Good Food on a Tight Budget: EWG’s New Easy-to-Use Guide

Washington, D.C. – In an era of rising food prices and economic strains that have put one in four people on federal nutrition assistance, nearly all Americans must search for foods that are nutritious and affordable. To ease the pressure, Environmental Working Group's researchers have created Good Food on a Tight Budget, a science-based shopping guide of the top 100 foods that are healthy, cheap, clean and green.

"Putting good food on your family's table on a $5-or-$6-dollar-a-day budget is tough, but it's possible," said co-author Dawn Undurraga, EWG nutritionist and registered dietitian. "When shoppers fill their grocery carts with the foods on EWG's lists, they'll be doing something good for their health and the environment, meanwhile lowering their grocery bills and exposures to the worst chemicals."

Inside the easy-to-use guide, shoppers will find lists of foods that give consumers the biggest nutritional bang for their buck, simple tips for eating well, tasty recipes for meals and snacks, and easy tools for tracking food prices and preparing and planning meals at home. In collaboration with Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters and chef Ann Cooper, the guide provides 15 delicious low-cost recipes that average less than $1 a serving.

"Eight in ten low-income families cook dinner at home most nights, but many are struggling to afford the ingredients to make healthy meals," said Laura Seman, senior manager of program development and evaluation for Cooking Matters, a national program that helps families at risk of hunger get the most from their food resources. "Practical tools like Good Food on a Tight Budget can help families stretch their food dollar in a healthy way."

Click here to watch a short video of Seman, Undurraga and D.C. chef Alli Sosna discussing how the guide helps price-conscious families shop for and cook healthy, affordable food.

With long experience in analyzing government data to provide consumers with useful and accessible information, EWG is the first to develop this comprehensive food ranking system that balances nutrition, cost and environmental health concerns. EWG researchers assessed nearly 1,200 foods, comparing national average food prices and 19 different nutrients in order to identify the most nutritious foods that are easy on the wallet and the planet. They factored in pesticide residue rankings from EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce and environmental impacts in EWG's Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change + Health to help consumers lower their exposures to toxic chemicals and reduce their carbon footprints.

The analysis shows that:

  • Raw cabbage is a top-ranked vegetable based on nutrition and price. At less than a dime a serving, it's cheaper than potatoes and can be served as a salad, stuffed, or used in sandwiches, stir-fries, stews and soups.
  • Carrots, bananas, frozen broccoli, pears and watermelon receive high marks for nutrition and ring up at less than 30 cents a serving.
  • Pears have even more fiber, potassium and folate – and fewer pesticide residues – than apples.
  • Parsley packs a nutritional punch as potent as kale for a quarter of the cost.
  • Roasted turkey topped the list of animal sources of protein. Hot dogs ranked dead last.

Other highlights of Good Food on a Tight Budget:

  • Fresh isn't always more expensive. And canned isn't always cheaper. Fresh carrots are cheaper than frozen. Frozen corn can be cheaper than canned.
  • Beans are cheaper and have a smaller carbon footprint than turkey.
  • One serving of filling oatmeal is about half the cost of a bowl of sugared cereal.
  • Brown rice costs as little as oatmeal and has twice as much fiber as white rice.
  • Boil, bake or roast three servings of potatoes for the same cost as a single serving of hash browns.
  • Plain yogurt has more calcium than sour cream and costs less.
  • Queso blanco costs less than processed American cheese and like other soft cheeses, produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than hard cheeses.

EWG's guide underscores that home cooking is the best way to save money and enjoy good food. The best strategy, it says, is to cook and freeze large batches of healthy foods such as soup and turkey chili. Another winning strategy: buying rice, beans and other dry or frozen staples in bulk from warehouse stores and a growing number of local markets.

Congress has an important role to play. For decades, EWG has fought for meaningful reforms to U.S. federal food, agricultural and biofuels policies to help bring down grocery prices, feed the hungry and increase access to and availability of affordable food, while improving Americans' diets.

Chef Cooper and leading medical expert Dr. Andrew Weil have high praise for the guide:

"Eating for health and wellness need not be expensive, and the Good Food on a Tight Budget shopping guide proves it," said Weil. "There's excellent information here, especially the lists of commonly available foods that provide the most nutrition for the lowest cost. I also like the recipe section, which features quick, whole-food dishes that are perfect for time-pressed modern families."

Cooper said, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that of the children born in the year 2000, one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every two African Americans and Hispanics will contract diabetes in their lifetime. With that type of crisis looming, it is imperative that we feed our children healthy food, both at home and at school. This guide will serve as an important tool for helping kids and their families eat healthy while staying within a budget."

On Thursday (Aug. 23), EWG will release its recommendations (here) for healthy, affordable school lunch options for families and kids getting ready to go back to school. Tomorrow (Aug. 22), EWG and Share Our Strength will host a webinar to discuss the guide with food and nutrition policy experts, public health and anti-hunger groups.

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