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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Groceries Under $50 a Month

[posted by Daughter]

I am always eating. At least, I try to be. I love all things food. I began learning how to cook (i.e. boil water) about two years ago when I became very sick. After that I started paying much more attention to labels and ingredients. The first few grocery trips involved many tantrums, "why is there [insert profanity here] high fructose corn syrup in my [and here] bread?" At that time I decided if I wanted it "healthy" it would usually have to be home-made.

The only problem was I had a tendency to burn everything from toast to hard boiled eggs. I went through several dozen before learning it took less than half an hour to boil them properly.

Oops.

With a little help from a patient friend and many many baby steps I am able to feed myself without using any processed foods.

I have journeyed from veggie burritos to stir fries to some fairly creative pasta salads. I'm no gourmet chef but I enjoy my meals and I do it all in under $50 a month. Many of my friends living by themselves and working are aghast by this number and several have requested shopping trips with me to see just how this is done. I take them with me to bulk foods section, "get to know the bulk bins, the bulk bins are your friends."

Step 1: Eliminate (or close to) your meats. Meat is expensive, and if it's not expensive there is a good reason for it. Put the chicken back and walk away. Americans now eat as many chickens in a day as we did in one year in 1930. There is no reason you should be eating meat with every meal, and that kind of gluttony is why we have unsanitary unhealthy meat products. If meat is just part of the person that you are try something local organic and on special occasions like Sunday night dinners.

Step 2: Eliminate (or close to) your dairy products. They are also expensive and if they're not, there is also a good reason for it. Cheap dairy products are available only because dairy farmers cut productions costs. Keep in mind, Doctors (Ornish and Macdonald to be particular) are linking dairy products to obesity and osteoporosis. I know we were raised to think milk builds strong bones but that's only because the American Government subsidizes dairy farms and have since post WWII when the big push to drink milk started, coincidence?

Love butter? There's a great alternative called Earth Balance that tastes just like it and it's cheaper than actual butter.

Must have milk for your cereal? Organic soy milk is a dollar a quart, with rising milk prices it might be time to try some. (Especially vanilla flavored -- it goes great with oatmeal and granola, or even cheerios).

Step 3: What's on sale? I shop sale fruit, that's the fruit that is typically in season -- same with veggies. If I see tomatoes at $2 a pound I put the tomatoes back. It's called budgeting, and it takes a little self control but it works.

Step 4: Visit the bulk bins! Whole wheat pasta and rice are all around a dollar a pound. MUCH cheaper and MUCH healthier than rice-o-roni or some other instant brand. I buy nuts, oats, raisins, banana chips, pasta etc etc etc from bulk and I have no complaints, neither does my wallet.

Now the argument is that people are busy and have families and don't have time to cook anything from scratch, and granted it can be time consuming -- but I am a avid multi-tasker so here's what I do: one day of the week (usually Sunday night) I bake home-made granola, cook a giant batch of lunches and another week's worth of dinners while I'm doing the laundry and cleaning the house. I have an apartment, so if something starts to boil over (and it will) I can hear it from the bedroom so if you have a bigger place I advise staying near the kitchen but in the long run having a quick dinner in the Tupperware and ready to go saves me time and money. This did not happen overnight; it took a lot of experimenting and a few mistakes to get to the point where I am comfortable in the kitchen. But if you're open to i,t it might be a good idea to get out a pot and pan and do some good old fashioned microwave-free cooking.

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