“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere. And if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies. And it’s charged to your health.”
So says Michal Pollan, advocate for the environment, agriculture, growing, choosing, and eating a nourishing diet, and more. As I continue on my journey of reducing our food budget, I’m struck over and over again by the realization that the healthiest foods are not the most expensive foods, as some people say. It’s really only the healthiest pre-made foods that are the most expensive. Organic granola, cereals, processed frozen meals, ice creams, breads, muffins, cookies – all of these are REALLY expensive. I recently picked up a box of gluten-free granola from the clearance section of Sunflower, and it cost $2. I don’t know how much it costs when it’s not a clearance item, but I bet it’s something like $4.99, or even more. It’s obvious that the average person trying to stick to an average budget would have to keep such items to a minimum, or eliminate them entirely.
On the other hand, the very most unhealthy processed foods often are very inexpensive. Off the top of our heads, we could all list a dozen foods like that – Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, cheap-o hotdogs, bologna, cheap sugary cereals and cookies… the list is depressingly long. My personal food vice is white cheddar Cheeto puffs. I seriously LOVE those stupid things. They’re so delicious, I could probably eat a whole bag in a day. No, scratch that – I could definitely eat a whole bag in a day. But I generally have enough self-control to stay away from them… most of the time.
The very cheapest, processed foods are completely void of nutritional value. That”s why they’re so cheap. But, as Pollan says, once you go down the cheap food road, you’re going to pay the price elsewhere. Maybe you’ll notice in 20 years when the environment is so ruined that even junk foods are really expensive, or maybe you’ll notice it in your own health when you’re middle-aged. Whatever the consequences end up being, you’ll definitely notice eventually.
The thing about the cheap AND healthy foods is that cheap and healthy foods require planning and preparation. Dried beans are very cheap, and very nutrient dense. They also, however, take hours and hours to soak and cook. Lots of very healthy vegetables are very cheap (say… cabbage, which is on sale at one of our grocery stores for $.99/lb this week), but they require some thought about how to prepare them. Sometimes the thought of planning and executing an entire week’s worth of healthy and inexpensive meals is positively exhausting. It’s worth it in terms of health, but how many of us have the time, energy, and – cue the Cheetos! – self-control to eat such a diet? It’s a conundrum for sure, but we can all take some small steps to work towards a healthier goal, and perhaps eventually those steps will add up to something really significant.
I recently bought a head of the aforementioned cheap, organic cabbage, and I can think of exactly two things to make with it. One of those things is cabbage rolls, but I don’t quite have the oomph to try that yet. My second cabbage side dish is… Easy Slaw! Easy slaw has three ingredients – very thinly sliced cabbage, grated carrot, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I don’t usually like regular cole slaw, and I always thought it was the cabbage flavor. Turns out, I LOVE raw cabbage, and Justin does too! It was the mayo that was putting us off.
There you have it, a delicious, fast, healthy, and extremely “cheap” dish.
Pizza dippers are the easiest snack in the world – place corn (or flour) tortillas on a baking sheet, sprinkle with the shredded cheese of your choice, and cook in a 350* oven until you see the cheese start to bubble. Take out of the oven, fold each tortilla in half, and voila! A dipper! They turn into pizza dippers when you add a small bowl of pizza sauce on the side.
Pizza dippers certainly go well with a frugal lifestyle. A bag of 24 Mission tortillas costs $2.19 (sometimes cheaper), making each one about ten cents. This snack is pretty unhealthy though – corn tortillas don’t have much going for them, and cheese is high in fat and sodium. And from the looks of this orange cheese, it has some serious food dyes added to it. And the pizza sauce… homemade sauce would be healthy, but this sauce is… Ragu!
They aren’t the healthiest, but they are quick, cheap and delicious! Oh pizza dippers, how I love thee!
I finally succeeded in spending $10 or less at the grocery store. Monday’s trip was such a disaster that I may never show you that receipt. I can tell you my downfalls, though: Cheese, meat, and gluten-free hot dog buns (even though they were on sale for $3). Ugh.
Today was a different story – probably because I already had the cheese! Ha. Anyway, I got some basic things at Sunflower, a great bag of Udi’s GF granola that was on clearance for $2, and I used a coupon on a bag of $1.99 puffed millet, making it $.99. The photo doesn’t show it, but the total was $9.93.
So… what is one to do with a huge bag of puffed millet? My original idea was to use it in some kind of homemade granola bar. I have never succeeded in making a homemade granola bar that actually has the taste and texture of a store-bought one. They always taste good, but they fall apart immediately and revert back to granola. BUT I never had millet before, so I as I prepared to Try An Actual Recipe Rather Than Making It Up And Then Getting Mad, I was pretty sure puffed millet was going to fix all my problems. (Spoiler: It didn’t fix anything! Gah!)
