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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Food for the Soul

I’ve been preoccupied with food as of late.  More specifically, food quality.

All of the horror stories about melamine-enhanced, petroleum-based and exploding food combined with my increasing discomfort with manipulating food into foodstuffs, makes me glad we switched, albeit gradually, to mostly organic and local foods in the past several years. It has been one-by-one: first fruits and veggies (like the dirty dozen), then, as our research unearthed more tangible health problems caused by horrendous industrial farming practices, CAFOs, additives, synthetic dyes, and other such manipulations, we switched to organic dairy and local and organic meat.

There are hundreds of reasons to switch to local and organic food.

The hard part: affording it.

I’ve said it before, and it hasn’t changed: we are a one (woman’s) income family of 4. Our grocery bill has expanded with everyone elses, and our income hasn’t caught up. There are a few ways we cope:

Buying in bulk doesn’t necessarily mean buying large quantities. So, I bring my jars to the local food coop and only get what I need, which is much cheaper and dramatically reduces the packaging required.

We cook more. Cooking at home brings meaning to mealtimes, consciousness and thoughtfulness to our food and provides a much healthier diet to our mouths. It’s also tremendously cheaper to cook than eating out.

We pack lunches for work and travel. We avoid the toxic fare at convenience stores and money-sucking habits of eating lunch out during the day. We’ve even committed to brewing our fair-trade, organic coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of conventional coffee out.

We grow food.  After the upheaval of last year’s attempt to sell our home, we’ve dug in full-force and committed to being here, now.  That means more investment in growing food.  We only use organic seeds and starts and compost.  We are looking forward to the season’s harvest of raspberries, strawberries, black raspberries, sugar snap and shelling peas, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, broccoli, dill, chives, chamomile, kale, spinach and more.  Now, that’s food security on a budget.

Menu plan.  I plan the week’s menu before the grocery trip so that I am only buying what I need and a couple of additional things.  The combination of menu planning and a reuseable grocery list (cardstock in a plastic sleeve and a dry-erase marker) makes meal planning and grocery list making easy, helping me avoid repeats, too much food rotting in the fridge–in other words, waste, waste, waste.

Stick to the perishables.  The farther down the shelf-stable isles you get, the less healthy the food is, anyway. 

Reduce meat consumption.  Being vegetarian is a worthy goal, but our family can’t do it for many reasons.  And  eating healthy meat is a priority.  So, we reduced our meat intake and increased our veggie and fruit intake.  Better health + lower bills=happy wallet.

Get over it.  We’ve finally come around to the belief that you pay one way or the other.  We choose to invest in quality, healthy food to avoid the illness and poor long-term health issues that can arise from an unhealthy diet.  Similar cash outlay, but we don’t have to go through feeling poorly and can support fair wages, local farmers and environmentally responsible food production in the meantime.

What do you do to increase the quality of your food without breaking your budget?

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Hand-Made Breakfast

My family has been in revolt as of late.  The dinner-time battles are starting to wear me down, with a 4-year old who has decided that anything I make is “disgusting,” a toddler who doesn’t want to eat anything but cheese and flavored crackers and a partner who tries so hard to be enthusiastic about healthy food, but is painfully transparent as the first bites go down…but I refuse to be daunted.  In addition to soliciting input about menus and grocery lists, I try new things at least once a week–regardless of the enthusiasm at the table.  My latest breakfast-table newbie: Apple Walnut Pancakes.  Now, you have to understand, I have a family that would eat cereal for breakfast every day of their lives.  Pancakes in this house are finally wheat, but still topped with maple-flavored high-fructose corn syrup, and only recently without the butter “flavor.”  So, this was a leap.  But, in the end, a successful one!  The whole family ate heartily (except maybe G, who was looking around for the cheese) and even used the real maple syrup (since we inadvertently ran out of the fake stuff).  Clean plates in the end make for a happy mama who keeps trying every day, despite the moans and groans.

Apple Walnut Pancakes (Taste of Home)
1 C unbleached white flour
1 C whole-wheat flour
1T brown sugar
2t baking soda
1t salt
2 egg whites
1 egg, beaten
2C milk
2T canola oil
1 medium apple, chopped
1/2C walnuts, chopped
Mix ingredients together, pour onto hot, greased pan and turn when bubbles pop and sides are firm.  Enjoy!

