Creating a Healthier Food Culture For Less Money
I’ve never enjoyed food more, I’m saving money, and I’m bonding almost daily with my girls in the kitchen, all while eating healthier than ever before. How? I decided to create a new food culture in my home.
Many people complain that the U.S. lacks a real food culture – one that celebrates the flavors of food, that pleasures in creating a meal. Instead, we’re known for unpronounceable ingredients-in-a-box that can be eaten in the car. And while this has never been my culture, I’m suddenly getting to know each of the ingredients I consume on an individual basis. I’m making all my foods from scratch, and here’s how it happened:
Two months ago, I was particularly frustrated about global warming, but also about my declining 401K. I wanted to cut food costs and my carbon footprint without sacrificing quality or organic ingredients. Instead, I decided I’d stop buying prepared or packaged foods, except for a few basic staples like cheese and milk. And, to reduce my carbon footprint further, I try to purchase ingredients that hadn’t traveled far to reach my plate, either from the farmer’s market or, more ideally, grown in my own garden.
I stumbled a few times at first. I’d forget that if I didn’t make the bread or crackers, we wouldn’t have conventional “snacks”; the kids sometimes rejected the seeds, nuts, fruits and veggies I had on hand. That said, they often snack healthier because they don’t get many processed alternatives.
Over time, I’ve found ways to squeeze breadmaking into our lives so there’s always something tasty to grab. Sometimes our dough rises an extra four hours in between activities, but it turns out fine and my girls both understand how to make honey whole wheat sunflower seed bread from scratch. Just as I learned from my father, Jasmine is learning to gauge the perfect sensation of elasticity in dough that has been kneaded just the right amount – not too much, not too little – to create the perfect loaf.
In addition to bread, I’ve learned to feed my husband’s boxed-cereal cravings by making my own granola. I’ve made yogurt and even mozzarella cheese, which melted perfectly on my homemade cornmeal pizza crust. My husband recently jumped on board and asked for a stove-top popcorn maker for his birthday. Now, instead of the hazardous microwave popcorn I’m terrified to eat, we enjoy freshly popped organic popcorn cooked in organic coconut oil for $.90 a pound.
Not only have I saved money on this adventure, but I’ve enjoyed experiencing a connection with the real ingredients my family consumes. I see how meaningful cooking is to my children – the feeling of contribution to the food creation process – even if I must be patient with flour and sugar on the floor. And, I now know what I might be willing to pay someone else to make and package (organic brie cheese), and what I know I can make even better, and for less money (too many to name).
While it might be hard for most people to go 100% from scratch, especially working full-time outside of the home, you could do something similar by selecting a few processed foods you eat regularly and learn to make them yourself. Here are a few ideas you can start with on the weekend or overnight:
1) Make your own bread.
It’s incredibly economical and it makes the kitchen smell like a slice of heaven. One bag of organic whole wheat flour makes at least 3 loaves of bread for roughly $6. Most prepared, organic whole wheat bread costs at least $3/loaf, often more. My friend Melinda makes an absolutely delicious, time saving no-knead bread recipe.
2) Learn how to make your own granola for breakfast.
Granola is expensive, but when you make it yourself, you save money and control how much sugar and fat end up in the recipe. (It takes a few minutes to throw the ingredients together and you can easily tend it start to finish during an hour-long TV show.)
3) Think “outside the box” by avoiding foods that come in boxes.
I found that this simple rule encouraged me to find healthy alternatives to pre-processed foods. Instead of crackers, I’d purchase flour to make my own crackers. Instead of chips, I’ve roasted thinly sliced sweet potatoes. As I mentioned, instead of microwave popcorn, we pop our own organic bulk-bag of kernels on the stove.
4) Replace canned beans with home cooked.
Not only are homemade beans tastier, they’re easy to make and ridiculously inexpensive. I make a huge batch of beans and freeze them in meal sized containers. With a pressure cooker, crockpot, or ordinary saucepan, you can create the foundation of an organic meal for your entire family for less than $2. I also make big batches of garbanzo beans to make my own bean dip with olive oil, salt, lemon, a bit of fresh garlic and basil. The kids love to dip carrots in it, and it’s incredibly less expensive than the sort you buy in plastic containers in the store.
5) Refuse to purchase pre-made sweets and insist on making your own.
I’ve found this to be a wonderful way to bond with my girls, and helpful in stopping any impulse sweet purchases at the store without feeling deprived. Instead, we consume sweets thoughtfully after we’ve worked hard to create the final product.
Have you taken steps to reduce food costs without sacrificing the quality or healthfulness of your food? Share them here!