Category Archives: Low Cost Foods

Making the Best of It!

This is my healthy-eating-manifesto. It doesn’t cover gluten-free or casein-free, it’s just the standard American diet, made as economical and as healthy as I know how. Eventually I’ll write more about GFCF stuff, but for now I’m updating all my regular recipes for regular cooking because most of my readers are looking for ways to make their regular diet more nutritious without costing an arm and a leg. The article is linked below. It’s in PDF format. I believe I’ve edited out most of the kinks but if you find some typos please let me know.

Making the Best of It!

Moving from a fat-filled, sugar-laden stupor to a leaner, healthy lifestyle. 

For epub and mobi versions go here.

Please comment on this article here. Any tips along these lines you’d like to share are also welcome. I really wanted to get this article finished and published before I worked on the rest of my site. Making the Best of It! is like the premise that I want to base my site on. With it published it’s easier for me to maintain my focus on the goals I’m trying to accomplish. Hope you enjoy it, and even if you don’t, please let me know.

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Filed under Budget, Family, Food, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods

What is the Healthiest Diet?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure it out and I come up with more confusion than anything else. Last night, while the boys were in Karate, I went to the library and checked out some books. As I skimmed though them, I realized many had the same theme–they described what the author considered to be the healthiest type of diet for everyone. If everyone would just switch to that Author’s diet, then we could all miraculously be healthy and well. Most of the authors promise weight loss, improved vitality, youthful energy, clearer thinking, better skin and host of other benefits.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of different dietary regimens and read about many more. I’m trying, in my own little way, as a frugal mom and a wife with my own set of health challenges, to make sense of all of the conflicting advice and expensive suggestions.

And it’s tough! I’m not even close to understanding half of it. It’s like “The Perfect Diet” is the Holy Grail of our culture. Everyone is on a quest to find it, but no one ever does. I have jumped on that band wagon and searched along with everyone else and to me it’s been just as elusive as everyone else. The one thing I think is obvious, is that the Standard American Diet, is making us sick. It doesn’t give us health, it gives us disease. 

So anyway, last night I asked myself–What do I think makes up a healthy diet? What do I think would nourish my family the best? Then I started the following list. To be sure, it’s a work in progress. I have not refined it, only come up with a handful of goals, or ideas that seem reasonable to me.

  1. Whole Grains are far better than processed grains. I believe that eliminating as many processed grains as possible can only add to my family’s health. Our main flour is brown rice flour, ground in our own electric grain mill. It’s the cheapest flour we can make (that’s gluten free) and I suspect, the highest quality. I also like oats, millet, and buckwheat. I think that serving whole grains every day, and maybe even at every meal, is a good way to go.
  2. Beans are good. My family likes beans, they’re blissfully cheap, high in fiber, protein and (I believe) are more versatile than any other protein source. I currently serve them at least 3 times a week, but would like to serve them more often. Out of 21 meals a week, I think at least 5 and maybe 7 meals should be based on beans.
  3. Fruits and Vegetables–Fresh & plain Frozen & Canned-no-added-salt-or-sugar need to take a higher priority in our meals. In a perfect world, I would grow all of our fruits and vegetables myself. That’s not likely to happen to anytime soon, so I make-do with what I can afford. I do not believe that any vegetables are bad–like potatoes and corn. I think vegetables are good, no matter what kind they are.
  4. I believe that organics are superior to conventional fare. I can’t even come close to affording them, so the only way we’ll get them is if we grow them ourselves.
  5. Honey and other “natural” sweeteners are probably better than sugar. We eat way too much sugar anyway, whether it’s natural or not.
  6. I suspect that conventional meat, eggs and dairy products are swimming in all sorts of icky things because of the terrible way animals are fed and treated in giant feed lots. I know for a fact they do not taste as good as so called “Natural” and “Organic” animal products. I still don’t know what to do about this one. Eliminate all animal products because we can’t afford the “Good Stuff” or make regular animal products a progressively smaller part of our diet. Or splurge on teh good stuff every now and then. I do know that we can’t afford the good stuff as often as we’d like to eat it, which kind of makes me sad.
  7. Eat more fish. This is a personal bias of mine. I would like to eat fish at least twice a week, and 4 times a week would be fine with me. The only thing is I can’t afford as much fish as I’d like. I do use canned salmon and canned tuna and while I worry about mercury in the tuna, I don’t worry about the salmon at all. And it’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids which is a very good thing.
  8. Everything processed is bad (except plain fruits and veggies, see number 3). Varying degrees of bad, to be sure, but still bad. Processed semi-fruit, kid-friendly, sticky sweet things–ugh! Processed meats, processed cheese, white cotton bread. All bad, very, very bad.
  9. Additives and preservatives are bad. Sodium Nitrite & Nitrate. BHT and BHA, MSG, poly sorbate something or other. And artificial colorings too, all very very bad. They trigger my kids bad behavior and make me feel sick to my stomach. I am avoiding these things like the plague. Only I’m sad because it means we don’t get to eat some things we really love, like ham and bacon.

