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Good Food on a Tight Budget

Tips to Get Top Value from Each Dollar by Kathleen Barnes


or many, the recent economic downturn has affected the way we shop for food. Even families that cook dinner at home most nights are struggling to afford the ingredients to make healthy meals, says Laura Seman, a senior manager for Cooking Matters, a national program that educates fami- lies in need about reaping the most from local food resources.

“Putting good food on the family

table on a five-or-six-dollar-a-day per person budget is tough, but it’s possi- ble,” advises Nutritionist Dawn Undur- raga, a registered dietitian and co- author of the Environmental Working Group’s online publication, Good Food on a Tight Budget. “Even eating for one is doable for under $200 a month. When you fill your cart with the foods listed, you’re building health, lower- ing exposure to agricultural chemicals, protecting the environment and cutting grocery bills.”

In considering how consumers can maximize nutritional value in their spending, researchers examined 1,200 foods to help people get beyond the common perception that eat- ing healthy is expensive. “We looked at food prices, nutri- ents, pesticides, environmental pollutants and artificial ingredi- ents,” says Undurraga. “Then we chose the top 100 or so, based on balancing all of those factors.”

Think Outside the Box

Some of the EWG find- ings might surprise many of us:

4 Raw cabbage is the top-ranked food because of its price and high

nutritional value as a crucifer- ous vegetable. For less than 10 cents a serving, it poses far fewer calories than potatoes and is a worthy addition to salads, soups and stir-fries.

34 Hudson County

4 The next highest marks for price and nutrition spotlight carrots, bananas, pears, watermelon and frozen broccoli, each at less than 30 cents a serving.

4 Bananas and pears usually cost less than apples, plus they customarily en- dure fewer pesticide applications.

4 The best animal protein award goes to roasted turkey; hot dogs ranked last.

4 The next-best animal protein identi- fied is a whole chicken, roasted at the beginning of the week and used in vari- ous ways for future meals.

4 Fresh, whole carrots and sweet pota- toes are among the best produce buys, but frozen corn and broccoli almost always cost less than their fresh equiva- lents and are just as nutritious.

4 A serving of oatmeal is half the cost of sugary processed cereals, plus it’s more filling and causes less fluctuation in blood sugar levels.

4 Canned salmon is almost always wild caught and is much cheaper than fresh, but be wary of BPA (bisphenol-A) migration from the can.

4 Queso blanco, a mild, soft, white cheese common in Latino cooking, is both less expensive and less processed than many other cheeses.

Change Our Routine Tracie McMillan, of Ann Arbor, Michi- gan, author of the bestselling book, The American Way of Eating, learned how to eat on a tight budget as an undercov- er journalist. She had to budget for food based on wages working on a farm in California, in the produce department of a Michigan superstore and in a New York City restaurant kitchen. The task was even more difficult because she was determined to eat as healthy as possible. “Time and energy are key ingre- dients when cooking from scratch,” says McMillan. “I was exhausted after a day spent working these physically demanding jobs and quickly became more apathetic about healthy food than I generally am.”

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