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Stretching your food budget with healthy choices

  • Story Highlights
  • For cheaper, healthy food, look for produce that's in season
  • Canned tomatoes contain more of the nutrient lycopene than fresh tomatoes
  • Mix in high-protein black beans to make your beef go further
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By Judy Fortin
CNN Medical Correspondent
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Jennifer Roberge is expecting her first child any day now. With one more mouth to feed, the 30-year-old from Smyrna, Georgia, is also expecting to see a jump in her $50 weekly grocery bill.

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Eating a healthy diet doesn't have to cost a lot, dietitian Marisa Moore tells Jennifer Roberge.

"I'm always trying to look for things with better value and nutrition," Roberge said. "But some things can be really expensive. It's outrageous."

Roberge isn't the only shopper these days looking for ways to stretch her food budget.

On a recent weekday morning, Roberge got a personal lesson from registered dietitian Marisa Moore on how to eat healthy without breaking the bank. The key: consider the season, and shop around the periphery of the store, where the fresh foods are kept.

First stop, the produce department.

Moore picked up a container of strawberries and told Roberge, "Berries are a great choice this time of year because you can actually freeze half of them and use them later in the year." They'll last 8 to 12 months in the freezer, she said. Video Health Minute: More on shopping for cheap, healthy food »

Moore reminded Roberge that berries are a great source of vitamin C and folate. "We know that's important for your baby," Moore said.

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Then the dietitian moved toward a bin of yellow squash, which she said was a good value at 99 cents a pound. "When it comes to vegetables, it's a good idea to look for seasonal, local produce," she said.

Moore passed along another cost-saving hint, this time about fresh tomatoes. "They can be pricey. Don't be afraid to try canned tomatoes. They have more of an antioxidant called lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease."

Roberge pushed her cart on to the second stop, the meat department.

Pointing to a package of ground beef Moore said the dinner staple has increased in price recently.

She recommended an easy way for Roberge to get more for her money. "You can add some black beans to the mix and stretch your food dollar that way. Beans are a great source of protein, a great source of fiber and a great way to save some money."

Next, Moore warned Roberge she wouldn't find many bargains in the dairy aisle, but as a pregnant mother-to-be she can't afford to skip her daily calcium.

"We know that the price of milk has increased. It's actually more than the price of gasoline right now," Moore said. "But when you break it down, it is only 25 cents a cup, so it's still a great way to get your calcium."

Moore picked up a carton of eggs and pronounced them "a great deal," despite a small price increase. "They are less than 20 cents per serving and they are a great source of protein," Moore said.

But she cautioned Roberge not to overdo it. "One egg per day is plenty," she said.

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As the pair moved toward the check out line, Moore offered some parting advice. "Look in your pantry. A study showed the average family lost $600 a year on expired goods, including produce, meat and grain products."

So the first stop on a grocery-shopping trip should be her own pantry, she advised Roberge. Taking note of what you already have on hand can trim your list. "In the end you'll cut down on waste and save money," Moore said.

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