That’s all I’ve come up with so far. Trying to make sense of this stuff is hard. It makes my brain hurt. But I’m going to figure it out for me and my family as best I can. Anyone else doing something similar? What kind of conclusions have you come up with?

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Filed under Grocery Shopping, Health, Homemaking, Low Cost Foods

Keeping Down The Rising Cost of Meat

Every now and then I survey the stores I usually shop at to determine what the best buys among meat are. Over the past couple of years, and even more specifically the past 6 months, prices have risen but many bargains remain. What follows is my list of the cheapest meats, their price per pound and price per serving. People often tell me the prices I find are much lower than the prices they can find. While the cost of living in my area isn’t especially high, it’s not the lowest in the nation either. I think that if you look hard enough, and really pay attention to your market, that you’ll be surprised at how many out-right bargains you can find among the regularly priced goods.

EGGS (not exactly a meat, but close enough)

  • Medium Eggs–about $1.50 per dozen–25¢ per 2-egg serving–Medium eggs weigh about 21 ounces per dozen. Large eggs weigh about 25 ounces per dozen. Each medium sized egg weighs about 1-3/4 ounces instead of 2 ounces. I’m willing to give up 1/4 of an ounce of egg for the significant savings that medium eggs can bring.

BEEF

  • Ground Beef–5lb bullets–$1.75 per lb–44¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 2.5 ounces cooked lean meat–Most cuts of beef are at least twice this price. A single pound of regular ground beef (27 to 30% fat) gives you about 10 ounces of cooked, lean meat. The fat content of ground beef can be drastically reduced through the common tightwad practices of rinsing it in warm water after frying. This gives the cooked meat a nutritional profile similar to cooked 10% fat ground beef, and for a much better price.

POULTRY

  • Chicken Leg-Quarters–10lb bags–58¢ per lb–29¢ per 1/2lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat–Half a pound of chicken is necessary per serving because of all the waste going to bones, skin and fat.
  • Whole Chickens–88¢ per pound–44¢ per 1/2lb raw or about 3.5 ounces cooked lean meat–whole chickens provide slightly more cooked chicken per pound than leg-quarters, but usually cost about twice as much per pound. When on sale for the same price as leg-quarters, whole chickens are the better buy. They make a fancy meal for company too.
  • Ground Turkey–1lb bullets, frozen–$1.58 per lb–40¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat
  • Ground Turkey Sausage–1lb bullets, frozen–$1.58 per lb–40¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat–20¢ per 2oz raw patty, for breakfast (home-shaped patties, not store-bought preformed patties)
  • Whole & Half Turkey Hams–Usually 2 to 3 lbs per ham–$2.28 per lb–38¢ per 2-2/3 ounce cooked lean meat–6 sevings per pound. Since these are already fully cooked, they don’t lose much weight when cooked again at home.–23¢ per 1-1/2 ounce breakfast-sized serving (10 servings per pound)

