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In today’s economy, everyone is frugal with spending money.  It doesn’t take a huge budget to eat nutritious and healthy food. Cheap does not always mean healthy.  A great deal on boxed mac ‘n cheese is full of sodium. Instead, consider purchasing the ingredients and making it yourself for a healthier comfort meal.

Consider these tips for buying healthy items on a budget:

Legumes – Buy dry packaged beans and cook them yourself.  This helps to avoid all of the preservatives and sodium found in canned beans.  Make lentils, baby lima, or great northern beans.  Use them to make a split pea or 15- or 16-bean soup.  Use black-eye peas to make Hoppin’ John.  Toss pink or kidney beans into chili.  Beans are an excellent source of protein, low in fat, and have a great fiber content.

Eggs –  Eggs are the perfect food.  Eat them whole, a yolk and two egg whites, or only the egg whites…whatever you prefer!  Scramble them, hardboil them, devil them, bake them.  Make an omelette or a quiche with spinach, broccoli, or peppers.  I like to cook them with herbs (whatever I have on hand) and sprinkle them with a little cheese.  Heat one pat of butter to saute one clove garlic and one shallot.  Add one whole egg and two egg whites.  Toss in fresh or dried herbs (I like to use rosemary, thyme, or oregano but use whichever herb you like or have on hand).  Scramble and cook the eggs until done.  Sprinkle with shredded cheese, feta, or goat cheese crumbles.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve.

Grains – Purchase pastas and rice in bulk.  Make a rice pilaf by adding sliced collard greens, grated carrot or chopped peppers and onions.  Make a rice salad by adding scallions, parsley, dried raisins or cranberries and a splash of balsamic, red, or rice wine vinegar.

Tuna – Canned tuna fish is an inexpensive yet excellent source of protein and a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Whether you like it packed in oil or water-packed, toss one-half can of tuna over a bed of greens, add tomato, onion, and a vinaigrette.  Have some fresh or frozen fruit to round out a healthy meal.  Or, mix one can of tuna with low-fat mayonnaise, celery, onion, and a handful of halved seedless grapes to make tuna salad.

Ground Meats – Ground meats are excellent sources of protein.  Make a ragu, burgers, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, chili, tacos, enchiladas, etc.  Stock up when ground turkey, beef or chicken, or other lean cuts of meat, are on sale and freeze until ready to use.

Frozen Fruit – Keep frozen fruit on hand for a healthy snack treat.   I personally like to eat them frozen (raspberries are great!) to have that icy fruity taste.   Let them thaw if you prefer a more traditional fruit taste.  Mango and pineapple are excellent as frozen fruit treats.  Buy a variety to make a fruit salad or buy the pre-packaged multi-fruit combo pack.   Toss in a handful of frozen fruit when baking, making fruit smoothies, or as a topping when eating yogurt or ice cream.

Frozen Vegetables –  Frozen vegetables are a great value and an economical way to select and control the amount of vegetables you need for your meals.  It’s great that they now come in resealable packaging rather than the old boxed format.  Unlike that head of lettuce in the fridge, you don’t have to worry about frozen vegetables spoiling!  You can find just about every kind of vegetable in a frozen format.  Avoid frozen vegetables smothered in butter, cheese or cream sauces.  Make your own frozen vegetables by slicing or dicing several bell peppers and popping them in the freezer.  Toss frozen vegetables into soups and stews for an extra serving of vegetables.