A primer, for our own Wendy Bluebird :)
This won’t be as indepth as I’d like because I’m trying to get it done in a limited amount of time. Eventually, I will rework it and then I’ll post it on the main FA site. Until then, this is the info off of the top of my head.
When buying canned goods, especially for the purposes of stocking up, it’s important to buy them in the most plain or simple version possible. The same as when you buy fresh or frozen foods, the plainest version is usually the least expensive. This is true of canned fruits, veggies and meats.
Lets take Tuna Fish for example. 6-ounce cans of water-packed chunk tuna cost between 50¢ & 75¢ each. Each 6-ounce can supplies about 4-ounces of cooked meat, so it takes 3 cans to make the equivalent of 1-pound of fresh tuna. If you look at the tuna section it quickly becomes apparent that basic tuna is not your only choice. You can also buy albacore for $1 to $1.50 per 6-ounce can, and even seasoned albacore tuna fillets in little foil pouches for $3 each. All of the packages weight about the same and all provide an equivalent amount of food. The cheapest is 50¢ and the most expensive is $3. That’s a pretty wide spread. Which is most versatile? Which can make casseroles, patties, loaves, salads and soup? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the pre-flavored $3 fillets. Their extra flavoring makes them less versatile. That leaves albacore and chunk tuna. Of those two which has less mercury? Which has a fuller, more robust flavor? Another hing–It’s not the albacore.
The least expensive, most widely available type of tuna is the best buy. It’s not only the cheapest, but also the most versatile, has the fullest flavor and contains a fraction of the mercury of it’s more expensive cousin, the albacore. When stocking up on tuna, I choose the cheap stuff. No added flavorings, I add those myself, giving me more flexibility in menu planning.
Now lets look at some other canned meats. Canned chicken or chicken breast–it has added salt, but otherwise is it’s most basic form. Pouches of seasoned breast cutlets are fancy, but not worth stocking up on. Canned turkey is available like canned chicken and can be used in any recipe calling for chicken. Canned ham, either 1-pound Durkee hams, or Hormel canned ham in 5 or 10-ounce cans. These have added gelatin and a little added sugar but for the most part taste like normal ham. Items like Deviled Ham should be avoided. They cost twice as much while providing far less protein and less solid meat. Canned ham can go into stir-fries, soups, casseroles or be sliced and fried by itself. It also makes divine ham-salad sandwiches. Deviled ham only makes sandwiches. Corned beef, in 12-ounce cans, is more useful than corned beef hash. Canned beef chunks in gravy is more versatile than beef stew.
Vegetables are also best purchased in their plainest form. I look for reduced sodium or no-salt-added canned veggies because they taste better, fresher, than their salty counterparts. Tomato products are especially better tasting when not canned with salt. No-salt-added canned tomatoes are especially useful because they may replace fresh chopped tomatoes in almost any application, especially salads. The tomatoes must be well drained, but they taste much better than hard, orange, winter tomatoes from the supermarket. And they’re infinitely cheaper than hydroponic tomatoes. I’ve even used them on sandwhiches in a pinch. 4 to 6 small tomato chunks, evenly distributed on a slice of bread, serve the purpose of fresh sliced tomatoes admirably.
Some veggies like beets, spinach, greens and oriental vegetables, are hard to find with no-added-salt. In this case I buy the regular version and add as little salt as possible to the finished dish. If you like lists I consider the following veggies especially useful in canned form. Don’t feel like you have to buy all of these. It just gives you something to think about.
- Green Beans
- Green Chile Peppers
- Greens of all kinds–Collards, Kale, Mixed, Mustard, Spinach & Turnip Greens
- Classic Mixed Veggies
- Mushrooms–stems & pieces
- Oriental Mixed Veggies (La Choy)
- Peas or Peas & Carrots
- Pumpkin (plain, not pie mix)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, Tomato Sauce, Spaghetti Sauce
These veggies have a few qualities in common. For the most part they are economically priced. Most of them are family friendly. Some–like greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots & chile peppers–runneth over with vitamins. Others like classic mixed veggies and mushrooms, are incredibly versatile, going into everything from pot pie, soups and stews to fresh salads adn skillet meals.
Next is fruits. I prefer to buy fruit canned in fruit juice. It costs a little bit more than fruit canned in heavy syrup, but we have dietary limitation in my family so sugar-free or low-sugar fruit is a necessity. The most economical and widely available include the following.
- Unsweetened applesauce (large jar)
- Fruit Cocktail
- Mandarin Oranges (light syrup)
- Tropical Mixed Fruit (light syrup)
Canned fruits can be made into pies, cobblers, gelatin salads, fruit salads, served as a snack with yogurt or cottage cheese, packed into small resealable bowls for packed lunches, used as a topping for ice cream, blended into smoothies, or served plain as a snack or dessert. If you serve fruit at breakfast, it looks most attractive when placed in small custard cups or bowls of a similar size. Fancy or attractive food is more likely to be eaten by persnickety children.
Some canned foods are almost always bad buys. Most canned pastas are a waste of money. conventional dry pasta is so cheap compared to canned that when you really think about it, it makes me wonder why I’ve ever bought it in the past. Ready to serve canned soups are usually way overpriced when compared to homemade or even condensed soup. Store-brand condensed soups can sometimes be reasonably priced, and I admit to liking their ease of preparation. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and canned Tomato soup is one of the most popular lunches at our house. Chicken noodle soup and Vegetable soup are also popular, but I usually save them for winter illnesses when they taste especially good to anyone with the flu. Plus, if Momma is sick too, they dont’ require much work to prepare, meaning Momma can go back to bed sooner.
Homemade soups, such as lentil, ham and bean, beef & veggie, chicken & veggie, cream of broccoli, cream of potato, clam chowder etc. etc. can all be made at home for a fraction of the cost of canned. The trick is to freeze your own soup in plastic 2-cup containers. Label it clearly and only freeze soups you really like and are willing to eat again. Make a different soup each week and freeze 6 containers of it. In a month you’ll have a wide variety of your own frozen soups to nuke and eat at a moment’s notice.
That’s all I can think of for the moment, if anyone has questions, I’m happy to answer as best I can.