Save or splurge? Healthier food choices on a budget

Try this recipe for 'summer fish tacos'

Trying to eat healthier on a limited budget can be a challenge, we all know, so some guidance is always welcome.

Here are three helpful tips from Alexandra Babcock, a University of Michigan senior working this summer as an intern with the Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program.

“We’ve identified three main choices to make when you’re deciding whether to save or splurge, three types of food you shouldn’t sacrifice on and where you can be saving more than just green,” Babcock says.

First, it’s important to choose antibiotic-free meat and dairy products.

“Organic meat has increased in demand especially because of rising scares of antibiotic resistance,” Babcock says. Along with other regulations on how animals are raised, certified organic meat, dairy and poultry products require no hormones, drugs, or antibiotics to be used (other than for therapeutic purposes) on the animals. Conventionally raised beef, pork and chicken often uses human antibiotics in the animals’ feed and water because it has been shown to increase the growth and helps prevent massive disease outbreaks due to the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in which the animals are raised.

“Constantly feeding animals low doses of antibiotics kills weaker regular bacteria in the animals. But there are some surviving ‘superbugs’ - dangerous bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics. These superbugs can't be killed with antibiotics that we currently have and they multiply at an incredible rate,” Babcock says. “These drug resistant bacteria can remain on meat from the animals and the bacteria can be transferred to humans who eat the meat. The superbugs sit in the human gut and can spread to other humans, causing illnesses that doctors have difficulty treating because the bacteria is resistant to the lifesaving antibiotics that humans rely on. Choosing antibiotic-free meat, poultry and dairy can decrease the risk of antibiotic resistance and help save antibiotics for human use.”

She advises that if you cannot get antibiotic-free meat (look for labels that say "organic" or "raised without the routine use of antibiotics"), make sure to cook your meat fully and follow healthy storage and preparation guidelines.

Second, selectively buying organic can help you avoid “the Dirty Dozen.”

“We know that buying only organic groceries can burn a hole in your pocket, so if you have to select only a few foods to buy organic choose those in ‘the Dirty Dozen’.”

The Dirty Dozen are a group of produce items that have many different pesticide residues and the highest concentration of pesticides compared to other types of produce, according to theEnvironmental Working Group. “The risks of continually consuming dangerous pesticides include nerve damage, birth defects, and different types of cancers,” Babcock says. “Children and pregnant women have an increased risk to the harmful effects of pesticides."

Check out EWG’s Shopper's Guide here.

Third, buying local produce helps more than the local economy.

“Buying local has gained support in recent years from an economic standpoint, but one of the most beneficial parts of buying local is the freshness of the product,” Babcock says. “Produce grown closer to where it is sold is fresher because it is picked at its prime ripeness because it has less of a distance to travel to be transported.”

Produce loses essential nutrients the more time that passes between being picked and being eaten, especially Vitamins A, B, C and E. The fresher a product the more nutritional value you obtain.

“In the Midwest, where winter seems to last nine months of the year, getting fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes be difficult, although with season-extenders like hoophouses, accessing fresh fruits and veggies year-round is becoming easier,” Babcock says. “Locally grown and frozen fruits and vegetables are your best solution. When you freeze fresh produce, most of the nutrients are retained at the same level, so when you thaw or cook them you are still consuming fruits and vegetables with the same nutrition value as fresh ones.”

This is a great time of year to stock up on fresh local produce at a great price from your local farmers market. Think about buying extra (ask your farmer – some will give you a discount for buying in bulk) and freezing it to use later in the year when fresh produce is more expensive or difficult to get.

Here’s a recipe for fish tacos that takes advantage of some of the great organic produce arriving at our markets this month.

(makes two tacos)


  • 2 whole wheat tortillas


  • 6 oz of a white fish (like cod, tilapia) - choose wild caught when possible, checkout your local farmers market to see if they are selling fish from our Great Lakes!
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1tsp of Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp of pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt


  • 1/4 cabbage
  • 3 tbsp cilantro
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 mango
  • 1 roma tomato
  • 1/2 lime


  • 2 tbsp light greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp lime juice


1. Preheat oven to 450F.
2. Squeeze juice from half of the lime to coat the fish filet. Then sprinkle on the spices and place in a pan. 
3.  Cook fish for 10-12 minutes or until flakey.
4. Chop salsa ingredients and mix into a bowl. Coat with juice from the other half the lime to coat the vegetables. 
5. In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Feel free to add more or less cayenne pepper depending on how spicy you want the tacos. 
6. Place fish into tortillas and top with the salsa and dressing. 


EcoLink — June 2014 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

Comments and questions are welcome.
Please send to EcoLink Editor.