To learn more about the Eat Well program offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, contact the Lisbon Falls office at 353-5550 or check out the “Find your county” link at www.umext.maine.edu
Tips for spending less while eating right
• Collect recipes for simple dishes that can be prepared in a pinch – cook instead of buying prepared meals
• Consider using leftovers while planning meals
• Eat less meat – Americans often eat larger-than-recommended portions of this expensive food
• Stretch meats and vegetables further by incorporating smaller amounts of either into dishes like casseroles
• Make your own sweets and snacks. Homemade cookies are often healthier than the store-bought kind. The same is true for muffins.
• For cheap fruits and vegetables out of season, buy frozen or canned (without any added sugars or sauces). Frozen vegetables are typically as healthy as fresh.
• Shop smart – pay attention to sale flyers. And during the summer months buy produce at farm stands or farmers markets
• Start a small garden – even a container garden on the porch – to grow some vegetables
Quick and Homemade:
Easy Chicken Pot Pie
1 2/3 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup cooked chicken cut into pieces
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup Bisquick or similar mix
1/2 cup milk
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Stir vegetables, chicken and soup in ungreased, 9-inch pie plate
Bake about 30 minutes or until golden brown
Macaroni and Cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup margarine or butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 3/4 cups milk
8 ounces cheese, chopped into small pieces
Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
In a saucepan, cook butter, onion, salt and pepper over medium heat until the onion is tender. Stir in flour and simmer until mixture is bubbly.
Stir in milk and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Add cheese and stir until melted.
Add drained macaroni to cheese sauce and stir.
Put into baking pan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes
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Eating healthy can be a challenge no matter what one’s income, but there have been lots of reports in the last year about it being impossible to buy health-conscious foods without breaking the bank. Is it really cheaper to buy fast-food burgers, chips and soda than low-fat meats, fruits, vegetables and other healthier choices? Ruth Cyr, a program aide who helps with the Eat Well food and nutrition program through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, says no. We spent an afternoon with Cyr as she taught client Corinna Williams, a single mother of one, how to shop and eat more healthy on a limited income.
Does it really cost too much?
LEWISTON – Corinna Williams, 29, is a single mother on a budget, and grocery shopping even just for two can be a challenge.
She tries to spend no more than $180 a month – shopping every two weeks – for food to feed herself and her growing son, Alex Gerry, 7.
She buys some fruits and veggies, but admits they seem expensive and are not a family favorite. Because of her busy schedule, she tends to make things like simple sandwiches or spaghetti for meals, or she buys prepared frozen dinners. On sale, she says, a frozen dinner can cost as little as 99 cents.
“I usually buy microwaveable dishes a lot,” Williams says as she, Alex and Ruth Cyr of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension push a grocery cart through the isles at Shaw’s on East Avenue one afternoon. “A lot of times, when you get up at 8 (a.m.) and you don’t come home until 4:30 (p.m.), you don’t want to cook.”
This is where Cyr, who is along to help Williams learn to buy healthier food on a budget, comes in. Cooking is one of the first steps toward eating healthy for less, Cyr says. For example, a homemade batch of macaroni and cheese is cheap to make and often goes further than a prepared box – and it’s better food.
Cyr’s advice? “You really have to do a lot of planning,” she says. She tells clients to scour yard sales and thrift stores for used cookbooks, then put together a collection of quick, easy recipes. Carefully plan a months’ worth of meals, relying on leftovers some days, then create a shopping list and purchase food accordingly, she says.
Cyr has helped Williams prepare for this trip to the grocery store by giving her several recipes and a list of ingredients she’ll need for two week’s worth of food – everything from homemade turkey pot pie and macaroni and cheese, to tuna melts and hot dog stew.
“It’s a whole lot of things I haven’t made yet,” Williams says, but she’s willing to try.
Snacks are a big concern for Alex. Starting in the produce section, Cyr points Williams toward a bag of apples on sale – she recommends fruit rather than items like prepackaged cookies. Williams also picks up carrots that she’ll need for cooking, and bananas, which are cheap at 59 cents a pound.
Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables will replace the fresh produce that’s too expensive right now. Making their way through the store, Cyr steers Williams toward the fruit cocktail, on sale for $1 a can. Each can contains just over three half-cup servings of fruit in its own juices.
That’s another suggestion Cyr shares: Pay attention to serving sizes. Especially when eating expensive foods like meats.
“I don’t know if it’s a Maine thing,” Cyr says. “I see this misconception: People think you need a lot of protein, a lot of meat.”
That Big Mac at lunchtime ($3.05 after tax) may seem like a reasonable meal, but beyond the special sauce, lettuce, cheese and sesame seed bun is 2.4 ounces of cooked burger. That alone accounts for just about half the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s average recommended serving of 5 ounces of meats, beans or nuts.
Cyr recommends buying lean meats and stretching quantities by making casseroles and other mixed dishes. Instead of just eating meat for protein, throw cooked beans or nuts on a salad.
Under Cyr’s direction, Williams buys: a large container of pasta sauce; Saltines that will be crushed in homemade meatloaf or meatballs, or used with peanut butter or cheese for snacks; and store-brand corn flakes both for breakfast and to crush in a recipe for homemade chicken nuggets.
She buys flour to make a homemade version of Bisquick, which will be a staple in her new menu planning. With it, Williams will make everything from muffins – cheaper and healthier when made at home instead of bought at the local store in the morning – to biscuits and topping for quick chicken or turkey pot pie.
Williams also buys a few slices of turkey breast from the deli for turkey meatloaf, rather than buying a whole prepared breast for $4 or $5. She buys broth and soups for cooking, Shaw’s brand whole wheat bread, English muffins and canned tuna in water for tuna melts. Parmesan cheese will add flavor to some pasta dishes she has planned.
Cyr whisks Williams and her son past stacks of Little Debbie snack cakes and displays of Hershey’s Kisses.
“I think trying to eat healthy is the hardest part,” Williams says. “I’m a junk food eater – give me that candy bar!”
Instead, she buys 94 percent fat-free microwave popcorn at $2.99 for 6 bags. Each bag contains three servings and, Cyr points out, 2 grams of fat per serving instead of the 10 grams in the potato chips across the isle.
The sweetest thing Williams buys? Fat-free Jell-O pudding.
When she looks over her cart at the end of the shopping trip, she sees mostly unfamiliar items. “We mainly have a whole new thing,” she says.
No frozen dinners or candy bars in this cart.
At the checkout, Williams’ total comes to $73.29. That’s under the generous $120 limit she set for the day, thinking the shopping trip would be more expensive than usual. Spending less, she has a cart full of items she’ll use for two week’s worth of balanced, nutritional meals.
“Wow,” she says, raising her eyebrows.
Now, off to the kitchen.