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Eating Healthy on $7 A Day or Less

Source: Diabetes Forecast, October 1999
Author: Patti B. Geil, Tami A. Ross

Eating Healthy On $7 A DAY Or Less! – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included

Healthful foods are a blue chip investment.

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. Diabetes is an expensive disease. When a family member has either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the family’s income has to cover medications or insulin and syringes, monitoring equipment and strips, medical visits, diabetes books and magazines, and, of course, healthful foods.

No wonder it’s tempting to shortchange the last item.

But healthful foods are actually a blue chip investment. Good nutrition will help keep your blood glucose in balance now and will likely help prevent costly complications and expensive medical care later.

But if you’re wondering whether it’s possible to stay within a tight budget and still eat well, the answer is yes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that each member of the family can eat healthfully on as little as $3.52 a day, if you plan well, shop wisely, and practice cost-wise cooking techniques.

Know Your Meal Plan

For people with diabetes, planning well means knowing your diabetes meal plan.

Following a plan–whether it’s through the Exchange system, carbohydrate counting, or the diabetes food pyramid–will not only help keep your diabetes in control, but keep you from picking up a “little bit of this” and “a little bit of that” as you go down the supermarket aisle.

Weekly Planning

Once you’re familiar with your food plan, decide each week’s menus in advance. That enables you to take advantage of sales, resist impulse buying (which can easily add $5 to $10 to your grocery bill!), and do all your shopping at once, saving time and gasoline.

Because diabetes nutrition guidelines are no different from healthy food guidelines for everyone, you can prepare the same meals for the entire family. No need for any special (read: high cost) items.

Tip: Keep in mind that meatless meals do double duty. They lower costs (meat is likely to be one of the more expensive items on your shopping list) and also decrease the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your family’s diet. So instead of focusing on meat, build some of your meals around legumes such as pinto or navy beans or lentils.

Fortunately, dry beans and lentils are not only healthful, but also inexpensive.


When you prepare a meal, try to include some “planned-overs,” that is, extra servings you can use in a future meal. For example, our entree, Marilyn’s Spicy “Fried” Chicken, makes enough to use in a “planned-over” dish such as chicken wrap-ups.

Add a few vegetables or a green salad and you have still another meal.

Be sure to label any stored prepared foods so you’ll know what you have on hand and how long it’s been there.

Your Supermarket

Organize your shopping according to the layout of your supermarket. Research shows that the longer you stay in the store, the more you’re likely to spend, mainly on impulse buying. That’s why stores keep the high turnover items, such as dairy and meat, way in back.

You can beat the game by going directly to the appropriate shelf or freezer, picking up your item, and moving on.

Learn your store’s sale cycle, too. For example, once you get the hang of it, you may be able to count on sale-priced canned soups, frozen vegetables, or fresh boneless chicken breasts, say, on the last day of the month.

Only use coupons for your regular purchases, not something that “looks interesting.” But do take advantage of double and triple coupon days.

In shopping, as in real estate, location can make all the difference. A 20-ounce bottle of diet soda might cost 89 cents at a checkout counter display, while a much larger bottle might go for the same price in the soft drink aisle.

And don’t turn down store brands. They can be excellent buys. Often priced 30 percent below national brands, many are produced by brandname manufacturers.

Although it does take some planning and attention, you can help your family eat well, keep to a diabetes food plan, and still have a fat wallet and a thin waistline.

Menu Cost Per Serving

(*) Marilyn’s Spicy “Fried” Chicken $0.56
(*) Southern-Style Green Beans $0.38
(*) Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes $0.20
(*) Creamy Fruit Whip $0.56
Slice of bread (or roll) $0.08
Glass of skim milk $0.14

Total $1.92 per person
(*) Recipes Included

Marilyn’s Spicy “Fried” Chicken

PREPARATION TIME: 45 minutes 50 minutes bake time

Makes 10 servings

This recipe takes 45 minutes to prepare and 50 minutes to bake.

1 whole fryer chicken (around 4 lbs.)
3 egg whites
1 0.4-ounce packet ranch-style salad dressing mix
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 cup dry unseasoned bread crumbs
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp. corn oil

Preheat oven to 375 [degrees] F.

