Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eating Well on a Tight Budget (Recessionary times)

With no end in sight to the global financial crisis, many families are finding that now is a good time to bring back the basics (e.g. nutritious and affordable foods that were staples during the depression, but have been all but forgotten during more affluent times).

You don’t have to eat stone soup or junk food to save money. By turning to some Depression-era standbys, however, you may also be able to carve a significant chunk out of your grocery budget. In addition to a lower food bill, these tried-and-true foods also provide the benefit of improved health—and a reduction in girth.

Cheap, empty-calorie foods are not the answer. The key is to look for the most healthy nutrients (as opposed to the most calories) for the dollar. Fortunately, there are many foods that are affordable, nutrient-rich, and not loaded with empty calories.

Value-Added Foods

So which foods provide the best “nutrient bang” for your buck? A short list would include beans, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, kale, collards, onions, bananas, apples, peanut butter, and almonds, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. Frozen foods to consider include corn, broccoli, and peas.

Contrary to popular opinion, fruits and vegetables do not have to be fresh to be nutritious. While fresh food is certainly wonderful, canned and frozen foods generally cost less and require less preparation. People tend to waste less when using canned and frozen foods. Also, because such foods are harvested at the peak of ripeness (as opposed to fresh fruits and vegetables which are often harvested early), they may even contain more nutrient value. This is not to recommend canned or frozen over fresh foods—only to say, don’t rule them out as less healthy because they’re not fresh.

Though often maligned as salty or high in fat, potatoes are actually one of the “good guys” when it comes to high nutrient, inexpensive, and versatile foods. Potatoes can be prepared in many delicious ways with little or no added fat, and they are nutritious. For example, one potato alone can provide 35% of the daily allowance for Vitamin C, 20% of Vitamin B6, 6% of the daily protein allowance, and 10% of niacin, iron, and copper.
Beans are another low-cost, nutritional powerhouse that is rich in nutrients, low in fat, and richer in protein than any other plant-based food. Cabbage, collards, and kale are other nutrient-dense foods that are low in sodium, calories, and price. In terms of fruit, it’s hard to beat apples and bananas for foods that are economical, versatile, and nutritious. Ranging from snacks to smoothies, there are many great ways to prepare these fruits as well.

Other budget-minded tips include:

• selecting less expensive store brands of canned and frozen produce
• cooking in batches, then freezing some ahead
• whipping up main-dish soups and stews for filling yet low-calorie meals (a crockpot or slow cooker can be a great help in this regard).

In a study observing of families of overweight children at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that basing the family diet on low-calorie, high-nutrient foods provided a double benefit: improving the health of the entire family and reducing the amount spent on food. While no one wants to go hungry during lean economic times, there are ways to be satisfied, healthy, and budget-conscious—all at the same time.

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