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Eating Well on a Budget

by Anita H. King, DNP, FNP-C, FAADE

When buying groceries, try to shop midweek and on a full stomach. Also try to avoid taking children along so that you can maintain your focus. Early-morning shopping may yield markdowns in the produce and meat departments as well as “end of the day” sales on items from the previous day such as bakery and deli items. Be aware that products at eye level tend to be more expensive; look high and low on the shelves for lower prices. Generic or store-brand items can be significantly less expensive than, and similar in quality to, name-brand items.

Take the time to check labels for hidden sugars and trans fat; to limit trans fat, avoid any product that lists partially hydrogenated oil in its ingredients list. Compare unit pricing, and weigh items to check for labeling accuracy, using the customer scales provided for produce. To avoid impulse buying, focus only on the items on your shopping list. The displays at the ends of aisles may look enticing, but they are not necessarily good buys. Purchase meat in bulk when it’s on sale, and freeze what you won’t use immediately. The deli department will usually slice a large block of meat or cheese for free, saving you money on presliced, prepackaged deli meats and cheeses.

Avoid buying processed foods sold in boxes, which tend to be both expensive and of lower nutritional quality than fresh or canned alternatives. Shopping the perimeter of the store will usually lead to the healthiest choices. Skip the specialty-food aisles, since cooking for diabetes requires only simple staples, with an abundance of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits. You may find good deals on produce or other items at your local farmer’s market, where prices may drop just before closing time. Or try negotiating with a local farmer for whatever produce is in season; he may have a surplus he’s trying to get rid of.

Prepare your own food
Learn how to prepare healthy meals with simple ingredients, then make a point of having those ingredients on hand. Just after you go grocery shopping, take the time to do your own chopping, dividing, freezing, mixing, and storing of your foods to prepare for quick meals on busy days. Cook in bulk and freeze half of what you make when feasible, such as when making soups and stews. When a dish cannot easily be frozen, cook enough for at least two meals, and immediately refrigerate half of it for the next day. Use leftovers for meals at work or school. Repackage bulk foods into smaller servings as needed.

Shop at yard sales or consignment stores for low-cost, used Crock-Pots, pressure cookers, countertop grills, mixers, and other kitchenware that can make you more productive in the kitchen. Crock-Pots allow almost labor-free cooking, since you can put seasoned food in it before work and have a hot meal when you get home. Steaming, grilling, and broiling your foods are quick and easy ways to prepare them. Stir-frying vegetables with a small amount of oil and meat can also make for quick and healthy meals.

Always have whole-grain rice or pasta prepared and available in the refrigerator for a quick side or to add to salads and casseroles. If you’re up for a challenge, bake your own bread; it will keep in the freezer for up to three months. Stretch your meat in sauces and soups with healthy “fillers” such as oatmeal, brown rice, and grated carrots, onions, and squash. Use ripened bananas with yogurt and low-fat milk to make smoothies in your blender, rather than buying premade smoothies. Add a couple of teaspoons of baking soda to simmering water to restore the vibrant color of wilted vegetables, rather than simply throwing them out.

Use the plate method
The plate method is an easy-to-understand guide to what foods should be on your plate. Using this method simply means filling roughly one quarter of your plate with each of the following food groups: lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrate foods. Select colorful vegetables and fruits (think of a rainbow) to provide a range of essential vitamins and minerals. Season foods with low-sodium spices and herbs, and serve low-fat dairy products and water on the side.

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