Friday, August 10, 2012

Healthy Changes And Two Recipes

Going from eating 1 or 2 meals a day to eating 3 meals plus 3 snacks a day has been a challenge for my food stamp budget, especially when my son and I have different likes and dislikes.  It's a challenge too, because I'm an old hand at starvation dieting and a pro at skipping meals! I’ve had to do a lot of research to find recipes that will work for our tastes, our budgets AND for a healthy eating plan.
There are ways for making healthy changes work though. 
Some of the foods that make up a healthy eating plan would be out of bounds on a normal food stamp budget, unless I want to eat legumes and oatmeal each day, but it’s important for me to have both variety and fresh ingredients or my appetite begins to disappear.  The healthy changes that I’ve made allow us to buy things that wouldn’t normally be possible, such as seafood and plenty of fresh produce!

I'm including two recipes in this post and you can find one for a luscious, light lemon cheesecake on my previous post.

We don’t drink a lot of milk and I tend to use the powdered milk that I was given at the food pantry for cooking and baking.  I’ve cut down on the amount of spoilage by buying a gallon of organic milk every two weeks.  The organic milk has longer expiration dates and doesn’t spoil as quickly as non-organic, so even though the price is a little higher, it’s a better buy for me.

I do the first of my shopping each month at the local Grocery Outlet.  The prices are low, but it’s always advisable to check expiration dates.  This is where I can find affordable organics and where I buy most of my staples.  The produce tends to go bad quickly, so I buy elsewhere.  Their stock changes constantly, so what I can’t find, I’ll keep on my list for my next stop.

I buy spices from the Mexican aisle at the store.  Oregano, basil, cinnamon, cumin and others are available in cellophane bags for much less than you’d pay on the spice aisle.

We’ve cut down the amount of meat that we eat, and I plan for a few meatless meals as well.  I buy very few prepackaged, processed, convenience, canned or snack foods.  I make exceptions for my son’s cereal and one or two frozen entrees that he can toss in the oven on my really bad days.

My dinner plate will typically be divided into thirds.  One quarter of the plate for protein/meat, one quarter for a side dish and one half for produce.
Photo from 9/2011 issue of the Huffington Post
Planned leftovers

  • Meat can be diced and added to soup or salads.
  • Veggies can be used in salads, soups and sandwiches or wraps or added to precooked brown rice for  quick, nutritious lunch.
  • My son likes to use leftover potatoes to make quick tacos for lunch. 
  • Leftover fish can be used to make fish tacos. 
  • My son doesn’t generally like eating leftovers, but I don’t have a problem with it.  If I cook a little bit extra, I use that for lunch the next day. 
  • If you cook fresh vegetables, the water used to cook them can be frozen and used later as broth for soups and other foods.  If you’re trying to cut down on salt, simply don’t add salt to the water while cooking the veggies and the result is salt free broth! 
  • Cooked vegetables can also be blended for smoothies or to add to soups.  The vegetable broth and blended veggies are two of the ways that I snuck vegetables into my kid’s diets when they were going through their ‘I hate veggies!’ stage.
  • A whole chicken, roasted with sweet potatoes for dinner gives me leftovers for chicken enchiladas or chicken paprika another night and chicken salad or lettuce wrap for lunch. 
  • The chicken carcass is boiled down to make broth, then cooled and the fat skimmed off and carcass disposed of, and then is frozen for later use.
  • An inexpensive roast can be cooked in a slow cooker (which helps tenderize it) for dinner, and leftovers can be sliced and used in salads and sandwiches or wraps for lunch, or shredded and used in beef taco 
Organization and Preparation
  • Being organized in the kitchen saves money, allowing you to use groceries before they go bad, expire, etc.  This is especially important for me because I do the majority of my grocery shopping once a month, with a trip to the store for milk, bread and produce mid-month.
  • Check cabinets to see what you may already have and to check expiration dates.
  • Organize your recipes.  I have a binder in which I keep recipes that I’ll be using during the month, and this is especially important for recipes that are new to us.  I make it a point to look for healthy recipes using foods that I know we like, as well as recipes that don’t use unusual or expensive ingredients.  The simpler, the better!  Included in the binder is a printout of foods that are low on the glycemic index and ideas for quick snacks and lunches.
  • Loosely plan menus, giving yourself flexibility as to which days those meals will be made.  With fibro and disabilities, I can’t always follow a preset menu.
  • Never shop without a list 
  • Preparation ahead of time also allows me to save time when I’m cooking, which is especially important for those inevitable days when I really don’t feel well enough, or am in too much pain, to spend much time in the kitchen.  On those days, I can reach into my cabinets for a recipe in a jar mix or pull ingredients out of the freezer for a quick meal.
  • Buy meats in family packs and then separate and freeze in smaller portions.  Even though my household now consists of just myself and my son, I still buy most meats in larger portions.  It saves money and, for example, a small roast can be cut into three parts – one for a traditional roast dinner, a second for stew, a third for kabobs. 
  • Chop vegetables ahead of time and grate cheese, then store them in containers in the fridge.  This makes meals easier and quicker to make!  
  • Chop, peel and cut (or not) fresh fruits and freeze to use in yogurt or smoothies.  
  • Dehydrate produce that you’ve bought on sale and can’t freeze.  Dehydrated foods work well in recipe in a jar mixes, in soups or stews and in hot cereals.  Broccoli, grated carrots, celery, onion, leeks, peas, peach slices and strawberries all work well for this.
  • Make brown rice and oatmeal ahead of time and store in the refrigerator, enough for 3-4 days. 
  • Whole grain waffles or pancakes can be made and frozen for future breakfasts. 
  • I hard boil half a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for quick protein when it’s needed. 
  • I make my own energy bars (see the recipe, below!) and snack mixes too.  
  • A favorite for both of us is home marinated mozzarella cheese cubes (see the recipe below!), which I pair with whole grain bread or crackers and a fruit.  I’ve also used marinated mozzarella as filling for stuffed chicken breast.
  • Cook beans ahead of time too, but in small batches that can be used for lunches or to toss into a salad or soup for extra protein.  Cooked garbanzos are the most versatile for me because they can also be sprinkled with spices and roasted for snacks, used for homemade hummus or turned into falafel.  And I use whatever beans I have on hand as an ingredient in the energy bars (recipe below!) that I make.

