Our blog theme healthy food on a budget fits this year’s theme because the month of March is the perfect opportunity to begin to plan for ways that one could start to think of getting good nutrition and reducing food cost through gardening or access to local foods this coming season.

 One area to consider getting healthy foods is to grow your own food.   What a fun way to know where your food actually comes from by starting a garden in your backyard or at a community garden plot. I have to admit this takes a bit effort and more information gathering than just digging up an area and planting seeds. You must make sure your soil is safe and free of lead or other contaminants that are often found in urban gardening. Here are several links to check out for gardening and making sure that you are off to a safe and healthy start.

The Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) can provide lots of information regarding gardening in Boston: http://www.bostonnatural.org/  Also BNAN is having a Garden’s Gathering on Saturday, March 20, 2010 11AM – 5 PM at Northeastern University.  This is FREE event will have lots of local garden resources and information.

 The Food Project is another great resource regarding soil testing, creating raised bed gardens and other tips:    http://thefoodproject.org/local-food

Another place to start if you want to support local food and produce is to consider joining Community Support Agricultural (CSA).  Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics of how a CSA operates:   

A farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.  This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer.     

Advantages for farmers:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

  • Get to spend time marketing the foods they grow  early in the year, before their long days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow and capacity to do business 
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

Advantages for consumers:                                                                                                                             

  • Eat ultra-fresh  either organic or grown with minimum pesticides food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits of foods grown locally
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Find that kids typically enjoy  foods from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat  
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

While the cost of joining a CSA at first is challenging, most CSA have payment plans to allow families / individuals to adjust to the cost.   For example, one CSA would cost a family $400 however the actual cost is just $26 per week for 15 weeks of fresh organic local grown fruits and vegetables, this is a lot less than what a consumer would pay for the same amount of organic produce in the grocery store.  

Joining a CSA is  a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound because not only are you getting local fresh produce but  you support local farmers and working toward building a sustainable agriculture industry , which is what we all want for the future.  If you are interested CSA’s serving the Boston areas click here:  Massachusetts_CSA_DirectoryBoston

 If these options are not what you are ready for at this point, you can still support nutritious foods from the ground up by going to the local Farmers’ Markets when they begin in June.  This is a great way to purchase local produce without growing it yourself or joining a CSA.  Many of the markets take Electronic Debt Transfers (EBT) to support using Food Stamps. Boston also has the advantage of Bounty Bucks to increase the value of using your food stamps at Framers’ Markets. To learn more about Farmers’ Markets   and Bounty Bucks   click:  http://thefoodproject.org/boston-bounty-bucks.

 So take the time this month, to check out ways that you can plan for the coming growing season and take advantage in any way that fits for you to have healthy foods that support nutrition from the Ground Up.


February is heart month: When it comes to preventing heart disease, hypertension and stroke,  we have all heard that one way to increase your heart’s health is through diet, selecting foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat.      However as new studies come out, we are finding that preventing heart disease is about more than just watching our cholesterol and saturated fats. It’s about our total dietary make-up and physical activity.   

 But how do we make heart healthy changes on tight budget, when we’re   pressed for time and have to feed the family in a pleasing way?  Here are a few easy steps toward putting heart healthy meals on your plate and activity in your life.  

Switch to more of the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats. They’re found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. Some examples of foods that contain these fats include salmon, trout, herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.  Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and Trans fats. Keep total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of calories. (1)

Budget friendly recipes that are high in   mono and poly unsaturated fats often contain canola or olive oils, walnuts and don’t forget peanuts.  Here’s a quick and easy budget friendly recipe that contains sweet potatoes and peanuts   http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/sweet_potato_peanut_bisque.html

Get the “Good Carbs” by making half your plate whole fruits and vegetables to reduce your cardiovascular risk.     We have all heard that a variety of fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and nutrients in the body. Although it is seldom talked about, potassium is a crucial element for a strong, healthy body. Potassium is a key electrolyte in the body. The balance between sodium and potassium helps regulate blood pressure and heartbeat and helps to ensure the proper functioning of cells.  A variety of fruits and vegetables helps maintain that balance because they are low in sodium and high in potassium.   A nice variety for this time of year is vegetables that grow underground and can still flourish during cold winter months.  These vegetables include cabbage, turnips, beets, peas, kale, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, radishes, Swiss chard, collards, celery root and squash.    Winter is the perfect time to create hearty soups made with these delicious winter vegetables.  Homemade soups are an excellent way to spread the winter food budget as they can be made ahead and frozen.    

Click here for  winter vegeatbles recipe

In addition to these winter vegetables, beans can be a perfect addition to the budget friendly soup. Beans are another  a great source of protein, fiber, potassium, foliate, vitamin E, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, and copper-all with the added bonus of being inexpensive!

