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Healthy Eating on a Budget

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It is possible to eat a healthy, balanced diet without breaking the bank! Here are some suggestions:

  • Eliminate junk food. You may have to do your grocery shopping alone, since children (and sometimes spouses!) are often the ones who request the junk foods. A trip to my local supermarket showed these prices for typical junk foods and beverages:

    Case of name brand soft drinks – $5.99
    20 ounce bag of potato chips - $4.19
    Box of snack cakes - $1.99
    Package of 8 toaster-tarts $2.39 (each one contains 20g of sugar)
    Package of chocolate chip cookies - $3.59
    Half-gallon of ice cream - $3.99
    Box of pre-sweetened cereal - $3.19
    8 juice boxes - $2.94 (each contains 26 grams of sugar)
    1 box of 12 glazed doughnuts - $3.99

    The total amount for the above items was $ 32.26

    Replace the items above with:

    Water or skim milk instead of soft drinks. (You can still enjoy your favorite beverage when you go out to a sporting event, movie, etc. Just stick with the smallest size to save money AND calories! ) Children AND adults need milk or milk products every day. Milk also helps fill you up and provides needed calcium for strong bones and healthy teeth.
  • Buy whole fruit instead of potato chips, cookies, doughnuts or snack cakes. One large banana equals 2 servings; 1 pound of grapes equals several servings; other fruit should be purchased in season in your area. Apples are less expensive in the fall. If you live in the south, oranges, lemons and grapefruit may be plentiful in your area, so use lots of them. Melons are usually less expensive in the summer months.
  • Limit fruit juice to ½ cup per day. Instead of juice boxes or bottles, look for natural juice in half gallon cartons or bottles. If your kids want to drink their juice from individual serving bottles, buy your own plastic bottles and straws at the dollar store and wash them out at night.
  • Buy fruits in quantity when they are in season and freeze extras. When strawberries and blueberries are plentiful in my area, I always buy several pounds and freeze in plastic zipper bags. Wash the fruit well; remove any spoiled pieces, dry thoroughly on paper towels, and freeze. Be sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible to prevent freezer burn. You can also purchase frozen fruits out-of-season. Just check the labels to make sure they were not dowsed in sugar prior to freezing.
  • Look for pick-your-own farms that allow you to pick your own fruit for less. Take the whole family and enjoy some fresh air and exercise!
  • Eat yogurt instead of ice cream for snacks. I know that Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart and Kroger superstores frequently have low prices for yogurt. Stock up with enough to last several days. To save even more, buy large cartons of plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit.
  • Skip the pre-sweetened cereal and replace with oatmeal or other hot cereal. A large box of 1-minute oatmeal contains 30 servings and costs $ 1.99 for the generic kind (oatmeal is oatmeal!). Each serving contains 4 grams of fiber. Add fresh/frozen fruit or a teaspoon of natural jelly (100% fruit) for sweetener.
  • Buy fresh vegetables in season, grow your own (tomatoes can be grown in pots on the patio if you don’t have a yard or garden), or purchase frozen vegetables. Vegetables are frozen at the peak of ripeness and contain as many vitamins and minerals as fresh. Instead of using rich sauces, steam your veggies and season with fresh herbs—which you can also grow easily in pots on your window sill or patio. Stock up on frozen vegetables when your grocery has a sale.
  • Meats and beans are good sources of protein. Lean meats are more expensive than meats with lots of fat, but still substantially less expensive than paying high medical bills incurred from consuming a high fat, less nutritive diet.
  • Watch your portion sizes. Even an adult male, 35 years old who exercises more than 1 hour a day (in addition to regular routine) only needs 7 ounces of meat or beans a day spread over 3 meals. Cook only enough of those foods to give everyone the recommended amount. For a family of 5, 1 pound of ground chuck would be enough to give Dad 4 ounces, Mom 3 ounces, a 10 year old boy and 8 year old twin girls 3 ounces each. Those are the serving sizes recommended by the new USDA guidelines. (A 3-ounce portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.)
  • Skip the bacon. Bacon is expensive, very high in fat, and offers little or no nutritional value.
  • Use beans frequently as a meat substitute. There are many varieties, they can be prepared in a crock-pot so that dinner is ready when you get home, and they contain lots of fiber to improve regularity. The USDA recommends eating beans 4 times per week. If you have a problem with gas after eating beans, try washing them, covering with water, bringing water to a boil, then draining off water and refilling pot. You can also use Beano—a natural plant enzyme—if you have problems with gas.
  • If you live in a coastal area or an area near fresh-water lakes where fish is plentiful, make that a staple in your diet.
  • Purchase chicken or turkey on sale and freeze. Again, be aware of healthful portion sizes. Some chicken breasts are large enough for 2-3 servings. Don’t cook more than you need.
  • Peanut butter is inexpensive and popular with almost everyone. Use it for sandwiches instead of hot dogs or lunch meat, and buy natural peanut butter if it is available in your area. It does need to be refrigerated, since the oil rises to the top at room temperature, but it does not contain the unhealthy partially-hydrogenated fats that are in other peanut butters.
  • Fill up with foods that have a high water content. Salad greens, watermelon, and sugar free gelatin are some good examples. Serve a green salad at the beginning of each dinner, topped with a small amount of low-calorie dressing, vinegar and oil, or a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Whole wheat bread is normally more expensive than white bread, but since white bread usually has little, if any fiber or nutritional value, it is worth the extra money. If you have a bakery outlet nearby, stock up on day-old bread and freeze. I live near a Wonder Bread outlet store, and a loaf of whole wheat bread costs $ .99. If your family doesn’t like the course texture of most whole wheat breads, try different brands until you find one you find acceptable. Make sure they label says 100% whole grain and lists the first ingredient as whole wheat flour.
  • If you live in a small town or rural area and do not have a large supermarket or discount grocery nearby, consider making a trip once a month to a larger town to stock up on lower-priced non-perishable foods.

Here’s to your health!

Bev Grey is author of "The Project", and founder and president of Grandma's Healthy Kids Club, an in-home program to help children lose weight safely or just improve their eating and exercise habits.
Visit the website at http://www.grandmashealthykidsclub.com to learn more about the program and see a sample children's newsletter.