PORK

  • Bacon Ends & Pieces–3lb box–$1.68 per lb–21¢ per 2oz raw or about 2 to 3 good sized slices, at least 1-ounce cooked (compare to cost of turkey sausage and turkey ham above, which have a similar price per portion)
  • Assorted Pork Chops with bones, usually Shoulder cuts (on sale)–$1.99 per pound–at least 5-pounds per package for lowest price–67¢ per 1/3-pound raw or about 3 ounces cooked meat–note this is more than twice the cost of chicken leg-quarters which can be cooked like pork chops in many recipes
  • Pork Picnics, smoked & fresh–Not sure of current prices, will begin to go on sale in early fall

FISH

  • Canned Tuna–6oz can–55¢ per can–28¢ per 2-ounce serving of cooked lean meat–2 servings per can
  • Canned Salmon–14oz can–$1.58 per can–31¢ per 2-ounce serving of cooked lean meat–5 servings per can
  • Frozen Fish Fillets–Whiting, Pollock, & Flounder–2 lb bags–$4.50 to $5 per bag–56¢  to 63¢ per 1/4 pound raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat. Note that this is over the twice the cost of a servings of chicken leg-quarters. We love fish, and try to serve it at least twice a week. Canned fish for one meal and frozen for the other. When we’re especially poor we stick to canned fish because frozen fish fillets are one of the most expensive foods in our budget.
  • Refrigerated Imitation Crab–1-1/2 pound packages–$2.25 per pound–42¢ per 3 ounce portion of cooked lean meat

FOR COMPARISON

  • Specialty eggs costing over $4 per dozen, or 70¢ per 2-egg serving. This is over twice the cost of simple medium-sized eggs @ 25¢/2-eggs
  • It’s easy to pay $4 to $5 per pound of beef, costing $1 to $1.25 per serving. Compare to 44¢ per serving for regular fat ground beef.
  • Boneless Chicken Breasts, especially all-natural brands, often charge $6 per pound or $1.50 per serving of 3 ounces cooked lean meat. Compare to 29¢ per serving for chicken-leg quarters.
  • Pre-cooked, packaged bacon costs $1.50 for a 1-ounce serving of cooked bacon. Compare that to 21¢ for a larger serving of homecooked bacon ends & pieces. Plus with homecooked bacon you have the extra kitchen byproduct–bacon grease; for FREE.
  • Most fish, frozen or fresh, costs upwards of $4 to $12 per pound, or $1 to $3 per serving. Compare this to 56¢  to 63¢ per serving of frozen fillets.
  • Home cooked dry beans are the best bargain. Bulk beans at 50¢ per pound provide 6 hearty servings for only 8-1/3¢ per serving. Beans or lentils that cost as much as $1 per pound are still only 17¢ per large serving.

It’s easy to see how combing beans with meat is an excellent way to make it stretch farther and reduce your costs. If you’re trying to keep costs down as low as possible, then Eggs, Chicken Leg-Quarters & Canned Tuna are the best meat buys and dry beans are the best protein bargain by far.

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Filed under Budget, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods

4th of July Weekend

Today I celebrated Independence day weekend by cleaning out the freezer and getting all the oldest stuff ready for the grill. Fred’s home today, and he’s grilling for me. I hate to clean out my freezer but I do it every now and then, to make sure of what we’ve got. Turns out I had a lot more in there than I knew. Over 20 pounds of ground beef, 25 pounds of chicken and about 15 pounds of ground turkey and turkey sausage. We are not starving in our household at all. Not even close. I wore gloves as I cleaned it out, to protect my hands, and found a lot of stuff I didn’t know we had.

