Eating Right (and Cheaply)

By Reina V. Kutner

December 4, 2009 6 min read

The economy has taken a toll on many families across the country. Layoffs are everywhere, so many people are scared for security and want to cut back on costs -- all while getting good, nutritious food on the table.

When my husband and I were out of work simultaneously, we had to deal with a new budget. Living off our unemployment checks, we had to rethink the way we ate -- all while still trying to stay healthy. I looked to my mother for inspiration; when my sister and I were little, she had to provide healthy meals for us while my father was laid off and we were living mainly on her teacher's salary.

It may be tempting to resort to buying cheap fast food, but that is not the best way to keep your body working at its best and give your kids the nutrition they need. But don't fret; there are plenty of ways to stay healthy despite difficult times. Follow these tips to make your dollars go further at the grocery:

*Look at the unit price of each item, or how much each serving costs. For example, if a $1.50 box of pasta has eight servings, it actually costs approximately 19 cents per serving. Most groceries list them, but if yours doesn't, just divide the price by the number of servings.

*Reconsider your proteins. Cuts of meat vary in price. Some are much more expensive than others. For a cheaper and healthier option, poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is your best bet. Ground beef is good if you would like red meat, but make sure its fat percentage is small.

*Don't forget vegetarian options. When we were children, my mother would make us beans and rice, just as her mother did when they were poor. They not only are tasty and inexpensive but also have lots of nutrients. Tofu and "mock meats" are cheap and good sources of protein, so don't hesitate to cook with them to replace meat several times a week.

*Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. When they are not in season, they have to be shipped from different parts of the world, which is expensive. However, certain staples -- such as potatoes, onions, garlic, celery, lettuce and carrots -- tend to have lower price tags no matter the season.

*Canned and frozen items are inexpensive and major timesavers in the kitchen. Stock up on canned corn, beans and tuna, or get spinach, broccoli and peas in the freezer aisle. The nutrients are still there, and they will last longer than fresh items. Just remember: Drain and rinse canned items in order to get rid of that from-the-can taste.

*Look to your backyard. If you have the space and a green thumb, grow your own fruits and vegetables. If you feel uncomfortable, start with herbs; you can save lots of money by growing your own basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano versus buying them at a store. Tomatoes are also an easy-to-grow option.

*If all else fails, do it the old-fashioned way: Look for sales at your local grocery, and clip coupons from your local newspaper. There are also Web sites that specialize in coupons.

If you are having a hard time getting the kids to eat healthy foods, allow their food to be fun. Vegetarian noodle bowls have a lot of vegetables and protein and will allow them to slurp their noodles. Turkey joes have all the joy of sloppy joes, and ground turkey is less fattening and more flavorful than beef.

VEGETARIAN NOODLE BOWLS

1 pound fettuccini or udon noodles

2 tablespoons oil

1 box of soy strips or 1 block of tofu, cut into cubes and soaked in teriyaki sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 scallions, cut into 1/8-inch pieces

1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 cup snow peas

1 can stir-fry veggies

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup honey

Cook and drain noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or wok with oil over medium heat.

Add the soy strips or tofu.

Add garlic, red pepper, scallions, carrots, snow peas and can of stir-fry veggies to the soy strips. Season with salt and pepper.

Make sure they are all cooked through. Combine the veggie mix with the noodles.

In a small bowl, combine honey and soy sauce until smooth. Pour over the noodles and vegetables. Mix and serve.

TURKEY JOES

Servings: 4-6

2 pounds ground turkey

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

Dash salt and pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 cup barbecue sauce

2 teaspoons mustard

2 teaspoons honey

Hamburger buns

Season turkey with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.

Add onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Allow onion to become slightly brown. Remove to a small bowl, and add the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Add ground turkey, and stir in pan until cooked thoroughly.

Add the onions and garlic back, as well as the flour. Stir until flour absorbs the juices from the meat.

Add the barbecue sauce, honey, mustard and rice vinegar. Stir until every piece is coated completely.

Serve on hamburger buns.

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