“It costs too much to eat healthy food.”

Many people have said this to me during my years as an Extension agent. But as a frugal home economist and a person who raised two kids for nine years by myself, I respectfully disagree.

Several years ago, I developed an Extension presentation called Be Waist and Wallet Wise. I wrote the program because I’d heard countless people say it was too expensive to eat a healthy diet. I didn’t believe it was true, and I set out to collect as many tips for low-cost, healthy eating as I could find.

Now, several years later, I continue to believe it is possible to control costs and eat healthy at the same time. And, thanks to budget-minded, health-conscious audiences across the state, I’ve added to my original list of healthier, less-expensive examples.

If you’d like to host this presentation for your group, just give me a call at the Hays office of the Cottonwood Extension District, (785) 628-9430, and I’ll be glad to make arrangements to come and share. In the meantime, here are a few ideas that might be helpful as you try to eat well on a budget.

Online Grocery Cost Calculator

How much is a reasonable amount to spend on food for a family like yours? Now you can find out with a few clicks.

Figure your food costs with the online calculator at the helpful website from Iowa State Extension called Spend Smart. Eat Smart: www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/fooddollar/. To do the calculation, you’ll be asked for the ages of family members and the number of meals each person eats away from home each week.

With a touch of a button, you’ll see the estimated cost of groceries for your family based on the USDA Low-Cost Food Plan. When reading the report, keep in mind this information is based on nationwide averages, and it excludes non-food items purchased at grocery stores. I was happy to find my grocery bills are below the national average for my size family — how about yours?

Is fruit really too expensive?

One of the examples from my lesson is the cost of fruit — bananas to be specific. Their cost rose pretty dramatically a few years ago, and the price has never gone down.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I could buy bananas for 20 cents a pound. Today, the cost of bananas is approximately 59 cents a pound. That’s nearly a 200-percent price increase. It’s no wonder families are tempted to buy snack food to satisfy their hungry members instead of fruit.

So, being curious, I decided to do a comparison. I bought five small bananas that together weighed 1.5 pounds for a total cost of 88.5 cents. That meant each banana cost 17.7 cents.

Next, I strolled over to the snack aisle and looked at a package of name brand flavored tortilla chips. The regular size bag cost $3.99. The bag said it contained 12 servings, meaning each serving cost 33 cents. Wow, almost twice as much.

Next, I wondered how many bananas could I buy for the cost of a bag of chips? The answer: 22 bananas. For a family of four, each member could have a banana a day for more than five days for the cost of one bag of chips.

The lesson for me was that the price of bananas might seem rather expensive, but when you calculate it per serving (a small banana is one serving), the cost is reasonable after all.

Bananas taste so good and cost so little, it might be hard to eat just one. Hmm, that sounds like the start of an ad campaign — “I bet you can’t eat just one.” Oh, right, that’s already been used by a national snack company to encourage us to spend nearly $4 for a bag of chips.

More resources for eating well on a budget

You are not alone in trying to eat a balanced diet on less money. Books, the internet and social media are full of ideas for food shopping, menu planning, home cooking and recipes. Here is one more resource from K-State Research and Extension to add to your repertoire. Check out the KSU website called Eating Well on a Budget at www.ksre.k-state.edu/humannutrition/nutrition-topics/eatingwell-budget/index.html.

These resources are compiled by trained Extension nutrition experts whose job is to provide reliable, unbiased information to help people make good decisions for their family. You’ll find a wealth of helpful information to increase your ability to improve nutrition while controlling food costs.

I hope you’ll consider these examples and check out some of the additional Extension resources. Maybe then you’ll find you no longer have to say “it costs too much to eat healthy food.”

Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.