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Simple Substitutes to Help Save Money while Eating Healthy

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0222homespunweb1.jpgRISMEDIA, Feb. 22, 2008-(MCT)-This is the time of year when we turn our thoughts to making our meals more healthful, trying to live up to our resolutions to banish some of the bad stuff from the table.

But it’s also the time of year our budgets are tightest, as the holiday bills come due.

Luckily, trimming food costs doesn’t mean you can’t also trim fat, sugar, sodium and other bad guys from your daily dinners. We know, because two local nutritionists assured us it’s possible. Often, the cheaper solution is also the more healthful one.

From registered dietitian and nutrition counselor Valerie Henderson, president of the Fort Worth Dietetic Association, and Texas Christian University Nutrition Department Chairwoman Anne VanBeber, here’s some advice on how to replace costlier ingredients with more economical ones:

Instead of:
Snacking on chips or heavily salted and salt- and additive-laden microwave popcorn .. .. .

Try this:
Make your own popcorn on the stove. “Popcorn kernels cost around $1 per bag,” says Henderson, “and you can pop dozens of servings.” You also can control what goes into your popcorn.

Choose a large, lidded skillet or saucepan, heat about a tablespoon of canola oil with a couple of kernels until the kernels pop; then add more kernels, cover and cook on medium heat, shaking the pan over the burner to keep the popcorn from burning, and salt lightly.

Instead of:
Buying skinless, boneless chicken breasts or tenders …

Try this:
The cheapest option by the pound is buying a whole chicken. Next cheapest: pre-cut, bone-in, skin-on chicken. Bone-in chicken roasts better than boneless, because it stays juicer. If you leave the skin on while cooking and then remove it, you still get flavor and juiciness benefits. Remove the skin after cooking to cut fat.

“The less processed the chicken is when you buy it, the less expensive it will be,” says VanBeber. “A whole chicken may be around $2 per pound, versus around $4-$5 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken tender strips.”

Consider chicken thighs. They do contain a little more fat than breasts, but not much; just trim all visible fat. They also have more iron, and because they are juicier, they take well to low-fat cooking methods. They also have more flavor, making them better suited to stews, soups, casseroles and other cooking methods that make smaller amounts of meat stretch further.

Instead of:
Buying expensive sugary sodas …

Try this:
Refill your water bottle. Besides being cheaper, “it’s better for your teeth, bones and waistline,” says Henderson.

Instead of:
Buying pricey, sugary dry cereals …

Try this:
Eat oatmeal for breakfast. You can cook regular oatmeal with milk or water right in the microwave, so no need to buy the more expensive, sugared-up instant oatmeal. And if you cook it with raisins and cinnamon, or stir in chunks of your favorite fruit, you won’t need to add much sugar. “More fiber and lots of antioxidants!” says Henderson.

Instead of:
Assuming meat is essential at every meal …

Try this:
Think “flexitarian.” Meat doesn’t have to be the dominant item for every meal; “most Americans eat far more protein than we actually need, anyway,” says Henderson.

Incorporate colorful vegetables into an omelet or frittata for a one-dish supper. “Eggs cost about 10 to 20 cents apiece,” VanBeber notes, and are high in protein (to cut fat and cholesterol, substitute two egg whites for one whole egg in any recipe). Even if you do add meat _ chicken, turkey, low-fat ham _ you need use only a little.

Consider chili, soups, stews, casseroles or jambalayas; then cut back on the amount of meat and pump up the beans, lentils or whole grains such as barley. For another meal, leftover chili can top a baked potato, which Henderson notes is usually one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy.

Red beans and rice, or pintos and cornbread, are good supper choices; cook them without meat or use just a bit.

Pairing legumes (beans, lentils, black-eyed and other types of field peas) with rice or bread gives you a complete protein, says VanBeber, who notes that canned beans average 5 grams of fiber per 6 ½-cup serving.


Anne VanBeber assigns has her TCU meal-management classes to create a two-course meal for four people for $10 or less. Sample menus:

Rosemary baked chicken thighs, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed green beans, chocolate pudding

Vegetarian casserole of pinto beans, rice and canned tomatoes; Parmesan bread; vanilla yogurt with strawberries and bananas

Beef stroganoff (using ground beef), glazed carrots, tossed salad, peanut-butter cookies

Zucchini stuffed with bread crumbs, tomatoes and herbs; cheese toast; pudding parfait with granola and strawberries

© 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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