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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Food Budgeting Tips


In the past few weeks, I've been gathering together news articles about food budgeting, which has been a surprisingly popular topic. Articles in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and even The New York Times have been including tips on how to eat healthily on a limited budget - a skill that is particularly important in an economic recession. Studies have shown that those with lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their budgets on food. However, all of us could use a little help these days. The Detroit Free Press published an article last week called "Top 10 foods healthy for bodies, budgets" that is especially helpful. According to Robin Miller, host of "Quick Fix Meals With Robin Miller" on Food Network, there are a lot of foods out there that are both nutritious and inexpensive. Here are her top ten:

1. Pasta. Miller likes whole-wheat pasta because it's cheap and satisfying. "It's got more fiber, which is wonderful, but it also fills you up more quickly, so you're likely to eat less."

2. Canned beans. "Put them into soup or stew and they stretch a meal," she says. They're rich in folate and fiber. "A big bang for your buck."

3. Yogurt. "Yogurt is always on sale," she says, sometimes for as little as 50 cents per cup. Yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

4. Canned tomatoes. Miller is never without this pantry staple: stewed, diced, petite diced, whatever. The canned version has more cancer-fighting lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and it adds flavor and color to soups and sauces.

5. Asparagus. Not usually considered a budget item, but vitamin C-rich asparagus in March is cheaper because it's in season.

6. Oats. "Cereal is so expensive. It's like $4 for a box of air," Miller says. Oatmeal is a hearty, nutritious and inexpensive way to start the day.

7. Brown rice. Brown rice has extra B vitamins and more fiber than white rice.

8. Almonds. Plain almonds are inexpensive when bought in bulk. Miller loves them to round out a meal with a burst of protein.

9. Eggs. Eggs are hard to pass up because of the price. "How many times can you get 12 things for a dollar? Never." Miller likes to make frittata for dinner. "It's a great, affordable, protein-packed food."

 10. Canned or pouched salmon. Fresh salmon is expensive, but salmon in a pouch has more calcium because it's processed with the bones.

As Mark Bittman puts it in his New York Times' blog, real food is simply cheaper than junk food. If you can learn how to be creative in the kitchen, you'll realize that home-cooked meals can be made for a fraction of the cost. If you need help learning the basics, there are plenty of cookbooks out there that provide good descriptions and great recipes. A few include "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by TV chef Ina Garten, Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and "Cooking Know-How," by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.