#1 Best Food Buy for Your Money

I ate a lot of beans in college. Money was tight, and beans were cheap.  A big pot went a long way in those days towards filling my belly without emptying my wallet.

I’m not complaining.  I happen to like beans.  My family likes them as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot to like:

Nutrition:  It’s no wonder, since Jim became a vegan, that we are consuming more beans than ever.   According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, 1/4 cup of cooked beans = 1 ounce of animal protein. They’re also a great source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and iron. Did I mention that they’re high in fiber and low in sodium and fat?

Low cost:  Despite how incredibly healthy beans are, somewhere along the way they picked up a reputation for cheapness. As in not fashionable. They seem to conjure up images of dirty-faced, Depression era children in faded, patched overalls scraping them up from tin plates.  But, considering the aforementioned nutritional benefits, they are literally worth their weight in, if not gold, then cold hard cash.

Look for them in the bulk section of your grocery store for even greater savings.

Versatility:  Beans are the Marlon Brandos (or Matt Damons, depending on your age and inclination) of the food world.  Hand them a script and they’ll play their part with academy award winning aplomb.  From main dish to dessert there are literally bazillions of tasty recipes out there.

Here are a few I’ve found online that have made repeat performances at our table:

Stored in tightly sealed glass jars/plastic tubs, they have an almost unlimited shelf life. But make a point to consume them in at least year’s time for best flavor. While the unassuming bean may never be chic, it’s an inexpensive, nutritional powerhouse  that deserves a starring role in your meal plans.

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to....

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to….

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Dealing with the Dinner Demon

True confessions.

I have a bad habit of buying more than we can eat in a week.  I throw out way more food than I should.  I end up running to the store at 4 in the afternoon for the missing ingredients in the recipe I’m making.

And it’s stressful work deciding what to have for dinner day by day.  When I ask Jim what he’d like, he tosses out ideas like “steak and lobster”  or “rack of lamb”.

He obviously doesn’t feel my pain.

We often end up having one of those emergency dinners I was talking about,  burritos or eggs.  Which is, of course, an emergency of my own making.

I’m tired of the uncertainty.  It’s time to face my demons and deal with the dinner dilemma.

I’m diving in…  I’m going to create a weekly plan and thereby save time, money, and aggravation.

I’m keeping  it simple and low-tech.  A piece of paper, and I’m good to go.  From my research, I’ve gleaned a few important tips:

  1. Start with dinners.  At our house, many of our other meals emerge, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, out our evening meal.  Breakfast burritos from leftover beans and rice, ham sandwiches from pork roasts for lunch.  You get the idea.
  2. Take stock of what you’ve got. I’ve checked out the contents of our cupboards and refrigerator.  Is there something I’m overlooking that has a best buy date that’s nearing expiration?  What about that head of week old cabbage in the crisper?
  3. Check the calendar.  Is there anything that might impact dinner plans?  Like the fact that Jim will be out of town Tuesday night for work.  That’s a good night for pizza since he’s not a big fan.  And Friday we’re going to see a Christmas play so we’ll probably grab a quick bite at a friend’s house.
  4. Write it down.  Choose where to begin.  I’m starting with 5 days. That seems doable.  I’ll pencil in breakfast and lunch as well.  Luckily it’s not in stone because there has to be room for flexibility.  It’s a framework for meals, not a life sentence.
  5. Make a grocery list.  Looking over the meals, I can see what I’ll need to get at the store(s).  The saving money part comes when I stick to the list.

Wish me luck.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Are you a planner?  What do you do to get dinner on the table night after night, keep money in your pocket and your sanity intact?

Healthy Eating on a Budget

“Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.”

These were words to live by in the 1930’s when being frugal was all about surviving in troubled economic times.  While things aren’t quite as perilous as they were during the Great Depression, this is good advice for anyone wanting to save a buck.

My grandmother bought flour and sugar in large sacks.  She turned the sacking into functional art, making hand painted tea towels and tablecloths.  Back then, buying in bulk was just what you did, and using up everything, including the packaging, was  part of being a good homemaker.

Now, it’s a smart way to save money.

This was one of the tips given in a class on eating healthy on a budget that I attended last week at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Buying in bulk.

You definitely get more for your money when you aren’t paying for packaging or advertising.

Many stores now have a bulk bin section.  This allows you to experiment with small quantities of more exotic or unusual foods because you can buy just what you plan to use and no more.  Some items are best purchased in smaller amounts for maximum freshness.  In my experience these include:

  • flours
  • oats
  • shelled nuts
  • cereals
  • soft grains
  • coffee/tea
  • spices

Be sure and compare the bulk item pricing with its packaged counterpart to make sure you’re getting a deal.

bulk bins at Angels Food Market

And keep an eye out for special sales on products you purchase on a regular basis. Some of these can be bought in large quantity or by the case.

  • rice
  • beans
  • pasta
  • canned tomatoes
  • tuna

When you bring it all home, consider storage.   The containers in the picture below are stacked three deep.  I prefer to use old canning jars, most of which I picked up at yard sales.

They have a tight seal to keep out bugs, and it makes it easy to see what I have and when I’ll need more.  I label them with contents and date by sticking a piece of scotch tape on the lid and writing on it with permanent marker.

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Finally, consider your family size and how often you eat a particular food before you buy in large quantity.  I once bought a 10 lb. sack of wild rice for a Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.  I don’t even like wild rice.  After 5 years of storage, I finally had to courage to toss it to the birds.