Easy Marinated Mozzarella
Cut mozzarella into small cubes.  To a jar or other lidded container, add enough olive oil to fill 1/4.  Add dried Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and a pinch of kosher salt; stir to mix.  Add cheese cubes, cover and shake to distribute oil and seasonings.  Store in refrigerator.
Using fresh, chopped oregano and thyme, if you have them, can really pump up the flavors. You can also add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Energy Bars with a Twist
Don’t let the surprise ingredients – beans – keep you from making these because nobody else will be able to tell that they’re there!  I’ve made these without the dates, substituting raisins.  If you can manage filberts/hazelnuts on your budget, using cranberries in place of the dates and filberts in place of the walnuts makes a great Northwestern version of these bars!  When granola is unavailable, I’ve used uncooked oatmeal instead.  I’ve also used pinto beans, mung beans and kidney beans, so the choice really is up to you or to what you have on hand.  This is a very flexible recipe, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
Nonstick cooking spray
1         2/3 C low-fat granola
1 C chopped, pitted dates
1 C flaked coconut
2/3 C packed brown sugar
½ C whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
15 oz canned or freshly cooked beans, rinsed, drained and chopped
½ C raisins
½ C chopped walnuts or almonds
½ C honey
2 Tbsp margarine or butter, melted
Tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
Line a 13x9x2 inch baking pan with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
In a large bowl stir together first 6 ingredients.  Stir in beans, raisins and nuts.
In a small bowl combine honey, margarine, oil, vanilla and salt.  Add to granola mixture; stir until combined.  Spread in baking pan.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until edges of bars are light brown and center is firm to the touch.  Cool, then use foil to lift out of the pan; cut into bars.
Bars can be wrapped in foil or freezer wrap and kept in freezer for up to 3 months.
141 calories each; 5 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein

Cooking in Season
This allows you to take advantage of lower prices, sales and to purchase produce that is more sound nutritionally.  Prices are higher off season and produce is more likely to be imported or grown indoors.
With planning, you can prepare your own foods to use during off season – with the bonus that home prepared foods taste better and will be more nutritious as well. 
  • There are sites on line that have seasonal charts and I’d recommend printing one up and using it to help you plan.  For the UK, try this chart For the US, this chart
  • When I had a garden, I did home canning each year.  If you have don’t have a garden but you have the budget, there’s always the option of buying produce and canning.  I really recommend it, because the taste of processed foods from the local store can’t begin to compare to the taste of home canned foods!
  • Take advantage of great sales on seasonal produce or the overabundance that a neighbor gifts you with from their garden.  Freezing veggies for later use is super easy:  Prepare the veggie (shuck ears of corn, slice zucchini, etc) and put in boiling water.  Boil for 3-5 minutes, pour into colander and rinse with cold water.  When cooled, place in freezer safe containers and label.   I’ve just done this today with organic corn on the cob and summer squash!
  • Fruits can be frozen as well.  Berries can be sliced or frozen whole.  Add a small amount of lemon juice to water and rinse the fruits, then place whole/sliced berries and sliced fruits on a cookie sheet, making sure there is room between each fruit.  Place cookie sheet in the freezer.  Once the fruits are frozen, remove and place in freezer safe containers; label.
  • See Organization and Preparation for other ideas!
I hope some of what I’ve shared is useful to you!  Whether or not you’re trying to eat healthier, a lot of these ideas will save you money.


