at home. Homemade food tastes better and usually
costs less. The more you know about food and cooking,
the easier and more enjoyable it is to get dinner on the
table or to pack lunches. Buy the classic, comprehensive
American cookbook, The Joy of Cooking . Read this newsletter.
Attend a cooking class; whether it is Boiling Water 101
or Advanced Thai Cuisine, you will learn valuable techniques
to use every day. Watch TV cooking shows, keeping in mind
that most are hosted by restaurant chefs, not home cooks.
Ask your family and friends to share ideas and recipes.
Eat local food. It
is usually less expensive than out-of-season fruit and
vegetables shipped from points south. But saving tons
of dough isn't the only goal. Eating food grown in your
area is good for the local economy, saves the cost and
environmental damage of long-distance shipping and keeps
you connected to your community. Food has more flavor
and meaning when it comes from local dirt. Farmer's markets
and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are great, so
is asking your grocer to stock local food.
Grow your own. You
can't get more local than that. Teaching kids how vegetables
and fruits are grown is priceless. For the same cost as
a bunch of fresh herbs, buy a whole plant for a window
box. A few pots on a balcony can save you lots on lettuce.
For the price of a pound of green beans, grow as many
as your family can eat. If you think food from the Farmer's
Market tastes good, you will be astounded by your own.
guess this is the same as “growing your own!” Extra food
for a nursing mother is cheap compared to bottles and
formula, which cost more than $1400 for the first year.
The benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and babies, and
the savings in health-care costs it ensures, are hidden
like Costco. Prices are sometimes less, but not
often enough. When I have 50 granola bars, I am very free
with them, which is why I think mega-stores promote waste
and greed (however, I hypocritically don't mind being
greedy with their big, cheap blocks of Parmesan cheese).
For some people, shopping once a month is liberating.
Others, like me, would rather visit a smaller market much
more often for locally baked bread, fresh produce, meat
wrapped by a butcher they know, and a quick chat with
their favorite checker.
Consider organic food
. Although it usually costs more than conventionally
grown food, organically grown food provides savings to
health and the environment. The hidden costs of growing
food with synthetic fertilizers and/or pesticides include
costs to the health of the people who grow, harvest and
eat the food, cost to the health of soil, and the contamination
of ground water with pesticides.
Plan trips to the grocery
store. Make a list for your staples, to avoid just
filling up the cart. Taking the kids shopping allows them
some say in what goes on the table, but not taking them
seriously reduces your impulse buys, not to mention your
stress level. My advice is to always take them to the
Farmer's Market but take them to the supermarket only
when you have to.
Just before going to the register to pay, evaluate your
cart. Are there things in it you don't need? Are there
ways you could save money?
Buy less packaged food.
Is convenience worth questionable flavor, more
money, and wasteful packaging? Sometimes it is. Often,
however, it is just as easy to buy a big container of
yogurt and put it into smaller containers for lunch, for
example, as it is to buy more expensive individual cups.
Eat smaller portions
of meat. Rather than an 8-ounce steak for each
adult, cut up one steak to feed three, so meat is more
of a condiment than a “main course.” Eat vegetarian meals
and stretch meat and poultry by mixing it into stir-fried
vegetables, soups, stews, and pasta. Use less expensive
cuts of meat to make pot roast and stews. Chicken thighs
are less expensive than breasts. Buy chicken breasts on
the bone and cut them off. Better yet, buy whole chickens
and learn to cut them up yourself.
Eat more beans. Try
for at least twice a week. Dry and even canned beans are
versatile and wonderfully nutritious. They are also the
perfect make-ahead-and-freeze or make-ahead-and-reheat
food. Eat more chili, bean soup, beans and rice, and tostadas
with homemade refried beans.
Eat eggs . Even
my local free range Farmer's Market eggs are cheap at
$3 a dozen. Omelets and frittatas make simple, nutritious
and quick dinners. Hard-boiled eggs with a sprinkle of
salt are perfect for lunchboxes and snacks.
Eat more hot cereal.
Hot cereal is radically cheaper than cold cereal,
but alas, not as popular with kids. Cereals like oatmeal
can be bought in bulk for pennies. Try other whole-grain
cereals like Wheatena and Zoom.
Drink more water and
therefore less soda and juice . It is amazing how
inexpensive soda is, but tap water is always preferable
and virtually free. For water on the go, refill water
bottles a time or two (they grow bacteria if used too
much), or invest in reusable water bottles that can be
washed with soap and hot water. Nutritionally, kids don't
need juice, they need fruit. Fruit always has more fiber
than juice and is much safer for teeth. Limit juice to
4 ounces a day for older babies and toddlers and 8 ounces
a day for older kids.
Make your own salad dressing.
Homemade is more delicious and lasts at least a
week in the fridge. In a jar, combine 6 T oil, 2 T vinegar,
a minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ½
teaspoon salt and healthy pinches of sugar and freshly
ground pepper. Shake well. That's it! Use it on salads
as well as on cooked vegetables like green beans and carrots.
Gather food. U-Pick
farms allow you to pick strawberries or apples or other
produce and save money. Plus, it is a fun day with the
kids. Like my slightly eccentric relatives, I often carry
garden clippers and gloves in the trunk of my car. I used
them recently to harvest wild fennel from an empty lot.
The stems added subtle licorice flavor to a pot of soup.
Soon, I'll go back for the dried fennel seeds to grind
up and rub on chicken before grilling. In summer, we pick
wild blackberries and plums from old abandoned trees to
make crisps, sorbet, and gallons of jam for the cost of
jars and sugar. I see people gathering miner's lettuce,
dandelion and other greens in fields in the spring. Of
course, don't gather from private property without permission
and don't gather mushrooms unless you are an expert.
The right balance of good food and money is different for
every family. Thinking about your family's food choices
and where food comes from will always be essential ingredients
for eating well.