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On a tight budget? You can still eat healthy. Here’s how

Theresa Albert

Racheal McCaig Photography

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

What would you eat if you had only $6.65 to spend each day?

I was recently introduced to a group of people at Fife House in Toronto – a hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS – where I learned that this is the average amount a resident has to spend on food each day.

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When I work with clients, budget is rarely a concern. Eating load of fresh vegetables, healthy grains and lean protein is the focus. But what if you have less that $7 a day as a food budget? Is it even possible to eat healthily?

I think so. But it's a challenge.

These challenges are the focus of two Fife House programs aimed at raising money and awareness. On April 23, A Taste for Life involves a long list of participating restaurants that will donate a portion of their proceeds to Fife House. And two weeks ago, a group of Fife House staff and Torontonians put their money where their mouths were and joined the Thrive $6.65 Challenge. Volunteers attempted to stay within that budget for one week and blogged about the experience.

It all set me to thinking: How would my usual healthy eating advice stack up for someone on a fixed income? And what if that person's health is already compromised and they could especially benefit from better nutrition?

When I think about having to stick to a $6.65 daily budget, I realized that some of the "staples" that I take for granted would be immediately on the line, including coffee, extra virgin olive oil, fresh raw vegetables, cheese and wine.

But I am determined that everyone can and should strive for healthier eating, no matter what their financial or health status. So here are some tips for all of us:

Use the freezer

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· Batch cook: Chicken legs are cheap, and a slow cooker is your best friend.

· Use frozen mixed vegetables in soups and stews; buy large bags.

· Freeze the above creations in single serving sizes so meals are ready when you are.

· Buy large bricks of cheese on sale. Choose a variety that is over 35 per cent milk fat, grate it and freeze.

· Buy in-season fruits and vegetables and freeze on cookie sheets, then store is freezer bags.

· Milk bags make excellent freezer bags. Cut off the tops, rinse and let dry. Use an elastic to secure.

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Pick storage-friendly items

· Onions, cabbage and carrots are affordable and nutrient-dense, and store easily.

Hunt for produce

· Shop for fresh greens at Asian markets if you can; they are very versatile.

· Scan the reduced-price bin. Some of the produce that ends up there was on the regular shelf just seconds earlier, but a new delivery arrived.

Choose dense proteins

· Eggs are powerful, nutritious protein.

· Learn how to soak and cook dry beans. They are even less expensive than canned ones.

· Lentils don't need to soak. Red ones can be added to white rice for nutrients and fibre.

· Oatmeal with peanut butter is cheap and filling, but don't be tempted by sugar-filled oatmeal packets. The price is double and what you're paying for is sugar.

Watch your inventory – and use everything

· Buy smaller amounts from bulk stores, especially dry goods. Don't keep money tied up in inventory.

· Beet and carrot tops and broccoli stalks are all edible and nourishing.

· Rethink what you toss away. Bones, onion skins and trims as well as celery and carrot can be used to make nourishing soup.

Eating healthy doesn't have to cost a lot. It may be difficult, but a little planning goes a long way.

Theresa Albert is a food communications consultant and a registered nutritionist based in Toronto. She blogs here and you can follow her on Twitter @theresaalbert

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