Post 1.12 - On a Budget

One of the reasons I try to cook for myself and my family from scratch comes from something I noted recently when shopping for groceries. In an effort to buy mass-produced items labeled as fat-free or low-fat, sugar-free or otherwise reduced in calories, reduced or salt-free, etc., I spent significantly more money than if I had purchased the regular version of things. This is not only tragic, but insulting to consumers. It's no wonder we have the problem with obesity and overall health that we do in the US.

So my solution was to buy the raw ingredients. As my cardiologist told me, "if God didn't make it, you shouldn't eat it."

Now this is not without its problems, either.

Before the economy fell apart, I admit I didn't pay much attention -- I would just buy what I wanted when I wanted it. If I felt like making a particular type of vegetable that cost US$5 a pound, I didn't bat an eye. But the solution is not only simple, it can be beneficial.

This weekend, I took the step of determining ahead of time which vegetables were in season for my region, which translates into lower prices, and built my menu for the weeks ahead based on this information. For just under $10.50, I was able to buy what works out to be around 14 servings of various vegetarian recipes. Now granted, I didn't need a "full shopping", as I have a lot of stored, prepared recipes in my freezer, but the savings are still significant:

1 dozen jalapeños for $1.32
2 large, yellow squash for $2.22
2 large, green zucchini squash - organic - for $3.15
1 bunch of green onions for $0.59
4 vine-ripe tomatoes for $1.91
1 pound of celery for $1.29

And if you take $10.50 and divide it by 14,  that's 75¢ per serving. Not bad at all. And I'll probably be able to extend it even further as I start working the ingredients.

The best place to shop for fruits and vegetables are your local farmers' markets. You're supporting your local growers and your local economy, and the produce is fresher because it has less distance to travel from the farm to your plate. In Europe, I enjoyed the access to several open air produce markets in Amsterdam, that were very similar.

There are also food cooperatives that perform a similar function if you don't have a farmers' market nearby. The cooperatives gather produce from local growers, organize them into baskets or other lots, and then you go and pick them up. I looked into such cooperatives here in Arizona, and the one I found that looked promising often offered too much produce or vegetables I didn't like or couldn't adequately prepare.

Unfortunately, where I live, the closest farmers' market is so far away, I would end up spending my savings on fuel.

So my compromise of buying in season is working for me right now.

But the other aspect to consider is the diversity of your menu. By changing up your menus based on what produce is in season, you round out your diet, your nutrition, and basically, your interests in food. You can try some of the more exotic and interesting when they are at their cheapest, as well as adjust your offerings for the various holidays.

It is also a great help when trying to lose weight. One of the challenges I have faced is keeping my menus new, interesting, and diverse. In this way, by working with the changing ingredients nature provides, I get to have new taste sensations all year round.

So next week, my recipe for stuffed jalapeño peppers wrapped in bacon. :-)

Have a question or a suggestion for a future topic? E-mail me at facetsblog@gmail.com.

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