Of Budget Shopping and Natural Food

Most of what I read about eating natural and organic food on a budget boils down to, “eat less meat”.  Since, in our house, this is simply not going to happen, (okay, stretching out meat can happen, but protein is a must, and three meatless meals a week is right out) I’ve developed some strategies of my own.

My main strategy is to be very aware of the cost per pound of food. Any good, healthy food that’s less than a dollar a pound is a deal, and warrants stocking up and planning a couple meals based around this food. Around two dollars a pound is acceptable, and three dollars a pound and up is for special occasions or to be used sparingly. Obviously, the general rule can change based on the kind of food (stock up price on beef or pork is anything less than two dollars a pound), but basically, the cheaper something is while still qualifying as healthy, the more of it you want in your diet.

I factor in the ‘clean fifteen’ and ‘dirty dozen’ lists to figure out which produce is important to buy organic. Most things on the dirty dozen list I just skip entirely, because they’re not worth the price of organic (or I splurge on the non-organic version occasionally, but don’t tell anyone…). Lettuce, spinach and apples are organic though, when we get them.

Cabbage, onions, and sweet potatoes are on the ‘clean fifteen’ list, and are often under a dollar a pound at normal price, so I try to use a lot of them. I have three or four cabbage dishes that I rotate through regularly, and another shopper was taken aback around St Patricks day as I was loading thirty pounds of 14 cent a pound cabbage into my cart. (Remember that rule about stocking up at under a dollar a pound?) 🙂

Similarly, we eat a lot more bananas than apples, and more chicken (leg quarters from Aldi, 69 cents a pound) than beef.  (Um, probably tied on the chicken and beef consumption, at least if I’ve managed to find a decent deal on ground beef recently. We *like* beef.)

The hard part is knowing when not to stress out about eating healthy, cheap food. Let me reword that… The hard part is *not* stressing out about eating healthy, cheap food. 🙂  I tend to be a bit obsessive about the perfect solution to a problem, so often instead of balancing ‘inexpensive’ and ‘healthy’ I pendulum between ‘oh, no, we’ll eat something unhealthy and be sick for the rest of our lives’ and ‘oh, no, I’m going to spend all of our grocery money on food that’s too expensive, and we’ll run out and starve. To death!’

Then my husband comes along and reminds me that we have plenty of food around, so starving to death is unlikely, and that God made food to be enjoyed, so it’s okay to eat fun food sometimes, even if the nutritional content doesn’t quite measure up.

As much fun as it would be to go buy all organic, non-GMO, preservative free food at the Fresh Market every week, I’m pretty sure this would not equal wise and responsible use of our money. And if I tried to imitate this by cooking absolutely everything from scratch, and never eating anything I couldn’t make myself, I would spend all my time cooking, and food would still get a bit boring.

So, we eat our homemade raw milk cheese with white flour crackers from Aldi, and our beans and brown rice go on white flour tortillas, also from Aldi. Every once in while, I’ll even make cookies with white sugar (*shocked gasp*) instead of turbinado.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of splurge to remember that food is fun, and recharge my creativity for using healthy, cheap ingredients to make fun food.

Hmm… I wonder if you can make onion rings using whole wheat flour…?

 

Friday

Normally, Friday is baking day. But then, normally, Colton doesn’t suddenly come down with a fever on Tuesday evening and spend Wednesday home sick. Normally, I don’t spend Thursday resting to try not to come down with said fever and related sore throat. Also, normally, if I do spend a day trying not to get sick, it doesn’t work, so sometimes abnormal can be good.

Today started off with a simple plan: catch up on dishes that didn’t get done on my ‘day off’ yesterday, do any necessary baking and take the rest of the day easy.

Necessary baking… So, probably muffins and vegetable stock (since my freezer bag of vegetable peels is getting full) and bread…

“At least you don’t have to make bread,” Colton says. “Since we have bread in the freezer.”

Oh, right, good point.

The first question to settle was whether it was too late to start soaking pizza crust that I properly should have started the night before if I hadn’t been so busy being tired and not getting sick. I decided that ’12-24 hours soaking’ could reasonably be stretched to include ‘6 hours soaking’ and went for it.

I eased my way through the morning, catching up on dishes and other normal chores, and going back and forth on whether I was really going to avoid getting sick or not. I made homemade granola bars and discovered a recipe I must try.

About lunchtime it hit me how bad Colton’s sore throat is, went on a researching frenzy and came up with ice cream as a perfect solution.

When Colton starts to get sick, I usually give him a handful of vitamins and perhaps make a mental note to include antibacterial herbs and chicken stock in our next couple of meals. When he gets a fever is when the dilemma starts: sugar is bad for your immune system, but he won’t drink anything unless it’s sweet. Hydration eventually wins out, but I continue to make a token effort of offering him healthier sugars before refined sugar. (Homemade honey/lemon gatorade probably would have worked this time, if the lemon hadn’t hurt his throat.)

Apparently it only takes me a couple of days to decide that comfort food totally wins out over no-sugar, and I need to scrap my plans for the afternoon (such as they were) and go buy ice cream for my husband.

