Saturday, May 3, 2008

Eating Healthy (These Days) On A (Tight) Budget

I confess I haven’t paid much attention to the price of food until recently. Our grocery budget – around $125 a week – allowed me to buy what I wanted to support the kind of diet we’ve adopted. Nothing fancy, mind you, but an occasional higher-priced fish or a free-range chicken (for my husband) made its way into my cart, sometimes an unusual bread or cheese or organic something or other. Lately, however, the price that comes up at the end of checkout is significantly higher than $125. I’ve started to notice why and am trying to do something about it.

For instance, a bag of triple-wash Dole lettuce makes two Lynn-style salads. A bunch of red-leaf lettuce makes three to four. The bag costs $2.88. The bunch is $1.60. The cute little grape tomatoes in the plastic containers cost $2.49 for three servings. For $2.49, I can get four large slicing tomatoes for 6-8 servings. Better yet, I’ll raise my own grape tomatoes this year and harvest hundreds of them for a few months for only the cost of a few tomato plants (around $2). Then there’s the frozen fruits and vegetables vs fresh fruits and vegetables debate raging in my head. A box of frozen spinach is around $1. A bag of fresh spinach is $2.90, both offering around two Lynn servings. Fresh blueberries are $3 for a half pint. Frozen, I can buy a bag of berries for $2 that yields roughly three cups.

Beans. A can costs around $2.50 and offers roughly three to four servings. A bag of dried beans is less than $1 and offers around 13 servings. Ergo, I’m learning to cook with dried beans. In fact, there are pinto beans cooking in the crock pot right now that will be turned into refried beans later this afternoon.

I started making my own salad dressing because store-bought were so high in sodium. Now I’m realizing the economic benefits of making my own. (New favorite homemade dressing alert! Tangy Tomato Dressing. Recipe below.)

Organic isn’t in my budget anymore. This isn’t the best example, but it’s one that came up this week while shopping: a jar of organic tarragon is $4.99 vs a jar of regular old tarragon at $2.49. As much as I want to support organic farmers, and as guilty as I feel saying this, my choice comes down to economics.

I did some web surfing today to find healthy yet economic recipes and found this site from the Food Stamp Nutrition Connection. The Recipe Finder database gives nutritional information as well as the cost per recipe and serving. These prices are not based on current food prices, but they are a pretty good ballpark figure. Add 5-10 percent to what is quoted and you’ll know roughly what you’d pay now.

It’s a resource for nutrition educators, however, their recipe database is an excellent source for anyone looking for economical and nutritious meals.

Here’s this blog’s question: Have rising food prices impacted your food choices? What changes have you made to eat healthy within your budget?

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As promised, here’s the new dressing recipe I found and have fallen in love with:

Tangy Tomato Dressing (from the “SuperFoods Rx Diet” book)
Makes 8 servings (2 tablespoons each), 33 calories per serving

½ C diced fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes, drained
1 T red wine vinegar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T chopped fresh chives
1 clove garlic, minced
½ T lemon juice
½ T hot sauce
Water (they recommend a half cup, but it makes the dressing a little runny)

Place all ingredients in a blender. Puree until smooth. Allow flavors to meld for 10 minutes. Refrigerate the leftovers.

7 comments:

Cheri said...

I have sadly been watching our grocery bill inch up and up. The biggest change for me is to try to do the shopping without the husband (tho as a rule we hit the store on Friday evening after our two youngest have karate class). Not that we've ever been big prepared snack buyers, I find that we're buying less snack type things...for instance instead of crackers or such for lunches we'll bake up some tortillas and the kids think they're getting a super special treat. Mostly I'm just trying to plan meals better, I'll make a list, but if something is marked down I change the list and oftentimes the menu. For some reason in our neck of the woods organics are not necessarily more expensive, and often the difference is pennies. But the biggest change that I've made is cutting out the crap that we shouldn't be eating anyway (not that we're big on snacks, when my mom comes to visit it drives her crazy that we never have snacks in the house).

creatingadiva said...

Just found your blog! omigosh, I can't believe what a huge impact the economy is having on my day to day life...I've tried to make the best possible choices with the foods I buy (like generic brands) but it looks like I'm going to start cutting out some splurges altogether pretty soon.

joys journey in weightloss said...

I just came back from Whole Foods (aka "Whole paycheck") and I spent 79.00 and I really don't have all that much. When I shop there, I feel more on program because it is fun to eat right. The cost of the free range chicken is extreme, but I still would rather eat free range than conventional-too many documentaries. It is unfortunante that the prices keep going up and I noticed that I passed up several things today at Whole Foods. I would love to know your "must haves" every shopping trip. Thanks Lynn for the great info!

Gail Gedan Spencer said...

I'm trying to be uncompromising, but one thing I'm buying less of is processed food -- that whole "shop the perimeter" thing. My bill's been holding steady. And I'm also a fiend for coupons. I use the grocery store's weekly circular and match it up with my coupon stash.

Anonymous said...

I've been a vegetarian for the past decade, and I've used dried legumes from time to time. However, the results are so much less attractive (not to mention more, er, explosive), I end up going back to the canned varieties. I'll be interested to learn how your recipes with dried legumes turn out.

~Shelley

Tara said...

I *used* to buy lots of packaged food before eating better, so really my bill has stayed the same since the switch. I do love cooking though and make so much at home that I buy more in bulk now as well.
I live in Oregon and have looked at our Trader Joes for the creamy garlic dressing you speak of (it sounds oh so good) and they don't carry it on the West coast!! Im so disappointed.

Nancy said...

I too have been fighting the rise in prices at the grocery store. I do like to buy organic, but it prohibitively expensive. The store I shop at has a store label organic brand, which is a little better value. Next on my list is to switch to dried beans, much more thrifty. I have always planned out a week worth of meals, make a list and shop once a week. In the past 'extras' always wind up in the basket, sadly now I just stick to the list.