Tips for eating healthy on a budget from a spa founder

Yesterday I went to a lunch to celebrate the launch of a new cookbook called Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta: Recipes from the World-Famous Spa. While there, I asked the cookbook's author and spa founder, 87-year-old Deborah Szekely, how people can eat healthy on a budget.

Spa Menus: slideshows and recipes from some of the world's most exclusive spas.

"You can feed your family for a third of the price by going local, seasonal, and unprocessed," said Szekely, adding that each of those things has the added bonus of boosting the nutritional value of food, as well as lowering its environmental impact. Why local and seasonal? "Exotics out of season cost so much," she explained. Why unprocessed? "Every time somebody touches the food, it costs more," she said. Processing, packaging, transportation, and marketing all add to the cost, so Szekely suggests counting the number of steps food goes through to get to the table. Even sorting produce such as apples or tomatoes by size ups the price of a bag. "Heirloom tomatoes are not sold by size," she said. "They come off the vine in all sizes." Szekely goes to the farmers' market every weekend and then to the grocery store only for the essentials that she can't get at the market, such as rice, oatmeal ("the kind you have to cook for 20 minutes," not instant), and other staples. The end result of "farm to fork" eating, according to Szekely, is food that's more flavorful, nutritious, and economical.

Peak-Season Ingredient Map: A state-by-state guide to what's at farmers' markets in your hometown!

You can read more about Szekely and get additional healthy-eating tips, as well as a delicious fall vegetarian menu, in our Spa Menu from Rancho La Puerta. Also, check out the spa's Web site

Pictured: Rancho La Puerta's Cashew Chard Burritos

Megan O. Steintrager is a senior editor at She has worked as a writer and editor at Epicurious since the late '90s. Steintrager holds a master's in journalism from New York University with a concentration in Cultural Reporting and Criticism, and has taken numerous cooking classes at New York 's Institute for Culinary Education and the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. She has worked as a writer and editor for, Restaurant Business magazine, and, and has been published in Self, Brides, and Time Out New York, among other print and online publications.