Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cheap and Easy - ways to cook, that is...

A follower from Australia writes: 
“I am moving into a flat with two other girls. I have never been responsible for shopping and creating my daily meals. I love cooking and I love eating healthy but do you have ideas of meals I could make that are both healthy and cheap? Maybe that could be frozen as well?”

That’s a great question.  Many people feel that eating “healthy” is just too expensive, therefore, they give up before even starting. 

One of the easiest “cost cutting” measures you can make is to only buy what you will use and use up everything you buy.  We typically end up throwing away about 25% of the food we purchase because it goes bad before we get around to using it.  If you have produce that looks like it is going bad, cut it up and cook it (even if you just steam it), drain it and freeze it.  Onions, celery and peppers can be frozen raw (just clean and chop them up first).  Frozen produce can be combined with some vegetable or chicken broth to make a soup or stew; chopped up and added to omelets; heated in a skillet with some sautéed onions & garlic to make a stir-fried topping for rice or pasta.  If you have fruit that is past its prime, wash it, peel it and freeze on a plate lined with wax paper.  When frozen, remove from waxed paper and store in freezer safe containers or plastic baggies to use in smoothies or add to pancakes, muffins or other dessert dishes.  When you cook a grain like rice or quinoa, or some beans, make enough for several meals and freeze in single meal servings so the timely work has already been done for you.  You simply need to heat, season and serve.

As often as possible, opt to purchase your produce from farmers' markets.  Their prices are usually much cheaper than what you would find in a regular grocery store, plus you get the benefit of fresher produce since it is coming from a local source rather than being shipped across many miles.  Eating seasonally is also a really great way to make sure that you are getting the nutrients your body needs during the seasons your body needs them.

Beans are a much cheaper protein source than meat.  Another inexpensive protein source are eggs.  If you are a meat-eater, consider only having it every other day or less each week.  Meat should be an accessory to your meal rather than the “main event”.  Beans can be purchased dry, often in bulk.  Soak over night, rinse well and place in pan, add enough water to cover beans by 2-3 inches.  Bring pan to boil and allow to boil for 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to simmer for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the bean (smaller beans take less time).  Digestive difficulties can be greatly reduced by cooking beans with a piece of kombu (seaweed), a few cloves of garlic or a few bay leaves.  Rinse beans thoroughly before using or storing (can be stored in refrigerator for a day or two, but in the freezer for a few months).   Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked over night, just washed.  They often cook in 30 minutes.

A current favorite way I like to prepare meals is to cut up a lot of different vegetables and use as an assemble-your-own dish (like tacos, spring rolls, lettuce wraps, sandwiches, salad).  The next day, I like to use the leftovers as some kind of vegetable sauté to top a bed of fresh greens (like spinach or kale) or brown rice. 
I have found that if I have “planned leftovers” – preparing two meals at once – I am much more likely to eat at home (vs. the expense of eating out) and eat healthier.

The last area I’d like to address for inexpensive eating is the area of beverages.  Morning beverages like coffee and tea are much less expensive when you prepare your own – no matter how you look at it.  If you like your morning beverage on the go, get a great travel mug.  Other than that, the only other beverage you really need is water.  Water out of the tap is free.  Water does not have any added colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, etc. AND our bodies NEED lots of it.  Every day.  Recently, I heard a statistic that we consume nearly one third of our daily caloric in-take in the form of beverages.  Saving money AND calories are great reasons to drink water instead of any other drink.  There is no benefit to drinking juice – opt instead for the entire fruit to supply your vitamin C (because the entire fruit also supplies important fiber and other nutrients that our bodies need).

Hope this gives you some ideas of how to go about this.  Good luck on this new phase in your life!

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