Shopping Smart for Holiday Meals - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Shopping Smart for Holiday Meals

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With one more day until Thanksgiving, many people will be headed to the grocery store Wednesday for some last minute shopping. And if shopping for the biggest meal of the year isn't stressful enough, many people are doing it on a tight budget or dietary restriction.

But, it turns out eating healthy can actually save some money at checkout. So whether you're trying to watch your money or be careful of particular health needs, dietitians say shopping fresh is the way to go.

According to the USDA, a family of four using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gets less than $400 a month for food. That's about $12 a day. Many families spend much more for their Thanksgiving meal alone.

"We budget a couple hundred dollars and generally that's because we go to my daughter's and we help her pay for that," said Darlene Charles, a shopper at the Albemarle County Giant store.

In fact, manager of the Albemarle County Giant, Tim Wamsley, estimates it costs at least $30 to feed a family of four for Thanksgiving.

"That's pretty smart shopping too, that's getting all the values, that's looking for the best deals on the cranberry sauce, the stuffing, and the mashed potatoes, and of course the gravy," he said.

And saving cash isn't the only consideration for families when cooking a turkey dinner.  Some are cooking for loved ones with dietary restrictions.

"It's so important to think about who your guests are for Thanksgiving. Some of them might have high blood pressure or diabetes and so you need to be mindful of how you prepare dishes or what you serve so that their particular numbers can stay in good control," said registered dietitian at Martha Jefferson Hospital Rita Smith.

"There are a lot of folks who end up going to the ER because of blood sugar spikes or blood pressure spikes and they feel so sick they have to go to the hospital. We don't want that over the holidays," said Smith. 

So if you have family members with health issues, Smith said it's a good idea to shop with them in mind. "Maybe buy food lower in sugar if you have people with diabetes or lower in salt if they have high blood pressure or watching out for saturating fats and trans fats," she said. "All that information is on the label so you might want to give yourself just a smidge more time when you're shopping and of course have your shopping list because it helps you stay on track."

Shopping with nutrition in mind can also help you save money.

"Some of the healthiest foods are actually the least expensive, so if something has more added to it like more sugar, salt, of fat, or more packaging it is more expensive," Smith said.

For example, at the Albemarle County Giant it costs up to 15 times as much, per pound, for seasoned frozen potatoes versus fresh.

"So when you get foods in their original state they are the cheapest," said Smith.

Turkeys are a little different: frozen is actually the way to go. At Giant, frozen turkeys are just 59 cents a pound, four times less than for a fresh one.

"Buying frozen is always the way to go. And a good cook can always make it taste good no matter if it's fresh or frozen," Wamsley said.

And no matter what's on the menu, shopping smart means shopping sales.

"A lot of need out there this time of year and a lot of people are shopping for bargains," said Wamsley.

You may have to buy fresh foods instead of foods prepared for you to save, but there are budget items out there in the grocery aisles.

"So there are so many ways to have your meal thrifty without blowing your budget, but some of the work needs to be done in your kitchen," said Smith.

Shopping smart is more important than ever for many families. Earlier this month cuts to SNAP benefits went into effect. It will affect about 8,000 people in Charlottesville and put an increased strain on food banks, especially during the holidays.

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