Susan Johnson, director of MUSC's employee wellness program, says the American Heart Association's grouping of healthy foods into a 'dollar menu' helps simplify budget shopping for healthy food.
'At first glance, this list may not win out over a fast-food dollar menu, but with a little creativity, it could become a healthier alternative,' says Johnson.
Johnson uses breakfast as an example.
'A typical dollar-menu or value-menu meal usually includes some type of sandwich, hash browns and coffee and averages around 3,600 calories and a lot of fat,' says Johnson. 'Taking items from the AHA list, how about this for an alternative: yogurt sprinkled with oats and mixed with a sliced banana, and green tea for approximately 300 calories and about $1.'
Johnson says people see lists of healthy food items and think of them as individual snack choices that should be added to their regular diet instead of combining them as healthy meal alternatives. With a little creativity and preplanning, people can begin to move away from the fast-food value-meal trap and into a healthy 'dollar menu' and enjoy the health and financial benefits of these simple changes, she says.
Amy Mendez, a registered dietitian with the Seinsheimer Cardiovascular Health Program at the Medical University of South Carolina, acknowledges that being a healthy food consumer in the United States can be tough.
'You can't flip on the TV, surf the Internet or walk through the supermarket checkout without tripping over at least one of the ‘Top Five' or ‘Ten Worst' lists on what to eat or avoid. Trendy foods like pomegranate, acai and flaxseed show up as mere ingredients in an otherwise unhealthy food,' says Mendez. 'As a not-for-profit organization, the American Heart Association is a wealth of nonbiased information for consumers — this list is just the tip of the iceberg of information and support they provide.'
Mendez adds that the food groups many of her clients cut back on to save money are fresh fruits and vegetables.
'But when compared to packaged sodas or snack food from a vending machine, a container of yogurt and an apple are a bargain. Some larger fruits like watermelon or cantaloupe may seem expensive, but when you break it down to the per-serving cost, they are quite reasonable.'
Mendez says the list from the AHA is a helpful reminder that the best ‘value' foods in the grocery store are often the ones that you can't use a coupon for.
'All too often, we are relying on the food manufacturers to tell us what to eat, and they are more than willing to offer reasons why their product is the best. Boxed foods — think cereals and granola bars — have a fair bit of advertising space directly on their packaging.'
Healthy food's version of the 'dollar menu'