  1. Beans in a granola bar recipe...I would have never thought of that! This would make a great energy fix during or after a run. I'm definitely going to try them out. Thanks!

    1. You'll be glad that you did! Everyone who has tried them has liked them :)

  2. Wow! This is jam-packed with information! I have wanted to revamp my cooking/menu-planning for awhile. Definitely gonna apply some of your tips and pin this for future reference :) Stopping by from SITS!

    1. Thanks! I thought of doing 2 separate posts but decided to keep everything together.
      Use the tips! Eating healthily will help with your arthritis & it's great for the kids too!
      And definitely stick around as I'll be posting more tips, recipes, sample menus, etc.

  3. These are great tips for eating on a budget - and kudos on your decision to eat healthier (and more)! visiting from SITS!

    1. Lori, thanks! It's been a lot easier to adapt to the changes than I thought it would be. Finding ways to be active has been more of a challenge, but I'm learning that even small changes help. I'll be posting about exercise for people with limited mobility this coming week and would love for you to stop by and let me know what you think!

  4. Fantastic blog post! Love all the tips and the recipes. I completely changed my diet over a year ago because of Fibromyalgia and it really helped. I was able to do things I hadn't been able to do in such a long time. I still had flares but not as bad and they didn't last as long. In the last few months I have stepped back into my bad food habits and my symptoms are flaring off the charts. Time to get back on track and it always helps to have motivation. So thanks for taking the time to do these posts.

    1. It's been a process for me Lainey. I learned that eating organic helped my own fibro, but eating healthily has made a big difference too.
      I'm sorry to hear that your flares are so bad. I'd love it if my posts help to motivate you to go back to feeding your body healthy foods!

  5. I made meatloaf with black beans in it. I squished them up and just mixed it with everything else. Good way to add protein, and it made the meatloaf go further. I love black beans
    You listed some great ideas. I like the one about how you divide your plate up. I really need to do this. Thanks for the hints and tips :)

    I'm a new follower from I can't wait to read more :)

    1. Yummy Christina! It's a great idea to add beans to meat loaf (which is what I'm making tonight, so I'll have to give it a try!).
      Dividing my plate up is the easiest way that I've found to remind me to balance my meals in the healthiest way. It's so easy to do too!
      I'm so glad that you're following, because I'll definitely be posting more ;)

  6. Really impressed with all the ideas you have included here Cynthia. I've been adopting this way of eating for years but there's been lots of new ideas here for me to try.

    1. Hooray Kat!! So glad that you've found a few new things to use or try. Feel free to pass on any that you know that weren't included here, lol!

  7. Nice job! I have started keeping a binder for recipes, it helps keep me organized. Trying to make a 2 week outline for meals as well, that is a little harder because I never know who of our 6 house occupants will be home. I personally am doing a fairly low carb for now, it has worked well in the past and I really need to drop the weight :~)

    1. I file recipes to try in my binder (in plastic sleeves). Being a little bit organized just makes everything easier - especially with my memory (fibro fog) problems. If a recipe fails, I toss it; if we like it, I put it on a recipe card and add it to my planning binder.
      I totally understand the difficulty in sticking to a meal plan or outline! I have to keep mine pretty flexible because I never know what my pain and mobility levels will be, but that's also why I cook some things in advance. It does call for some creativity too - but it sounds like you've got a handle on it!

  8. This salmon looks yam my, I have forwarded this to my mum with special order :)

    1. Hi Maria! The salmon does look yummy - sorry I didn't include a recipe for it :( but maybe your mom can make you a big batch of the energy bars!

  9. Great article packed with helpful tips and strategies and recipes!

    Visiting from SITS.

    1. Thanks for the wonderful comment and compliment Patty!!
      I've left a comment on your blog too :)

  10. Wonderful post, cutting out so much meat is defenently good for our bodies and our budget. And buying in season I have learnt works wonders.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    I found you on SITS

    1. So glad you stopped by and commented Haley! I love the name of your blog - I'm following via email :)

  11. Hi Cynthia--I'm following your blog and finding it very interesting. I found you via SITS. I'd love if you could return the favor.


I enjoy and appreciate your comments and feedback. Thanks for being part of The Bottomless Heart!