Living the Frugal Life
Dietary related illnesses are much in the media these days, being notably epidemic in the US and other industrial nations. Many of us want to eat a more healthy diet. Many of us are also feeling the need to cut costs wherever we can. So I thought I would put together a little list of my own "superfoods" that cost very little but provide excellent nutrition. Here are ten great foods to keep on hand in your pantry or kitchen.
Oats - Most commonly called rolled oats or oatmeal in the US, this simple staple comes in many forms and is known by many names in other countries. These whole grains are accessible even to those who cannot tolerate gluten, and they can be used in many ways. Excellent in cookies, as porridge, or added to breads for texture, pin oats (fine cut oats) also appear in a hearty soup called brose, in Scotland. Few foods are so easy to prepare, so universally appreciated, and also so very economical. Hot oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit is a mainstay winter breakfast in our home. Buy oats in bulk quantities if you can, then use them up.
Beet(root) - A nutritional superstar with a natural earthy sweetness. Plenty of people love to hate beets, pickled or otherwise. But just as many are won over by these marvelous root vegetables in roasted form, especially spritzed with fresh lemon juice straight out of the oven. Beets are an excellent source of Vitamin C and several key minerals. I love them in borsch and in pyttipanna. They're also wonderful simply boiled, peeled, grated and then dressed up with a dollop of mayonnaise, and a bit of finely minced garlic and parsley. If you're lucky enough to find beets with fresh looking leaves still attached, snap them up and then treat the greens as you would cooking greens.
Eggs - One of the most perfect sources of complete protein available to us, eggs are an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly when the hens that laid them had a healthy, diverse diet. If you can obtain eggs from hens kept on pasture or truly allowed to free range out of doors, you will be wise to buy them. Such eggs are lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in many essential vitamins and minerals. Learn to eat these eggs in place of costly meat. Eggs might turn up at the evening meal as often as breakfast in our home. Recently I enjoyed a dinner of Philippine garlic fried rice with an egg and some greens on the side.
The cabbage family - the brassica or crucifer family has long held a lowly status among the vegetables. This is quite fortunate for those who want to save money and yet get good nutrition from their food. Cabbage, kale, turnips, kohlrabi, mustard greens, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and even radishes are all part of this nutritional powerhouse of a family, and at least one member of this family is usually available for a pittance at any produce market. Cabbages not only store exceptionally well, but they can also be prepared in a huge variety of ways: slaws, soups, stuffed, casseroles, roasted, and as sauerkraut. I especially love it in colcannon, a traditional dish of the British Isles that pairs cabbage with potatoes. German and Eastern European cuisines have quite a touch with the cabbage family as well, so look to those areas for plenty of good ideas. Another favorite recipe of mine is Tuscan kale over pasta in a creamy tomato sauce.
Potatoes - I'm hesitant to include this wonder food only because of how heavily they are dosed with fungicides and herbicides in conventional agriculture. If you are able to find organic potatoes, or better still, grow your own, potatoes are a wonderfully versatile pantry staple. They pair beautifully with almost any fresh herb, and can either anchor a meal (stuffed baked potato, potato soup) or play sidekick to a main course (mashed, roasted, boiled). Few foods are priced to deliver so many calories so cheaply. If you refrain from deep-frying them, they're a reliable and healthy starch on which to base a winter diet. If you can find and store a 50-pound bag of potatoes, and use it up before they sprout, you can save even more money.
Homemade broth or stock - I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that everyone with access to a kitchen should aim to make broth or stock from scratch at least once per month. If you regularly eat meat, select cuts which include bones and save them until you have a good stash. Otherwise you can obtain chicken backs, necks, or wings quite cheaply from a good butcher shop. Homemade broth is cheap, nourishing, and intensely comforting. So long as you're at it, make as large a batch as is feasible, and consider making it double strength if storage space is limited. Freeze or can it in quantities that will allow you to enjoy it weekly. Nothing serves as a better foundation for homemade soups or bean dishes. (Tips for making stock at the end of this post.)
Homemade salad dressing - Though not a basic food, I'm including salad dressing here because it is a weekly or daily staple in so many homes. Purchased salad dressings often contain additives and even, at times, rancid oils. Then they are sold at exorbitant prices compared with the cost of the ingredients. Learn to make a good vinaigrette, or a small repertoire of your favorite salad dressings, and you will save money month after month. Good olive oil, vinegar, and a smattering of flavorful ingredients such as prepared mustard, shallots, freshly ground pepper, and lemon juice can create delicious, wholesome, and cheap dressings for your daily salad fix.
Peanut butter - Okay, most of us associate peanut butter either with childhood, or with dangerous allergies. If you're not allergic though, peanut butter could stand to be revisited. I won't deny I love it on a sandwich with good jam once in a while. But I also love the many Thai noodle and curry recipes that use this healthy source of fat and protein. Many African dishes also call for peanut butter in a main course, grown-up dish. I prepare peanut rice noodles with vegetables at the height of summer when using up the garden produce requires daily strategizing.
Garlic - Although most of us don't tend to eat garlic in large quantities, it is an essential pantry item in most homes where people cook from scratch on a regular basis. Aside from its wonderfully irreplaceable flavor, garlic offers many health benefits too. It lowers blood pressure and may help prevent damage to blood vessel walls from plaque. It's also credited with antimicrobial powers, and so is commonly believed to help guard against food poisoning and other ailments. Garlic by the head is usually well priced at the grocery store, and it's also been a great success in my garden for the past two years, with no pest damage at all. Apparently, only humans eat garlic.
Popcorn - While it's most commonly thought of as a snack food, popcorn is also a whole grain. How many snack foods can make that claim? If you buy popcorn in its simplest bulk form without paying for nasty chemical flavorings or microwaveable bags, this whole grain snack can be quite economical. And there's something downright convivial about a freshly popped bowl of popcorn. No one eats a bowl of popcorn alone if there's anyone else in the house. Here are some foolproof directions on preparing absolutely perfect oil-popped popcorn. Popcorn is another item to look for in bulk food stores.
Well, there you have my list. Do you have another favorite food that you rely on for cheap but healthy meals? Let us know in the comments. Or share with us your favorite way of using the foods listed here. And bon appetit!