Good eats for cheap

So here’s the thing.  Every now and then, someone I know, or am even related to, trots out the argument that eating healthily is too expensive for most people.  Of course they are saying this to me, in the context of my very comfortable, middle class, suburban lifestyle.  And I get that.  But that fact that I can afford it doesn’t mean its unaffordable. That kind of logic drives me crazy.

On a very small scale, here’s a perfect example.  Recently, I made some strawberry jam.  A good friend made a comment to me about how great that was, but wasn’t it so expensive.  I wasn’t really sure, so I decided to work it out.  2 quarts of fresh strawberries (from a farm stand – supermarket would be cheaper): $12.  Bag of sugar $2.89.  Box of Certo, $3.99.  A lemon, $0.49.  Washed out jam jars – free. Bear in mind that I only used half the bag of sugar and half the Certo.  So the layout cost was under $20. This made 8 jars of jam.  I just checked and a jar of Bonne Maman, the supermarket equivalent of homemade jam, sells for $4.99 (heck, even Smuckers is $3.79).  So the retail value of my jam comes to nearly $40.

Making something yourself is almost always cheaper and equally,  tastes better (after a little practice perhaps) and is usually healthier.  Jam’s a perfect example.  I can short the sugar a little and my kids don’t even notice.  What I make is literally fruit, sugar and pectin.  Tell me again why you would put anything else in it?

Now, I can extend this argument to just about anything in the kitchen.  But here’s the rub – you need some equipment, some know-how, time, energy and motivation.  Equipment isn’t really that hard. You need less than you think you do. Unfortunately, as with so many things in the states, people seem to think you need fancy, expensive stuff to cook.  I still use the cheapo stock pot I got almost 20 years ago for everything from cooking pasta to making soup to making jam.

So think how happy I was to come across a copy of Clean Eating magazine at Super Cuts the other day.  Each month, they produce a list of budget recipes and a shopping list to go with it.  They provide a list of 5 family meals for 4 people (ie 20 servings) for $50.  That’s $2.50 per meal per head people.  And they look darned good.  But you do have to put in the effort to buy the good food and actually cook it. To get the recipes, looks like you probably have to subscribe, but it makes its point.


Soda Wars, serving size, and a little experiment at home.

Not surprisingly, I’m a big fan of Mark Bittman at the New York Times.  He’s a great cook, inspiring and seems like a real person, not a celebrity chef.  And he writes great stuff about food.  He stands in the same camp as Michael Pollan, but his arguments seem even more approachable and less wonkish.  So here’s what he has to say about the proposed limit on soft drink serving size in New York City:  He reframes the argument, saying that sodas and junk food aren’t really food at all, so in regulating their serving and use, it’s akin to regulating the likes of say tobacco and alcohol.  It’s an interesting take.

 “We should be encouraging people to eat real food and discouraging the consumption of non-food. Pretending there’s no difference is siding with the merchants of death who would have us eat junk at the expense of food and spend half our lives earning enough money to deal with the health consequences.”


And I was thinking about serving size, regardless of whether it’s sodas, junk food or something else all together. I have graced the halls of some of the super stores on and off over the years (BJs, Costco), but in the end, I often come away feeling that I just by a lot more of the same sort of thing and we just consume it faster. It makes sense that our brain, evolved as it is to withstand lean periods, sees a large package and thinks, let’s go.  Conversely, a smaller package or portion is going to kick off the impulse to conserve.

So, in the interest of science, in my own family, I am about to embark on our own experiment with this very thing, using that most healthy of examples, milk.  With Teal Green son being 14, taller than me and engaging in Tae Kwondo 10-12 hours a week, not surprisingly, his food consumption is considerable and his milk consumption is downright ridiculous.  I buy the stuff 2 gallons at a time, several times a week.  So our little, unannounced experiment is that I will now buy it in half gallons and track consumption to see if it sticks around a little longer.  I wonder – will having it in a smaller container spark off some impulse not to pour out quite as much?  Could be that I am deluding myself, but it’s worth a shot.