Don’t forget the fruits, in the wintertime check what’s in season,  including citrus fruits, pears and apples.  Canned fruits and frozen fruits offer variety in a lower cost ways.  Always be sure they are packed with no added sugars or in their own juice.

Be picky and increase dietary fiber through use of whole grains, in more sources than breads.

When it comes to whole grains, we first think of whole grains breads and cereals, which are great but can put a strain on the food budget.   So think outside the traditional products for whole grain.  In the cold winters, a warm breakfast can start your day with oats that are fairly low cost.  Here’s a link to quick and easy ways to try oatmeal    http://www.mrbreakfast.com/article.asp?articleid=27 .    

 Other whole grains include barley, whole grain and wild rice and wheat berries. Here’s   a great side dish to try   http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/recipes/mixed-up-grains/index.html    My family loves this side dish with added pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries (a dollar a box at your local drug store) 

Watch the sodium content in foods.    With the recent New York City announcement to work with  the food industries  to reduce the sodium intake in food supply,  it raises the awareness that we must monitor our selections.  It is especially important that we read the nutrition fact label.  A quick way to read the label is to   use the % Daily Values (%DVs) which helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. This guide tells you that 5%DV or less is low for all nutrients, those you want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), or for those that you want to consume in greater amounts such as fiber, calcium, and vitamins and minerals.   20%DV or more is high for all nutrients, so think twice when you especially see sodium levels greater than 20% DV.  

Make Physical Activity Fun   We all know the benefits of physical activity on heart disease and other chronic conditions.  The best way to get moving on a daily basis is to make sure you’re having fun!     Start by making a list of the activities you enjoy…walking in the park, rollerblading, salsa  dancing…the options are only limited by your imagination.  Then, make fitting them into your schedule a priority!  I enjoy the least expensive form of physical activity, walking, even in the cold. A hat,   scarf and gloves and I’m ready to go!  I try and break up the 60 minutes per day by walking for short times through the day.   For other low cost ways to be active  check out http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2155 

 With simple changes, we can make healthier choices regarding our meals and activities without breaking the food budget.  It just takes a little planning and thinking of new ways to introduce foods and activities in a FUN way.


1. American Heart Association                                                                                                                                                       

2.  Vegetables section and recipe contributed by Kirstin Anderson, Simmons Dietetic Intern

We are finally back to school and to what feels like the beginning of the days getting shorter and the evenings colder.   I just want to remind you that Farmer’s Markets are still going strong and offer a great variety of late summer and fall produce. 

gourds This weekend,   Mattapan is hosting their Harvest Festival & Perennial Divide on Saturday. http://www.bostonnatural.org/PDFs/evtHarvestFestival09.pdf

 On Sunday, Community Servings Farmer’s market will be hosting Earthworks and you can taste some fresh apple cider from one of the local orchards in Boston.


 Along with the festiveness of this weekend, Farmer’s Market’s still have some of the best offerings that include late summer tomatoes. You have to admit that tomatoes taste their best picked right from the garden or the farm, and we all know you cannot get a good tasting tomato in the middle of winter!   Tomatoes are a terrific source of vitamin C, with a touch of vitamin A, potassium and fiber. Tomatoes are also rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may slow down aging of the skin and may be beneficial against certain cancer and heart disease.

 Cooking may actually increase the health benefits of this fruit.   So how do you preserve the great taste and health benefits longer?   I find that roasting and freezing is a great way to preserve tomatoes and is not as expensive or intimating as traditional canning.  Simply slice, roast and freeze and savor the flavors during the colder seasons.    Here a couple of recipes for roasting or freezing tomatoes:  



 The fall growing season can also bring another opportunity to try hearty greens that you may have missed in the early growing season.  These include   kale, collards, spinach, cabbage and others which are good food sources of calcium, and iron.  Broccoli and cauliflower is a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin K, foliate and fiber.  As the weather gets cooler, try preparing greens in soups with combinations of beans for protein and you have a quick and easy meal that can satisfy and reduce the amount of meat that we consume.   Here a couple of farmer’s   market recipes and other favorites that will please your family and your budget:  






 So   here’s the reminder of the dates, and times of the many markets in the city. 

