eat better for less : part one

Eating well on a dime

How well you can eat on the cheap depends a lot on how much you want this to be a lifestyle choice. If you can’t be bothered to cook yourself dinner after a long day, you need to figure out how to batch cook efficiently, or you’re going to waste a lot of money (and eat more crap in the process.)

I believe that meaningful change in our food system begins at the kitchen table. We can’t change the world outside our door if we don’t change our habits at home.

The key is finding the pleasure in the process. If you enjoy your time in the garden and kitchen, it won’t feel like work and the resulting feast will be a bonus.

1. Eat less meat

Most of us eat way too much meat. In our home, we use Meatless Monday to stretch our food budget.

It doesn’t take an economics major to figure out beans and rice are easier on the pocketbook than steak (or even hamburger!)

2. Don’t eat out

Save dinners out for a meal that you wouldn’t be able to cook at home. The hubs and I are both pretty handy around the kitchen, so when we do eat out, we go for broke and it is a memorable, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime experience, not just a get in and get out forgettable meal.

3. Learn to cook

I don’t care if you can’t boil water right now, you can learn to cook. Cooking is not rocket science and it doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated, difficult or time consuming.

I get my panties in a twist when people moan – But I don’t have time cook! Bah. I say you’re full of it.

Get a slow cooker, a bread maker, a rice cooker – do what you gotta do. This week I got up a few minutes early on my “hell day” bunged a couple bottles of beer, an onion, garlic, celery, carrots and seasoning in the slow cooker along with a couple racks of ribs. At the same time, I heated through some molasses, ketchup, garlic, onions, apple cider vinegar and spices.

When I got home later from work the house smelled like heaven and all I had to do was slather that gorgeous homemade BBQ sauce onto meltingly tender ribs. I got the ribs on special for $3.50 a rack. We spent like paupers and ate like kings. Zero time and minimal effort. You’ve just got to plan ahead.

Personally, I’m a big fan of having one afternoon a week to batch cook. This works especially well in winter when I’m craving warm hearty meals like soup, lasagna and shepherd’s pie. All you have to do is bung it in the oven.

Who doesn’t have time for that???

4. Eat inexpensive cuts of meat

In our house, we are able to afford to eat pastured organic meats because we primarily eat the less expensive cuts.

Flank steak, stew meat, hocks, roasts . . . pretty much any cut of meat that starts out tough and cheap can be incredibly flavourful if you know how to prepare them.

It’s might go without saying, but meat on the bone is way less expensive than boneless skinless chicken breast, for example. Really want a good buy? Pick up a whole chicken and learn to cut it up yourself.

recipe flank steak with homemade tortilla and mango salsa

Flank Steak & Homemade Tortillas

5. Eat whole grains

Whole grains are inexpensive, filling and good for you. How can you go wrong?

I like to use whole grains in unexpected ways – barley for risotto or as a filler for a greek salad. (Sounds weird, but believe me – delicious.)

6. Buy dried beans and legumes

A tin of organic beans can cost three dollars or more. Using dried beans can be inconvenient. You need to plan ahead, soak them and take time to cook them properly.

I avoid all that trouble by buying dried beans in bulk, cooking them all at once in the slow cooker, and freezing them in recipe portion sizes.

15 thoughts on “eat better for less : part one

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      It’s a tough one, because the food industry spends a lot of money convincing us that we don’t have time to cook. And let’s face it, some nights you just want to order in; I’m certainly not above chinese takeout, myself!

      I just hate the way we allow such an important thing as dinner to be a victim of our busy lives. Seems like its always the first to go, and it should be the last.

  1. Heidi @ lightlycrunchy

    I would also add grow it yourself. So far this year (and I’m not done yet), I’ve been able to freeze enough marinara sauce, passata, and pizza sauce for the year. I’ve also frozen peas, green and jalapeno peppers, onions, beans, zucchini, jams, fresh peaches and strawberries.

  2. The Errant Cook

    Great suggestions. I’m trying to figure out a strategy for convincing my meat-loving husband to agree to Meatless Monday dinners.

    I wish someone would tell my local grocer that flank steak is supposed to be inexpensive. I read all the time that it is, and yet here in N.E. Oklahoma it’s as pricey as regular steak. *sad face*

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      My hubby is not exactly a willing participant . . . He tolerates it because the alternative is going hungry. 🙂 If you check out the Rebar Cookbook in the article – it’s the one thing that’s given me a fighting chance.

      You are so right about flank steak! What is the deal?

      Ironically, I’ve found it’s cheapest to buy grass-fed flank steak at my favourite local mom & pop healthy grocer than it is to buy it from one of the big supermarkets. I can get a huge steak for around $11, and eating it in tacos seems to make it go further. (Otherwise the hubs would probably eat the whole thing himself!) We usually can get two meals out of it.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      It SHOULD be, shouldn’t it.

      My parents didn’t let me take home ec in high school because they said I could learn how to cook at home (which I did) but there are so many other things about running a home, budgeting etc. that are basic life skills that should be mandatory. Imagine if everyone coming out of the public school system could grow a potato, roast a chicken, knit a sweater, mend clothes and balance a cheque book?? What kind of world would that be?

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      You’re SO right about that. And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Just learning how to cook a few basics could completely change your life.

      That’s so funny – every urban farmer I know says legumes are their weak spot! Apparently they’re super hard to grow in our climate, but the thought of enough protein in the garden sucks us in every time!

      Do you eat meat? My hubby and I have worked some numbers based on our backyard experiments and we think we could raise enough meat and eggs in our (tiny) urban backyard to meet most of our protein needs. That’s a post for another time, but it’s something to think about!

      1. Growing Up in the Garden

        We do eat meat, but not very much. I was a vegetarian for a long time up until about 15 years ago. We usually eat beef once or twice a week, maybe some fish, and occasionally pork. We eat very little chicken because my husband is allergic to it. I once dreamed about getting some chickens for the backyard, but both my husband and youngest child are allergic to eggs. Fortunately, there are a number of people within a mile or so of me who we can get eggs from. Frankly, I just don’t think I have enough space to grow enough beans for a year, but it is fun to try ;)!

      2. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

        Do you know if they’re allergic to quail? My sister-in-law can’t eat chicken eggs and has found for some reason the quail doesn’t bother her.

        We’ve figured that with quail, rabbit and chickens we can pretty much cover the protein for the family. We were going to try to raise all our own chicken this year but sold them all when we listed our house. (Having something like 10 times the legal number of chickens didn’t seem like a good idea with a gazillion strangers coming through our yard!)

      3. Growing Up in the Garden

        I don’t know if they are allergic to quail. My husband can eat duck (don’t know about the eggs), so it is possible he could eat quail….We have wild quail here. Maybe I could take up hunting :).

        Good luck selling your house!

  3. Pingback: eat better for less : part two | The Slow Foods Mama

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