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How to Cook Light on a Budget

Foods Under Five Dollars Image Gallery To up your nutrition, replace white bread with whole grain. See more foods under five dollars pictures.
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Preparing healthy and nutritious meals is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. Nutritionists often tout the benefits of low fat, fresh foods. But whole, natural foods can be expensive. How do you keep your grocery budget under control without relying on the dollar menu at the local fast food restaurant? We're sharing a few tips to get you on your way toward healthy, budget-conscious cooking.

Benefit Your Waistline and Your Wallet

Eating a low-fat diet provides numerous health benefits, including achieving a healthy body weight. Cooking light also lowers your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even cancer [source: Lynch]. However, you don't have to eat special diet fare or spend your extra cash on over-processed convenience foods. With a little planning, a little organization and a little creativity, you can save money and calories at the same time.

Here's a quick list of foods that are good for your body and your wallet:

  • beans and lentils                                       
  • brown rice                                                  
  • whole wheat pasta
  • soup
  • fresh produce
  • lean meat and fish

Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with these items and you'll have a base for countless healthy meals.

Master the Art of Shopping

To make the most of your budget, you need to learn how to work the grocery store.

  • Plan your meals. Shop for a week's worth at a time, using recipes that require the same ingredients. Always have a shopping list to prevent impulse purchases you'll regret later.
  • Don't forget to clip coupons and look for store sales to stretch your budget even more.
  • Buy your produce in season. It's less expensive, and you can buy local. You can always freeze any excess and enjoy a summer treat like blueberries in the winter.
  • Buy nonperishables like canned foods or dried peas and beans in bulk to save money.
  • You can also buy meat in bulk family packs. Look for leaner, cheaper cuts. Separate and freeze the meat when you get home, so you can use it bit by bit as needed.
  • Consider adding a few meatless meals to your shopping list. You'll save money by skipping the meat, and you can still get your proteins through less expensive beans and lentils (also bought in bulk).
  • Don't forget condiments -- spices and herbs can make a low-fat meal much more flavorful and exciting.

Make Every Morsel Count

You have your groceries. Now what? Try these strategies to lighten up your meals.

  • Cut the fat off meat and remove the skin from chicken before cooking.
  • Don't fry -- bake, broil or grill.
  • Keep your servings small -- less meat and more veggies. It's economical, too.
  • Cut down on the amount of butter or oil with which you cook by using cooking spray or investing in a nonstick skillet.
  • Banish high fat and overly processed foods from your kitchen. Replace them with seasonal fruits and veggies.
  • Trade your white bread for whole grains. Foods high in fiber help you eat less and stay full longer.

If you're buying in bulk, you can also cook in bulk. Freeze your leftovers for easy meals later in the week. Try not to waste anything. You can even save your vegetable trimmings and use them later as a nutritious base for soup stock.