Filed under: Buy Local, Canning, Food Waste, Frugality, Local Food, Plant based diet, Reducing Waste, Slow Food | Tags: beans, beekeeping business, Farmer's Market, food, growing food, vegetarian
promised in my last post, today’s topic is familiar to everyone. Since I’m trying to lower my food bills and wastes while at the same time eating a healthy diet, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips that I’ve found for getting a decent evening meal on the table without a lot of fuss or money. I no longer have young children living at home, nor do I have a day job anymore (writing this blog is my ‘night job’ 🙂 ) but I haven’t forgotten the challenge of putting together the evening meal. I had four kids and a picky husband that I fed 3 times a day, 365 days a year, for oh, at least 25 years. Eating out happened only once or twice a year back then.
Michael is not picky, except for his desire for our meals to be as low-fat as possible. Since he contributes almost as much time in the kitchen as I do, and since I’ve learned the dangers of a high fat diet to my health, I’m accommodating. That said, my desire for keeping the food budget low so that we don’t have “more month than money” is important to me too. Where do we start then?
Breakfast for us is always crock pot oats (bought in 50 lb bags for $26) doctored up with apples (dried or fresh), raisins and cinnamon. A dab of honey is mixed into the crock at the end of cooking so that it mixes well into the hot oatmeal. A potful is stored in the ‘frig and lasts us 4 or 5 days. Lunch is always leftovers from the previous night’s meal, so we simply make sure that we prepare enough to provide us with that noon time meal, even if it means stretching it with extra beans or potatoes. Or, if there’s not quite as much left from supper as we’d like, we simply supplement this meal with a salad from the garden, leftover cornbread from the night before or perhaps green beans or peaches that were canned last summer. That just leaves supper to deal with.
Since we eat a plant-based diet, we don’t have to worry about the price of meat. Instead, we spend our grocery dollars on what’s fresh and seasonal. We buy in bulk when it’s cost-effective to do so, doing a monthly (or even bimonthly) shopping trip to stock up on staples. Trips to the store ‘between times’ are limited to fresh soy milk or produce specials.
I believe the one thing that makes it easiest to stick to my ‘food values’ is planning ahead. After a full day of activity, staring into the refrigerator at 5 PM with no idea of what I’m going to cook, is a recipe for disaster. I like to determine ‘what’s for supper’ each morning by taking a quick peak in there to see what needs to be used first. Then I plan the evening meal based on that. Wednesday I made a big pot of curried split pea/cauliflower soup, because I had a half head of it that needed to be used. We enjoyed the soup with slices of the homemade bread Michael had made over the weekend, and had sweet cranberry/nut bread for dessert, using up the remaining fresh cranberries we’d bought at Christmas. Last night he made ‘Lentil Tacos’ using the lentils I’d cooked ahead and frozen in the 2 cup portions that we need for most recipes. I do this with all kinds of dried beans since it doesn’t take any longer to cook a pound than it does to cook a cup or two. Adding condiments and spices to the thawed lentils gave them a taste and texture very much like real beef tacos. We enjoyed it wrapped in fresh corn tortillas, topped with chopped lettuce from the garden, diced tomatoes, plain homemade yogurt (in place of sour cream) and summer-canned salsa. (I forgot to take a picture of the tacos-from-lentils that he made, but I did take one of the ‘Sloppy Lentils’ and oven baked ‘fries’ that we enjoyed recently. It was yummy too!
Because I had cooked a big pot of brown rice earlier in the day (an everyday staple also bought in bulk) he made a big bowl of rice pudding for dessert that used up the remaining cup or so of plain soy milk that had been opened for mashed potatoes recently. Adding creamy milk, raisins and spices (bought in bulk too!) like cinnamon and cardamom to the rice reminds me of chai tea. YUM! There’s still enough pudding for several more bowls and tonight’s stir fry will be served over the remaining rice. Like beans, cooking rice in bulk saves time and energy.
For a balanced diet, I try to rotate meals by including rice, potatoes, pasta or beans as the basis for the main entrée, then add sides of salads or fresh cooked veggies that we’ve grown or purchased fresh and on sale at the little grocery store that’s within walking distance of our home. Soups are a limitless mainstay around here, and a great way to use small amounts of leftover foods. Salads don’t have to be filled with exotic or expensive veggies to be good. Letting the lettuces be the ‘belle of the bowl’ keeps costs way down, as does making your own dressings.
The point is, by planning ahead, growing and preserving what we can (oh! we’re going to miss our bees’ honey when it’s gone!), eating seasonally and cooking from scratch, we’re able to eat on less than the USDA’s recommended ‘thrifty plan’, which is about $4 per person, per day. Not buying sodas and juices, processed or snack type foods keeps our food costs down and our bodies healthy. We drink cups of (bulk) hot tea or water with our meals and snack on a wide variety of fresh or dried fruits, popcorn, sweet breads and muffins, nuts, smoothies and fruit tarts made with little effort. We collect recipes the way most shoppers do coupons and enjoy the cooking process and discovering new ways to use old ingredients! I’ll occasionally use a coupon for the weekly deal at Earth Fare, which is close to our home and sells the kind of food we enjoy, but otherwise, I find they’re just not needed for rice, beans, oats and fruits.
Having a food system that’s COMPLETELY dependent on oil, huge monocrop farms and globalized transport makes me feel powerless, but sticking to the basics of fruits, grains and veggies enables me to make easy substitutions when those factors that are out of my control affect price or availability. This built-in resilience assures me that the eternal question of “what’s for supper?” gets answered every day.
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