By Kim Lombard Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital manager of medical nutrition therapy and diabetes education Between taking kids to sports practice, working outside the home, and maintaining your sanity, making a healthy meal - especially on a low-budget - often seems out of reach. But with the right knowledge, planning a low-cost, healthy meal is not as hard as you might think. March is National Nutrition month, a time to start thinking about lasting changes in your family's nutrition habits. Use the following tips to save time and money without sacrificing your family's health: Money-saving tips: While fresh fruits and vegetables may be best, there is nothing wrong with eating canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, and they are cheaper. Sometimes purchasing the "family pack" of a meat such as chicken is cheaper than buying smaller quantities. Wrap up the extra and freeze it for later. Double check prices per unit when you shop - where I shop, the ground beef is packaged two different ways (wrapped like breakfast sausage and on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic) with one package being cheaper per ounce than the other - and it's the exact same meat. The larger quantity is not always cheaper per ounce; the frozen vegetables at the store I shop at are cheaper in the 1 pound bags vs. the larger bags; Shop on Mondays - many discount the cut up fruits and vegetables that they prepared that didn't sell on the weekend. Watch the "overage" carts at the store - they usually have one in the bakery as well as one with produce that have reduced prices. If you do purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, do so in small quantities so that they don't go bad before you use them. Compare the food label for name brand vs store brand items - they are often so similar you may not notice the difference. Vegetables cut up and placed in containers or bags that limit the amount of air that gets to the vegetables helps extend their usefulness. Consider putting a dry paper towel in the container as well - it helps keep the vegetables from getting soft from sitting in juices. Cut back on the amount of meat that you consume - this tends to be the most costly portion of a meal. Eat a meatless meal each week - have beans instead. This can be both healthier and more cost effective (hearty bean soup, meatless chili, bean burritos). Time-saving tips: Write out a menu in advance (this makes shopping and prep easier). Use the crockpot so dinner is ready when you arrive. Try a pressure cooker - fix food in MUCH less time. Cook once and eat twice: i.e. cook pork loin in the crock pot (fix twice as much as you need) - have the pork for dinner tonight then shred the rest, add barbecue sauce and eat it later in the week. Also, bake extra chicken for dinner one night (fix twice as much as you need) and then take the leftovers and make a casserole for later in the week. Do prep work on the weekend when you have more time (brown ground beef for sloppy joes, cut up vegetables for salads or make the spaghetti and heat it up for dinner). Almost everything freezes (except cooked pasta) so make extra and put it in the freezer (mashed potatoes, meats, casseroles, soups, etc...) to use later. Use shortcuts such as frozen stir fry vegetables paired with fresh chicken breasts sliced up to make stir fry. Cut the chicken in thin strips and it cooks in the skillet or wok in minutes. Leftovers can be refrigerated for three to four days, so if you won't be using leftovers before then, pop them in the freezer.