Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Frugal Foodie

First of all, let me apologize for the infrequent and sporadic postings...this should improve once the craziness of life in September calms down. In the meantime, let's talk about eat healthy, while not spending an arm and a leg.

Today, Slow Food USA is challenging people to gather friends and family in order to cook a healthy "slow food" meal for under $5 per person - Take Back the Value Meal. This is the average price of a fast food value meal. A fast food deal like that also costs you about 1200 calories, and the cheeseburger alone (for example) emits about 13.4 pounds of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases - driving an SUV for a year is equal to eating about ten of these. Bigger challenge: less than $5 per day?  

But cheap, healthy, homemade food is not only possible but quite enjoyable! Being on a budget myself, I've learned a few tips and tricks to spending little for a lot! Take a gander and add your own in the comments section:

1. Buy in bulk - and not the type of bulk that you carry away from a Costco. There is a time and a place for that type of purchasing. I am talking about bulk bins of dry goods: oats, rice, grains, legumes. A pound of dry beans costs under $2, is equivalent to nearly four cans, and does not contain all the added preservatives and salt. You can make a delicious and nutritious meal complete with protein (beans or lentils) and whole grains (brown rice, barley, etc.) for a pittance!

2. Make your own - this follows along with buying in bulk, since both lead to less packaging and waste. But most times, making your own food rather than buying it ready-to-go is cheap (barring things like granola bars, sadly). Instead of going out to lunch, dropping $5-8 on a sandwich, pack leftovers from the night before. If you want a cheap snack, microwave some popcorn kernels you bought from those bulk bins in a paper lunch bag for 1.5 minutes! Making your own yogurt is simple, too, and a fraction of the cost of individual yogurt containers (1/2 gallon soymilk ~$3.60 = 8 small jars yogurt).

3. Grow your own - you may not have room for a full-fledge garden (I don't), or even some raised beds, but odds are you can find space for a pot or two of herbs. Basil, thyme, oregano, mint, and chives make for easy herb gardens and cut costs of the dried stuff. You can also check your local surroundings for community garden space, and get your hands a bit dirty. Beans and lettuces are good starts!

4. Buy only what you will eat - we squander nearly half of our food annually, most of it thrown away! Think of the wilted lettuce mush or that moldy ol' tomato. Often we toss the remains of meals or let food spoil because our eyes are bigger than our stomachs - whether that occurs when purchasing the produce or cooking a dish. Give some thought to what you buy and how much you make before getting carried away!

5. Eat seasonally - bet you haven't heard that one before! But if you think about, when does your food cost the most? Are those strawberries in December really worth the pretty penny they cost? Seasonal sales at grocery stores may be the time to capitalize on certain produce items. Yes, you can get a banana all year long for 29 cents (sigh, I do too), but that doesn't hold for everything. The first apples tend to be more expensive than those during the middle of the fall, and when you are selling the last blueberries of the season, no matter how decrepit they look, you can charge whatever you want!

6. Looks aren't everything - try hitting up your local farmers market for "seconds", or blemished, fruit. Particularly during the height of a season, farmers often have more of certain produce items than they know what to do with. I usually get pounds and pounds of slightly-less-than-perfect peaches, nectarines, and tomatoes during the summer bounty. These either end up frozen, as smoothies, baked into pies, or even eaten straight up.

7. Indulge every now and then - none of us are saints, and if we try to be, at some point we might just crack! So, in the word of Michael Pollan, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" ... but pick your treats. I usually go for chocolate. A good quality, dark chocolate bar, is not cheap. But, it's worth a splurge every now and then for a treat. Perhaps it's a nice dinner, a glass of fancy wine, or that fabulous heritage variety of beans you've been eying at the grocery store (what? did I say something?) Food should be enjoyed and not be an austerity measure, so it's worth going a little crazy every once in a while to change things up!

How do you save money while being good to your health and that of the planet?


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