Tuesday, February 19, 2013

10 Tips for Eating Healthfully on a Budget

Doesn't the title of this post read straight off the cover of a magazine?

The topic of food budgets has come up often as of late in conversations.  Hence, at the risk of repeating information you already know (and that I may have already written), I decided to do a top ten list of tips for eating well on a budget.  And...I have a post in the works on the cost of actual recipes, and what we spend on food for a week.

1. Shop sales-I keep an eye out for items that we buy on a regular basis and pick up a few extra to keep on hand for when we need them.

2. Buy in bulk- This only saves you money if it is cheaper to buy it in bulk, or it keeps you out of the grocery store and away from impulse purchases, which leads us to number three...

3. Track prices- Yes, I'm serious.  It's not as hard as you think.  It can be as easy as mentally noting that asparagus was $4.99 last week and now it's $1.99, or if you're a little AR like me, it can be a spreadsheet with columns for price, quantity, price per ounce, purchase date, estimated life, actual life, cost per month, and source.  Or you could fall sanely somewhere in between.

4. Buy produce in season- Don't have a clue what's in season?  Look for what produce is at a good price at your supermarket (It actually is most likely in season elsewhere, and not in your actual state.).  Buy from your farmer's market that only allows local farmers. (You can sometimes find farmers that use more natural methods, but aren't necessarily certified organic.)  Grow it yourself.  I just calculated the cost of our homegrown lettuce at between 2 and 4 cents a serving!  And it tastes better.

5. Steer clear of prepackaged food- You are paying an arm and a leg for someone else to cut up those veggies or make cookie dough for you.  I know sometimes you're shorter on time that cash, but this post is about saving the moolah.

6. Avoid junk food- Junk food comes by its name honestly.  There is little to no nutritional value in chips and the like, which means you're still hungry afterwards.  You might as well just eat the cash you'd spend on the Ruffles and call it a day.

7. Choose water- It's virtually free (from your tap) and oh-so-good-for-you.  Sodas belong in the junk food category.  Even juices are not as good for your body as eating the actual fruit, and they cost a pretty penny.

8. Substitute, substitute, substitute- So the recipe calls for cauliflower, but you've got broccoli.  Chance are, unless it's the essential ingredient of the recipe, you can safely make the substitution.  The next time you're short on an ingredient, hit up Google to see if you have a substitute on hand instead of jumping in the car and save yourself both the grocery and the gas money.

9. Choose recipes wisely In line with number four and number eight, choose recipes without crazy of-the-wall ingredients and keep in mind the season.  January and February are not the ideal time to make a fresh heirloom tomato basil pasta when tomatoes are so-so and basil is in a tiny little container for $4 a pop.  Not only will your pocket book thank you, your taste buds will, too.

10. Make cuts in other areas Maybe you don't want to hear this, but a lot of us could use a good refresher on needs versus wants.  Healthy food for your body is a need. Designer clothes, the coolest car, and even cable TV *gasp* are wants.  Am I saying you have to live like a pauper to eat healthy food?  No.  Do I realize that some of you, dear readers, have cut everywhere you know to cut and still are scrimping pennies?  Yes, that is part of my motivation in writing this post.  However, it seems that many of us, by looking at our spending habits, place a higher importance on things that look good on the outside, than what goes inside our body.  I believe that eventually we pay the price for these choices.

One final note, our family buys produce through a coop from a local farmer, and our meat and dairy through local farmers who use humane and healthy practices in raising their animals.  However, you don't have to be all on board with organics or the like to make healthier choices in your eating habits.  The above tips are easily applied to conventional items at the grocery store.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Late Winter

It feels like spring in Texas right now, but I am just waiting for that cold snap to come through and slap us in the face with one last hurrah.  

Beds ready for planting!
Nevertheless, I placed an order for a whole bunch of seeds last Friday.  In January we started working on some of our garden beds when the weather was nice, getting them ready to plant THIS MONTH.  I am so excited I can hardly contain myself.  I am sure I bought way more seeds than I should have, but I just couldn't help myself.  They were just begging me to purchase them and plant them and let them grow into delicious food right. in. my. own. backyard.

Last Saturday my husband dug up the overgrown bushes in our front yard with the help of his brother. (Thank you, dear!)  We are going to plant blueberry bushes in their place.  YUM!  Weather-permitting we will start our planting this weekend.
Soon to be home for blueberry bushes!
I can hardly wait!!!

