Would you mind tasting this? It’s my second book, Starting from Scratch, and I want to get readers’ thoughts on flavor and texture before it goes in the oven. Starting From Scratch picks up where Finding Life’s Secret Sauce left off, with a focus on how to fit healthier eating and cooking into your crazy, busy schedule. We’ve all developed our own systems and solutions in the kitchen, and I would love to sprinkle readers’ real-life tips throughout my book. I will publish book excerpts on my blog weekly, encouraging you to dish out your advice in the comments section. I’ll include helpful comments in the book, crediting you and/or your blog, and send you free copies of the book. Also, I’m consulting an expert blogger(s) for each section of the book – for this excerpt, it’s Georgie Fear, a Registered Dietitian who writes at Ask Georgie.
As I mentioned last week, the proliferation of processed foods makes it tempting to purchase and eat less healthy alternatives to whole foods, especially those with a limited income. Not to mention, the recession has put pressure on families of all walks of life to find lower cost food options. As proof in point, Adam Gopnik, in an NPR interview about our insatiable appetite for cookbooks, mentioned that 2009 was the year of low-budget cookbooks.
The low-budget theme was even popular back in my college days when I studied nutrition. For one class, we were required to visit local grocers and determine the least expensive, healthy foods available for purchase with cash, food stamps or WIC (Women, Infants and Children) coupons. You can actually carry out this same exercise yourself, by comparing costs of various food items (by ounce or pound), then checking out their nutrient content.
If you don’t have time, WebMD has a great list of nutritious foods for $2. Or, of course, you can check out the list of some of my favorite inexpensive and nutrient-packed foods.
Sweet potatoes/yams – Not only are sweet potatoes inexpensive, but they are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. In 1992, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables, these little gems came out on top. Kids often like them, too, because they taste like sugar (or so I tell my little one).
Dried beans – Even The Learning Channel made a declaration on this one. “If you were stuck on a desert island and had to pick one food to take, it would be beans.” And though beans will make you gassy, their benefits far outweigh the smells and sounds. Beans are low in fat and high in quality protein, and they also contain soluble fiber which helps lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in your blood. They also contain large amounts of folic acid, copper, iron, and magnesium — four nutrients we often fail to ingest enough of in our daily diets.
Soybeans/Edamame – One of the most widely grown legumes in the world, soybeans are an excellent source of high quality protein. They also contain high levels of essential fatty acids, numerous vitamins and minerals, isoflavones, and fiber. You can buy a bag of the frozen edamame already shelled so it’s easy and affordable. And it’s another healthy treat that kids love, too.
Tofu – Tofu may not be dirt cheap, but it is often more cost-effective organic than meats. Tofu, a soybean product, is rich in protein, unsaturated fat, and is a good source of calcium, iron and phytoestrogens, or dietary estrogens.
Brown rice – Brown rice is a whole, natural grain with a nutty flavor. Unlike its white counterpart, which will more abruptly spike your blood sugar level, brown rice contains a whole host of nutrients which include B vitamins, manganese, selenium, iron and fiber. In addition, brown rice is known to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes, and decrease the chances of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
Spinach – Spinach is loaded with nutrients and anti-oxidants, including iron and calcium. It also contains vitamin A (and lutein), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. With a list that long, how could you not eat it? Be sure to note that the health benefits of spinach are more heartily gained when steamed or eaten fresh.
Quinoa – may cost as little as $1.50/pound if you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s nearby. (I’m still hoping!) Unlike wheat or rice, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source for a plant. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. It cooks faster than rice (in about 15-20 minutes), and lends itself to some tasty, healthy combinations. Georgie recommends using it in pilafs, casseroles or stuff vegetables in place of rice.
Are there other low cost/high nutrient foods you may want to stock in the kitchen? Georgie said her favorites are peanut butter, oatmeal and eggs. And also remember that buying produce that’s in season can help ensure you’re getting the best bang for your “whole foods” buck. Growing your own is even more of a bargain.
I hope these ideas get you started. If you do some of your own research, let me know your favorites, too.
About Georgie Fear
Georgie Fear is a Registered Dietitian and New Jersey native. She received her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Sciences from Rutgers University and completed her dietetic internship and clinical training at Cornell University. She currently works as Sports Nutritionist for Rutgers University Athletics, and teaches many fitness and nutrition classes at the university and other health and medical establishments around Central Jersey. A lifelong athlete, Georgie is a marathon runner, triathlete, and avid rock climber. Her educational style is science-based, informative, and full of practical tips that work in the real world. She specializes in nutrition for sports performance, weight management, chronic disease prevention, and healthy cooking.