I learned years ago that one of the best ways to have a healthy diet and save money on food is to cook at home. Eating out frequently wreaks havoc on the waistline and budget, so our family eats out as an occasional treat rather than a weekly habit. Although I cook dinner every night, I am certainly not a gourmet cook and tend to rely on a rather small set of dinner menus that I can fix in about 30 minutes or less.

After 15 years of marriage, I will admit my limited repertoire of recipes is getting a little dull. I have a full bookshelf of cookbooks and enjoy reading recipes, but it seems that most of them require more ingredients than I care to buy or take more time than I like to spend in the kitchen. So I began to search around on the Internet in the hopes of finding Web sites with easy, healthy, inexpensive recipes. If you’d like to do the same, simply enter “recipes” in any search engine and you will be amazed at how many interesting recipe sites are out there.

I found some very helpful features that should help me add variety to my meals with recipes that fit my requirements. One of the sites I like is www.allrecipes.com. The site is made up solely of recipes submitted by its site users (more than 40,000 recipes). It lists recipes in order of popularity among users as determined by reviews and ratings. I like that feature because it guarantees that the recipe is tested, so I won’t waste my money buying ingredients for an untested cookbook recipe. This feature is similar to using my favorite cookbooks inherited from my mother-in-law who made notations on every recipe she tried. Her comments ranged from “Fab!” to “good,” “awful” and “dumb.” Needless to say, I haven’t wasted any time or money making the “dumb” recipes!

Another Allrecipes.com feature I like is that you can scale each recipe to make the exact number of portions needed. For example, if the recipe makes eight servings but you only need two servings, you simply enter the number “2” in the portion box and the site immediately recalculates the ingredient list accordingly. Since USDA statistics report that 5 to 20 percent of the average American household’s grocery spending ends up as wasted food or unused leftovers, customizing recipe sizes could save money by avoiding wasting food. This feature is also helpful for controlling portion sizes if that is a concern.

Because I like to know whether or not a recipe is healthy, I also prefer the Allrecipes.com site because every recipe lists its specific nutrition information. Not all recipe sites provided the nutrition information for their recipes.

I also like to plan my meals around what is on sale at my store each week. For example, this week boneless pork loin is selling for half price, so I simply entered the term “pork loin” in the search box at Allrecipes.com. It instantly listed several recipes in order of popularity. After narrowing my selection to recipes with a short list of ingredients that can be made quickly, I selected the 4.5 star rated recipe (out of a possible 5 stars) that took only 20 minutes to prepare and more than 200 people positively reviewed. Not a single person said the recipe was “dumb!” That’s good enough for me. Some reviewers gave helpful tips to improve the recipe, such as this review of the pork loin recipe: “Very flavorful, tender and juicy. One note ... ALWAYS use a meat thermometer; never trust your oven or a recipe to tell you how long to cook a piece of meat. My 2.25 pound roast took just over 1-1/2 hours to cook.”

To find a good side dish, I scrolled down to the side dish search box under the main dish recipe and entered the name of my store’s featured sale vegetable (asparagus). The site listed several asparagus recipes that complemented the main dish I selected. This should make my family very happy!

Of course, I would be very happy to receive any of your favorite recipes if you are willing to share them with other readers of this column. If we reprint your recipe in this column, I will send you a free copy of my book!


Stephanie Nelson can be reached at shoppingmom@unitedmedia.com.

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