All the packages of meat that were 2 years old (or older EEK!) I took out and they are thawing on pans on the picnic table. When Fred grills this evening we’ll cook all the stuff that’s thawing. I figure grilling meat is the best way to cover up the taste of any freezerburn. So far I’m thawing about 5-pounds of chicken leg quarters, 2 pounds pork chops (might be 3 years old or older, shame on me 😦 )  A couple of chicken boneless chicken breasts, some thin sliced round steaks (older than pork chops, double shame on me 😦 ) and 3 pounds of ground turkey that I had packaged into individual patties and needs to be used up. We’ll be feasting tonight and the rest of the weekend.

We’re still not sure which family members are coming over, but whoever shows up, we’re ready for them.

By the way, it occurred to me that grilling chicken leg-quarters is probably one of the best ways to use them. I haven’t grilled them much in the past, but if they turn out good tonight, then I may do it more often in the future. We’re dousing everythign with steak sauce and barbecue sauce while grilling, so it will all taste pretty much the same, ie Not Like Freezerburn 😉 .

Hope everyone’s weekend is spectacular.

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Watch for shrinking packages

Every time food costs go up, food manufacturers reduce the size of their packages while charging we, the consumer, the same price. Pound sized packages drop to 14 or even 12 ounces and then advertise “Now! 3/4-Pound in Every Box” like they’ve done us a favor by giving us more, when in fact they’re giving us less. Our favorite sunflower seeds were $1.19 for 12 ounces, now they’re 99-Cents for 7 ounces. the Package tells me that now they’re only 99-Cents which seems like it costs less. Only they’re giving us 5-ounces less in the package, so the company is actually making a lot more, while pretending to be a friend of the consumer. Really they’re just being a friend to their own greedy interests. Since the sunflower seeds are no longer the good deal it used to be, now I’m buying them from the bulk bins at the Natural Foods Co-Op. They’re $2.59 a pound and never NEVER trick me with packaging.

America’s Shrinking Food Wraps–YahooNews–Article about this very topic.

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Filed under Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods, Recession, Uncategorized

The Cost of a GFCF Diet

We’ve been on our diet for 2 months now and we’re getting more of a comfort zone about it. We don’t go out to eat anymore, ever. Because it’s just too hard to make sure things are gluten-free and because we’re trying to limit our expenditures. All of our bills have gone up, but our income is the same. We have been able to save money in times past. But these days we’re using every dollar just to make ends meet. I know we’re not doing everything we can to reduce our costs, so I’m trying to do more every day, or every week, to use less cash.

The first month of giving up gluten and casein I spent too much on groceries. It’s easy to do when making the transition from one way of eating to another. We’re finding new favorites and adapting some old favorites to the new diet. I made a list of shopping techniques that are helping me keep the food budget under control. One day I hope to write an entire article (or several of them) on these things. For now though, writing these out reminded me of each of them and it’s helping me follow them more faithfully. Every little bit helps.

  1. Analyze the market. Compare prices. Shop the ads.
  2. Shop carefully. Always carry a list. Resist supermarket tricks and impulse buys.
  3. Compile a record of the least expensive staples. Build meals around these staples. 
  4. Avoid convenience foods. Cook from scratch. 
  5. Give up food prejudices and status foods. Adjust our comfort-zones. 
  6. Substitute cheap ingredients for expensive ones. 
  7. Buy in bulk when it saves money but avoid waste like the plague. 
  8. Communicate with the family about what they want to eat.
  9. Develop new favorites; keep them in a recipe binder.
  10. Plan menus and shopping lists ahead of time.

I’ve written extensively on similar ideas in the past, but I feel like the GFCF diet has really propelled me to a level of carefulness that I haven’t always had in the past.

Numbers 5 and 6 above have been major players in my weekly planning. There are several status foods I used to buy every now and then–Frozen Chicken Nuggets for the Kids, Brie Cheese for me–and all of these are out of the picture now. This is probably for the best, but giving up old favorites is hard because at first there’s just an empty vacuum that sits like a gaping hole. Eventually new favorites rise to fill the hole, but new stuff can’t fill it, until the old stuff is chucked out. Then the transition time of waiting and being empty is uncomfortable.