Cut the chicken into 10 pieces, as equal as you can make them. Remove the skin and fat either before or after you cut up the chicken.

Rinse the skinned chicken pieces under water and lay on paper towels to drain.

Place the egg whites in a large bowl and mix well with a wire whisk.

In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine the salad dressing mix, pepper, and bread crumbs.

Dip each piece of chicken in the egg whites to coat it. Then place several pieces of chicken at a time in the bag of seasonings and shake until they are well coated.

Coat a baking sheet with the cooking spray.

Set the seasoning-coated pieces on the baking sheet and sprinkle them with the remaining seasoned crumbs.

Spray the chicken with the cooking spray to give it a crunchy texture when baked. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven.

Using oven mitts, carefully open the oven and brush the chicken pieces with the tablespoon of corn oil. Continue baking the chicken 10 minutes longer or until the pieces are tender with absolutely no pink in the chicken or the juices.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1 piece of chicken
Starch Exchange 0.5
Lean Meat Exchanges 3

Amount per serving
Calories 187
Calories from fat 63
Total Fat 7 grams
Saturated Fat 2 grams
Cholesterol 69 milligrams
Sodium 221 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate 7 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Sugars 1 gram
Protein 24 grams

Carrots, Onions, & Potatoes

PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes 1 hour 30 minutes cook time

Makes 6 servings

This recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and 1 1/2 hours to bake.

3 carrots, peeled and sliced  into bite-sized chunks
1 large onion, sliced and separated into rings
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 Tbsp. reduced-calorie margarine
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
Preheat oven to 325 [degrees] F.

Place a sheet of foil in a 9-inch x 13-inch baking pan. Set the carrots, onion, and potatoes on the foil. Dot with the margarine.

Sprinkle the vegetables evenly with the salt (if using), pepper, and garlic powder. Drizzle the chicken broth over the top.

Seal the foil to make a packet.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours in the preheated oven, or until the vegetables are tender. Use caution when opening the packet to avoid being burned by the escaping hot steam!

Stir the vegetables to coat them with the sauce, then serve.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/6 recipe
Starch Exchange 1
Vegetable Exchange 1

Amount per serving
Calories 117
Calories from fat 9
Total Fat 1 gram
Saturated Fat 1 gram
Cholesterol 0 milligrams
Sodium (with optional salt) 148 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate 24 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Sugars 3 grams
Protein 3 grams

Southern-Style Green Beans

PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes 1 hour 30 minutes cook time

Makes 6 servings

This recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and 1 1/2 hours to cook.

1 lb. fresh green beans (of  frozen beans, slightly thawed and drained. These are particularly cost effective when purchased in large-size freezer bags)
2 1/2 cups water
2 tsp. corn oil
2 cubes reduced-sodium beef bouillon
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/8 tsp. salt (optional)

Remove the strings from green beans, then break the beans into bite-sized pieces. Wash the bean pieces and place them in a 2-quart saucepan.

Add the water, oil, bouillon cubes, and onion. Bring to a simmer.

Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until beans are tender when pierced with a fork; stir every few minutes.

Add salt (if using), stir, and continue cooking an additional 60 minutes. Most of the liquid should evaporate and the beans should be very tender.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/2 cup
Vegetable Exchange 1
Fat Exchanges 0.5

Amount per serving
Calories 38
Calories from fat 18
Total Fat 2 grams
Saturated Fat 1 gram
Cholesterol 0 milligrams
Sodium (with optional salt) 56 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate 4 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Sugars 3 grams
Protein 1 gram

Stock Up On Soup

Favorite Vegetable Soup is a great way to use leftover vegetables or meat. Just replace a can of vegetables in the ingredient list with approximately 2 cups of the same vegetable from your leftovers. Or vary the vegetables.

You can also replace ground chuck with 1/2 pound shredded left-over roast beef.

Prepare the soup ahead of time, if you wish, then keep it covered and refrigerated for up to three days. (It may actually taste better the second or third day, as flavors blend.) Add a bit of water before reheating, if the soup thickens up.

