Q: I am a single mom of two young kids. Nearly all of my income goes to rent, keeping my car on the road and bills. "Good" food is expensive. I can already see my 6-year-old getting fat on what I can afford. What can I do? I'm not sure he'd even eat vegetables and salad, but she sure loves macaroni and cheese.
A: The Family Project says that good, healthy food does not have to be expensive. Sure, asparagus that's out of season seems outrageously priced and we recently had that big price increase for fresh tomatoes. But there are plenty of ways to put healthy and inexpensive food on the table.
In fact, there are plenty of Web sites set up for people who are in your exact predicament. One is miserlymoms.com and it has recipe after recipe featuring nutritious and inexpensive ground beef, beans and canned tuna as ingredients.
Or you can tap this newspaper's recipe exchange, which is on page 4 of the Wednesday A.M. Magazine section, panelist Marcie Lightwood says.
Or just ask friends and relatives for ideas, Lightwood says.
If you're not comfortable cooking because you don't have much experience, read books like the "Joy of Cooking" or a Betty Crocker book to build confidence, says guest panelist Lois Killcoyne.
Generally speaking, Killcoyne says, to save money you ought to purchase whole foods instead of foods that have been processed. Do the preparing yourself.
A bag of potatoes is going to cost a lot less per pound than a pre-made frozen pouch of au gratin potatoes, for example.
And for health and financial reasons, steer clear of soft drinks and junk food. Potato chips cost several times per pound what potatoes do, says Killcoyne, a food and nutrition educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension. And tap water is healthier and obviously much less expensive than soda and other soft drinks.
Killcoyne says her grocery bills are high the weeks that she's stocking up on soda and snacks for a party.
Guest panelist Melissa Feather, a dietitian with the Allentown Bureau of Health, says another way to cut down on food bills is to avoid shopping at convenience stores.
As for whether your child will even eat fruit and vegetables, don't ever give up the fight, the panel says.
Feather says a child might turn down, say, Brussels sprouts nine times, but on the tenth try, eat them.
And this was stated in an earlier column but bears repeating: Don't get hung up on buying only fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Family Project says canned and frozen fruits and vegetables have as many vitamins and nutrients as fresh.
If you really want fresh, try a farmers market.
"It's a myth that fruits and vegetables are expensive and people can't afford them," Killcoyne says.
Of course, preparing healthy, inexpensive meals is easier said than done. It takes some effort and some time. But the Family Project believes the payoff -- healthier kids and more money left over -- is well worth it.
And you can even make your meals a family event from start to finish. Have your kids go shopping with you and then let them help prepare the meals. "They may try other types of food if they are involved in preparing it," says panelist Joanne Nigito.
"Take some cookie cutters and use them to make shape sandwiches," Nigito says. "Or combine some foods that they like with some they wouldn't ordinarily try such as "Ants on a Log' -- putting raisins on peanut butter on top of celery."
Tips for feeding your family on a limited budget
Incorporate beans and canned tuna fish.
Look for easy, low-cost recipes on Web sites including miserlymoms.com and stretcher.com.
If you're not comfortable in the kitchen, build your confidence by reading introductory cookbooks like "Joy of Cooking."
Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables usually have as much nutritional value as fresh fruits and vegetables, even more if fresh produce has been sitting around too long.
Family Project panel
CONTACT THE FAMILY PROJECT
Offer comments, suggest topics or ask questions. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail: "The Family Project," c/o Linda O'Connell, Assistant Managing Editor, Features, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260. Phone: 610-820-6562.
THE TOPIC TEAM
Parenting experts and guest panelists who helped with this installment of The Family Project:
Denise Continenza, family living specialist for Penn State University's Lehigh County Cooperative Extension, South Whitehall Township.
Melissa Feather, dietitian, Allentown Health Bureau.
Lois Killcoyne, agent, Penn State Cooperative Extension.
Marcie Lightwood, program coordinator for Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House.
Barbara Malcolm, Chairperson of School Health Services, Allentown School District.
Joanne Nigito, registered play therapist and parenting educator, Bethlehem.
Bill Vogler, executive director of Family and Counseling Services of the Lehigh Valley, Allentown.
Project Child offers ongoing parenting classes Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Project Child office, 2200 W. Broad St., Bethlehem. Fee: $15. To sign up, call 610-419-4500, ext. 373, or e-mail email@example.com. Parents who are overwhelmed can call the Project Child/Valley Youth House Parent Line at 610-691-1200. It is a 24-hour confidential, free information line.
The Family Project is a collaboration between The Morning Call and parenting professionals brought together by Valley Youth Houses's Project Child, the Lehigh Valley's child-abuse prevention coalition.