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Clam Dip and M&Ms

It’s pretty disgusting and shameful, but that was an actual lunch I had the other day.  Clam dip and chocolate candy.  Well, there were potato chips involved, you know, to scoop the dip–and to avoid feeling like I was just having dip for lunch.  I struggle between philosophy and logistics.  If it were up to me, we would eat entirely organic, local food in this house, with minimal red meat, a lot of fish (I know, not local) and vegetarian meals and more beans and legumes.  But, we are a family of four on a single income (a woman’s to boot–still 78 cents to the man’s dollar) with so many priorities in health, home–life, that I often feel like I can’t keep up.  And, my family has input in the menu.  And they aren’t always healthy requests.  But, little by little, our diet gets better…at a dear price.  Let’s be honest, this house spends several hundred dollars a month on items from the grocery store, co-op, or at the farmer’s market, not including eating out (which is a nasty habit for our bodies and our wallet).  As the principle grocery-shopper with occasional requests from the rest of the family, I try to get the best food I can.  I still can’t be honest with myself that we over-shoot our budget by at least $100 every month because of mid-week grocery shopping for initially forgotten things.  But, when we learn about how to eat better, we try to apply it. 

I started trying to correct our chicken nugget and instant potatoes diet right before I got pregnant with Em 5 1/2 years ago.  It got better while I was nursing and even better when she started eating solid food and we wanted to avoid her ingesting things like pesticides and hormones from the get-go.  We avoided all unnatural or added sugars before she was more than 2 (and I consider that a remarkable feat, considering our personal tendencies as parents and our respective extended families…).  Then I conceived again and was put on a sugar- and carb-free diet.  I did it for the sake of our second child’s and my pregnant body’s health, but was unhappy about it, having been brought up on pasta and ice cream.  My energy soared and my weight plummeted (though not in an unhealthy way for me or the baby).  So, it turned into more of a habit that I occasionally slip out of to this day. 

I started reading Michael Pollan, books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle and Moosewood cookbooks.  We joined the local natural foods co-op and I volunteered and shop on discount days to give us a better price.  I buy fresh produce (which, even organic fresh fruits and veggies out of season is cheaper than any meat).  I dialed down our red meat in-house preparation and only buy local, grass-fed, free-range and otherwise happy and organic meats.  I use coupons for natural foods and household products.  And, we’re healthier.  Last fall/winter we were sick all or in part from the end of October through January.  And again in February.  This past and current season, we’ve staved off all but one nagging earache that Em had for 2 weeks.  I firmly believe it’s because we eat better, use less- and non-toxic cleaners and incorporate all of the healthy eating tips we can.  And, we experiment for dinners.  We are by no means a picture of healthy eating all around, but we have made awesome improvements.  Here are a few moves we made to make eating healthier more affordable:

~Coupons – but not for prepared food.  They’re hard to find, but there if you look often.
~Buy in bulk.  this doesn’t mean buying a ton of something, but only what we need for that week or a certain recipe, which makes the price tag for organic or specialty items much less ghastly.
~Cook from scratch or with actual ingredients.  I make my own granola bars.  I have no patience for recipes that call for condensed soup or already-prepared items like “cooked chicken.”
~We experiment.  We use wheat germ and brown rice and bulgur and more.  Which we never would have 5 years ago.
~ We pack lunch.  And snacks.  And water bottles.  Every time we get in the car.  This avoids the stops at convenience stores for snacks that are loaded with fat, sugar, salt, GMOs, chemicals, hormones and all sorts of other crap.
~ We seek to learn every day.  I seek out ways to make something instead of buying it.  I plan on learning how to make cheese, butter, bread and all sorts of other things. 
~I purchase bulk coffee beans at the co-op and grind the amount I need right there in the store and make my coffee at home.
~I start a new commitment every day.  Clam dip and M&Ms happens all too often, but my commitment to eat better and be a better example continues to remain strong, and I get a little closer everyday.

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