Healthy food tips from Jets’ Keller

For the past year, New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller has written a food column for The New York Times. This is the first in an occasional series of food columns Keller will write for NFL.com.

My first trip to New York City came when my brother and I drove there from Lafayette, Ind., for my first training camp with the Jets in 2008. I had no idea how much great food was out there until I started spending some time in the city. It’s amazing, and now, I guess, you can officially call me a foodie!

New York Jets TE and food columnist Dustin Keller. (Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

I know what it’s like to be a picky eater, but seriously, there are a ton of foods out there that people wouldn’t traditionally experience. In the “I Eight One” column (my jersey is No. 81, get it?), I’ve reviewed restaurants, offered healthy tailgate recipes, and encouraged people to try some different foods. I’m looking forward to offering the same advice here on NFL.com, and I hope to hear from you all with some food suggestions of your own!

Food is a fun thing to talk about, whether you’re spending a lot of money at a nice steakhouse or you’re on a budget. I know times are tough right now for a lot of people. Growing up in Lafayette, my family definitely ate on a budget, and my mom had to get creative when she was preparing our meals. But we never went hungry, and it never seemed like we were struggling when it came to the dinner table.

Eating healthy on a budget can be tricky, but once you find the right things to eat and learn a few recipes, you won’t even know the difference. In fact, you’ll probably feel better because the food is still really good and you’re not loading up on things that aren’t good for you. Remember: You’re in control of your kitchen, and if you cook smart you can still enjoy great meals at home.

One thing I always tell people is to limit the amount of junk food they purchase and consume, and that includes salty and sugary foods. You need to drink a lot of water and stay away from foods that are high in saturated fats. Snacking is one area that can really sneak up on you. People snack out of boredom sometimes, rather than from being hungry. Try getting fat-free, sugar-free instant pudding made with nonfat or 1 percent milk. Fiber One Bars, Whole Grain Fig Newtons and other cookies made from high fiber are much, much better for you, and they’re not that expensive.

Another way to continue eating healthy on a budget is to include things like brown rice, frozen produce and canned fish. Brown rice is a whole grain, and it helps in weight loss and fights against heart disease. Plus, you can use brown rice in a lot of different things like soups, stir-fries, stews, or you can eat it by itself.

When it comes to produce, people don’t realize that frozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious as those purchased fresh in the produce section. Plus, it’s much, much more inexpensive to buy in the frozen aisle. You can use frozen produce in soups, stews, side dishes, smoothies, pancake mixes or toppings and even oatmeal.

Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease, blood clots, arthritis and high blood pressure. In other words: fish is really, really good for you! Even fish that comes out of a can, which is much less expensive than buying fresh fish. You can add canned fish to pasta, salads, omelets and grilled-cheese sandwiches.

I understand it’s tough out there right now and sacrifices need to be made. But you can still eat great, healthy foods without spending too much money. I look forward to hearing from all of you and some of your healthy foods-on-a-budget ideas.

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