Between reaching this conclusion, walking up to the office for the car key (I have a perfectly good reason for not knowing where mine is, really), navigating the Forest Park hill and Peoria Heights speed bumps, calculating the cost per 1/4 gallon of different size cartons of ice cream (trust me it was easier than cost per ounce… or maybe my brain just works weirdly), not running over any elderly ladies on the way out of the parking lot, and renavigating the speed bumps and hill, I still had a good half of the afternoon left for crashing.

Except…

Except for the fact that several weeks ago I bought oranges on sale at Aldi. (Trust me, this really does work into the plot, just be patient. Pretend you’re reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Except shorter, and with more recipes.) Sale oranges at Aldi, while very cheap, are of unpredictable quality, and these turned out to be almost inedibly dry. I wanted to do something useful with them, though, and I didn’t want them to go bad before I finally got around to doing something.

So, I took this recipe for orange marmalade, and kind of followed it. 5 oranges quartered and thrown in the blender, 2 cups of honey and a tablespoon of pectin simmered for, oh, a few hours. I’m not sure I’d call it orange marmalade exactly, but it seems be a rather nice orange spread if you like that sort of thing.

While the orange marmalade was simmering I thought I should go ahead and start sauteeing some onions for a nice chicken white sauce pizza. And wash up the rest of the dishes. And see if last weeks milk was too far gone to make cheese from. And make a quite nice Chicken Onion Basil pizza (using the tiny bit of cheese I eked out of last week’s milk).

Somewhere in there my Friday turned back into a baking day, despite the twists and turns. I didn’t make muffins or vegetable stock, but I did keep food from going bad, which is one of my goals in life. And I bought ice cream for Colton, which is, if you think about it, another one of my goals in life…

So guess that means I didn’t flunk Friday. Which is good because redoing Friday multiple times before getting to the weekend would be…exhausting.

A Surprisingly Relaxing Day

I thought it was going to be a full and kind of crazy week. Instead, today I ended up with a mostly open day and very little unpacking and catching up left to do. After spending most of last vacationing Colton-style (i.e. run around like crazy packing as much sports and other exercise as possible into your day), I took the afternoon off my style (i.e. lots of reading punctuated by the occasional game of Bejeweled Blitz).

I’m discovering, to my relief, that there are actually a few decent non-magic fantasy books out there. Though if anyone reading this wanted to write a non magic series in the style of Gail Carson Levine and Robin McKinley, they might just have my undying gratitude. Just saying.

I also discovered the J Wesley Bush created exactly the world that I wanted to set my Nanny stories in. I had never quite managed to pin down my setting beyond some vague ideas, and after one silly but fun short story and several false starts, the idea got lost in the maelstrom of my brain. I wonder if he would mind if I borrowed just an edge of his world for some stories of my own…

Someday I would like to actually finish a novel. I should probably resign myself to the fact that I’m really more of a poems and short (very, very short) stories kind of writer, who flits between ideas far too quickly to create deep and intricate worlds with layers of plot. I prefer the idea that someday I will find the one story that I’m meant to write and I can live in its world long enough to create hundreds of pages worth of magnum opus. When you come down to it though, I’d happily settle for an obscure collection of poetry with my name on it. I  even started assembling one once, but I got bogged down in the layout.

On another day I will tackle issues of priorities and layout and time. For now I will take the remnant of my relaxing afternoon and return to my books.

Disorganized Thoughts on the Monday after Presbytery

1. I like canoeing. I also like archery (with a very light bow), playing pool and dodgeball. I really like paddle boats, because they feel like less work than anything else we did. Apparently I have the right muscles for it, unlike canoeing.

2. I really like getting to spend several days in row with my husband without that pesky ‘going to work’ concept getting in the way.

3. I’m not so fond of beds sized for anemic fifth graders, which have to be pushed together to fit two people, leaving an odd gap and ridge in the middle of the bed that is alleviated but not eliminated by shoving a blanket down in the crack.

4. I’m also not fond of midnight bathroom trips that involve getting up, dressing presentably, going outside, crossing a road, going into a different building and finding the bathroom.

5. Or being so tired from weird beds and lots of exercise that I crash halfway through vacationing.

6. My husband takes really good care of me.

7. Sunday afternoons are really good, especially when they contain three hour naps after exhausting vacations.

8. Monday mornings can be good, even after one crazy week and launching into another crazy week, as long as you got enough sleep and have a really good breakfast.

9. I really should not include large mugs of caffeinated coffee in a good breakfast. After mostly avoiding it because I’m so sensitive to caffeine, it would appear that I’m even more sensitive, and it makes me kind of jittery and sick feeling.

10. Despite the caffeine and a late start to my morning, laundry is done, there are significantly fewer dirty dishes than at the beginning of the day, and I have begin the process of getting the necessary paperwork to get tested for Lyme disease. I’m writing a blog post and am on track to make supper, go out to see the Avengers this evening, and catch up on the rest of my chores later this week without stressing about it. This makes for a pretty good day.

11. I’m tired again. Or possibly still.

12. It’s been a really good week.