Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dining For a Dollar (Part 2)

In response to a $1 cookbook that was no bargain (it's the first book in a long, long time that I've actually been tempted to just throw away, instead of donating it or passing it along to someone else), here's a list of dollar-store foodstuffs that will nourish your body without emptying your wallet. Unfortunately, the dollar stores in my area don't stock any refrigerated or frozen foods other than cold drinks and ice cream novelties, but I think I could get by a few days a week with ingredients like these:
  • Beans, dry and canned (you get more for your money and can control sodium levels by cooking dry beans yourself)
  • Dairy foods and substitutes, like soy milk or small containers of reduced-fat UHT ("Ultra High Temperature" pasteurized, shelf-stable) cow's milk
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.) in tins or pouches
  • Fruits in many forms: canned or jarred, in single-serving containers (like applesauce), dried (raisins), and juice; look for no-sugar-added varieties
  • Nuts (including peanut butter) and "soy nuts" (roasted soybeans); look for no-salt-added varieties
  • Vegetables in cans or jars, and don't forget salsa (it's usually non-fat and loaded with healthy veggies); look for low-sodium varieties
  • Whole-grain breads and snack foods like corn tortillas, 100% whole-wheat bread and crackers, and popcorn
  • Whole-grain cereals like oatmeal, oat rings, and shredded wheat
I prefer whole-grain flour, flour tortillas, rice, and pasta (which I've never found at dollar stores) to their refined counterparts. Whole-grain versions do sometimes show up on sale for $1 at regular grocery stores, but if I were limited to just dollar-store items, I'd go ahead and buy white rice, etc. Almost anything that I cook myself from basic ingredients, even if they're not whole-grain, is going to be healthier than something prepared from a mix or purchased from a fast-food restaurant.

(It's important to read labels, though. That cutesy plastic "honey" bear probably contains yellow-tinted corn syrup, not honey. And I should point out that dollar stores aren't necessarily the cheapest source of a given product; you might find the same item for a bit less than a dollar at a "regular" store.)

These foods can be combined into reasonably healthy meals: whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit for breakfast, peanut butter or tuna sandwiches on whole-wheat bread and fruit for lunch, bean soup or pasta with veggies for dinner, nuts and/or popcorn as snacks, etc. If you eat like this most of the time, you don't have to feel guilty about occasionally splurging on a chocolate-covered ice cream cone from the freezer case by the checkout counter!

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