Jan. 29, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- When family budgets get tight, it's tempting to reach for bargain boxes of macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles.
But if you do the nutritional math, there are better food bargains at the grocery store.
Nutrient-rich, inexpensive vegetables, legumes and grains are better options than most cheap convenience food, said Sharon Stroud, a certified nutritionist at Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) , 1401 E. 41st St. Stroud leads regular tours through the market to show shoppers how to get more nutrition for their money.
"I have people tell me all the time they can't afford to eat healthy," Stroud said.
But the long-term medical expense of eating unhealthy foods is something people should also consider, she said. Many inexpensive convenience foods are loaded with salt, sugar and trans fats that offer little nutritional value and lots of empty calories.
Nutritional guidelines recommend at least nine servings of fruits or vegetables per day, and if you're eating all nine, you're not going to have as much room in your diet for junk food, Stroud said.
Her basic rules to follow for shopping cheap and healthy:
Buy seasonal and on sale: Butternut squash in season during fall and winter months is a nutritional bargain, so try to plan menus around what's on sale and in season.
Buy bulk: Whole grains and dried legumes are cheapest when purchased in bulk.Convenience packages of these foods may give you 1-4 servings, whereas
a bulk package can provide 20 or more servings.
Fill up: Bulking up your diet by adding fruits and vegetablesinto every meal will help fill you up, keep you from snacking on junk and trim the calorie content of your food.
Conventional: Organic is usually your healthiest option,Stroud said. But if you're trying to save money by buying conventionally grown produce, the vegetables and fruits least likely to have pesticides on them, according to Environmental Working Group, are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi and bananas.
More bang for your buck: Add these foods to your shopping list
Skip the convenience foods and fill your grocery cart with these instead.
Beets: These roots are rich in folate and antioxidants. Fresh, raw and grated in salad is the healthiest way to eat beets, but you can also roast them, and the greens are also nutritious.
Cabbage: This cheap, cruciferous veggie is loaded with nutrients, but some are unlocked only by the cooking process -- so try it braised in addition to slaws and salads.
Canned sardines and chunk light tuna: Sardines are rich in heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids and calcium and have the bonus of being low in mercury. Chunk light tuna has less mercury than albacore, Stroud said, and it's an inexpensive, fast source of healthy protein. Mix either into salads to eat on wholegrain crackers or bread.
Butternut squash or canned pumpkin: Both are beta-carotene- rich bargains that fill you without lots of calories. Mash with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Oats: High-fiber and cholesterol-reducing, oats are a nutritional bargain, especially when bought in bulk. Try steel-cut oats for breakfast topped with fruit and nuts.
Eggs: One of the cheapest sources of protein at about $1 to $3 per dozen, and they can be scrambled with chopped vegetables and herbs for a quick, nutritious meal.
Kale: This inexpensive green is considered a superfood rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and it's easy to add to soups and stir-fries or eat on its own, braised or roasted.
Nuts and seeds: The healthy fats and proteins found in walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds should be a part of everyone's diet. Buy raw, unsalted ones in bulk and eat small portions for energy boosting snacks or sprinkle on salads.
Beans: These powerhouses add protein and fiber to your diet -- whether you slow cook dried beans that have been soaked overnight or opt for the quicker canned versions. Try quicker cooking lentils on busy weeknights and bean spreads such as hummus for a protein-rich snack, Stroud said.
Whole grains: Brown rice, whole-grain pasta, quinoa and other nutrient-rich grains are the key to quick, healthy weeknight dinners, especially when mixed with nutritious vegetables, beans and legumes.
Cary Aspinwall 581-8477 firstname.lastname@example.org
Newstex ID: KRTB-0205-31324988