Dietitian shares strategies to prepare healthful meals that won't strain budget

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Where do you purchase groceries?

  • National supermarkets (Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer). 28%
  • Smaller specialty stores (New Seasons, Whole Foods, Chuck’s Produce). 14%
  • Discount retailers/grocers (Walmart, Target, WinCo, Grocery Outlet). 45%
  • I follow the sales. 13%

236 total votes.

Shopping tips

Here are a few more shopping tips from dietitian Stasha Hornbeck:

Shop the perimeter. The perimeter tends to be where you find fresh, whole foods. The inner aisles of the store typically house more processed foods.

Check produce stickers. If you’re curious where your produce was grown, check the sticker. The stickers usually indicate where the food came from.

Shop sales. Rather than going to the store with specific produce in mind, buy the fruits and vegetables that are on sale.

Skip the sweetened beverages. Liquid calories don’t register the same satiety as calories in food. That means you’re consuming calories and not feeling full.

Feeding a family can be expensive.

Choosing healthful foods over convenient foods can, at times, make the grocery bill even bigger.

But, according to Kaiser Permanente registered dietitian Stasha Hornbeck, feeding your family a nutritious meal using fresh foods doesn't have to break the bank.

"A lot of convenient meals can be recreated at less cost," she said.

Hornbeck explained how it's possible during a recent shopping trip at an area WinCo Foods store. WinCo stores carry a wide variety of foods and produce and have a robust bulk foods section. The stores are budget-friendly, making eating healthful foods and recreating convenient meals more affordable, she said.

Hornbeck shared the following advice for feeding a family a healthful meal while staying within a budget.

Fruits and veggies

Hornbeck often hears people complain about produce going bad before it's eaten. Selecting the fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life will cut down on waste, Hornbeck said.

Onions, celery, cucumber, apples, pears, bananas, hearty lettuce (such as romaine) and root vegetables are examples of produce with fairly long storage life, she said.

When buying produce, keep the serving size in mind. At WinCo, a 4-pound papaya will cost a shopper nearly $6. While that might seem like a steep price, that one fruit can be chopped up into several servings, Hornbeck said.

Another piece of advice: Buy in season. Produce that's in season is more affordable because it hasn't been shipped to local stores from faraway countries, Hornbeck said.

A quick Google search can tell you what fruits and vegetables are in season, she said. During spring, in-season produce includes asparagus, green onion, lettuce, leeks, radishes, mushrooms, potatoes and strawberries.

The produce section, in general, offers foods loaded with fiber, which makes you feel full when eating, Hornbeck said. High-fiber foods will not only fill you up faster and but will keep you feeling full longer, she said.

Greens are an inexpensive way to add vitamins and nutrients to a meal, Hornbeck said. For example, a bundle of kale costs $1.38. Chopped kale can be added to spaghetti sauce, stir fry or soup, giving the meal a boost without eating the kale whole, she said.

"If you're eating these greens, you're getting so many vitamins and nutrients and filling your belly," Hornbeck said.

Bulk bins

Bulk food bins offer a wide range of whole grain pastas and rice, beans, nuts, spices and dried fruits.

Whole grains and seeds, such as millet and quinoa, are more affordable when purchased in bulk and can substitute for boxed, processed foods. Millet, for example, can be prepared like pasta but costs only 62 cents a pound, Hornbeck said. Quinoa cooks as quickly as white rice and is loaded with protein, iron and fiber, she said.

The bulk section can also provide protein sources that are less expensive than meat and dairy. Beans, for example, range in price from 68 cents to $1.78 per pound.

You can also find healthful snacks in the bulk food section, including trail mix and dried fruit. But, Hornbeck warns, check the labels because some nuts and dried fruits include preservatives and added sugar.

"The simpler it is, the better," she said.

Meats

One way to save money when purchasing meat is to buy bigger packages, which typically cost less per pound. Larger packages can be divided up, using some immediately and freezing the rest for later use, Hornbeck said.

Larger cuts of meats can also be used for multiple meals, she said. For example, cook a roast and eat half for dinner and shred the other half for the next day's meal, Hornbeck said.

Another suggestion: rather than buying specific chicken parts, such as breasts or legs, buy a whole chicken. Whole chickens are typically a better value, she said.

Hornbeck also recommends eating smaller meat portions. Prepare a meal with grains, beans, vegetables and a small portion of meat. The well-rounded meal with fill you up and cut down on the amount of meat you need to purchase.

Bread

When purchasing bread, check the ingredient list. The first ingredient you want to see is "whole wheat," not "enriched, unbleached wheat flour," Hornbeck said. Whole wheat provides naturally occurring vitamins and nutrients, plus protein and fiber, she said.

Some bread packages claim the bread is "natural" and includes multiple grains, but checking the ingredient list is the only way to be sure the bread offers the benefits of whole wheat, Hornbeck said.

Buying whole wheat bread doesn't have to break the bank either, she said. At WinCo, a loaf of 100-percent whole grain bread is $2.28 -- the same price as a loaf of the less-nutritious bread.

New foods

To get started, Hornbeck recommends planning three healthful meals a week. As you get more familiar with recipes, add more meals each week.

She also recommends dabbling in ethnic cuisine that's built on whole grains, vegetables and lean meat. Try out recipes with new spices and exotic vegetables to bring variety to your diet.

"Explore different cuisine," Hornbeck said. "The American diet is pretty straight-forward: meat, potatoes, starch, not a lot of vegetables."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.