WebMD Town Hall: Affordable Healthy Meals

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Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
An overwhelming amount of people asked us for some advice on fitting healthy foods into a grocery budget which may be tight. So what are your thoughts?

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Well, if you're looking to stretch your food dollar, it's good news, because you can do it without skimping on good taste or good nutrition. If you keep that plate in mind, one of the most expensive parts of the plate is the protein source, but it doesn't have to be fish or chicken or meat. It can be beans. Beans are so nutritious. They're inexpensive. You can keep them in the pantry. You can take your family meals, your family favorite recipes, and stretch them with things like beans or eggs, make dinners out of eggs, have vegetarian dinners where you just eat all vegetables, plus whole grains and beans. So you really can do it without compromising the health of your family. And when you think about the amount of protein you need, it's really small. So you can make that 1 pound of ground beef stretch and feed the whole family.

Hansa Bhargava, MD
I would add two other things to that. One third of our families right now are shop, are going outside to eat. That's how many meals we're eating outside the home. If you stay at home and you cook, you're going to save a lot of money. Put that money into a jar and use it for fun activities like going skating with your kids if you live up in the North, or maybe roller skating in the South, you know. You can actually save that money and save the gas money that you're going out when you go outside and eat as well, and you're teaching your kids good habits, because you need to model that behavior. Cooking at home is something they will learn and then they can pass that on to their families.

Michelle Obama
That's one of the main things we did in our household before we lived in the White House when I was still cooking, is we eliminated the number of times we went out, and that made a huge difference. Now, that meant that I had to be way more organized about cooking, but, you know, I would cook a big meal on Sunday, so we'd have Sunday. That would last until Monday. I'd get a break on Tuesday, you know. We come around on Thursday, get another meal, so, you know, eliminating those opportunities to eat out made a huge difference, and it also, you know my kids liked it. They liked being at home. They liked sitting around the table. I mean, that became and still is. For us at the White House, no matter what is going on at 6:30, we stop everything. We have dinner together. When the president travels, his goal is to get home in time for dinner, and that's really the time that we get to connect with our girls. I mean, we're running to and fro and dropping people off and kids in the back seat, and the only time you really get to find out those little hidden treasures of information that slip out, you know, a good teaching moment, you know, what would normally be a lecture is a nice conversation around the dinner table, you know, so and I find that my girls aren't as focused on gobbling their food down if they're engaged in the conversation, you know. They're really focused on tasting their food and taking their time and cutting their food, and then we use that time to talk about manners, how to hold a fork, and sitting up, and take your elbows off the table, little things like that, that, you know, nowadays kids, you know, they don't know these basic things, because we don't have time to sit down with them. So the family meal is much more critical than we ever imagined and we experience that every day at our home.

Hansa Bhargava, MD
And just as a pediatrician, there's been plenty of research to show that not only do you get the benefits that Mrs. Obama is talking about, but guess what? Your kids are more grounded. They're less depressed, less likely to be overweight. There's just so many benefits that you get in addition to having those wonderful conversations with your children.