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Healthy Dinners on a Dime

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Leanne Ely, CNC: Good food isn't a complex thing at all. We all have this notion that going out to a fancy dinner at a restaurant somewhere is how you get "good food," that it has to be away from home and cost big bucks. That's simply not true.

chicken thighs
In essence, fancy, expensive restaurants mostly cook simple, wholesome food, and their secret is that they cook these things from scratch -- no boxes or cans allowed. We can do that, too. OK, so maybe we're not going to be making some of the fancier sauces that are so wonderful, but we can certainly make quality food, nearly restaurant-quality food, at home.

The foundation for this is the food itself. When we start with the basics -- produce, meat, poultry and fish, dairy, herbs and spices -- we can do anything. There are a variety of ways to prepare these foods to suit your mood, the climate, the season and affordability, as well as availability. And the best part about the basics? They're the least-expensive stuff out there, because having a food manufacturer or grocery store prepare food for you is expensive!

So this week when you think about what's for dinner, think in terms of the basics -- the stuff that has one word on its ingredient list (like onion, or chicken, or spinach). From there, you can build a meal that's healthy, delicious and economical, too! Try this delicious recipe:

Herb-Braised Chicken Thighs
Serves 6

3 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 skinless chicken thighs
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups (2-inch-thick) sliced carrots
2 large onions, cut into wedges
2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/4 pounds small red potatoes, quartered

Combine first six ingredients (flour through pepper) in a large zip-top plastic bag.
Add chicken; seal bag, shaking to coat.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.
Add chicken and remaining flour mixture to pan; cook three minutes on each side, or until lightly brown.
Add carrot and onion; cook three minutes, stirring frequently.
Add broth, wine and potatoes; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 35 minutes, or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

Per Serving: 390 Calories; 7g Fat; 35g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 107mg Cholesterol; 866mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Grain (Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fat. Points: 8

SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Serve with a great big spinach salad that contains thinly sliced red onion, dried cranberries and chopped walnuts, all tossed with an easy vinaigrette. Yum!

Leanne Ely is the New York Times bestselling author of "Body Clutter" and the "Saving Dinner" series. Her "Dinner Diva" syndicated column appears in 250 newspapers nationwide. Learn how to cook great and save significant money with the Dinner Diva's menus, recipes and shopping lists at

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