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If you're convinced that eating right is time-consuming and expensive, we've got news for you: Buying colorful produce, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean protein actually costs way less, and these foods are a whole lot quicker to prepare than you think. To prove it, FITNESS recently stopped four women in the aisles of the Super Stop & Shop in Ossining, New York, and gave their grocery carts a makeover.The Multitasking Mom
Michele Madiou, 47, Cortland Manor, New York
Michele and her three kids, ages 16, 15, and 5, are vegetarians (they eat dairy, but no eggs, poultry, meat, or fish), so they go through a lot of fruits and vegetables in a week. Her husband and her mom, who lives with them, eat meat, so Michele has to find options that work for them, too. And she's always trying to save money. Between feeding six people and buying loads of produce, her grocery bill can typically run more than $175 a week.Her Go-To Groceries
Spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, red and green peppers, organic apples, pita chips, organic tortilla chips, sugar-sweetened cereal, whole-grain cereal, whole wheat cinnamon-swirl bread, whole wheat naan, pasta, low-fat frozen dinners, deli turkeyBetter Grocery Buys
Simplify Your Shopping List
Instead of prepping two meals each night, Michele can buy ingredients for one dinner that everyone will love. A pasta dish, such as baked ziti, is vegetarian yet hearty enough for meat eaters. Or she can whip up a quick stir-fry: While the vegetables are cooking in one pan, she can saute diced chicken or shrimp in another to add to her mother's and husband's portions.
Pump Up the Protein
Vegetarians often have a tough time getting enough protein, which is especially important for growing kids. Michele needs to make sure hers consume two to three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese each day, and she herself should aim for three servings. Choosing foods that are high in vegetable protein, such as beans, tofu, and peanut butter, will also help them meet their quota.
Her kids love to munch on chips, but we convinced Michele to put back one of her two bags in favor of some in-season fruits. Our top pick: blackberries for only 99 cents and watermelon on sale for 79 cents per pound. If she offers fruit along with chips at snacktime, her children are likely to eat it.
Sneak In the Good Stuff
Michele loves whole-grain cereal, but her children are still hooked on the sweetened kind. To wean them off it, she can serve them their favorite but mix in a little of hers. Each week, she'll increase the amount to transition them without a struggle.
Total savings: about $17*
*All prices are as of 5/7/09.
Susie is six months pregnant, and cooking dinner for herself and her husband is the last thing she feels like doing when she gets home from work. While she scores high marks for choosing nutrient-rich produce and dairy, her cart also contains some prepared and packaged foods that deliver a side order of excess sodium and sugar.Her Go-To Groceries
Rice mixes, premarinated steak and chicken, deli ham, roast beef, American cheese, canned corn, apples, strawberries, grapes, grapefruit, string beans, 12-grain bread, rye bread, whipped yogurt, nonfat milk, low-fat chocolate milk, cranberry-grape juice drinkBetter Grocery Buys
Choose the Right Sides
When we met Susie and her husband, Devin, they were stocking up on packaged rice mixes. Just one serving delivers half the sodium that Susie should have in an entire day. We suggested that she make her own by buying unseasoned brown rice and adding dried herbs or spices, such as parsley and oregano, and microwaved frozen veggies to it. Brown rice is naturally salt-free and a good source of fiber, and it was on sale for $1.25 that week.
Make Your Own Marinade
The premarinated chicken and beef kebabs Susie chose are heavily seasoned with salt to add flavor. And she's paying about $2 extra for the supermarket to do the prep work. A healthier, less expensive alternative is to buy plain chicken or beef, cut it into kebabs, and whisk together a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, chopped garlic, and dried rosemary.
Swapping salmon steaks (on special for $5.99 a pound) for beef or chicken one night a week would give Susie and Devin a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health and can help their baby's cognitive development.
Susie was ready to buy a cranberry-grape juice drink until a look at the nutrition facts revealed that an 8-ounce glass has 160 calories and contains only 25 percent juice. We helped her find a 100 percent cranberry juice blend that had 120 calories.
Total savings: about $30
Like a lot of women, Pam struggles to eat healthfully while feeding a family of picky eaters. Her solution: Prepare one dinner for her kids, ages 11, 8, and 5, then a separate meal for herself and her husband. One or two nights a week everyone eats the same thing -- usually a frozen pizza or a spaghetti and premade turkey meatball dinner. Because she's making so many different dishes, Pam relies heavily on heat-and-eat foods, which aren't always the most nutritious choice.Her Go-To Groceries
Frozen pizza, yogurt, cereal, 100-calorie packs, steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables, frozen creamed spinach, chicken sausage, ice cream, flavored nondairy creamerBetter Grocery Buys
Grilled chicken sausage with veggies is a staple in Pam's house, but it's made with fatty chicken-thigh meat. Swapping it for boneless, skinless chicken breasts (on sale for two for the price of one) will save her money and trim nearly 6 grams of fat.
Pick the Right Pie
Pam was about to buy a couple of frozen pizzas. We suggested Stop & Shop's Nature's Promise Organic Pizza, which was on sale. It's made from at least 95 percent organic ingredients, meaning the cheese has no added hormones and is free of synthetic antibiotics -- important because some research suggests that antibiotics in meat and dairy may contribute to antibiotic resistance in people. She can make it even more nutritious by adding chopped vegetables before baking.
Read the Fine Print
Frozen veggies are a smart option for hectic weeknights, as long as they're not served in sauce. Pam should trade creamed spinach for a bag of fresh spinach (on special for $1.79) or a few boxes of plain, frozen spinach, which she can saute with a little olive oil and garlic for extra flavor.
Avoid Sweet Traps
Pam was surprised to learn that there's hidden sugar in the nondairy creamer she puts in her coffee. Just two tablespoons pack nearly 12 grams and 100 calories. Replacing it with low-fat milk will save her money and nix the empty calories while adding calcium.
Total savings: about $41
Leigh Anna and her husband, Andrew, are vegans, and the diet's restrictions -- no honey or dairy, for example -- can make it tricky to choose packaged goods. Leigh Anna tends to buy the same foods every week because she knows they're vegan-friendly. She and Andrew have to work hard to get enough of nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron.Her Go-To Groceries
Whole wheat bread, a variety of produce, canned beans, tea, pasta, pasta sauce, natural peanut butter, orange juice, chocolate and plain soy milkBetter Grocery Buys
Go with the Grain
Leigh Anna's already getting plenty of fiber from her vegetable- and fruit-rich diet, which means she can skip whole wheat pasta and go with the regular semolina kind instead. It's an especially smart choice for vegans, since it's got more iron than whole wheat pasta.
Scrutinize Your Pasta Sauce
Leigh Anna reached for a jar with nearly a tablespoon of corn syrup per serving. Instead, we recommended Classico Tomato & Basil pasta sauce, with no added sugar or sweeteners, which was on special for $2.50 a jar.
Get Smart About Soy Milk
Andrew likes chocolate soy milk, but it packs nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar per 8-ounce glass. Adding a tablespoon of light chocolate syrup to plain soy milk will give him the sweet taste he loves and cut the amount of sugar in half.
In the juice section, Leigh Anna makes a healthy choice for Andrew with a 128-ounce jug of calcium- and vitamin D-fortified OJ. But she can save $2 by buying two 64-ounce containers of Minute Maid Kids+ Orange Juice, which was on sale. Not only is it fortified with calcium and D, but it also has 20 percent of the daily value for vitamin E per serving.
Total savings: about $13
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2009.