December 2008



As the New Year begins, WE CAN make resolutions to eat healthier and STILL stay on a budget


As the New Year approaches, let us NOT be overwhelmed by the thought of preparing tasty, healthy economical meals on a regular basis.  This year let us NOT get sucked in by grocery merchandising tricks, INSTEAD let us become savvy consumers who CAN spot good deals and CAN create meals that will spark us up throughout the whole year! 


New Year resolution ideas

Save money and still have quality. If you’ve been using cost as an excuse to eat inexpensive convenient unhealthy food, you can kiss that old excuse goodbye!    With a little organization and creativity, you can take control of your kitchen—cook smart, and enjoy the first-class meals you deserve.

1.   To start, here’s a quick review of basic tips of healthy eating:

  • Limit your intake of foods high in unhealthy fats and alcohol – These are budget busters that do not give you bang for your buck!  See   for details.
  • Drink lots of water.  This year make a pledge to drink safe tap water for your health, help reduce environmental pollutants and SAVE Money.  Here is information on the bottled water concerns and you can take the pledge to save the environment.
  • Limit salty and sugary foods. Foods with salt and sugar in large quantities generally increase the risk for gaining weight and developing chronic diseases.
  • Make increased efforts to add “VARIETY of foods” to your eating pleasure, especially low-calorie, high nutrient vegetables and fruits.

2.  SET a regular block of time for planning meals, making your grocery list, and shopping. This task is most often shortchanged when planning for healthy meals.  Plan for  healthy snack ideas, as well as main menu items.  Don’t be afraid to surf the internet for new recipes that use specific ingredients (plug the ingredient in as a keyword of your search).  Select recipes based on the good buys in the weekly flyers as you plan your meals before you shop.


3. STOCK your kitchen with items that are quick and easy to cook (yet kind to your wallet):

  • Beans and lentils, whether canned or dried, make nutritious, hearty soups, and can be a great non-meat main course with the addition of fresh vegetables or rice.  
  • Vegetables and fruit should be purchased weekly, preferably in season, and locally grown (when possible) to ensure optimal taste and nutrition. You can also rely on frozen varieties as quick cooking ways to always include veggies in your lunch, dinner, or snacks. Veggies make great stir-fry using small amounts or no meat meals (Very low- cost quick meals) while fruit is good for a quick nutritious dessert or snack.
  • Brown rice is a great addition to meat and veggies.  Brown rice is now only slightly more in price compared to white; the nutritional payoff is well worth it. Another inexpensive, easy-to-fix grain, millet, is best when bought fresh. Simply rinse and toast before using it in recipes.
  • Pasta is quick and easy to prepare, and can be paired with veggies, meat, or a fresh salad. Have fun adding your own embellishments (mushrooms, spices, and herbs). Choose whole-wheat pasta whenever available. Click here for the benefits of whole grains.
  • Reduced sodium soups can be nutritious and convenient, especially when you use them as your base, and then add your own veggies and leftover meat.
  • Meat and fish can be kept on hand in the fresh, frozen, or canned varieties. Use lean meats, fish or poultry for 1/3 (3 oz.) of your healthy meal, NOT the main feature. Try the newer tuna and salmon pouches or frozen varieties of un-breaded fish to SAVE on the cost. Shop for inexpensive lean cuts of meat that work well in stews and casseroles and  can be cooked in slow cookers for easy meals.
  • Condiments add flavor and interest to your dishes. Keep a selection of dried herbs, spices, curry powder, marinades, vinegars, tomato, and soy sauces. Try purchasing small (4 oz.)  bottles or red or white wine and add to chicken or tomato sauce to add great flavor. (Note alcohol evaporates when heated and only the flavoring remains in the foods). 

Finally, a few more hints that can help you save and stay on budget:

  • When cooking a big meal, make extra to freeze, or use later in the week for lunches or quick suppers. Double recipes, then freeze half.    Capitalize on one-pot dishes, which generally save prep time, money, and dishwashing. These also make great second meals. 
  • Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper; you can freeze perishable items (such as meat, and bread) in smaller portions to use as needed. It’s always a good idea to buy non-perishable items in bulk (canned foods, dried beans, and grains, etc.).
  • Look high and low (literally) at the grocery shelves to find the less expensive generic or store brands on grocery shelves. Store brands are similar to higher-priced brand names though packaged under different labels. Stores deliberately place the highest-priced brand-name items at eye level, but if you compare the cost per unit, you’ll be able to figure out the most cost-effective purchase.
  • Take advantage of specials on staples, low-sodium broth, pasta, rice, and frozen veggies.  Many of these items have a long shelf life or can be kept frozen for short periods of time.

Like anything worthwhile in life, change takes time, a little planning, creativity, and work.  So this year make the resolution that you CAN eat healthier and still stay on budget!  Think of the rewards, better health and more money!  You’ll find it is worth the effort!   No doubt you’ll still have days when you fall back on that quick-fix packaged food or the local burger drive-thru, but if you look at planning meals and cooking as a New Year adventure, you’ll soon have days and months when you find yourself pleased at what you’ve accomplished.


