Friday, June 29, 2007

A pause to clarify and dig a little deeper

The tests on pesticides were done in the US regarding US produce and produce imported to the US. So Kate in Spain, I don't know if it applies to the produce you buy or not. I understand that Europe has become more stringent about pesticide use so it may not be an issue.

Dear people on a food budget of $50/week or less for a family. The time has come to embrace cabbage, and rice, and lentils and beans. Really, cabbage is a very inexpensive vegetable, even in Canada. It is a very good source of a lot of nutrients especially if you mix up the colors. For inspiration as to how to prepare the cheapest vegetables at the store, often the most nutrient dense as well, such as cabbage, turnips, beets, chard, kale, and parsley we can look to the recipes of northern Europe. For example, coleslaw. I promise that you can make these things taste good and I will try to write down some of these recipes soon.

Lentils are very inexpensive, rice can be bought in 10lb bags at Asian stores for less than $15 and lasts for months. So are beans. Lentils can be cooked and used as a ground beef substitute or to stretch your ground beef farther. They are actually a lot healthier than meat. As are beans and rice which are a complete protein together and significantly less expensive. People in our culture today seem to think that meat is necessary every day when that's far from the case.

I'm not just pretending to know about this. A many years back when the GH was between jobs I was standing in line at the food bank. I was trying to make healthy meals out of the random weird things that were donated, I spent less than $20 a month on food to supplement that. Honestly, because I have an obsessively well stocked pantry I had a lot of staples to deplete before we ran out. Guess what was in there. That's right, beans and rice, and lentils, and whole oats and barley. So I have been there. Personally I would rather make sure that my family gets their antioxidants and fiber and complex carbohydrate than chicken and steak. I'm that convinced that it's important for their health.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Produce on a budget, the real food guide to cheap fruits and vegetables

I'm sitting here looking at the flyer for our local farmer's market store, called Henry's. It's not really a farmer's market, but most of the produce is local, and they have an extensive supplement section and bulk foods and spices section as well. This week mangoes are 3 for $1, seedless water melons are two for $5, green and red seedless grapes are 87 cents/lb. So are peaches, vine ripe tomatoes and potatoes. Twelve ounces of berries are $3. Granted, it's summer, and I live in California where a lot of food is grown, but fruits and vegetables are by far one of the least expensive parts of our diet. When you consider that they are at least half of our diet, this saves us a lot of money. The typical dinner plate should be 1/2 salad or vegetables, 1/4 meat or other protein, and 1/4 carbohydrate/starch. One serving of meat is 4oz. That means it should fit into the palm of your hand. Most Americans eat too much meat, which isn't good for us. Simply adjusting to more salad and less steak can drastically reduce your food spending per month and drastically improve your long term health.

I take $20 a week when I go to the Farmer's market. (The real one, not Henry's.) I buy from the local organic producers. I get fresh quality, I get what's in season, and that $20 worth of produce usually lasts more than one week. I usually spend another $10 or so on fruit that I can't find at the Farmer's market.

So here are some tips for saving money on fruits and vegetables.

