaced them with? What shopping hacks have you discovered that you would like to share? Please join the conversation.

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CHEAP EATS: 20 years ago my husband collapsed with chronic kidney – inherited disease. Over a two year period he faced death four times. As was the movement of the 1960’s, we have grown our own fruit, berries, nuts, vegies and eggs for 50 yrs plus. Using “home grown” and learning to understand how the human body processes food, helped my husband to improve his health and be alive today. Doctors congratulate me on my achievement. VEGETABLES AND FRUIT listed in this article may not be suitable for kidney disease, diabetics, heart disease, arthritis, irritable bowl and more diseases. With inflation the ‘sick’ shopper is not only forced to look at what they ‘need’ to eat but weather or not you can afford to buy. For 20 years we have lived on a disability pension. Money is tight. Inflation threatens healthy eating. Your need vitamins and minerals. SOLUTION: Add herbs. ALL HERBS contain vitamins and minerals. They provide flavour for simple, cheap meals. Sweet margoram transforms good old scrambled eggs into a heavenly realm. Winter Savory enriches the flavour of pumpkin. The combination of dill, warm potates and apple is divine. Parsley, shallots, black pepper and melted butter tossed with warm pasta is feast to enjoy. And what about the marriage of garlic, mushrooms and lemon thyme. EASY TO GROW: All you need is a pot with potting mix. No fertiliser required or special care. Herbs need light and warmth. Herbs will grow in the warmth of the home when snow lay on the ground. HOMEWORK to avoid inflation issues – research herbs. They contain vitamin C, B complex, A, D, E, and an array of vital minerals. When under stress, the herb ‘thyme’ is known to keep the vital organs ticking over. Look at the power of such herbs as tarragon, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, chives, summer savory, chervil, mushroom herb, mint family, oregano, ginger, sweet woodruff….the list goes on and on. Cheap,simple food with lots of exciting flavours. I know what it is like to have no money and a dark future. And to live with the stress of life. When people come to my home they rave about the flavour of our meals. You don’t need great cooking skills. Have fun.


I’m from Michigan originally. We had a garden and access to low priced markets in the summer and early fall. I froze and canned. Bought things to store for the winter. I could eat what I had when money was tight.
I have lived in Texas with my daughter for seven years now. My gardens have started out hopeful but I am not a good gardener when the heat comes. This year I am not going to waste money on it. The markets here are more expensive than the store. So we are shopping sales and eating what is in season. I make a pot of soup for my lunch for most of the week. Less treats. Popcorn for my snack. I’m stuck with a lot of food allergies and sensitivities. It’s not easy to to cheap and healthy but I try


We no longer buy organic products and we shop the grocery store sales and use their coupons and rewards programs. We shop certain stores for their lower priced/high food value items. We buy produce at the grocery store, not at the farm stand. We got a bread machine and make our own sandwich bread. The freezer is packed with meats we bought on special. We have our blueberry bush for summer, cover with netting to keep the birds from eating our yield. I still work as a sub, but it’s not regular, nor is my home business a reliable source of income especially with inflation. Thinking of getting another job, but I’m one of three siblings who look after our mom, who lives in FL and we live in VT. So I travel to her about 8 trips/year, and I need the flexibility. We work hard to eat well despite the price increases. We never go out to eat dinner, seldom go out for lunch, occasionally go out for breakfast because it’s less costly and we like it. Fixed medical costs are rising. I’m not on Medicare yet, but my husband is. I have a sunny outlook but also am realistic. These are the toughest times I recall, ever since 2009 when the economy tanked. Hoping 2023 brings some positive change.


I know what you mean about going out. It’s just not a reasonable thing for me to do.

The Author

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (http://www.phlabs.org), a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.

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