Healthy economy: Nutrition and shopping strategies

By: Janice Daciuk

Author: Canadian Living


Healthy economy: Nutrition and shopping strategies

By: Janice Daciuk

Yes, you can have healthy, inexpensive meals that taste great. Try these 12 delicious main-course recipes that cost about $15 for a family of four. Add the following nutrition advice, wise shopping strategies and health tips, and you have all the right ingredients for smart cooking for your family.

Food Guide
Following Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating will help ensure that you and your family get all the nutrients you need to grow, work and be healthy. But remember that it is just that – a guide. The number of servings you need every day from the four food groups depends on your age, size, gender and activity level. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, with small children at the lower end and male teenagers, very active people and pregnant and breast-feeding women at the higher end.

With that in mind, aim for five to 12 servings of grain products: a single serving is one slice of bread; 3/4 cup (175 mL) hot cereal, such as oatmeal; or 1/2 cup (125 mL) pasta or rice. You need five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit: one serving is a medium-size piece of fruit; one cup (250 mL) salad; 1/2 cup (125 mL) juice; or 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit. Healthy adults require two to four servings of milk products: one cup (250 mL) of milk, 3/4 cup (175 g) of yogurt or two slices or 50 g of cheese is one serving. Aim for two to three servings of meat and alternatives: a two- to three-ounce (50 to 100 g) portion of meat, poultry or fish is considered one serving. But this group doesn't mean meat only: one egg, 1/2 cup (125 mL) canned beans, two tablespoons (30 mL) peanut butter or 1/3 cup (100 g) tofu can each be counted as one serving.

Sizing up a serving
- One ounce of cheese = the size of your thumb
- Three ounces of meat, poultry or fish = the size of a deck of cards or computer mouse
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) cut fruit or vegetables, pasta or rice = the size of a large egg or golf ball
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) cut fruit or vegetables, pasta or rice = the size of a child's fist or rounded handful
- One cup (250 mL) milk or salad = the size of a baseball or an adult's fist

To check out Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating visit or contact your local public-health department.

Page 1 of 3 - Read page two for tips on buying fruits, veggies and dairy!

Vegetables and Fruit

• Eat whole fruit more often. Whole fruit may cost more than juice, but you'll get the added benefits of fibre and, in some cases, more vitamins and minerals.

• Use canned fruit in yogurt, smoothies, milk shakes, puddings and fruit salads and on fruit plates. Toss mandarin orange segments and toasted walnuts into green salads. Nutritionally speaking, canned, fresh and frozen produce are all approximately the same.

• Plain frozen vegetables are a good buy because they're quick and easy to prepare, with less waste.

• Cut up your own celery and carrots; it's much more economical than buying precut. As well, precut vegetables are prone to quicker nutrient loss because more of their surface area is exposed to the air.

Milk Products

• Use lower-fat milks (skim and 1%), as they are heart-healthier choices and contain as much calcium as higher-fat milks. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, which plays a role in bone formation and maintenance and helps your body maintain normal blood levels of calcium.

• Choose cheeses that contain 20 per cent or less milk fat (MF), such as lower-fat mozzarella and feta. Generally, lower-fat cheeses cost the same as full-fat cheeses and provide lots of calcium, though they may not melt as nicely and may be less flavourful.

• Use yogurt cheese made from lower-fat plain yogurt – instead of cream cheese or sour cream – in desserts and dips, or flavour it with herbs or garlic and spread it on crackers. A 1/4-cup (50 mL) serving of regular cream cheese has 17 grams of fat and only 39 milligrams of calcium. The same-size serving of sour cream (14 per cent MF) has seven grams of fat and 51.8 milligrams of calcium. But a 1/4-cup (50 mL) serving of 1 or 2% plain yogurt (12 per cent MF) provides only one gram of fat and approximately 107 milligrams of calcium.

Page 2 of 3 - Read page 3 for info on grains, and meat and alternatives!

Meat and Alternatives

• Stretch your dollar by making stir-fries, casseroles, noodle dishes and soups – recipes that make the most of small amounts of meat. Use two chicken breasts for a family of four; cut them into strips for a stir-fry and add lots of antioxidant-rich vegetables, such as green peppers, broccoli and carrots.

• Stock up on frozen and canned fish. Choose fatty fish that have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. Leaner fish, such as cod, tuna, haddock and sole, are lower in omega-3 fatty acids but are still healthy choices.

• Plan more meals that use dried or canned beans, lentils and peas. Versatile, low in fat and high in satiety, they contain vegetable proteins, lots of fibre and vitamin B6, riboflavin, iron, folate, selenium, phosphorus and magnesium. And you can't beat the price.

Grain Products

• Bake your own muffins, quick breads and cookies. Home-baked goods may not cost less than store-bought varieties, but the health benefits could be much greater. Use the information below to make delicious, nutritious baked goods.

• Whole wheat flour adds B vitamins – such as niacin, vitamin B6 and folate – and extra fibre and is a source of the antioxidant selenium. One cup (250 mL) of whole grain flour provides 16 grams of fibre, compared with 4.1 grams in regular all-purpose flour.

• Oatmeal is rich in soluble fibre, which may help reduce blood cholesterol, and insoluble fibre, which promotes regularity.

• Wheat bran packs a fibre punch with 13.5 grams per 1/2 cup (125 mL).

• Add fruit for extra fibre and vitamins. Frozen whole berries are a bargain when fresh berries are out of season.

• Read labels when buying “grainy” breads, such as 12-grain, as they can cost considerably more than 100% whole wheat bread but have less fibre.

• Store whole grain flours and nuts in the freezer to keep them from becoming rancid. Keep flaxseeds and millet in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

• A hot bowl of oatmeal or multigrain cereal, such as Red River, is warm, nutritious, low in calories and fat, and economical. A 3/4-cup (175 mL) serving of Red River provides 3.6 grams of fibre, as well as flaxseeds, which may help lower cholesterol levels. Quick-cooking or regular oatmeal is a source of soluble and insoluble fibres, iron, zinc, folate and niacin.

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Healthy economy: Nutrition and shopping strategies