  1. Only purchase what's in season. When it's in season you can also buy more than you need and preserve it, canned, frozen or dried, to enjoy it into other season's as well. Fifty years ago people still ate according to the seasons. There were cookbooks devoted to the preparation of seasonal produce. Why do you think the French invented onion soup? They had to eat something in the winter and onions keep a long time. Apart from preserves, berries were only eaten during the summer, squash and apples in the fall, potatoes, leeks, onions and other root vegetables throughout the winter, baby greens in the spring. My husbands brought into our marriage a cookbook from a monastery in France called the 4 seasons. It's a collection of vegetarian recipes all tailored to the seasonal availability of produce. (It also contains my favorite recipes for custard and pears flambe. (I've got a little project I working on that may be helpful in this respect too. I can't say any more than that because it's still in the works but I'll keep you posted.)
  2. Buy local, go to farmer's market's, join a food co-op or direct market organic delivery service if there are any in your area. Here are some places to start looking. Food coops are groups of people who organize to purchase direct from the growers at bulk prices and then split up the orders between themselves. They usually require a onetime membership fee, less than $30usually, and depending on the size you may have to take one day a week or month to join your fellow co-opers and divide up the orders to take home. They are easier to find in urban areas. Some are so well organized that you can order what you want online, the order is prepared for you and once a week you can pick it up at a home nearby. (How I miss Vancouver.)
  3. Organic food is usually more expensive. When I'm on a budget I will limit my organic purchases to those things that tests have shown often have large quantities of pesticides on them still when they reach the shelves. Or I'll skip them altogether. The 10 most contaminated foods are:strawberries, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, spinach, cherries (US), peaches, cantaloupe (Mexican), celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes (Chilean), and cucumbers. For the entire study and alternative foods go here.
  4. Join a gleaner's club. Lot's of people have trees that produce fruit but don't have the motivation to harvest it. Gleaner's clubs gain permission to harvest the fruit themselves. Most of the time they donate it to food banks but you can keep some of it yourself. Or, just ask that next door neighbor with the cherry tree if they mind if you pick their cherries for them.
  5. Of course, no discussion of cost effective produce can forget to mention growing your own. Depending on where you live, how long of a growing season, and what it costs to water, growing your own vegetables can save you lots of money leaving your budget free to purchase what you can't grow. You can even plant your own fruit bearing trees, ask your local gardening expert what grows best in your area. Even if you don't live somewhere with dirt of your own to plan a garden in, there are a lot of things that can grow in containers on apartment balconies, front steps, etc. I live in a ground floor apartment with a concrete patio. This year I took one of the kids wooden toy boxes that was falling apart and they never use, reinforced it with a few screws and filled it with gravel, pine cones and potting soil. Right now I have tomatoes, oregano, and basil growing in it. In another container I have planted lettuce seeds, and in another I have mint, in another cilantro, and in another rosemary. Here is a handy guide to container gardening. The added bonus of growing your own food is that your children can be much more excited to try it when they've watched it grow.
  6. The last thing I'd like to mention is an idea Rose had in this post. She concluded that the most cost effective way to have fresh nutritious produce in the winter was to sprout seeds in her kitchen. Seeds for sprouting can be found anywhere, even the Target garden section. Here is an online source for purchasing a sprouting starter kit. That $40 will provide everything you need to start and last up to a year. Sprouts taste good raw and can also be sauteed, stir fried, baked into breads and casseroles and provide a lot of protein and nutrients. The quick guide to sprouting is to soak seeds in a jar for 8 hours keeping them in a dark place. You can tie a piece of cheese cloth across the top of the jar if you have no strainers in order to drain the water. Continue to keep the jar in a dark place and rinse with clean water at least twice a day. In about three days you have sprouts and you can eat them.
I'm sure more of you have great ideas for combining economy and fresh food. Please share in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Does real food cost more?

While I was mulling over the topic of budget considerations when it comes to real food I received a lovely email from Rose asking questions on that very topic.
But, I do wonder how much your wonderful diet ends up costing you. (And I know, I know, we would all save a lot of money on doctor bills if we all ate well!) But really, I wonder what the ballpark food budget is for your family, because when I hear you mention Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, I immediately think ‘Expensive!’

I want to eat much, much better even than we are eating now, even with me cooking all of our food from scratch. But it seems I am always caught between the four variables of nutrition, taste, cost, and convenience. Something has got to go.

Since she's probably not the only one with similar questions, I thought I'd answer her here. She also shared with me post that involved some very creative solutions that she has already come up with and she said I could share it with you, so I'll do so a bit later.

So, I quickly went through and added up everything that we spent at a grocery store over the month of April. (Because I had those records handy.) Since I only had totals, not receipts, those numbers indicate everything we would have spent on food, toilet paper, detergents, toothpaste and whatever else. Also, I realized that we threw a very big party for the Genius Husband's birthday in April for a large group of people and I know we spent close to $100 on that alone. S0 the total for April was $544.67. Subtract $100 for party expenses and it's just over $400 to feed a family of 4 for a month and keep their hair, teeth, butts and house clean as well. Oh, and diapers for 3 short people and quarters for laundry ($10/week) should be figured in there as well.

