Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheap Eating

I was listening to Canadian show [i]As It Happens[/i] and they had a segment on cooking, and talked about a book that is really popular this year. It's called *deep breath* How To Feed Your Whole Family a Healthy, Balanced Diet with Very Little Money and Hardly Any Time, Even if You Have a Tiny Kitchen, Only Three Saucepans (One with an Ill-fitting Lid) and no Fancy Gadgets – Unless You Count the Garlic Crusher.. I'm not plugging this book because I know nothing about it. But it did get me thinking- this is how I generally tend to cook. I'm sure the book's not vegetarian, but the fact that it's outselling Ms. Hottie Chef of the Year herself, Nigella Lawson, says something. The show's host asked listeners to share tips. Since I had to type it out anyway, here they are (and I should follow my own advice!). Please feel free to leave your own comments on cheaper cooking! I need all the help I can get.


*Get a cheap pressure cooker and start buying dried beans. They end up being less than half the price of canned. You can also freeze many of them for later use. Using beans instead of ground meat/meat substitute is also cheaper.

*If you have stores in your area that show their circulars online, you can compare and shop. Here we have Publix and Winn-Dixie that both publish their circulars online. Watch out for 2-for-1 specials. Lots of times this includes canned or fresh vegetables and spaghetti sauces, and store-brand pastas.

*I have found it's cheaper for me to buy spaghetti sauce jarred- even organic with the 2-for-1 special- than it is to make from scratch or even from canned tomatoes. If you have cheap, delicious tomatoes available then by all means. Make a ton and freeze it.

*Many vegetarians/vegans including myself eat what is called seitan (say-tan or say-tahn). It's made from wheat gluten and WAY cheaper if you make it yourself. There are recipes online for it. It is probably about 1/3-1/4 the price if you make rather than buy. Maybe even cheaper than that.

*Regarding other meat substitutes, like veggie "crumbles" that are made to replace ground beef, you can make your own with TVP/TSP (textured vegetable protein/ textured soy protein). You can also make your own veggie sausages.

*Use marinades as sauces. This is easy for vegetarians since there is no risk of salmonella/other bacteria transfer from raw meat. You can reduce most marinades in a pan and top your food with them. You can also re-use your marinades in many cases.

*Don't buy pre-chopped foods. They are ridiculously overpriced. You can get a whole bag of onions for the price of 1 or 2 pre-chopped onions (same goes with bell peppers, generally. Sometimes mushrooms are the same price chopped/whole). It's wasteful of plastic and it takes 10 seconds-1 minute to chop an onion depending on how fast you are. Pre-chopped also tends to spoil faster. Get a sharp chef knife and learn how to chop. This pretty much goes for most convenience items.

*Cook items that are cheaper, like spaghetti and chili, and some casseroles. These can be high in protein and low in fat if you make them that way. They also keep for a while and feed an army.

*Don't buy pre-packaged salads unless they are on sale. Or, you can extend your salad mix by adding some more greens, such as a bulk package of romaine. Iceburg has very little nutrition so stick to darker greens.

*If you like junk food like chips, buy the big bag and take a serving to work with you in a plastic baggie or container. Single-serve items are always more expensive per weight, and wasteful of packaging.

*Store your foods correctly. Here in Florida, it's really humid so we have to wrap everything up or it gets stale. But also, keeping food in tightly-sealed containers keeps bugs out.

*Make a list- make sure you aren't buying and wasting duplicates.


The Veggie Queen said...

These are great tips. My only comment on the pressure cooker is that one does not buy a cheap one but the best one that they can afford that is the modern, spring-valve type that is quiet and safe. They cost from $60 to $100 but it will pay for itself many times over with energy and cost savings. You can also cook whole grains in half the time of other cooking methods. You can read more on my blog at or
Thanks for this post.

B.A.D. said...

Another easy ground meat substitute is finely diced mushrooms (depending on the dish even crumbled tofu) try either sautéed with soy sauce and liquid smoke if you have it!

beforewisdom said...

Vegan diets are CHEAP until you buy packed food. The big culprits are sauces and soups, both of which are dirt cheap if you make them yourself.

Make a big pot of soup and freeze it in individual portion containers.

Get a copy of "The Saucy Vegetarian" by Stepianiak ( vegan ). The sauces here are easy, cheap, healthy and actually taste better.

beforewisdom said...

Eat commercial produce, watch your coupon circulars and get those supermarket cards that give you a discount.

Get tofu and soy products from the local Asian market. If you don't mind eating commercial soy you can get these things much cheaper.

beforewisdom said...

1. Make things yourself.

2. Comparison shop. Carry a memo pad with you and write down what you pay for what at the places where you shop.

3. Substitute that odd expensive ingredient in a recipe with something you have on hand.

The ultimate: eat out less

allicia said...

Whenever I make the smoky grilled tempeh from VCon I always make extra marinade. I then turn that into gravy! So good!