In the meantime February looks like it will be a continuation of January's menu plan with a few additions.  I realized soon after posting the menu for January that I had three very similar soup recipes in my menu plan.  While my family are not overly picky eaters, the redundancy would have been overkill, so I added a few more recipes to the plan:

Beef Stroganoff

Twice Baked Potatoes

Pork/Sausage with Crock Pot Braised Red Cabbage & Apples

Chicken Enchiladas

Black Bean or Lentil Casserole

Make-Your-Own Taco Salad (with black beans)

Finally, I'm sharing the Lentil Soup recipe I promised a while back.  Since lentils do not have to be soaked, this recipe often becomes a go-to recipe for me when I forget to prep something in advance.  We like to eat this soup served over brown rice with a salad or cut up veggies.  Enjoy!

Lentil Soup
(adapted from mothering.com)

  • 1 lb dry lentils (brown or green)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or a can of diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced (optional)
  • Spike Seasoning or thyme, marjoram, oregano, and basil to taste (I add around a 1/4-1/2 t of each)
  • 6-8 C water or broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the lentils according to package directions, then put in slow cooker. Saute onions until almost translucent, then add tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno. Saute just a few minutes more. Add sauteed veggies to lentils, cover with 6-8 cups of water or broth and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for about 10hours. The end result should be a deep brown, thick soup, with the onions, tomatoes and jalapenos barely noticeable.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Cleanse Factor--January Menu Plan

So every January (and by every January I mean once two years ago in December and maybe last year in January, but I can't remember for sure) my DH and I do a week-long cleanse.  Sort of.  Because I am an avid rule follower--if I like the rules, or if I made the rules up myself.  Anyhow, strict cleanse or not, it just seems like a good idea to get a handle on food choices after all of the holiday junk treats.

To be honest with you, we don't do a cleanse in the strictest sense of the word (depending on whose variation you choose.)  Our personal experience was that focusing on eating primarily vegetables and on reducing and being selective about grains and proteins was a better option than eliminating them all together.  (We also allowed ourselves one cup of coffee each morning because we are total wimps. I think we may have used a little honey from time-to-time as well.)  However, we did eliminate dairy and refined sugar, which is how I came to drink my coffee like a real grown up--black.

Our "cleanse" looked something like this:
(Oh yes, I am not a doctor, and all that jazz. This is not medical advice, consult your doctor, etc, etc.)

Wake: water with lemon

Breakfast Options: fruit-only smoothie (no dairy or soy milk), steel cut oats with apples, fruit salad with almonds/pumpkin seeds and a little plain yogurt, cooked millet

Snack Options: veggies with hummus or almond butter, yogurt (plain) with fruit, raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable broth

Lunch Options: vegetable soup, salad, beans, veggie sandwich (can use portabello mushrooms instead of bread)

Dinner Options: Lentils, beans, brown rice (in moderation), chicken or fish (every other night), lots of vegetables, quinoa, salad (every night)

Beverages: Green tea (limited), water, herbal teas, vegetable broth

***Note: I prefer to make my own broths, as commercial broths can have unexpected ingredients or additives, and homemade just tastes better.  Beans are also even more economical when purchased dry, and can be left alone to cook in the crock pot.***

Since we only have the discipline to last about a week, below is my Winter Menu Plan which will get us through the rest of the month and possibly into January.  This being our coldest month, you'll see quite a few soups on the menu.  I love soup because not only are they warming, but they are also economical and extremely forgiving, easily modified to fit whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand.  I've starred recipes that could be eaten on the cleanse or slightly modified to fit.

Week One

Saturday: Pot Roast with Veggies/Steak with potatoes (or potato soup) & veggies

Monday: Quinoa Chili* (I don't use TVP.) / Vegetarian Chili*

Tuesday: Spaghetti (with noodles or spaghetti squash)

Wednesday: Swiss chard and chickpeas*/ Hummus (with less lemon juice) & Veggies*

Thursday: Bean burrito

Friday: Chicken & Dumplings/ Chicken Soup*

Week Two

Saturday: Lasagna/ Lasagna Soup

Sunday: Lentil Rice Casserole*

Monday: Winter Vegetable Soup*(without Parmesan) / Holiday Soup For the Soul* (leave out vegetable bouillon and replace all or part of water with vegetable broth)

Tuesday: Parmesan Chicken/ Roasted Chicken*

Wednesday: Rustic Cabbage Soup*(without Parmesan)/ Nutmeg and Honey Carrot Soup

Thursday: Crock Pot Roasted Winter Veggies with or without Salmon*

Friday: White Bean Chili*/New England Clam Chowder

Hope your New Year is off to a great start!