For some of you this will be quite high, for a lot of others this will be fairly low. I chose April because it is a pretty good representation of what happens when we're not counting pennies. On penny counting months I can bring our grocery bill way down with a few simple adjustments that I'll share later.

I don't have a Whole Foods near where I live. Jimbo's is our local equivalent. Yes, it's very expensive to shop there. It's lovely to shop there because they have already done the work of label reading so most of what they stock is good for you food, though you still have to think. Organic Evaporated Cane Juice is still sugar after all, even though it's less processed. You know what? I rarely ever shop there. When I do go it's for a very specific item, usually on sale, though not always. I window shop at their deli for inspiration, sometimes purchasing one thing and then going home to figure out how to make it myself. That's how I learned about Avocado Pie. I bought a piece, read the ingredients list and experimented at home. Jimbo's is for things I can't find elsewhere, like millet in bulk, and black lentils.

Okay, now let's talk about my favorite store, Trader Joe's. I shop there all the time because the prices are so good. I can buy a dozen local brown eggs for 99 cents. I can get hormone free milk and cheese for less than I can buy regular milk and cheese at a national chain grocery store. I can get bars of single origin organic dark chocolate for less than 2 dollars. In fact they have a 10 pound bar of Belgian dark chocolate that they sell for $20. That's a lot of chocolate. The price for crackers, cereal, sauces, cookies and most every thing else is the same or less than grocery store prices and they all have real food ingredients. TJ's is the only place where I can purchase a very nice organic Italian wine for $3/bottle. (Tommolo Montepulcian0 d'Abruzzo bottled by Chiusa Grande if you go looking.) They also sell pretty big bottles of pure Maple syrup for $7. I can buy a loaf of sprouted grain bread for just over $2. (Remember higher fiber bread is more filling, you don't need to eat as much.) If you are going to purchase really high quality meat and gourmet foods you can also find them there and pay more for them, but not as much as you would at a gourmet foods place. There are some things we get at Trader Joe's that are treats, special foods for special occasions. They cost more than getting the regular version would at a store, but we think it's worth it. These are things like ice cream, which we only eat once a week so it lasts a while, apple smoked nitrate free bacon, we only have bacon once a month or less, fancy cheeses, which are still not that expensive compared to other places, and chocolate, alcohol, etc. If you are going to purchase prepackaged food, their's is better for the same amount of money.

Okay, enough about TJ's because not everyone is lucky enough to have one nearby.

Now, to address the 4 things that Rose very neatly summarized that she feels a tension between; nutrition, taste, cost, and convenience. In my opinion food that tastes better is a natural by product of eating foods that have more nutrition in them or are at least less processed, (cookies made with real butter always taste better than cookies made from margarine don't they?) and that the two go hand in hand. This may not be your experience in which case I respectfully suggest that perhaps you haven't yet had enough experience of real food.

Looming largest are the issues of cost and convenience and how do you get good tasting and nutritious food without sacrificing either of those? Well the truth is both of these things have to give a little from time to time, it can be a bit of a lifestyle adjustment if you need to stay within budget, but it doesn't have to be extreme. (My mother made the tiniest little food budget stretch far enough to feed us and many guests as well without resorting to KD in a box and it tasted good and was real food.)

Tomorrow I will talk about how to get Whole Foods quality without paying too much for it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amazing Bean Salad

I just made this salad tonight for the first time and it's incredible.

Warm Garbanzo Bean Salad

1/2 medium yellow onion chopped very fine

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

15 oz/1can garbanzo beans

Heat 2 tbsp Canola oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and cumin and cook until translucent 3-5 minutes. Add the beans and heat until warm through, about 3 minutes. Add the juice of 2 limes and cook for 1 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper, 2 handfuls of cilantro leaves, and a splash or two chili oil. Eat warm. So good.

