Cash-poor, nutrient-rich

This story originally was published in The Wichita Eagle on May 19, 2008.

Vicky Wiebe walks through the supermarket shaking her head these days over rising food prices. "We're struggling with it," said Wiebe, who works for the Butler County Health Department in El Dorado and whose husband is self-employed.

"And I know there are a lot of people that have it a lot worse than we do," she said.

One of those whom Wiebe knows well is Tricia Castleman, an El Dorado resident who receives money for food through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which seeks to help low-income families. Castleman is raising her 3-year-old grandson, Zander.

The two women collaborated recently with others to produce "Wonderful Incredible Cooking," a 52-page softbound cookbook that's being given to WIC recipients in Butler County.

The cookbook is designed to help WIC recipients get more fruits and vegetables into their families' diets -- a goal that nutritionists say practically everyone needs to work on.

But, as Wiebe said, food prices seem to be going through the roof. So what's a home cook to do?

The answer may be to balance our nutrition "budgets" at the same time we try to keep our fiscal ones under control.

Experts say "nutrition-dense" foods are those that provide the most vitamins and minerals for the fewest amount of calories.

Some examples include:

 Vibrantly colored vegetables

 Low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt

 Lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts

 Whole, fortified and fiber-rich grain foods

 Brightly colored fruit and 100 percent fruit juice

As the accompanying box shows, some of those foods and others touted as "super foods" are well within most shoppers' price range.

To get the most food for her money, Wiebe said she is paying closer attention than ever to coupons and other store specials -- although the price of gasoline is also a factor to be taken into account when planning shopping trips.

She extends meals with pasta and other starches, cuts back on some food purchases, and makes sure everything she does buy gets used up before it has a chance to go bad.

Castleman has cut way back on chips and other processed snack foods. If she wants cookies, she makes them from scratch.

Most of the fruit her family eats comes canned. She's looking forward to the bargains available when farmers markets are full of local produce this summer.

She buys store brands and finds nearly all of them acceptable.

And she's discovered that her grandson loves breakfast burritos any time of day. The inexpensive eggs and tortillas can be combined with small amounts of other ingredients in seemingly endless ways.

"You can sneak vegetables in there," she said. "You can put a little meat in there, a little bit of cheese in there, wrap it up in a burrito, and he likes it."

Super foods, super cheap

Several lists of "super foods" packed with important nutrients have surfaced in recent years. While some foods on the lists, such as wild-caught salmon, are relatively costly, others are not.

Here's a look at some we priced in Dillons last week.

 Sweet potatoes -- $1.29/lb.

 Green tea -- 48 bags/$1.50

 Eggs -- $1.71/dozen

 Spinach -- $1.49/bunch

 Dry beans -- $1.69/1 lb.

 Baby carrots -- $3/2 lbs.

 Brown rice -- $1.95/2 lbs.

 Oats -- $1.25/18 oz.

 Broccoli -- $1.69/crown

 Yogurt -- $2.39/32 oz.

 Olive oil -- $5.35/17 oz.

 Garlic -- 5 heads for $2

 Low-fat milk -- $1.50/half-gallon

Spaghetti with Black Bean Sauce

A cheap source of protein and fiber, beans stand in for meat in this recipe. It comes from the Sedgwick County Extension Office at 21st and Ridge, which can provide additional information about healthy, low-cost cooking. To contact the office, call 316-722-7721.

8 oz. spaghetti noodles

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups cooked beans (or 1 15-oz. can), drained and rinsed

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the oil and saute onion until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add beans, tomato sauce, tomatoes and Italian seasoning and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until sauce is thick, about 4 minutes.

Serve sauce hot over cooked spaghetti.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli provides vitamin C, carotenoid (an antioxidant) and folic acid, which fights anemia.

1 bunch fresh broccoli, cut into small pieces

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces

1 bunch green onions, diced

¾ cup sliced green olives

1 cup diced cheese

Mayonnaise, preferably low-fat

Mix together all ingredients except mayonnaise. Add enough mayonnaise to coat other ingredients lightly. Chill before serving.

Source: Vicky Wiebe, from "Wonderful Incredible Cooking"

Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet potatoes are a low-cost source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and other important nutrients.

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1¼ lbs.)

2 tablespoons light mayonnaise

1 tablespoon mustard, preferably Dijon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 large celery stalks, chopped

2 tablespoons minced onion

Optional additions:

½ cup thinly sliced green or red bell pepper

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup chopped pineapple

Using a fork, prick the sweet potatoes in several places. Microwave on high about 8 minutes or until tender, turning over midway through cooking. Cool potatoes until easy to handle. Peel off skin and cut into ¾-inch chunks.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper until blended.

Add sweet potato chunks, celery, onion and (if using) bell pepper, walnuts and pineapple to mayonnaise mixture. Stir gently until evenly coated.

Source: Adapted from "The O, Oprah Magazine Cookbook" ($29.95, Hearst Books)

Zucchini Bread

Tricia Castleman looks for zucchini when it's plentiful and cheap at the farmers market or on sale at the supermarket. It's a way to add a vegetable to a sweet quick bread.

3 eggs

¾ cup sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups zucchini (peeled and grated)

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup nuts (optional)

In a mixer bowl combine first 5 ingredients; beat well.

Stir together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon and add to bowl. Add zucchini to mixture and stir until blended. Add nuts, if using.

Bake in a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until done.

Source: Tricia Castleman, from "Wonderful Incredible Cooking"