As the gas crisis puts more pressure on family budgets, some thrifty staples from the past are making a comeback. The sale of Spam is on the rise, for instance. For those younger than 20, before Spam meant "unwanted e-mail" it meant "unwanted meat." A product from World War II, Spam can be diced and spliced many ways by inventive mothers. It's a classic way to "stretch" the food budget.

Macaroni and cheese is also gaining new legs. And that means "creamed tuna on toast," "chipped beef" and that Depression-era favorite, "warm milk over toast," may soon rear their hoary heads.

Finding more economical ways to eat is obviously a good thing. More than one generation has been spoiled by Big Macs and other fast-food fare. And putting a little more thought into meals in this era of childhood obesity is good for everyone.

Still, when cutting down on the cost, the key is to not cut down on the nutrients. Serving up cheap food that lacks body-building ingredients is easy. Coming up with alternatives for breakfast and lunch that stick to the ribs and also strengthen those ribs can take a little more forethought.

Along those lines, Good Housekeeping magazine recently published a piece about cheap and healthy meals for kids that entails using subtle substitutions. A couple of quick examples: Low-fat chicken, bean and veggie patties for burgers (ketchup, onions and pickles allowed) are proven winners, as are "comfort foods" like soup (made with barley and vegetables) and meatloaf (filled with grains).

It would be ironic, indeed, if the budget crunch forced parents to cut back on meals and — as an unintended consequence — that helped to take the edge off childhood obesity.

But unintended consequences can cut both ways. By scrimping to save on food items, parents who don't monitor the nutrients of the foods they buy may well end up doing more harm than good to the very people they work so hard to protect — their children.