Homemade chili oil is just olive oil that is sealed in a jar with chili peppers long enough for the flavor to get into the oil.

I am writing what will probably be a series of posts on how to eat real food on a limited budget. I will be posting it very soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kellogg's commits to raising nutrition of kids food

I read this article with great interest the other day. Kellogg's the world's leading cereal producer has caved to public pressure and will be upgrading the nutrition standards of the cereals that it advertises to children under the age of 12. It will be revising the caloric content and salt and sugar content of it's cereals. While I applaud this development and agree that it's a good thing for lobbyists to push for a healthier food standard, I can't help wondering about a lot of issues the article raised for me.

The first thought of course was that they could meet those guidelines just by making the portion sizes smaller, which doesn't change anything but the label.

The other thing that it had me wondering however was why is it necessary to control advertising to children? Why is it the responsibility of the food producers to make kids food healthier instead of the responsibility of parents to make informed choices as consumers? Aren't parents the ones who purchase the breakfast cereal, and aren't they able to say no and explain to their children why they are making that choice?

Perhaps I don't understand because I don't let my kids watch commercial television most of the time. If they want Dora, I'll rent the DVD. They don't watch TV unless I'm there with them. Is Shrek really more of an influence for some children than their parents are? I doubt it but I want to hear your opinion about all of this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Saga Continues

It's time for an update on the weight loss plan I suppose. Well, the last time I weighed myself I was around 145lbs. I rarely weigh myself, I don't own a scale. But this week I pulled some snug pre-pregnant pants out of the closet and they fit once more. I am about 15 lbs away from the goal weight I had in January. I don't quite understand why my pants are fitting already when I'm still so far off, but I'm not complaining. I still have a bit of fat on my belly, but my hipbones have re-emerged once more so we're not that far away.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, here's how much I've been sticking to my plan.

  1. Curtailing the snacking has been partially successful. I still have snacks but they are usually fruit these days. I only end up snacking about once a day.
  2. I'm still eating while standing from time to time. I've learned something interesting though. I've been really aware of my posture since I gave birth because I don't want to turn into a hunchbacked old woman. When I sit up straight I pay attention to my food better, I eat slower and I'm generally more aware of what I'm eating.
  3. I was doing really well with not eating while doing something else until recently. I've once or twice eaten my breakfast at the computer just this week.
  4. My portion sizes are under control. I use a smaller plate, and I put my food in the middle of the plate being sure to leave a border around the outside. I find this rule of thumb handy,
  5. Exercise every day. treadmill sits there gathering dust because it's in my bedroom where the baby sleeps, and I usually don't want to risk waking her when I have time to exercise, bad planning on my part. Here's what I've really been doing. When I take my children to the playground, I walk around while they're playing. I just keep walking and walking until they're ready to go home. (Unless one of my friends is there, then I usually stand around and talk to them instead.) I dance around with the baby when ever hits of the 80's is playing on my husband's i-tunes, which seems to be often these days. Why 80's? I have no idea, but we both think it's fun. I walked 2 miles for a fund raiser and raised almost $1000. I bench press the baby too, 10 reps at a time, she's getting heavier in direct proportion to my workout needs. I sit her on my belly against my raised legs and do crunches to play peekaboo. (I hold her so she doesn't fall.) I carry her everywhere. I walk to do all of my errands. I'm rarely breaking a sweat, unless it's really hot out, but it must be working a little since I'm smaller. I am stretching.
  6. I'm eating leftover salad for lunch and after dinner.
  7. I am still eating dessert a few times a week and squares of dark chocolate, but I'm not eating large portions, and I'm eating less challah bread too.
So, that doesn't look as bad as I thought it would when I decided to confess but I think the real reason I'm losing weight is because I eat the way I tell you I do, all the time. My breakfast is homemade meusli with homemade yogurt every day except Saturday. I really do eat salad everyday, and I don't eat junk food, hardly ever. The last Saturday snacking binge I was on included seasoned pecans and dried tamarind. (I know, I should really cut back.)

