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Health food doesn’t have to be a budget buster

Considering the nation’s current economic crisis, many of us are looking for ways to trim the daily budget. But the pressure to buy healthy foods leaves us tempted to frequent high-end grocers that offer organic fare and specialized “health foods” at high prices. No need to worry, there are numerous healthful options available at general supermarkets that don’t have to break the bank.

Follow these tips to shrink your waistline not your wallet:

Shop the periphery of the grocery store. Here you will find the fundamentals of a healthy diet: lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fresh produce. An added bonus: These foods are mostly unprocessed and preservative- and chemical-free.
Buy produce in season. Fruits and vegetables that are out of season cost more and are not as fresh and tasty as the seasonal ones.
Consider frozen fruits and vegetables. They provide the same vitamins and minerals and will last longer.
• Resist the urge to buy pre-packaged, pre-cut, washed or already chopped/shredded items. They may save you time, but they’re always more expensive.
Buy in bulk. Buying à la carte costs more, so opt for the bag of oranges instead of just one or two. If you have the willpower, buy larger bags of snack items and portion out the servings yourself.
• Increase your protein intake. Add canned tuna or chicken, dried or canned beans or eggs to dishes. Try Greek yogurt, which provides almost three times the amount of protein as regular yogurt, at the same price.
Avoid marinated meats. Not only are these more expensive, but they are higher in sodium as well.
No need to buy “fat-free” items. They are always more expensive than the real or lighter versions, plus a lot of fat-free products contain unnecessary additives like sugars or starches.
If organic is preferred, splurge on dairy products and meats, which are the most beneficial.
Check out your local farmers’ market. Good values can be found there, particularly on produce in season. Added benefit: You will be supporting local vendors, and the nutrient value of the fresh fruits and vegetables are usually at their peak. Healthy tip: Locally produced honey (the closer to home, the better) can help with seasonal allergies by acting as an immune booster. Enjoy in small amounts to be most effective, about a tablespoon a day.
High-end vitamins aren’t necessarily better. Nutrients are best absorbed through natural foods. If your diet is lacking, any type of multivitamin will do the trick.

More food for thought: Limit eating out. Make dishes that provide leftovers, so you can bring your lunch to work (you will not only save money but calories, too). Try an economical “one dish” meal such as vegetable soup with beans.

The reality is that eating healthfully can be budget-friendly. Cutting back in just a few ways and making better choices can add up to loads of savings!

Butternut Squash Soup Makes about 6 cups
Courtesy of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen

Seasoning Mix: 1 tablespoon Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Vegetable Magic®, ¾ teaspoon Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Sweetie Magic®, 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

One 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk, 3 cups de-fatted chicken stock, in all
10 tablespoons nonfat dry milk, 1½ cups finely diced butternut squash
3½ cups medium-diced butternut squash (see note), One to four 1-gram packets artificial sweetener, optional

Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl.

Make the “creamy mixture” — place the evaporated milk and dry milk in a blender or food processor and process until smooth and creamy; set aside.

Place the medium-chopped squash and 2 cups of stock in a blender or food processor and purée as finely as possible to a very thick paste. If the blending process stops because the mixture is too thick, add small amounts of stock as necessary to allow the process to continue. When the mixture is completely puréed, add any remaining stock, along with the seasoning mix, and blend thoroughly.

Preheat a heavy 5-quart pot, preferably nonstick, over high heat to 350°, about 4 minutes.

Place the puréed squash into the pot and cook, frequently scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot, until the mixture thickens and comes to a full, rolling boil, creating many “volcanoes” that bubble constantly. Add the creamy mixture and the finely diced squash, reduce the heat to low, and stir well. Caution: Dishes using creamy blended mixtures can “break” or curdle easily if they are brought to a full boil. Therefore, bring the liquid just to a gentle boil, and stir immediately. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat, taste, and if desired, add up to 4 packets of your favorite artificial sweetener.

Note: This is the size you’ll need to dice the squash if you use a blender. With a food processor, the pieces don’t have to be so small, but if the mixture does not become completely puréed, use a blender.
Copyright © 1998 by Paul Prudhomme