PUBLISHED: 3:49 PM on Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A healthy budget for the holidays

  Helen Idzorek
The holidays are here, and for many of us this time of year means spending too much money. Between purchasing gifts, buying foods to serve holiday meals to friends and family and having parties, it is easy to overspend and end the year feeling unhealthy financially. It is possible to keep your budget healthy this season and it requires only a bit of creativity and planning.

Holiday meals often put a large dent in the monthly food budget. Following are some ideas to assist in reducing costs related to this time of year:

Buy a few extras of things you will need when you do your regular grocery shopping.

Especially when items are on sale or at reduced prices.

For example, pick up flour, sugar and other baking items before shopping for the big event so you can spread the cost out over a few weeks.

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  During the holidays it is easy to overspend and end the year feeling unhealthy financially.
Compare prices. Prepackaged stuffing is often more costly than purchasing the ingredients the make it at home. However, the price of items such as canned yams is often comparable to the price of fresh yams and the canned product has a longer shelf life.

Prepare a detailed holiday shopping list before going to the store. At the store buy only items that are on the list. This reduces impulse shopping. Also, don't go to the store hungry as that encourages impulse purchases and overspending.

Borrow dinnerware and serving dishes from a friend or relative rather than buying new ones.

Rather than buying an expensive table arrangement, create a colorful centerpiece of washed fresh fruit. The fruit can be eaten and enjoyed as part of your five-a-day plan.

Ask your guests to bring a dish to share. Contributions of appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts mean less work and cost for the host and also add an element of surprise to the meal.

Ask guests to bring their own containers for carrying home leftovers.

Gifts are another area to consider when keeping your budget healthy.

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Consider making homemade gifts with health in mind rather than relying on expensive items to give to friends and neighbors. A collection of your favorite healthy recipes makes an excellent gift for someone who is trying to eat better or is learning to cook. Soup mixes make a great gift that can be stored in the cupboard for a hearty winter dinner. Here is one idea for a Bean Soup mix:

Bean Soup Mix

(Makes enough for 6 batches of soup)

• 2 cups dried yellow split peas

• 2 cups green dried split peas

• 2 cups dried lima beans

• 2 cups dried pinto beans

• 2 cups dried great northern beans

• 1 cup instant minced onions

• 1-1/2 teaspoon. ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

• 1-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1 teaspoon onion salt

• 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all beans in a large jar with screw top lid. Place dried onions and remaining ingredients in a small plastic bag and place on top of beans in jar. Seal jar and store in cool dry place. If you have children, invite them to decorate the jar with a holiday theme. Include a recipe card on how to use the soup mix.

To use mix:

8 cups water

1/6 of the Bean Soup Mix

1/6 of the Seasoning Mix

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

Combine water, soup mix and seasonings in large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Add remaining ingredients to soup. Heat to boiling. Then cover pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer soup for 2 hours or until beans are tender. Heat until hot and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

The holidays are a time to enjoy time with our friends and families, share delicious meals and delight in the season. With a little preparation and foresight you can easily stay within your budget and make the holidays a healthy festive occasion.