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Tiny Tummies celebrates food and family. Our mission is to help parents raise curious and enthusiastic eaters. The newsletter is full of delicious recipes, cooking and gardening activities for families, and practical ideas for parents.

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  Sanna Delmonico
M.S., R.D., Editor
P.O. Box 5756
Napa, CA 94581
Ph: 707.251.0550
Fx: 707.251.5721
   
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Eat Well, Spend Less

Eating well and trying to save on groceries means balancing time with money and flavor with convenience. It is a challenge for every family. Consider also the costs and benefits of food choices as they affect your family lifestyle, the people and economics in your community, and the environment. Saving money is one important goal and eating well is equally important. Here are some ideas to help you do both.

Find out how much you spend on food. Keep a record of your food costs for a month. Save receipts from every loaf of bread, every latte, every meal out. This will be your best tool for identifying where to cut.

Cook 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.

Breastfeed. I 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 benefits.

Reconsider mega-stores 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.


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