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Tasty and healthful food doesn’t have to be expensive.

Over time, the concept of healthy eating has certainly taken a beating. Firstly, many people mistakenly think that if a dish tastes good, it can’t possibly be good for you. Then there’s the idea that making nutritious eats has to be expensive. Not so. It all depends on what’s on the menu and the ingredients used in food preparation. Smart shopping practices can go a long way in saving food dollars. And some of these food purchasing ideas can also offer nutritional – and delicious – perks.

There are some basics to keep in mind when you make your shopping list. Use a menu plan – even an outline of sorts – to provide the framework for meals and shopping. It helps avoid food waste and assures some variety; consuming a range of nutrients is an important component of healthy eating.

A shopping list based on a careful reading of weekly specials advertised in the newspaper can also be a useful tool. But evaluate whether an item on special is worth the detour to another store. If you’re saving only a small amount, it may not be worth the extra cost in transportation and time.

Also, consider package sizes, especially if you’re preparing meals for one or two. While a two-litre container of milk may be cheaper than a single one, it may spoil if you don’t use it quickly enough. Bags of milk, on the other hand, may allow for a longer shelf life as they’re opened one at a time. The same goes for cottage cheese or yogurt. If only half a container is used before mould develops, then the larger container is no bargain. As with any perishable food, always look at the best-before date when selecting items. Be aware that these dates are for the unopened food package. Once opened, the particular food may only last three to four days.

Here’s some food for thought.

Meat and alternatives

Practising portion control is not only calorie- and fat-wise but a terrific cost saver. Keep serving sizes to a maximum of 100 grams (the size of a deck of cards). When purchasing larger packages of meat or poultry, divide up the raw food, wrap well, label and freeze the extra.

Buy less tender cuts of beef, such as blade, chuck, flank and round, or pork butt, loin or rib, and use cooking methods that yield tasty results. When buying chicken, go for a whole bird, cut it up at home and freeze pieces for later use.

Use more dried peas and beans

Cook them from scratch and freeze in appropriate-sized containers for an economical and nutrition-packed meat alternative. Label each package with date and portion size. Using canned options still offers cost savings over meat but be sure to rinse contents well to lower sodium levels to those you can achieve when cooking dried legumes.

Look for omega-3 rich fish

Canned sardines and mackerel can be money-smart selections for your omega-3 fats. These fats provide possible benefits for both heart health and cognitive function. Canned pink salmon and light tuna are also cheaper alternatives, but do contain smaller amounts of these fats than white albacore tuna or red salmon.