Beans are schizophrenic, too; they count as both a vegetable and a protein food. They're also a vegetable that kids and adults all like. They go in everything -- soups, salads, stir-fries, rice and pasta dishes. Plus, the canned ones are just fine and still among the best buys anywhere.
The dietary guidelines recommend half a cup daily, anyway, so beans are a great place to start eating better and for less. Incidentally, just one-half cup of pinto beans every day has been shown to reduce cholesterol by about 8 to 10 percent. With nutrition like that, beans should be on our plates no matter what our budgets are.
Carrots are the deep orange of the antioxidant carotene, cabbage is a high-octane cruciferous veggie, and deep-green collards have more anti-cancer compounds than almost any vegetable. And they're all economical. They never need go to waste, either, because the aging ones can always go into soups and stir-fries. The vitamin content may wane a little, but the minerals stay put, and so do most of the disease-fighting compounds.
See what I mean? Now, the other part of eating better on a budget involves ditching some of the wasted stuff. Sugar-water beverages -- of all colors -- are a total waste of money. If you really need a sweet beverage and you insist on it having sugar, then some homemade iced tea does the trick for next to nothing, plus tea is healthy. At least this way, you can control the amount of sugar and calories.
On the savory side, ditch the chips and even the pretzels. Invest in a hot-air popper and make popcorn -- the cheapest snack of all -- and it's even a whole grain treat. As an added bonus, clean up is easy because you don't use oil. Spray air-popped popcorn lightly with butter-flavored popcorn spray (it has no calories), and flavor it with all kinds of herbs, or just a little salt.
Eat smart with some of these tips and you and the family will make it out of this recession with extra money and healthier bodies.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.