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The Lean Plate Club: Sally Squires

The Cost of Compliance

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page HE01

It's easy to find bargains at fast-food restaurants, where dollar menus and other deals entice cost-conscious consumers. But what about healthful eating? More specifically, what about eating according to the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines? Can you do it without taking a big bite out of your wallet?

We decided to do some math, using the latest guidelines for an average intake of 2,000 calories per day and typical prices in the Washington region.

Fruit. (Goal: 2 cups daily.) At $3 and higher per cup, fancy fruit such as raspberries will be a pricey choice. But there are plenty of low-cost options: (each piece of fruit named here equals approximately 1 cup): bananas (30 cents each); navel oranges (starting at 60 cents each); apples and pears (80 cents each); and grapefruit (about $1 per fruit). Canned and frozen fruit are considered nutritionally interchangeable with fresh fruit, and they sometimes cost less. For example, frozen unsweetened raspberries run about $2 per cup. Fresh peaches start at 60 cents each, while a cup of Del Monte Peaches in juice runs 80 cents.

Estimated cost to meet the dietary guidelines: about 90 cents/day (one banana and one navel orange).

Vegetables. (Goal: 2 1/2 cups daily.) A large, hearty salad is a thrifty way to meet the guidelines. A head of romaine or red leaf lettuce starts at about $1.50 and easily provides two cups of veggies for about 75 cents. For flavor and variety, add half a cup of mixed vegetables (diced baby carrots, tomatoes, purple cabbage and cucumbers) for about 40 cents.

Other options: A cup of fresh broccoli runs about 75 cents. An ear of corn -- equal to about a cup -- runs about 50 cents. But those on a budget will find plenty of values in the frozen-food case, where broccoli runs about 30 cents per cup; frozen peas and corn are about 60 cents/cup; corn and string beans, 40 cents/cup. Canned vegetables are another penny-pinching option. Canned corn, string beans, peas and other vegetables run about 50 cents per cup, including low-sodium and no-added-sodium varieties for those concerned about controlling blood pressure.

And while an order of fast-food fries can cost as little as a buck, baked fries made at home (or a baked potato instead) run about 50 cents or less and come with a fraction of the added fat.

Estimated cost to meet the guidelines: about $1.25 /day (a large salad and a half-cup of canned peas).

Grains. (Goal: Three 1-ounce servings of whole grains and three 1-ounce servings other grains daily.) So what's an ounce? Figure on one slice of bread; a half-cup of cooked cereal or rice; or roughly a cup of most ready-to-eat cereals.

Expect to dig deeper into your pocket for some whole-grain products. Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice can cost about 28 cents per half-cup -- seven times more than white rice. As for long-grain brown rice, even house brands can set you back 75 cents per half-cup. Whole-wheat pasta can be a better deal at about 25 cents per half-cup, although it's still twice the cost of regular pasta.

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