Bulking Up

You can stretch your food budget without sacrificing nutrition

With the economy suffering from a prolonged bout of anemia, there's been a lot in the news about cheap eats. That's not surprising, but the old adage "we get what we pay for" applies to food, as well, unless we hunt, gather or grow a garden — all of which I highly recommend.

A food's nutritional value is directly related to the conditions in which plants and animals are grown and raised. If we live on industrially produced food, we may end up with a nutritionally deficient diet.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to stretch our food budget while retaining nutrients.

Many stores sell grains, pasta, beans and nuts in bulk. If you visit the bulk section regularly, you can not only try a variety of different things, you can see what turns over regularly, helping you buy the freshest bulk goods.

You also can learn about the organic items that are available, and sometimes the prices are a pleasant surprise.

Once you get your bulk goods home, you'll need to learn how to prepare them. A crock pot can be helpful to the working, winter cook.

After soaking beans and precutting veggies the night before, you can easily add spices, herbs, grains and stock in the morning and let them slow-cook during the workday. Consider unusual grains, such as buckwheat, as a meat substitute in chili, for instance. Unrelated to wheat, buckwheat contains rutin, a naturally occurring substance that strengthens blood vessels.

Quinoa is another inexpensive grain rich in fiber and protein. It cooks quickly and readily absorbs sauce, making a good stir-fry base.

If you maintain a winter garden, you may already know that kale, collards and various herbs, including oregano and parsley, tolerate cold weather. Oregano is anti-microbial and protects us from infection. Kale, collards and parsley are rich in a range of nutrients, while low in calories. Several varieties of each are available.

Collaborating with family and friends is a great way to reduce the work of cooking, while broadening the variety of your diet. Casseroles can take time to prepare but can be made in large quantities by a team of cooks on a foggy Sunday.

After all, now that football season is over, you may draft more recruits to the kitchen squad and away from the take-out menu.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and the Centre for Natural Healing. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at altmanm@sou.edu.

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