Winter 2010
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Eat Healthy, Stay Wealthy


It is a common complaint that eating healthy is more expensive. While it is true that fresh fruits and vegetables can cost more than prepackaged snacks, there are ways to eat healthy and stick to your budget.

Purchasing fruits and vegetables that are "in season" is usually cheaper. Living close to Mexico, Texans are fortunate to have access to a wide selection of fresh produce year-round. However, there is still some seasonal variation, especially in Texas-grown products. When shopping, look for produce that is on sale and select a large bag of fruit, which tends to be more cost-effective than buying single, large fruits priced per pound.

Frozen and canned produce are wonderful alternatives to fresh. They may be less expensive, but more importantly, they don't spoil as quickly as fresh produce, so you waste less food and less money. Plus, frozen products are usually equivalent or even superior in nutrient content to fresh fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to avoid added sauces, seasoning or salt. For canned products, look for "low sodium" or "no salt added" on the label.

What about Organic?

"The jury is still out on the nutritional differences of organic versus conventional produce," said Lauren Oliver, registered dietitian with Healthy Living, Happy Living at Dell Children's Medical Center. "Just because something is organic doesn't necessarily make it healthy. Conventional produce offer an array of health benefits, and the goal is for families to eat more fruits and vegetables in general."

Smart Shopping Tips:

  • Make a menu and grocery list ahead of time.
  • Look for sale items things that you can store or freeze for use later.
  • Buy in bulk non-perishable items or items you use frequently; most grocery stores include a cost per unit measure on the shelf label to help compare prices.
  • Store brands are great, inexpensive options.

Store coupons and discounts can be helpful if they are for items you typically buy. However, beware of being duped into buying things you will never use or don't really need. And avoid expensive convenience items and pre-prepared foods whenever possible.

Waste Not, Want Not

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste in the U.S. is the third-largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. In 2008, about 12.7 percent of the total municipal, solid waste generated in America was food scraps.

"Buy only what you need, make more from scratch, waste less and be responsible consumers," Oliver said. "If we would go back to the way we used to select and prepare food, we would find ourselves spending less and eating smarter."

Smart Cooking Tips:

  • Simple meals, with just a few ingredients, are usually cheaper.
  • Get creative with leftovers, using every last bit of food.
  • Carve out time for prep work on the weekends.
  • Cook large batches yourself or with others, and freeze some for use later.

Oliver suggests including some simple, inexpensive ingredients in your weekly menu such as beans, rolled oats, eggs, dairy and cheese. Reduce the amount of meat and pre-prepared meals you eat; try eating vegetarian one night a week.

She also suggests planning a weekly menu that utilizes the same ingredients. For example, buy and cook a whole chicken on Sunday and eat from it all week. Your menu could include chicken dinner, chicken quesadillas, chicken soup or chicken salad.

Take advantage of the school lunch program. School menus are scrutinized to meet recommended dietary allowances and are analyzed to ensure calories from fat are not exceeded. Sodium, cholesterol and fiber are monitored as well. The Austin Independent School District offers lunches for $2.10 and breakfast for $1.40; reduced prices are available for qualified families. Contact the cafeteria lead at your child's school to learn more.

"With the variety of new fruits and vegetables offered this year, such as edamame, school lunches are a great value for busy parents who want to make sure their children eat enough fruits and vegetables," said Sally Freeman, RN, BSN, NCSN, director of Children's/AISD Student Health Services.

Food expenses consume a large portion of a family's monthly budget. Taking time to plan a weekly menu and grocery list can go a long way to making healthier meals and lower grocery bills.

*The Healthy Living, Happy Living program is a 10-week, after-school, family-based obesity program that provides tools to empower families of overweight and obese children to make healthy changes.


The Revised Food Pyramid

MyPyramid For Kids

The food pyramid your child is learning is not the same pyramid you learned in school. In 2005, the Food & Drug Administration revised the food pyramid to be more individualized and specific than its predecessor.

Instead of food groups building on top of one another, the revised pyramid reflects what percentage of your diet should come from each food group. Highlights include:

  • Emphasis on incorporating whole grains,
  • Defining what is a serving, and
  • Inclusion of physical activity.

In short, the new food pyramid is more flexible and accurate than the one from a few years ago. For a good idea of what you should be eating and how much of it you should be eating, view the interactive pyramid from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Additional Resources:

Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.