Friday, January 16, 2009

Eat Well Without Going Broke

We've all read about the economy. It seems to be #1 on everyone's list of concerns for 2009, and rightly so. It's a recurring theme in conversations I have locally with friends and relatives, so I suspect it may be an issue where you live, too.

First, breathe. Take a calgon moment. Remember that it is possible to eat well and keep your wallet in check. Just take the new foodblog series written by the ever-talented Michele Humes of Fine Furious Life. She's got a new series over at Serious Eats called Eat for Eight Bucks. Her posts so far are mouth-watering, and I suspect many, many more droolworthy recipes are to come.

Meanwhile, remember these frugal cooking & eating tips:

- Don't be afraid to use frozen produce--it's often relatively inexpensive and available in large bags. Some canned or jarred goods make good food, too. Read labels. Decide for yourself what you can live with, what you want to put into your body. Did you see this week's Top Chef? They made some great-looking stuff with convenience products.

- Think about meals grandma used to make: wholesome, warming, and good-for-you. Oatmeal. Stew. Sunday roast. Lasagne. If grandma didn't cook, visit the library and read some depression-era cookbooks. I've found a number of yummy (and cheap) recipes just that way.

- Plan, plan, plan. Make a menu, looking to what you already have, as well as grocery sales.

- Think about planned-overs: keep bones from your roasted chicken, along with leftover veggies, in the freezer for soup next week.

- Beans are your friends. One-pound bags of dried beans go for around $1 US. Soaked overnight and cooked, they are a fantastic value. Half of a one-pound bag roughly equals two cans of beans. And we know that beans are good for us--but did you know that a whole grain plus beans makes a complete protein?

- Look at last-day-of-sale meat markdowns at the grocery. Cooked that day or frozen, it's one way to cut your bill. I often get my hands on excellent cuts of meat this way.

- Eggs are cheap and healthy. Breakfast for dinner, a hard boiled lunch on the go, or fried atop a noodle soup bowl, they're quick protein on-the-cheap.

- Use alternate solutions for leftovers. For example, I made a cucumber-and-tomato salad this week--thinly sliced and simply dressed with salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Leftovers were immediately chopped smaller and tossed with cumin, cayenne pepper and lime juice for a quick-and-easy salsa to top my huevos rancheros the next morning.

- Fresh fruit and veg are attainable. Look to in-season produce, which will generally be available for less. Shop at discount markets or warehouse clubs for better deals (I can get 2 pounds of scallions for under $2, for example. I share the big bundle with my sister-in-law for best value.) Or go to the farmer's market/farm stands (where available, seasonally).

- Rethink your idea of portion size. Use smaller plates.

- Eat dinner at the table, with your family (if possible). Don't snarf over the kitchen sink. Really. You'll overeat that way.

- Have soup before your meal. It lengthens dinner time, giving your brain a chance to tell the rest of you that you're full--before that 2nd helping!


Food Budget Issues

Cheap Healthy Good's 65 Good, Healthy, One-Dish Meals with Good Leftover Potential

Casual Kitchen's Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food

Wise Bread's Healthy, Frugal Eating

Frugal Cuisine

My Budget Meals


Sara said...

Good ideas - I try to plan a few vegetarian meals each week - healthier and cheaper. I also plan my meals around what's on sale at the grocery store. I got some great deals yesterday!

Amanda said...

Thanks, Sara.

I also like a vegetarian meal now and then, but I usually save those for lunches when my husband isn't around. I think there would be a full-on revolt around here if there wasn't meat for dinner.

That or boxed mac n cheese--he loves that stuff. Well, I do, too. But it's bad for us and I refuse to buy it.

I'm venturing out in the sub-zero temps to hunt for grocery deals, myself. Wish me luck!

Sam said...

Some great tips here Amanda, I always keep a look out for bargains and stock up the freezer.

I also think it's worth noting that it's much cheaper to cook from scratch rather than buy ready made, for example I always make my own pasta sauce and never buy a jar.

Amanda said...

Excellent point, Sam. I agree completely--making most things from scratch is cheaper, and certainly the best way to avoid unnecessary food additives in your food!

It's so easy to make sauces for pasta from scratch; there really is no reason to buy the kind in jars, though I have been known to from time to time. *eek*

Hippolyra said...

Great post Amanda.

I totally agree about beans - I have started buying dried ones and will using my Amazon points to get a pressure cooker to cook them quickly.

Eggs can be cheap - but please please do not buy eggs from non free range hens, they have a truely horrific life.

Amanda said...

Thanks, Hippolyra! I, too, cook with a lot of beans. So good for me!

I have used pressure cookers in the past--love them. I never used them for beans, though. There was some warning in the booklets about cooking things like rice or anything that might clog the pressure valve, so I stayed clear of anything small or with a skin (like beans) that might cause an explosion!

When you get one you'll love it--a hunk of rock-hard frozen-solid meat cooks up in 20 minutes to fork-shreddable. Great for making tacos or enchiladas!

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