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With many people trying to tighten their belts both physically and fiscally right now, Tennessee Tech University nutrition professor Cathy Hix-Cunningham offers 10 tips for selecting foods that are healthy and inexpensive.

“People in the United States already spend a lower percentage of their disposable incomes than people of any other country on food,” she said. “That’s because our fertile land, technology and other resources make us efficient in food production.

“But during tougher economic times, we can still eat well for less cost,” Hix-Cunningham continued. “The key is to depend more on the plant world for our sources of protein and fiber. From a health stand-point, our diet is probably healthiest if we’re at least partial vegetarians, and that’s usually an inexpensive alternative as well.”

Hix-Cunningham’s tips include:

• Make a bean dish for the main course several nights a week.

“Beans are versatile. They come in many varieties and can be used in dishes ranging from hummus and other dips to soups and stews or chili and casseroles,” she said.

Dried and canned beans can be purchased at most groceries, and canned beans are especially economical. “Canned beans are tremendously convenient because the amount of electricity and energy needed to prepare them is greatly reduced,” Hix-Cunningham said.

• Drink more water.

“You can limit the amount of sugary and alcoholic beverages you consume without having to give up flavor by purchasing flavored drink mixes to add to your water,” she said.

• Don’t neglect dairy foods.

“Milk is rich in calcium and vitamin D, and gallon for gallon, it costs less than bottled water, so it’s important for people young and old to include dairy in their diet,” Hix-Cunningham said.

“Even people who are lactose intolerant can usually eat cheese, and it doesn’t have to be a gourmet brand. The more inexpensive or generic brands pack as much nutritional value as the gourmet cheese brands do,” she continued.

• Eat more dried fruits.

Dried fruits like raisins and prunes offer lots of nutrients in a small serving, and the drying process gives them added iron.

• Choose whole grain pasta and rice instead of the processed versions.

“Whole grain products have flavor, texture and trace minerals that the processed versions don’t have,” Hix-Cunningham said. “For the difference in cost, that makes the whole grain products healthier and more filling.”

• Eat more sweet potatoes.

“Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and vitamin A. For the calories and cost of sweet potatoes, few foods are as nutritious,” she said.

• Add onion to main dishes or serve them grilled as a side item.

“Onions are rich in vitamin A, and they make a wonderful side item when they’re grilled with margarine and seasoned salt,” Hix-Cunningham said.

• Compare costs between fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

• Become a square-foot or container gardener.

“Chives and many other herbs are inexpensive and easy to grow in small containers. That makes it easy to have fresh herbs available even with limited space,” Hix-Cunningham said.

Some fruits and vegetables can also be grown in containers or limited space.

“Tomatoes are probably the most nutritious food, but greens are the most inexpensive food that can be grown in very little space,” she said.

• Always consider the healthiest methods for food preparation.

“No matter what food items are included in a diet, they are healthiest when they’re prepared by baking, boiling, broiling, simmering or stewing,” Hix-Cunningham concluded.