Some good buys for your health and your pocketbook:
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Buy frozen otherwise. Frozen is cheaper and may even be better for you than fresh. That's because produce is usually frozen at its ripest, which is usually when it maxes out in nutrient content too. Some nutrients do break down or leach out in the freezing process, but most make it through. On the other hand, produce intended to be sold fresh is often picked before it's ripe because it continues to ripen while being shipped to market. But the produce never reaches its peak, nutrient-wise. Canned fruits and vegetables are another alternative to fresh, although, with a few exceptions -- such as tomatoes -- they lose many of their nutrients. And adding sugar or salt subtracts from their healthfulness.
Give up organic. Organic fruits and vegetables are often better for the environment than nonorganic but not necessarily better for your health -- and they're much harder on your bank account.
Weigh the pros and cons of juices. Bottled or canned fruit and vegetable juices are a relatively inexpensive way to get many of the advantages of fruits and vegetables. The nutrients are more concentrated, so you're likely to drink more of them than you could eat. On the other hand, the sugar is more concentrated too, so you also get more calories. And the nutrients break down or lose their effectiveness quickly, so fresh-squeezed juices are better -- and then you lose your price advantage. In any juices -- even with pulp -- you also lose most of the fiber. So juices are not a perfect substitute, but they're much better than no fruits and vegetables at all.
Buy large carrots instead of "babies." All carrots are a good source of vitamin A, fiber and many other vitamins and minerals. Baby carrots may taste sweeter, but large carrots are a sweeter deal. Originally, baby carrots were just regular large carrots cut down to be minis so as to hide their superficial flaws. These days they're still minimized large carrots, but now they've been bred to have more sugar and a brighter orange color than the regular sort. They're no better for you, though, and they can cost a lot more.
Use vegetables to increase quantity and quality. If you make canned soup or stew or chili, add some vegetables. Your meal will go further and provide more color, flavor and nutrients.
Be flexible. If a recipe calls for expensive or exotic ingredients, substitute ingredients that are less expensive or more easily found. For example, you may be able to use strawberries in place of raspberries; tomato sauce in place of tomatoes; spinach with a bit of ground pepper in place of arugula. For other possible substitutions, check out the Cook's Thesaurus at www.switcheroo.com.
Buy inexpensive parts of a chicken, or buy a whole chicken. The breast is the least fatty part of a chicken, but as long as you remove the skin, those thighs and drumsticks are still healthy choices. And they're much cheaper. But the best deal may be to get some of each by buying a whole chicken.
Buy inexpensive parts of a cow (but probably not a whole cow). Leaner cuts of beef are cheaper than fattier cuts -- flank steak costs less than filet mignon. It's also tougher, but marinate it before cooking and you won't notice. With hamburger, though a leaner version is more expensive, it's lower in calories, and you end up with more meat after you cook it.
Buy canned fish instead of fresh. Canned fish is considerably cheaper than fresh fish. Some nutrients are lost in the canning process, but it remains an excellent source of protein and vitamins. (And when fresh fish is cooked, it loses some nutrients too.) Canned salmon actually has an advantage over fresh in that it's canned with its bones -- the canning process softens them -- so it contains much more calcium. Sardines are also canned with their bones, but since people often eat the bones in fresh sardines too, any difference is probably small. Tuna is not canned with its bones, so the calcium advantage is reversed -- but calcium isn't a big factor in tuna. Chunk light tuna is less expensive than solid albacore, which has slightly more calories and fat. So the cheaper choice is at least as good for you. In all cases, choose canned fish packed in water, not oil.