I’ve been substituting cheap things for expensive ones too. This is especially true with gluten-free starches and baking. I’ve learned that Rice can be used instead of spaghetti under Tomato Sauce. Cooked rice can replace cooked pasta in casseroles. Brown Rice is 60 Cents a pound (at it’s cheapest, bulk price) and GF pasta is $3 to $4 a pound. Holy Buckets! For that much savings I gladly take 45 minutes to cook brown rice. ACtually I’ve found that if I cook up 3-cups of dry brown rice, in 6-cups of water (making 9-cups of cooked rice), at the beginning of the week, then we have rice to use as a base for quicky meals all week long. I’ve only done that one week, but it worked so good I will try to do it every week.

I’ve worked really hard on developing some gluten-free bread recipes that the family likes and that don’t cost too much either. I’ve tried to avoid using Xanthan in as many of our homemade breads as I can, and so far the results are good. Xanthan costs $10 to $12 for 8-ounces. Usually recipes just use 1 or 2 teaspoons and it really does make GF breads mimic wheat breads more closely, especially yeast breads. For many quick breads though, Xanthan isn’t necessary in the least.

I’m particularly proud of my Xanthan-Free Bread Collection [Click here]. I hope to develop some more of them in the future. Some Garlic Bread Sticks would be especially yummy. I’m working on a recipe for Xanthan-Free Pizza Crust that uses Rice Flour and Cornstarch as the only flours. The recipe still needs a little tweaking and I don’t want to share it until I get it perfect.

 

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Filed under Budget, GFCF, GFCF Recipes, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods, Recession

Refried Beans

I have been trying my hand at Stretchy Beans this week and having fun with it. Pintos are my family’s favorite bean, with Limas running a close second. What follows is the story of my first pot of stretchy beans. I only managed 2 dishes out of them, because I’m still new at this. I hope to work up to 3 or 4 meals per pot of beans.

When starting with dried beans they must first be cooked. I do it this way. Rinse 2-pounds of dry pinto beans in cool water. Pour the dry beans into a large crock-pot. Fill the pot with water to within 1 or 2 inches of the top. Add the following seasonings . . .

seasonings for pinto beans

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons fat, such as bacon grease, margarine or vegetable oil

Stir the seasonings into the beans. Place the lid on the crock-pot and cook the beans on HIGH overnight or for at least 8 hours. They will be gloriously tender, with flavor and aroma better than you can even imagine.

Serve the beans with cornbread the first day. Refrigerate leftovers.

The next day my beans looked like this.

Cold pinto beans in crockpot

Not especially appetizing, and maybe even a little scary looking. Since I had made 2-pounds of beans, I still had a lot left. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to make refried beans and freeze the extra for kid snacks later in the week.

So the next step was to get out my food processor, which is old and sorely neglected. I filled the processor half full of cold beans and then pureed. It looked like this.

foodprocessor full of refried beans

The bean puree was then poured into small, square rubbermaid containers. It took 2 batches to process all of the beans. After filling the freezer containers with about 1-cup of refried beans each, I topped them with shredded Vegan Gourmet Monteray Jack Cheese.

 freezer tubs filled with beans and cheese

Finally we put lids on all of them and stacked them in the freezer.

refried beans ready for freezer

The beans froze quickly. This morning, my oldest son decided to try one for breakfast. He reheated it for 2-minutes in the microwave and then served it with a handful of corn tortilla chips. It’s not a nutritionists dream breakfast, but it was better than some he’s had. He pronounced the beans a success. Since he’ll be eating most of them, I was pleased.

This is a recipe I will make again, to give the boys a quick, nourishing mini-meal or snack that is blessedly affordable too.

P.S. I have borrowed Robyn’s method for using pictures to tell a recipe story because they seemed so effective on her site.

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Filed under food stamps, GFCF Recipes, Low Cost Foods, Pictures, WIC