February Blog Posts

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Grain Bowls, A week of lunches for Less than $18 ($3.50 a meal)

In honor of National Heart Health Month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore ways to up our heart-healthy grains and save some dough while doing it. Of course, grain bowls immediately came to mind – but I wasn’t sure if it would be budget-friendly. As anyone who’s built a yummy bowl at Cava or Nalley Fresh or bought a ready-made one at Panera or Zoe’s knows, you’re likely laying out double digits for your meal. Now, I don’t want to brag, but I made a super tasty grain bowl for 1/3 of the price. Of course, there’s a catch… you have to plan ahead and meal prep your lunches for the week. Trust me, it's worth it! Your pocketbook (and your taste buds) will thank you.


Shop for the ingredients (or comparable ones) on the list below. Odds are you have a few of these things in your cabinet already, which means more savings. You can even make swaps with things you already have on hand – brown rice for quinoa, northern beans for chick peas, regular potatoes for sweet potatoes. The sky is the limit! I chose quinoa because it is chock-full of fiber and provides added protein. It’s a great grain for any diet, especially a plant-based one.

Tips: Always pick store brands to get the best value. Stock up on staples like canned beans and tuna when they are on sale and look for value packs of chicken. If you buy grains in bulk, you can save even more per serving cost! Other whole grains to consider include brown rice, barley, bulger, or millet.


Find 30-60 minutes to meal prep. This is when you’ll cook your grains, bake your chicken and potatoes, and chop your veggies. Pull out the rest of your ingredients and make a buffet to make building your bowls easier.

Side Note: Buffets are great for company, right? Consider grain bowls for your next gathering! Make it a potluck and see how many amazing options will make it to your table. Ask guests to bring foods in these categories: protein, grains or beans, veggies, fruits, toppings (cheese, seeds), and salad dressings


Build those bowls! Start with grains and spinach in every bowl then expand from there. My shopping list made a tuna bowl, 2 vegetarian bowls, and 2 chicken bowls. When you are done, seal them up and put them in the fridge. Add 2 tablespoons of your favorite salad dressing when you are ready to eat!

Side Note: In addition to being a part of the yummiest lunch ever, quinoa and whole grains provide lots of fiber in your diet. Fiber helps improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes. Fiber can also help you feel full, so if you’re watching your weight, you’ll be satisfied with fewer calories.

There you have it! Five heart-healthy lunches with limitless variations for about $3.50 a meal.

Mandy is a registered dietitian and nutritionist for Giant Food who is passionate about showing people how to eat healthy (and deliciously) on a budget. As a mom of two teenage boys she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to stay on budget, keep it interesting, AND keep it healthy-ish. Let Mandy check the prices and create a plan that will satisfy your taste buds, wallet, and schedule. In her series, Heathy on a Budget, she will convince you that it’s NOT “too expensive” to eat healthy.

Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, White Chocolate

It's that time of year when we all start talking about chocolate – I mean love. (Aren't they similar anyway?) When you walk the aisles, there are hundreds of options in the chocolate category. Today we are going to look at the big three: dark, milk, and white chocolate. Let's dig into the differences between them.

All chocolate starts its journey at the cacao tree. Fruit pods harvested from the tree are separated, leaving cocoa beans behind. The beans are fermented to develop flavors, then dried and roasted. Next, cocoa beans are cracked and, through a process called winnowing, the shells are removed leaving behind cocoa nibs.

Cocoa nibs are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor which contains both the cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Cocoa butter is what gives chocolate that smooth, creamy texture. Cocoa solids, sometimes called cocoa powder or just cocoa, are rich in flavanols — antioxidants tied to health benefits including improved heart and brain function.

White, milk, and dark chocolate are differentiated by the combinations of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other ingredients that chocolate makers use.

    White chocolate:
  • Contains no cocoa solids (leading some to claim it is not technically chocolate)
  • Is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk or milk powder and soy lecithin, an emulsifier
  • Must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, a minimum of 14% of total milk solids, a minimum of 3.5% milkfat, and a maximum of 55% nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners, according to FDA guidelines.

    Milk chocolate:
  • Contains cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk or milk powder and soy lecithin
  • Must be at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk to be classified milk chocolate
  • Has a creamy, smooth mouthfeel – tastes sweet and is less bitter than dark chocolate

    Dark chocolate:
  • Contains cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar (usually), and soy lecithin
  • Is notably lower in sugar than both milk and white
  • Has little to no milk/milk powder added
  • Contains more cocoa solids and therefore more beneficial flavanols
  • Is more bitter in flavor than milk or white chocolate
  • May also be “semisweet” or “bittersweet” chocolate, as long as it contains no less than 35% chocolate liquor
  • The higher the % of cocoa on the package, the more cocoa in the chocolate

Of course there are many variations of chocolate within these guidelines that lead to the different variety of flavors of white, milk, and dark chocolate on the market.

When it comes to health, we have all heard that chocolate can be good for us. Any antioxidant benefit of chocolate comes from the cocoa solids and their flavanol content. This means that dark chocolate, with higher amounts of cocoa solids, generally has greater health benefit. If you want the greatest antioxidant benefit, look for dark chocolates with a higher percent of cocoa on the label.

If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, that’s okay – there are plenty of other foods that provide antioxidants (fruits and veggies are a great example!). Any chocolate type can certainly fit into a healthy diet. As with all sweets, be mindful of portions and focus on a balanced overall eating.

Any Chocolate type can certainly fit into a healthy diet. As with all sweets, be mindful of portions and focus on balance eating.