Sunday, September 4, 2011

Healthy Eating on a Budget

The importance of healthy eating is all over the news these days, but many families feel that ‘healthy meals’ means ‘expensive meals.’

In today’s economy, watching the wallet is important. There are ways to eat healthy, balanced meals at equal or less costs than unhealthy food.

“It takes a little grocery planning,” said Amy Hamilton Forester, FirstHealth RMH outreach coordinator and Happy Kitchen facilitator.

Checking grocery sales ads and looking for coupons before you go to the grocery store can add up to big savings.

Meat items, like chicken, can be purchased on sale and frozen for later use.

Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach.

While good for you, fresh fruit can drive up a grocery bill - especially if it’s out of season. Instead of paying premium price for fresh watermelon in February, stick to what’s in season and less expensive. Fruits canned in water or their own juice may go on sale before the fresh ones, the same with frozen fruit. Steer clear of fruits canned in syrup - that’s just excess sugar.

Try not to let cravings dictate your shopping.

“People get a craving for something and buy it already made - their wallets and their health suffers because of it,” said Forester. “Making things isn’t as hard as people think. It’s a way to save money and stay away from the pre-packaged food items all at once.”

Don’t be afraid to buy generic brands. They’re usually significantly cheaper, and comparable in quality.

Go green. Green veggies - frozen or fresh - are filling and loaded with vitamins. Hearty greens, like turnips, mustard greens and kale can be a meal in themselves.

Beans can be an inexpensive meat substitute. Loaded with protein and fiber, beans can be the staple of many meals. Stock up when dried beans are on sale, and try different veggie combinations to make interesting and inexpensive meals.

“People think we need more meat than we do,” said Forester. “Most people tend to eat far more than a serving size, and think that meat needs to be a part of every meal. That’s just not the case”

“If people cut back on meat intake, and eat more beans and vegetables, they will see a difference in the money they spend on groceries - and their weight,” she said.

Take a few minutes to pack a lunch before heading off to work. Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner will be cheaper and usually healthier than a burger or burrito.

Trade in sodas for tap water in a reusable bottle. Studies show that even diet sodas can wreck a waistline, and tap water is the cheapest and healthiest drink around.

Skip paying big bucks for snacks in single-serving containers. Portion size is important, but dole out your own servings instead. Limit snacks like potato chips and candy to an occasional treat, and your waist and wallet will thank you.

Look for whole, unprocessed foods and avoid things like frozen meals or processed meats. Keep in mind that, in most cases, the closer a food is to its natural state the better it will be for you. All that packaging only serves to drive up the price anyway.

Eating healthy, whole, foods does take a little more work in the kitchen - but one meal can provide leftovers for days.

Try your hand at making your own version of fast food favorites. Things like chicken soft tacos and home made pot pies are surprisingly fast and easy to make - and you know exactly what ingredients are in them.

“Even something like a homemade version of Hamburger Helper is incredibly easy and inexpensive to make,” said Forester.

Just being conscious of food choices when shopping and eating can go a long way in identifying ways to cut costs and boost health.

- Staff writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 18, or by email at

Healthy & Quick Recipe for Black-Eyed Peas with Pork and Greens


  • 1 pound(s) boneless pork chops, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2teaspoon(s) salt, divided
  • 1/4teaspoon(s) freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon(s) canola oil
  • 1medium onion, chopped
  • 2tablespoon(s) tomato paste
  • 1cup(s) instant brown rice
  • 8cup(s) roughly chopped kale or turnip green leaves (about 1 small bunch), tough stems removed
  • 4clove(s) garlic, minced
  • 1can(s) (14-ounce) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2tablespoon(s) cider vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2teaspoon(s) paprika or chili peppers
  • 1can(s) (15-ounce) black-eyed peas, rinsed (or about 1/2 cup of dried beans)


  1. Toss pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  2. Add onion, tomato paste and rice to the pan and cook until the onion softens, about 4 minutes. Add kale and garlic and cook until the kale begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth, vinegar, paprika and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the rice is done, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved pork and black-eyed peas and heat for 1 minute.

Yields: 6 servings, about 1 1/3 cups each

Total Time: 45 min

And remember, the great thing about cooking is the ability to be creative. Don’t be afraid to add or subtract ingredients as they’re available. Cooking should be fun and easy - substitute flavors and mix things up.

Recipe courtesy