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Six ways to avoid "recession pounds"

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Health officials and dieticians are worried that the economy may be making us fat. Experts have stated that when our money gets tight, so do our waistbands. These "recession pounds" are attributed to a diet of inexpensive foods that are higher in sugars and saturated fats, such as the type served at fast food restaurants.

The South is particularly vulnerable, with home cooking styles that traditionally rely on unhealthy fats. Avoiding weight gain in a recession means shopping and eating smarter, and that goes beyond just clipping coupons. Use these tips to keep your waistline and your wallet in tip-top shape.

Shop in season. There's a good reason you pay a lot for avocados in December: they don't grow in the cold. Choose fruits and vegetables that are currently in season, and you'll also reap the nutritional benefits by eating them at their peak. Produce markets often have lower prices than the grocery store, and their offerings tend to be in-season.

Plant a garden. You might think you don't have time for planting, but growing just one or two vegetables can make a difference. Seeds are an inexpensive investment, and the resulting produce has multiple payoffs. Even apartment dwellers can grow a few tomato plants or peppers in pots successfully. Learn to can (it’s easier than you might think), and you can enjoy the bounty all year long.

Make your own fast food. Value menus and kid's meals make fast food an attractive option for struggling families, but even inexpensive Mexican takeout can be made more cheaply at home. The price of tortillas and beans is just a fraction of the drive-through cost, makes several times as much food, and has far less fat. Try baking your own french fries and you may never go back.

Recipe:
Overstuffed black bean burritos.

Invest in a slow cooker. Time is the biggest factor for many families who want to eat more healthfully. A slow cooker allows you to cook wholesome meals at low temperatures while you're at work, eliminating the need for quick and easy junk food. Low cost foods are a cinch in the crockpot, from dried beans to baked potatoes.

Recipe:
Slow cooker potatoes and carrots.

Keep it simple. The more ingredients in a grocery item, the less healthy it usually is. Shop for foods in their purest form: plain rice over flavored rice, whole oats over sugary packaged oatmeal. The simpler items are almost always easier on the pocketbook, too, and you can add seasonings to your own taste.

Recipe:
Simple baked sweet potatoes.

Stock up on cans. Canned goods are some of the best deals at the grocery store, and some of them pack a lot of nutrition. Look for sales and buy large quantities of tuna, tomatoes, and greens. Don't give in to meals-in-a-can like pastas and creamed soups.

Besides keeping your weight in check, there are extra benefits to eating more nutritiously during tough economic times. A good diet has been proven to increase your energy levels and improve your overall mood. With results like those, a tight budget just might be a blessing in disguise.

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