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Food for thinking 

Being strapped for cash is no excuse to hit Mickey Dee’s every day of the week. Eating healthy (and local) is better for your brain and your environment, and can be done on limited coin.

With an absurd amount of places to dine out in Halifax, the best spot of all to eat is actually right in your kitchen. But with assignments, social life and dating, it's all too easy to get fast or processed foods instead.

It isn't easy balancing a student's hectic lifestyle with their body's needs and a healthy diet helps bridge that gap. With healthy eating comes more energy, improved grades, clearer skin and a healthier body weight.

Financially speaking, it may be cheaper in the short-term to buy a cheeseburger from a fast food joint, but other things need to be considered, says Tristaca Caldwell, a registered dietitian and the owner of Fueling with Food. People need to factor in the expense that comes to your physical and mental well-being from the food you eat, she says.

Preparing meals from scratch is the best way to feed yourself and the best spot to get those ingredients is the Halifax Farmers' Market. Year-round on Saturdays from 7am to 1pm, the market is the place to get locally grown fresh vegetables, meats and treats. Buying local puts money into the community and helps cut out a number of middlepeople, which means our already struggling farmers get a better share and is better for the environment because the amount of transportation to get the goods to market is reduced.

And there's the taste factor, of course.

"If you've gone to the Farmers' Market and ever bought fresh fruits and vegetables, you know how much better they taste," says Caldwell.

The Local Source Market is also another spot to buy local fruits, vegetables, cheeses, free-range meats and eggs, and there's even an on-site bakery which only uses organic flour. It's open six days a week and is closed on Sundays.

So this all sounds great, but how much does it really cost to buy locally? The key for those who don't have an expansive budget (in other words, most students) is to plan things out. When you are buying food, think about buying ingredients which can be used in multiple meals and make for good leftovers. Use a number of items as staples and work meals around them.

Take a shepherd's pie, for example. Depending on the recipe, the key ingredients are potatoes, cheese, onions, ground beef, carrots and corn. These are all staples and can serve as base ingredients for many meals.

If you also bought some chicken, you could have a chicken and veggies meal. Buy some lettuce and salad dressing and suddenly you've got sides for all your meals. If you work with a core group of food items and mix it up, with the diligent use of a freezer, it'll help stretch your food dollars and reduce the amount of food you end up throwing out.

If you buy three our four take-out meals, it'll set you back around $30. What will $30 get you at the market?

Prices will vary slightly from seller to seller, but working with the ingredients above you can easily get four meals (if not more) for around the same cost as what you'd get if you bought fast food, plus still have some leftover ingredients to work with.

The most expensive part will be the meat: A pound of boneless skinless chicken will set you back $10 and a pound of lean ground beef will set you back $5.25. Vegetables are priced very reasonably. Two pounds of potatoes will set you back $3, a pound of onions is $1.25, a pound of carrots is $3, corn is 50 cents per piece and lettuce is $1.50 per head. You can even get local cheddar cheese---it's $2.50 for 100 grams.

Then there are those times when you're not in the mood to cook, so eating out it is. Here are some places you should check out.

At locally owned Juice eh!, over 40 juices and smoothies are available. A smoothie will set you back $4.25 for a small, $5.25 for a medium and $6.25 for a large. You can also get wheatgrass shots ($2.50 plus tax) or add some protein powder ($1) to your drink. Pete's Power Juice Bar is another local business offering up smoothies. There are about 25 on the menu and they come in medium and large sizes. Booster shots such as protein powder ($1.25) and flax or açai are extra as well ($1 each).

If it's a full meal you're after, try the city's most un-diner diner, The Armview. Combining the feel and look of a retro diner with a modern touch, The Armview is committed to the local cause and making things from scratch.

The hamburger, lamb, chorizo, feta, yogurt, haddock and halibut are all locally sourced. Try the Lamburger, a garlic marinated free range local lamb served on a tzatziki coated ciabatta for $10, with a side included.

An excellent alternative from the fast food burger can be found at Darrell's Restaurant. Peanut butter and burgers are two things that don't usually appear in the same sentence, but at Darrell's they do. Try the Peanut Butter Burger ($9.89 plus tax, and it comes with a side).

"There's plenty to choose from if you don't want to fill yourself with calories," says owner Dan Joseph. Healthy fare options include the salads and an assortment of grilled chicken dishes.

If you're looking to really treat yourself, The Wooden Monkey is the place to go. Known for focusing on providing local and organic food, the Monkey has carved itself a niche for its commitment to buying local.

The Lentil Burger is reasonably priced and one of the Monkey's most popular dishes. With roasties (potatoes baked with olive oil), it'll set you back $11.85.

Halifax is loaded with pizza shops, but if you're looking for a truly special pizza, check out Salvatore's Pizzaiolo Trattoria. Its healthier options include vegetarian pizzas like the Bianco in Stephano and Pizza alla Greca. You can also get an original pizza with your choice of toppings. Prices vary, but the most expensive 15-inch large pizza will set you back $20 or so.

Tomavino's in the south end is another good choice if you're closer to downtown, with large pizzas running under $20. Your average pizza joint is definitely cheaper, but it can't compete on quality. You'll save a few bucks, maybe $6 or so, for a large with three toppings.

The competition for a great pizza heated up in Halifax with the arrival of Morris East. Featuring a wood-fired oven from Naples and some of the most creative pizza concoctions in the city, you won't be disappointed. Morris East buys from local, organic producers and suppliers whenever possible.It also changes its menu on a monthly basis depending on what fresh veggies are available. A pizza will set you back $14 to $18 before taxes for a 10-inch pie.

The Blowers Street Paper Chase Newsstand & Cafe is a popular downtown spot with the university crowd for its affordable down-home cooking. The menu is mostly vegetarian and they even serve gluten-free soups (with a slice of bread, a bowl will set you back $4.75).

The Chase usually has a couple of soups on every day, sometimes the Ginger Peanut or Sweet Potato and Coconut. Try the vegetarian chilli and cornbread for $6.75 with taxes included. You won't even notice that it doesn't have meat in it.

The surprisingly healthy shawarma is slowly becoming another favourite of locals. The shawarmas at Venus Pizza are topnotch. They're made up of chicken in a pita, topped with loads of veggies and a wonderful garlic tahini sauce. It's a meal for under 10 bucks.

Another spot that makes a mean shawarma is Tarek's Cafe, but you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu. Popular with meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike, if you're interested in trying middle-Eastern food, Tarek's is the place to go.

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