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Eating healthy while pinching pennies

As the economic crisis continues, many Americans are eating out less and closely watching what they spend on groceries.

Eating healthy food within a budget does require smart shopping.

The Farm Bureau is devoted to helping consumers become more aware of how to stretch their grocery dollars during its Food Check-Out Week, which is from Sunday, Feb. 15, to Saturday, Feb. 21.

The good news is that according to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the cost of eating healthy hasn’t changed as much as the cost of less-healthy alternatives. A March 2008 USDA report shows that prices for unprepared, readily available fresh fruits and vegetables have remained stable relative to dessert and snack foods, such as chips, ice cream and cola.

“It’s important to use your grocery dollars wisely to ensure that nutrition isn’t neglected,” said Lindsey Bell, Decatur County Farm Bureau Woman’s Committee chairman. “Knowing your food budget, planning balanced meals, making a list and shopping at competitively priced grocery stores are just a few strategies dietitians recommend to achieve better nutrition with less money.”

The food pyramid

A healthy diet includes a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, fish, beans, eggs and nuts within daily calorie needs. Anyone interested in learning more about making healthy food choices should visit www.mypyramid.gov to consult the USDA food guidance system. The USDA nutrition program provides a personalized approach to healthy eating and physical activity. You can enter your age, gender and activity level to develop a personalized food plan that will indicate the daily amounts of each food group you should consume at an appropriate calorie level.

Based on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults and an 1,800-calorie diet for kids, the USDA recommends that adults and children eat six ounces of grains (cereals, breads, crackers, popcorn, rice or pasta) every day. One ounce is about one slice of bread, one cup of cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. Whole grains should make up at least half of your grain consumption. Look for the words whole grains in the ingredient list.

The USDA recommends adults and children eat 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day, especially dark-green veggies like broccoli and spinach. Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are also recommended.

Adults should eat two cups of fruit a day, and kids should eat 1 1/2 cups a day. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits can help you meet this goal. The USDA advises eating fruit instead of drinking fruit juices. Be sure that the juices you do drink are 100 percent juice. Buy fresh produce when it’s in season and costs less, and buy frozen fruits and vegetables when they’re not in season to stretch your grocery dollars.

Because calcium is an important nutrient for adults and children, the USDA recommends that both consume three cups a day. The USDA says two cups a day is enough for kids age 2 to 8. Select low-fat or fat-free milk products. If you are lactose intolerant, choose lactose-free products or other foods rich in calcium such as canned salmon or leafy greens. Many non-dairy foods, such as cereals and orange juice, are fortified with calcium.

The USDA recommends that adults eat 5 1/2 ounces of meat a day and that kids eat five. Lean cuts of meat and poultry make excellent sources of protein as do fish and nuts. Low-fat beef is an excellent source of essential nutrients such as iron and B-vitamins. Peanuts and pecans are also excellent sources of protein that provide antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Other assistance

From now until Feb. 21, Decatur County Farm Bureau will be accepting can good donations to assist the TLC Room-Hunger Prevention Coalition with Family Connection in their county and provide monetary donation assistance for the Ronald McDonald House of West Georgia in Columbus.

“With the current economic situation, we realize that many Americans cannot afford to buy the food they need and many food banks are in need of donations,” Bell said.

The Ronald McDonald House provides a “home-away-from-home” for the families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment in the area. The financial assistance will help them take care of the needs of the families staying at the house, including food. Each year, the Georgia Farm Bureau Women’s Committee rotates the state focus to a different Ronald McDonald House.