Farmers Market Schedule

Don’t forget your EBT card to take advantage of Boston Bounty Bucks!   Try a couple of new fall recipes on your family.   Along with the variety of vegetables come the fall fruits, crisp apples and fragrant pears.  These fruits are a good source of soluble fiber and potassium and both are delicious in sweet and savory dishes.  Join me next week as talk about seasonal apples and all the free orchards available in the city.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is a goal for many people, yet adding them into our daily meals sometimes creates a challenge.  Fresh and local fruits and vegetables are the best choices, and in another two months the options to choose local vegetables and some fruits will be available through farmers markets.   Until then, selecting in- season produce and frozen fruits and vegetables are good alternatives to locally grown produce.    Check out this Guide  to Buying Fruits and Vegetables  

Better Choices with Canned or Frozen Produce

Canned or frozen produce is handy when planning meals in advance and for bulk purchasing. While they may keep longer than fresh produce, some varieties may be loaded with sugar, salt or additives. The better choice when buying canned or frozen fruits and vegetables is to select those varieties packaged with just the item itself. Frozen vegetables are often processed with nothing added and canned vegetables varieties can be found salt-free and sugar-free. Frozen fruits are sometimes processed with sugar, but check the label and you will find varieties are available where the item is quick frozen without sugar.

Go Organic for the Popular Items

While organic foods are pesticide-free and all natural they are usually more expensive. Instead of busting a budget for all organic produce, a great choice is to choose organic fresh fruits and vegetables the family eats daily or often. Do the members of your family enjoy eating pears? This would be a great item to purchase organically grown.  Just knowing one item that the family eats on a regular basis is free of pesticides can be reassuring for parents and may get some adults to eat more fruits too.  As I mentioned, in June Farmers’ Markets will be opening, and there you will be able to get local organically grown food at reasonable prices.  The good news is many of the markets will be having Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) machines so food stamps recipients can purchase produce.

 To meet the challenge of incorporating fruits and vegetables into our everyday diets, here are a few tips:

Offer fruits or vegetables for Healthy Snacks

After school can be a time for active snacking, so offering fruits or vegetables for children is great. This also goes well for adults wanting a snack during the day or in the evening. Having a bowl of cut-up apples, oranges or bananas sprinkled with lemon juice for flavor and to prevent browning makes a great snack while doing homework. Mini carrots or carrot sticks are the easy and usual choice. Also try adding radishes, zucchini sticks and cucumber sticks for something easy and inexpensive to prepare.   Have low –fat dressing for dipping.

 If it is necessary to keep shelf stable fruits and vegetables on hand, always read the labels. Applesauce may be a quick and delicious apple snack, but some varieties have high fructose corn syrup or colorings.

Fortify   prepared mixes

Quick mixes for fruit muffins and pancakes like blueberry or banana usually contain highly processed colored and flavored bits of imitation fruits. Making the recipe at home from scratch with the real thing is a better choice. Plain recipes such as muffins and pancakes can be easily fortified with frozen or fresh blueberries, chopped peaches or mashed banana.  Here  is a basic muffin mix to get started. Vegetables are easily incorporated into quick breads. Frozen cut corn or freshly chopped bell peppers can be stirred into cornbread mixes for added color and flavor and can give an added nutrient boost as well.  

 When in a hurry, frozen vegetables can also be added to packaged rice and noodle mixes to increase the volume, fiber and flavor without adding salt or added fat.   For a nice change, try adding added diced tomatoes (The no-salt version), and shredded fresh carrots, zucchini or yellow squash to your favorite pasta sauce.  For more ideas that are quick ways to increase fruits and vegetables into your daily diet and keep the cost down, Check out Fruits and Veggies: More Matters.

This week’s grocery tips:

Here is a recipe using these produce items to celebrate Mother’s Day

Berries and cantaloupes are inexpensive choices this week.  Cut the fruits and add canned pineapples and pears (packed in their own juice) for a quick and easy fruit salad.  The fruit salad can be offered for dessert or add some low-fat yogurt and whole grain cereal for a quick breakfast.  Check out this Crustless Tasso Ham, Asparagus, and Leek Quiche recipe!

By  Rebecca Brotzman

What are “enhanced” waters enhanced with?

First came the bottled water craze, which has become a booming industry over the last thirty years.  Now products are coming out that seem to take the convenience of bottled water to the next level of health:  vitamins and water?  Isn’t that better than just bottled water?!  Sadly, in an attempt to be healthier, people are being fooled into wasting money and hurting the environment.

Manufacturers market products to appear healthier than they are.  Even just plain bottled water is not any better for you than tap water, and often is just tap water.  “Enhanced” waters almost always contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners, with minimal amounts of the vitamins and other “healthy” additives they are promoting on the label. 

The most important thing to do is to read the ingredients and nutrition facts carefully.  It is also essential to recognize what serving size the label is referring to and how many servings you are actually consuming.