So there you have it, it's not that hard, and most of the battle is won when I'm finished shopping, the choices made there make the choices at home easier.

As I've been saying

I found this article via this post at Gastrokid. If you are not yet convinced of how important it can be to read labels and avoid additives in your food, this article may help you out. It includes a detailed breakdown of some common food additives and why they might not be that good for you. It's a handy reference.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer Salad

Those hot summer days can be unbearable if you have to spend them in the kitchen working over a hot stove to get dinner ready. Most people no longer have homes with a summer kitchen built into them, instead we have our outdoor BBQ grills to take the heat out of the kitchen. Another alternative for warm summer nights is to make the main course a salad.

Here is an excellent salad that makes a very satisfying meal.

Or try this recipe.

3 medium apples chopped

One half of a small head of cabbage, sliced and chopped coarsely.

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds

1/2 cup raw almonds

1-1/2 cups plain yogurt

1 squeeze fresh lime juice, (Not too much)

Combine all ingredients in a salad bowl and serve with crusty bread and perhaps some cold slices of chicken as well.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

summer tips-revised

See bottom for update.

Why yes you are in the right place. Yes, we have rearranged things a little. I was getting bored with the old template this one is brighter.

Now that summer is here and hot days are upon us don't forget about water. It's a good idea to carry water with you at all times. If you buy a Nalgene bottle with a large lid you can put a ton of ice in it as well and keep it really cold and fresh. If your tap water tastes awful, now is a good time to purchase a water filter. They don't have to be too expensive and if it helps you to stay hydrated it's worth it.

One of the tricks to keeping cool in the summer heat is to eat lightly throughout the day. When you consume a large meal your body temperature rises as you metabolize the food. Eating a large heavy meal with hard to digest fats and animal proteins in the middle of the day can make you feel hot and sleepy. This is great for weight loss as you are less likely to feel like eating a lot when you're body is warmer so stock up on natural light snacks and enjoy the sun.

Summer is also the time to keep food simple. Fresh fruits are a great summer time snack. Cut up some cold watermelon and carry it along to the beach or poolside in a Ziplock bag. Don't forget about grapes and strawberries and peaches as well. This is the season for fresh berries of all kinds. Grab some almonds and sunflower seeds and you have to protein to go.

*After a. borealis commented about some Nalgene bottles leeching dioxins I remembered a very old post by Journey Mama where she mentioned a type of metal water bottle. After a long time digging through her archives I am proud to bring you the Kleen Kanteen the stainless steel alternative to plastic water bottles as their site proudly proclaims. I think I may get us a few of those this summer.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Apple Flowers

For a quick and fun snack for little ones try this.

Wash a large apple and cut it into thin slices.

Put a large spoonful of nut butter in the center of each child's plate. Arrange the apple slices around the butter all facing the same way like flower petals. (the nut butter is a dip for the apples)

Serve to excited toddlers who think you're amazing and then sit down and relax for the 3 minutes it will take them to eat their snack before they start pulling on you again.

(Also works with cottage cheese or yogurt)

Monday, June 04, 2007

What is Avocado Pie?

That's what Kate wants to know. This is an excellent question. (Warning, not low cal or low fat.)

Avocado Pie begins with a graham cracker crust.

1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs

2+ tbsp melted butter

mix together and press into a 9 inch pie plate. Bake for about 10 minutes in oven and allow to cool.

For the filling you need very ripe avocados and lemon juice and sugar.

Combine in a food processor until the avocados are really smooth and creamy. Add lemon juice and sugar until it tastes like dessert. (This will take a lot of sugar and lemon juice but tastes really good when you get it right.)

Spread avocado filling into the pie shell and top with whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

I know it sounds weird but it actually tastes pretty good. It's the only way I can get my kids to eat avocado.
Related Posts with Thumbnails