However, according to the package millet is a complete protein. “So it’s like eating a hamburger!” said Justin. Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a nice addition to the gluten-free grain family.
Awash in a sea of people wearing head to toe North Face and driving brand-new Subarus, it’s easy to think that the Boulder lifestyle should be achievable for everyone when it really isn’t. Boulder is beautiful, sometimes frustratingly so; the people of Boulder are also beautiful, and they have a lot of beautiful… stuff. Sometimes I spend an hour at Goodwill just to regain my sanity and remind myself that no, spending $68 on a t-shirt is not normal. Phew! People here are crazy, you guys. The nearest Dunkin’ Donuts is over 50 miles away, although there is a rumor going around town that Dunkin’ is coming to Denver. I will do whatever it takes to get there!
Sometimes, though, it’s just so easy to want things. Riding my bike on a chilly day I might think: Man, that awesome Nissan Leaf would be really great right now! Or passing by the umpteenth coffee shop filled with people busily typing away on their laptops and sipping espressos… I want that life! Well, to be honest, I do actually want the life of a writer, but so far that hasn’t happened yet. More frequently, however, I just want the lifestyle of a writer with its (so I imagine) trappings of funky coffee shops and lattes. The actual work of a writer is so much more difficult than that. So difficult that even though I profess to love writing, I have not actually dedicated significant chunks of time to, you know… doing it. I think about writing a lot, but thinking isn’t doing!
Anyway. I think the whole culture of wanting really extends to our grocery shopping as well. Especially in the natural foods aisles, there are just so many beautiful products! Even though we rationally know that the packaging of a product doesn’t really have anything to do with what’s inside, we still get suckered in by advertising.
I was walking around the natural aisle of King Soopers today (yes… that is the actual name of an actual grocery store) and I paid specific attention to the pastas, cereals, tomato sauces and such that I would buy if price were no consideration. Without fail, they were absurdly expensive, and made me curse my decision to major in English and then in religion. Where was my inner accountant when I needed her? Nowhere, that’s where.
These olives look amazing. I am 100% sure I could eat the whole jar right now.
Here is an example of two products that would really tempt me if I had kids. Or… well, okay, they really tempted me anyway! But $4.99 for 12 fruit strips isn’t so great a deal for someone like me, because I would eat four a day. On the other hand, it’s a better deal to buy the box of 12 rather than one or two individual strips (different brand, non-organic, also in the natural foods aisle), because those are $.49 each, slightly more expensive than their organic counterparts.
I’m interested to hear how other people resist advertising in the grocery store. Do you give in, or just plow ahead on your shopping mission?
Yesterday I went to Whole foods to check out their one-day sale on organic whole chickens. The sale price was $1.99/lb, which is a dollar off. Their non-organic “natural” chickens are $1.49/lb, so that sale price for organic chickens is pretty good. There was a limit of ten chickens per person, so I bought… one. But it was a big one!
I also needed dishwashing detergent, so I spent a while in the cleaning aisle looking at the prices and ingredients. I spotted one that was on clearance for $2.47, down from $4.99. It also had a short list of ingredients, most of which I would feel comfortable eating. Even the ones I wasn’t exactly sure about didn’t sound too intimidating – actually, this dishwashing detergent has more normal ingredients than my shampoo!
Last, I picked out two boxes of almondmilk. These were a good deal because I could use three coupons on two items! Whole Foods prints a coupon booklet every two months, and sometimes the coupons make for really good deals. In the Jan/Feb “Whole Deal,” there is a coupon for $1 off of two boxes of Almond Breeze. I was in a different grocery store earlier this month and picked up two $.55 off one Almond Breeze coupons. These coupons are “manufacturer’s coupons” which means the producer, i.e. Almond Breeze, not the grocery store, pays for the discount. That’s why you can use a “store coupon” (from Whole Deal, or a Safeway coupon, or whatever) and stack it with a “manufacturer coupon” (i.e., a coupon from a specific company). This works out great, especially if the items you want are already on sale, which these almondmilks weren’t 😦 Despite that, they ended up being $1.64 each rather than $2.69 each.
The total price for my Whole Foods trip was $13.65. I’m already over my daily limit! But a whole chicken will stretch to several meals, and two almondmilks will last a few days, so overall I think I will still make my $70 goal this week.
On the way home, I also swung by Sprouts to snag some of their good organic deals. For $2.17, I got a bag of carrots, two apples (organic), a pear (organic), and a medium-sized zucchini. It just goes to show that if people were to really eat mostly fruits and vegetables, and some beans/rice/lentils and a little meat, it would certainly be possible to eat for $5 a day for two.
The point, of course, is to take control of your shopping trips. Whole Foods IS really expensive, but it depends on what you buy. If you buy things that are on sale, or that would become a good deal with a coupon, then Whole Foods doesn’t have to be Whole Paycheck.
Here is a more typical bento lunch from yesterday.