Let’s go through some of the most common “enhanced” waters and see what they are really enhanced with:

Vitamin Waters:

Most often sold in 20 ounce bottles (which are really two and half servings), most people would drink the entire bottle without a second thought.  The nutrition facts listed on the label are for one serving (8 ounces), so all nutrition information has to be multiplied by 2.5 if you drink the whole bottle.  So, for a 20 ounce bottle that lists 50 calories and 13 grams of sugar, you’ll actually be consuming 125 calories per bottle, and 33 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons) per bottle. 

If you drink the entire bottle, you will get between 25-250% of the recommended dietary allowance for 6 or 7 vitamins, with most of them being 50% or less (usually only vitamin C is over 50%).  You would be much better off health-wise, budget-wise, and environmental-wise, if you take a multivitamin and wash it down with tap water.

New versions of these products are being unveiled that show manufacturers are responding to a change in consumer awareness.  These versions have fewer calories and less sugar.  One example has only 10 calories per serving and 30 calories per 20 ounce bottle. 

Fitness Waters:

“Fitness Water” is just water with sucrose syrup, sucralose (Splenda), and a few vitamins (in one example: C, E, and four of the B vitamins).  The good thing about this drink is that it’s usually only 30 calories for a whole 24 oz container.  For one popular brand, a 24 ounce bottle will give you 75% of the RDA for 3 of the B vitamins, but 30% or less for vitamins C, E, and B-12.  Once again, you are paying for expensive tap water and a few vitamins.  A bottle of multivitamins containing 100% if the RDA for a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals would cost about the same as 2 or 3 bottles of this beverage.

Sports Drinks:

“Sports drinks” are potentially useful only after a high intensity workout lasting longer than an hour.  This beverage is really only intended for serious athletes who need to replenish electrolytes due to sweat loss.  Otherwise, they are just unnecessary calories and sodium.  Electrolytes are molecules in your body fluids that perform many important functions.  If someone perspires hard enough and long enough, they need to replenish them.  Sports drinks usually contain sodium and potassium because these are the electrolytes lost in the highest amounts through sweating.  They also contain sugar to provide athletes with a fuel source during sustained exercise.  Only during long endurance events are these sources needed.  Drinking plain water before, during, and after a workout is all most people need to do to stay hydrated.  Drinking a “sports drink” while you are NOT working out is completely unnecessary.  It will not hydrate you any better than water, and will give you empty calories and salt.  These drinks often come in 32 ounce containers, which contain four servings.  At 50 calories a serving, this works out to 200 calories if you drink the whole bottle.  You will also get 14 teaspoons of sugar, 440 mg sodium (20% of the recommended daily limit!), 120 mg potassium, and 372 mg of chloride. 


 Electrolyte Waters:

Water with added electrolytes is another kind of “enhanced” water found on the market.  The amount of added electrolytes is tiny. (One popular brand had 10mg potassium, 10 mg calcium, 15 mg magnesium per liter).  These are too few electrolytes to replenish a dehydrated athlete, and make little difference for a non-athlete.   Interestingly, some bottled waters contain more than this amount of electrolytes, and yet do not market themselves as “enhanced” water.  Electrolyte waters are closer to regular bottled water than to anything else.  Like water, they have no calories or artificial sweeteners, but they are not any better than tap water.   In fact, they are worse than tap water in terms of your wallet and the environment.

In Summary:

Becoming a savvy label reader is the most important way to not be fooled by marketing ploys.  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1)      Labels don’t always use a standard 8 ounce serving.  Check serving size, then servings per container.

2)      Make sure you multiply the information on the nutrition label to match the servings you would realistically drink.

3)      Always read the ingredients.  Remember, ingredients are listed in order of what makes up most of the product to least of the product.

4)      Think of your wallet and your impact on the environment before you purchase a hyped-up version of what is readily available through the tap.





As part of our March Nutrition Month focus on ‘rethinking your drink’, let’s look at juice.

Health professional all agree that getting plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.  So what is the best way to take in fruits and vegetables?    While both whole produce and juices count towards the achieving the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, there are important differences in how your body processes the whole and juice versions.   

What IS juice?

Juice is the liquid version of fruits or vegetables, produced through a squeezing or pulverizing process.  But beware of products with labels like “fruit drinks” or “juice drinks” that may contain little to no actual fruit or vegetable juice.    Only buy products that say “100% juice” and that don’t have sugar as an ingredient.

Let’s check some of the Pros and Cons of juices:

 Pros: In a few cases, the juiced form makes important nutrients more accessible than the whole fruit:

·         The nutrient lycopene, which is a protective factor against prostate cancer, in tomato juice is actually better absorbed from tomato juice than fresh tomatoes. 

