Tips for Eating Healthy During Tough Economic Times

Rising costs for energy and food can make trips to the grocery store more expensive and difficult for the average American family but there are things we can do to offset those issues and learn to eat healthy for less.

Stacey Gusman, Nurse Practitioner at Our Lady of Victory Hospital, has some good advice for families coping with higher food costs and tighter budgets. "There are many ways to save and still eat a healthy diet. Buying whole produce instead of individual servings is a first step to getting more fruit and vegetables into your family's diet. Planning ahead, shopping sale items for healthier foods and looking for generic or store brands also can help keep costs down."

Buying protein on a budget can be a little more difficult. Meat purchases are often significantly more expensive than protein substitutes like beans, eggs, or peanut butter so choose substitutes for some of your meals. When buying meats, look for leaner cuts and less prepared items. Pre-marinated meats might seem like a good idea but you can do it at home for far less.

Ironically, the most economical sources of animal protein also have the highest protein quality. The protein in things like eggs and milk most closely match the protein of human tissue, so the body uses it very efficiently.

Minimizing the purchase of prepared foods is another way to save money and eat healthier. Buying less-processed grains in bulk is another way to save. Gusman recommends plain brown rice instead of boxed rice mixes and big containers of quick-cooking oats instead of individual packets of instant oatmeal.

Eating seasonally is another good way to stretch your budget and maintain good nutrition. In summer, melons go a long way, and they are some of the healthiest fruits around. Watermelon and cantaloupe are full of antioxidants, and are also a terrific source of potassium. Apples and oranges are around all winter, and they're at their peak then. Buy them by the bag and you'll save a bundle. A box of super sweet Clementines may be $7, but you get up to 30 fruit for that price.

Beans are probably the top nutrition on any diet and cost very little. Any type you like -- pinto, black, red, kidney -- they're all tops and count as both a vegetable and a protein food. They're also a vegetable that kids and adults like. They go in everything -- soups, salads, stir-fries, rice and pasta dishes. Plus, the canned ones are just fine and still among the best buys anywhere.

One other part of eating better on a budget involves ditching some of the wasted stuff. Sugar-water beverages -- of all colors -- are a total waste of money. If you really need a sweet beverage and you insist on it having sugar, then some homemade iced tea does the trick for next to nothing, plus tea is healthy.

On the savory side, ditch the chips and pretzels. Invest in a hot-air popper and make popcorn -- the cheapest snack of all -- and it's even a whole grain treat. As an added bonus, clean up is easy because you don't use oil. Spray air-popped popcorn lightly with butter-flavored popcorn spray (it has no calories), and flavor it with all kinds of herbs, or just a little salt.

Eat smart with some of these tips and you and the family will eat better, save money, and have healthier bodies. Touch economic times does not mean we have to give up eating healthy.