Let me know about your healthy eating New Year’s resolutions.



Cooking and eating are a big part of the holiday season, which is all the more reason to make sure to prepare your food safely for consumption. Although most people recover from food borne illness quickly, it can be severe and life-threatening to older adults, young children and pregnant women. Did you know Salmonella infections are responsible for an estimated 1.4 million illnesses each year? Here are some easy-to-follow tips to ensure your food is best prepared to keep your family healthy and safe:

  •  Clean & disinfect: Food should be prepared in the fightbaccleanest area possible. Frequently wash your hands with warm water and soap; clean surfaces with hot, soapy water; and rinse fruits and vegetables but never raw meat and poultry. If using the same area for food preparation, be sure to clean it before each new food item. If using cloth towels to prepare the area, wash them in hot water afterwards.


  • Keep it new: Never re-use a marinate from one meat to another. Never place cooked food on a plate that had raw food on it.
  • Use a thermometer: The only reliable indicator to see if a meat is done cooking is your thermometer. For turkey, the ham1USDA recommends taking your turkey’s temperature in several places, including the wing joint and thigh. Both stuffed and unstuffed turkeys should reach 165° F when a meat thermometer is placed deep in the thigh. Ham should be prepared at a temperature of no less than 155°. Check out for more cooking temperature information.
  • Keep it cool: Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours to avoid bacteria growth which tends to occur at room temperature. Never defrost foods at room temperature.

For more tips for safe food preparation, visit the CDC’s Food Safety Page. If you believe you may have a food-related illness, please visit your nearest health center, doctor or hospital. To find the nearest medical professional accepting new patients, call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050.


This article is responding to a question asked by one of our blog readers:

Organic, when is it worth the price difference?


So when is the price difference worth it? 

Most researchers say, if you can afford it, buy local and organic, because of the lower pesticides and that organic farms use environmentally friendly practices that will sustain the earth and replenishes resources. (CSPI, 2007)


What should one be looking for when purchasing organic foods? 

When shopping for organic foods, always look for the USDA seal or certified organic on any kind of packaged food. For meat and dairy, this seal ensures you’re getting antibiotic- and hormone-free products. When buying meat or produce that isn’t packaged, look for a sign stating that it’s organic.


Many organic foods cost more than conventionally grown foods, but they do contain lower levels of pesticide residues and that it is a health plus.  If you want to reduce pesticides intake, but do not want to buy everything organic, fruits and vegetables are the most cost effective areas to begin to make decisions for purchasing organically grown foods.

First take advantage of local farmers’ markets and locally grown produce whenever possible.

Secondly, be aware that The Environmental Working Group EWG (a Washington –based   non –profit) has identified a list of produce where it makes the most difference.                The “dirty dozen” are fragile fruits and vegetables that often require more pesticides to   fight off bugs.  Whenever possible, try and purchase organic or locally grown of the following twelve produce:  peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples, spinach, celery,    pears, sweet bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, lettuce, and imported grapes.

Thirdly, the EWG also lists produce with the least contaminates which are: onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi fruit, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya. These fruits and vegetables are hardier produce where pesticides are less absorbed and you can feel comfortable eating these.


What should one do for the winter months in New England?

During the winter months in New England, fruits and vegetables should remain an essential part of our healthy diet.  Local fresh produce may be limited, so select seasonal produce.   Select hardier vegetables like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and the great variety of squashes, and dark hardy greens such as collards, and kale which tend to have fewer pesticides.  You can also select non local seasonal fruit such as bananas, and citrus fruits.  These fruits, we peel away the flesh to reduce ingesting the pesticides.


Purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables is always a good deal.  These products are picked at the farm and frozen within a short time, so they retain their nutrients and have small or no traces of pesticides.


Through out the year, here are a few tips to reduce your pesticide risk:

  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This would limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching raw produce
  • Consider cutting your own fruits and vegetables, instead of purchasing them precut, especially if you are going to eat them raw.
  • Remove and discard outmost leaves of lettuce and greens
  • Wait until just before preparation to wash or immerse your produce in clean water. When appropriate, scrub with a brush, this removes nearly all insects and dirt, as well as bacteria and pesticide residues.
  • Special soaps or washes are not necessary, Cold water is perfectly fine.
  • Practice food safety and prevention of cross contamination; do not place raw fruits and vegetables near uncooked meat fish or poultry.

Finally, organically grown foods are more expensive than conventionally grown, however knowing when organic pays off really helps towards making wise decisions. For example, fruits that you peel the skin, removes most of the pesticides which reduces your risk. However, soft –skinned fruits and vegetables that are consistently ranked on the top of the dirty dozen list, you may be are better off purchasing organic.

As the growing season changes, remember to check out the local farmer’s markets which now accept WIC and EBT cards.  Here you can purchase organic produce at reasonable cost and contribute to the bigger picture, the health and safety of our planet.




Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2007 vol. 34 #6

Environmental Nutrition, 2007 vol.30, #6

EWG  Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. 4th ed.