Here at Double Up Food Bucks Arizona, we’re dedicated to helping Arizonans stretch their food budgets each and every day. But stretching your food dollars is about more than comparing prices — it’s also about eating healthy amounts of nutritious food each day.

March is National Nutrition Month, and we invite you to use it as an opportunity to look beyond how much you’re spending, and shift your focus to what you’re spending your money on. There are tons of ways to squeeze nutrient-dense options into your meals and budget. Here are a few things to consider to help you get the most healthy bang for your buck:

Consider your food preferences and habits

Take a look in your refrigerator and cupboards – are there foods leftover from your last shopping trip that you might have to throw away? Is it because you bought too much, or because you or your family didn’t enjoy it? Paying attention to the amount of food you use each week will help you adjust your shopping list to make it more cost-effective.

If you ended up with too much fresh produce, consider ways to prepare it next time to make it more appealing and more likely to be eaten. If this doesn’t always work, make sure you know how to properly store your items for maximum shelf life, and how to turn your leftovers into next day delights. Once you have a plan in place, you won’t be wary about putting more fresh fruits and veggies on your grocery list.

Plan your meals

Before going shopping, know what meals you will make that week. After following the tip above, you should have a better idea of you and your family’s food preferences. Make a collection of budget-friendly, nutritious recipes that your family likes and keep them handy when making your menu for the week (if you need some inspiration, check out this site for ideas). Build your shopping list from the menu you create, and encourage your family to join in on the process. Also try to consider how you can swap typical items in favorite recipes for more nutritious substitutes.

It’s important to make sure everyone is getting the correct amount of food and nutrients to feel their best every day. Keep in mind that needs differ depending on gender, age, dietary restrictions, and more. Check this guide from the USDA to learn more about food groups and suggested servings, and don’t hesitate to consult a doctor or nutritionist.

Buy only what you need

Once you determine what everyone needs and the ingredients for each of your planned meals, buy only that amount of food. Keep those amounts in mind when planning and preparing meals and snacks. This will ensure that no food gets wasted and that you aren’t spending extra money on food you can’t use.

Fresh produce doesn’t come with measuring labels. To make sure you’re buying and eating enough servings of each food group (especially our favorite ones – fruits and veggies), use this guide to help determine how many of your favorite items to buy depending on how much you need for your recipes and snacks.

Don’t be afraid to buy ‘ugly’ produce

At most farmers markets, vendors sell produce often referred to as ‘seconds’. It might not look as nice as the other produce, but they will often sell it to you at a lower price. This produce may look different than what you’re used to, but it’s just as delicious and offers the same wonderful benefits!

With all the other expenses in your life, don’t spend more than you have to on food. Make the most of your money while getting everything you need to feel your best.

And last but not least, always remember if you are a SNAP/EBT (formerly food stamps) participant, Double Up Food Bucks Arizona is here to help you save money and eat better. Go to a participating Double Up Food Bucks market and stretch your food dollars even further!