Or, freeze the soup, using several containers so you need only defrost the number of servings you need at one time, using the defrost setting and instructions on the microwave.

The soup, which rings in at about 34 cents a serving, depending on how many leftovers you use, makes a healthful, yet low-cost beginning or basis for a meal or snack. (Delicious with crusty bread!) It’s also an economical way to serve a crowd.

Favorite Vegetable Soup

PREPARATION TIME: 25 minutes 1 hour 20 minutes cook time

Makes 14 servings (Cost per serving $0.34)

This recipe takes 25 minutes to prepare and 1 hour and 20 minutes to cook.

1/2 lb. ground chuck
(*) 7 cups peeled, chopped fresh
tomatoes (or 2 28-ounce
cans diced tomatoes)
4 cups water
1 14.5-ounce can cut green beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can peas, drained and rinsed
1 15.25-ounce can corn, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup dry rice
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste (optional)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Place ground chuck in a 2-gallon stockpot and brown over medium heat. Remove the meat and drain it well. Wipe the meat drippings from the stockpot.

Return the meat to the stockpot, then add the tomatoes and water. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes are soft and a juicy broth is created, about 20 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and continue cooking an additional 60 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1 cup
Starch Exchange 1
Vegetable Exchange 1
Very Lean Meat Exchange 1

Amount per serving
Calories 155
Calories from fat 27
Total Fat 3 grams
Saturated Fat 1 gram
Cholesterol 17 milligrams
Sodium (with optional salt)
185 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate 23 grams
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Sugars 5 grams
Protein 9 grams
(*) Note: Using canned tomatoes will increase the sodium content.

Creamy Fruit Whip

PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes 2 hours chill time

Makes 10 servings

This recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and 2 hours to “firm up” in the refrigerator

2 8-ounce packages fat-free cream cheese
1 tub sugar-free lemonade mix (enough to make 2 quarts lemonade)
1 8-ounce container frozen “lite” whipped topping
1 cup crushed strawberries (fresh, or unsweetened frozen, thawed for about 15 minutes)
Place the cream cheese and lemonade mix in a large bowl. Beat them with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy and smooth.

Gently fold in the whipped topping, then the strawberries, mixing until combined.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until mixture is of a somewhat firm consistency. Stir twice during chilling.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/2 cup
Carbohydrate Exchange 1
Fat Exchanges 0.5

Amount per serving
Calories 103
Calories from fat 27
Total Fat 3 grams
Saturated Fat 1 gram
Cholesterol 1 milligram
Sodium 395 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate 12 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Sugars 6 grams
Protein 7 grams

What’s So Special?

Check the nutrition label before paying premium prices on “dietetic” or “diabetic” foods. Here are two labels you might find in your supermarket. Notice that the regular cookies are an all-around better deal than the “fructose-sweetened” product.

Fructose-Sweetened Cookies Vs. Regular Cookies

Fructose-Sweetened Cookies:
3 cookies
160 calories
7 grams of fat
26 grams carbohydrate
Cost: 35 cents

Regular Cookies:
3 cookies
140 calories
5 grams of fat
23 grams carbohydrate
Cost: 13 cents

Patti B. Geil, MS, RD, FADA, CDE, is a diabetes nutrition educator in Lexington, Ky. She serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the American Diabetes Association and has co-authored the new ADA book, 101 Nutrition Tips For People With Diabetes with Lea Ann Holzmeister, RD, CDE. Tami A. Ross, RD, CDE, is a diabetes nutrition educator with the ADA-recognized diabetes team at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. Ross has co-authored The Carbohydrate Counting Cookbook (John Wiley and Sons). Recipes here are from the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Meals On $7 A Day Or Less by Patti B. Geil and Tami Ross (#4711-01). To order this paperback, send a check of money order in the amount of $12.95 (same price for members and nonmembers) to: American Diabetes Association, Order Fulfillment Department, P.O. Box 930850, Atlanta, GA 31193-0850. Please include $4.99 for shipping and handling. Or call toll-free 1-800-2326733. Please have your Visa, MasterCard, or American Express card handy.