Here is a more typical bento. The peanut butter celery sticks (there are actually four sticks there) are my favorite part of this bento. I also like the kiwi in the silicone baking cup. From reading other people’s bento blogs, I learned that silicone baking cups are a great way to separate foods – and voila, they do fit perfectly into this bento since it’s only 1.5 inches tall.
I bought the peanut butter from the bulk section of Whole Foods. They have a few nut butter grinding machines – plain peanut, which I buy, honey peanut which sounds delicious but contains WHEAT! (why, Whole Foods?), and almond. I learned that you can bring your own jars/bags/containers to Whole Foods and they will weight them for you at the customer service center. Then, you can add your bulk foods directly into your own container rather than filling a plastic bag or plastic tub and transferring it a different container when you get home. My jar, which used to contain peanut butter in the first place, weighs .57 lbs. The cashiers are able to subtract the weight of your container from the final price. It’s really fun, and plastic-free; the only downside is you have to remember to wash out your jar and bring it with you to the store. The price is 2.99/lb for bulk plain peanut butter (organic).
Along with the main bento, Justin had corn tortilla chips and a small tub of hummus, in a nifty stainless-steel container my mom bought for me. The hummus is actually from a mix that I also buy in bulk at Whole Foods. It’s $4.39/lb, which is over a dollar cheaper per pound than the very same mix at Sunflower, a usually-cheaper grocery store in Boulder. Usually WF is more expensive, but not always. They have a really great bulk foods section that is usually cheaper than other bulk sections – maybe because it’s bigger. You have to add olive oil and water to the mix, and I also add garlic, and parsley if I have it. It’s almost as good as 100% homemade hummus! At $4.39 for a dry pound, it makes a LOT of hummus.
A tip I have been reading about lately is to chop/mince the garlic – and then let it sit for at least five minutes before you add it to anything raw, like the hummus mix, or add it to something you are cooking. Garlic is a great anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer food, but the compound (alliicin) that makes garlic so healthy is only created when the membranes of the garlic cells are cut. My go-to website for nutrition information, World’s Healthiest Foods, says that after you let garlic sit for 5-10 minutes, you can cook it on low to medium heat for up to 15 minutes without destroying the health-promoting alliicin. Since hummus is raw, the alliicin is presumably not destroyed at all… and it’s delicious to boot!
Hello everyone, and welcome to my new blog! The title, Two Eat For Ten, reflects my goal to spend $10 a day maximum on food for two people. That’s $70 a week, which seems pretty reasonable – even if Kate from Jon and Kate Plus 8 says she spends $150 a week on food for her family of TEN. At least, she did back in the rerun I was watching from a few years ago. My ultimate goal for food spending is $5 a day for two… but that’s going to take some serious effort. In the meantime, $10 per day for two is my goal!
One way I help to meet this goal is by making lunches for myself and Justin every day. Since we both eat gluten-free, this is also sort of a necessity – it’s not that easy to grab a gluten-free meal on the go, so packing lunches is both economical and practical. Because I cook so much for my family, I am a big fan of blogs that show what people eat, day in and day out. My favorite is Wendolonia. Wendy Copley makes bento lunches for her two sons (a preschooler and elementary-age kid) every day, and every Friday she posts photos of their lunches for the week! They are so cute, healthy, and, I imagine, economical. Since I don’t have kids, I use my bento skills to make lunches for Justin! My own lunches are far less interesting… basically the same stuff but tossed haphazardly into any container I have handy. So far, I haven’t managed to make bentos for him that are big enough to keep him going for the entire day, so I usually have an extra bag or container in addition to his main bento. I have my eye on an awesome, huge bento – the PlanetBox!
Here is a lunch from last week:
As you can see, his lunch includes a bento (stainless steel, from LunchBots), an extra snack in a wax paper bag, and a water bottle (BPA free plastic, but still… plastic!).
Inside the bento on the left side, you can see I broke one of the cardinal budgeting rules right off the bat: Don’t buy processed foods! It’s a conclusion I’ve been avoiding for, well, years – but buying pre-made snacks is so much more expensive than making them yourself, and if the pre-made snack is gluten free, then it’s probably twice as expensive. However, I still buy granola bars and such things for the convenience. It’s so nice to just toss a granola bar right into a lunch. Someday, though, I hope to make all of our food myself. On the right side we have chicken and chickpeas (“What am I supposed to do with these chickpeas?” asked Justin – “Eat them?” I replied), and inside the wax paper is a small chunk of cheese.
Under the bar, we have apple, pear, and carrot slices. Looks healthy, eh?
Last but not least, the contents of the bag… three chocolate-banana muffins! I have finally managed to get the texture of gluten-free muffins right – the secret is ground flaxseed to hold everything together. I didn’t manage to get the taste right, though… these were pretty bland. How did that happen with two bananas and a whole bunch of cocoa powder thrown in…?