Eating Well for Less
By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Greater Michiana
March is National Nutrition Month, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This year’s theme is “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” an encouragement to try healthier versions of our favorite dishes and to explore recipes from other cultures as well.
My culinary heritage is American Midwestern: a “good meal” at Grandma’s table included a large piece of meat, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked macaroni and cheese, yeast rolls, boiled green beans with bacon, and a slice of cream pie for dessert. I think I need a registered dietitian’s help to come up with a healthy rendition of that feast!
The meals we eat and the portions we consume are major factors in our overall health. Choosing a balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods in appropriate serving sizes helps our bodies work and feel better. However, many of us grew up with fatty, carb-loaded dishes and the “clean your plate” ethic, both of which can lead to health problems in the long run.
How can we reconcile the foods we love with the foods we are supposed to eat? And how can we afford to eat well in these tight economic times?
First, we can brush up on the best recommendations. The website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eatright.org, is an excellent resource for more individualized guidance. In general, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (like lentils and beans), and fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel) contain a concentration and variety of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. So in order to get the most nutritional bang for our buck, these are the staple groceries we should purchase.
Next, we can look for overlap. With a little tweaking, we can transform some of our best-loved meals into healthier (and perhaps even tastier!) options. One example from my kitchen comes to mind: spaghetti night. Instead of ground beef in the sauce, try cooked and drained lentils and some frozen peas. Exchange regular noodles for whole wheat pasta (I use a discount-store brand that our family likes). Make an easy salad out of on-sale produce, and consider adding chopped hard-boiled eggs. Voilà! Cheaper and more nutritious than the original.
Third, we can discover new favorites. We could commit to trying a new fresh fruit or vegetable as a family each week this month. Oven-roasted veggies are easy to prepare and can be quite delicious. We could also dive into the “Celebrate a World of Flavors” theme by experimenting with some international cuisine: simply choose a recipe and give it a try!
Last but not least, we can measure our serving sizes. Eating too much food expands both our food budgets and our waistlines. If we are feeling hungry, enjoying more servings of colorful vegetables and fruit can help fill us up and slim us down.
Additional ways we can stretch our grocery dollars include cooking at home instead of eating out; planning meals and making a shopping list; shopping sales, discount stores, and farm markets; growing a vegetable garden; and drinking water instead of soda or sweetened coffee drinks.
During National Nutrition Month, let’s eat better and save money by trying our old favorites in a fresh, nutritious way. Bon appetit!