·         Commercially squeezed orange juice contains more antioxidants and other   added beneficial nutrients such as calcium that is not found in an orange.

 Cons:  In general, the cons of juices outweigh the pros.

·          Because they’re more concentrated, juices contain increased calorie and sugar content while losing the fiber found in whole fruits.  Each of these has the effect of raising levels of blood sugar which can contribute to development or complications of diabetes.   The difference in calories and sugar between whole fruit and fruit juice is astounding.  For example, a 16-ounce bottle of orange juice contains about 240 calories and 14 teaspoons of sugar!  A medium size orange, on the other hand, contains just 60 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar.   Similarly, a 16-ounce bottle of apple juice contains about 220 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar, while a medium size apple has just 55 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar. 

·         In addition to having fewer calories, the fiber in whole fruit of the orange or apple fills you up and also helps to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing.  This is because the fiber slows down your body’s absorption of the sugar in the fruit.   Check out the sugar content of juice compared with fruit.

ü  To make sure you’re getting the best deal for your buck, read the label and look for 100% juice, BUT don’t stop there.

Carefully read the label and select nutrient –dense juices, those with the highest percentage of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and that are fortified with calcium.  It’s also important to read the ingredient label to know exactly which juices are in the product you’re buying.  The label lists ingredients in order of abundance, from most to least.  A bottle of “100% Apple and Pomegranate Juice” turns out to have apple juice listed first, so you’re probably getting very little pomegranate juice, with its good nutrients.

ü  Beware of “juice drinks”, “fruit drinks” or “juice cocktails”.

These beverages often contain little or even no fruit juice.  You’ll be getting the same or even more calories and sugar as in 100% fruit juice without any of its vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants.  “Juice drinks” are often made to look like fruit juice.  The pictures of fruit and the words “all natural” are confusing to customers.  But if you read the label carefully, you can see how much juice the drink actually contains – usually 0-10% juice, with no significant amounts of any vitamins.  It is really more like sugar water.  Calories without nutrients are called “empty calories”.  For about 240 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar per 16 ounce bottle, that is a lot of calories being wasted (more like waisted…).  For more information on reading the label, go to Healthy Messages.

ü  Watch your juice portions.

Recommended juice portions are   4 to 6 ounces per day, with the goal to meet the balance of fruits and vegetable needs through fresh, frozen or canned produce.   It’s easy to go over this recommended intake from the common size of bottles found for individual sale. They are usually 12 to 16 ounces, which is two or more times the recommended daily intake.  If you do make these purchases, share your drink or save some for the next day.

For more tips on healthy juice, click here.

coffeeYes, we have heard that coffee has health benefits – and this is true.   First, for many of us who experience coffee’s morning wake-up call to the brain, did you know that caffeinated coffee (and tea) can sharpen brain function and reduce cognitive decline over time?

 Another piece of good news is that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the US diet.  That’s not because coffee is the best source (we know fruits and vegetables are better!), but   because Americans drink so much coffee.  The antioxidant in coffee that scientists are studying is cholorgenic acid, which slows the intestinal absorption of glucose.   This effect may also help to explain another coffee benefit, of reducing your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. 

However, it’s important to recognize that the studies about these health benefits refer to black coffee, with no sugar, cream, or other flavorings.   Only 35% of American drink their coffee black.  The rest of us have to be careful what we add to our coffee, so those ‘extras’ don’t outweigh any possible health benefits.

So what do you add to your coffee –milk, cream, sugar?  Those contain extra calories and possibly saturated fat.  So if you must add to your coffee, choose carefully.  Many coffee shops have skimmed or low-fat milk – you just have to ask for it.   You can add cinnamon or other spices that don’t add calories or fat. And artificial sweeteners let you sweeten your coffee without any calories.

Nutritionally, the consequences of certain coffee choices can be coffee_beansdisastrous. Did you know that a large vanilla bean Frappuccino with whipped cream delivers over 500 calories? It’s astonishing: many of the coffee drinks served at coffee shops s are little more than coffee-flavored sugar and fat potions that contribute to rapid weight gain. Nutritionally speaking, they’re not that different from ice cream.  Other drinks such as Mochaccino or iced coffee drinks (10 oz. size) may have over 250 calories. The syrup flavor alone has 80 calories and you may want to think twice about the whipped cream, with about 100 calories.   In fact, many of these coffee DRINKS have more calories, more saturated fat and salt than a healthy MEAL!

 If you absolutely must have your fancy coffee fix, try skim or 1% milk, sugar –free flavor shots, artificial or small amounts of sugar,  and SKIP the whipped cream.  By making these few changes we can have our coffee, but capture of some the health benefits too!

Next Page »