Connie Guttersen, a nutrition instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, says to pair lean meats with vegetables and whole grains for a variety of dishes, including pot roast.

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Connie Guttersen, a nutrition instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, says to pair lean meats with vegetables and whole grains for a variety of dishes, including pot roast.

Eating the nutrient-rich way

Make the most of your money by preparing healthy, filling meals

— These days, people are trying to find ways to stretch the food dollar.

According to a recent consumer survey, funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, American consumers actively are working to manage their food costs but aren't sure about the best approach.

The survey showed that 60 percent of respondents said they're changing their purchasing patterns at the supermarket in an attempt to balance their budgets. According to the Colorado Beef Council, a quarter of the respondents are seeking information about how to stretch the food dollar.

"In today's challenging economic times, consumers should first look for nutrient-rich ingredients that are satisfying, nutritious and easy on the pocket," said Connie Guttersen, a nutrition instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

"Low nutrient-dense foods, which typically include added sugars, solid fats and processed grains, supply calories with relatively minimal to no nutritional value. Over consumption of such discretionary calories can blow your food budget and jeopardize your nutritional intake. Pair lean meats with vegetables and whole grains for a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, stews, sandwiches and stir-fry."

According to the MyPyramid Food Guidance System, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, naturally nutrient-rich foods help people obtain more essential nutrients in fewer calories.

That's where beef comes in.

It's one of the most nutrient-rich protein sources in the diet. According to the Colorado Beef Council, it's naturally rich in nine essential nutrients that fuel a healthy lifestyle. They include: protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorous, niacin, vitamin B6, iron and riboflavin.

There are 29 cuts of beef that meet government guidelines for lean meat, and the majority of lean cuts are affordable. They include round steak, chuck shoulder pot roast and 95 percent lean ground beef.

Also, Colorado beef producers offer a variety of beef types which include grain-fed, organic, natural and grass-finished.

The type names can be confusing so the Beef Council has come up with their definitions.

• Grain-fed beef: This is the most widely produced type of beef in the United States. These cattle spend most of their lives eating grass in pastures before moving to feedlots. There they receive a carefully balanced diet of grains, vitamins and mineral supplements for four to six months.

• Certified organic beef: This beef must be from cattle that meet the USDA's Natural Organic Program livestock production requirements to be certified organic. All kinds of beef are eligible for NOP if specified requirements are met. The Organic Foods Production Act of 2002 sets the standards for all beef labeled organic.

• Natural beef: By government definition, most beef is natural. According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the term may be used as a food label if the product is free from artificial flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial/synthetic ingredient.

The government's definition of natural doesn't consider how the animals are raised or what they are fed. Natural beef can be grain-fed, grass-finished or organic, as long as it's minimally processed and contains no additives.

• Grass-finished beef: This beef, sometimes marketed as grass-fed beef, comes from cattle that have been raised on a forage diet all their lives. While most cattle spend the majority of their lives in the pasture eating grass before moving to a feedlot, grass-fed cattle remain on a pasture/forage diet. Producing grass-finished beef in large volumes in North America is difficult where few regions have the growing season to make it possible. So grass-finished beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand.

There are beef choices to satisfy all tastes and budgets. Planning menus, creating shopping lists and knowing what to look for on the label when buying beef will help consumers stretch food dollars, without sacrificing the health benefits of a high-quality protein diet.

For example, evaluate purchases based on cost per serving not just the price per pound. The amount of beef to buy varies with the cut selected. Cooked yields per pound are related to the amount of bone, fat trim and cooking method.

Match the cut with the cooking method. For less-tender roasts and steaks, moist heat cooking methods, such as braising or using a slow cooker appliance, soften muscle fibers and connective tissue and guarantee moist, flavorful results.

And plan ahead to cook once and dine twice. Prepare a little extra ahead of time.

It's eating the nutrient-rich way.

Diane Prather can be reached by calling 824-8809.

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