How's that for a wordy title?
You might not know that the good ol' US gov't is tracking the rising cost of food for the average family just as we are individually keeping track of the rising cost of our grocery carts each week. According to their charts, a family like mine (3 children in the 2-3 age range, 1 male in the 19-50 age range, and 1 female in the 19-50 age range) would be spending $594.30 a month on the thrifty plan; that cost jumps to $770 or so on the low-cost plan. In addition to the higher prices, we're consistently urged to eat more healthy foods overall, to consider organic foods (particularly the "dirty dozen"), and to reduce our consumption of such processed evils as trans-fats (hydrogenated oils), high fructose corn syrup, and the like. So, what's the average person to do? How can we manage higher prices and eat better food?
Enter five major strategies which people still practice around the globe: planning ahead, eating simple meals, eating leftovers--all of them, cooking from scratch, and gardening.
1. Plan Ahead: This is the single greatest weapon in our defense arsenal against higher grocery budgets. If you don't plan ahead, you're forced to succumb to convenience foods, fast food, etc.--all of which can be pricey. If you plan ahead, you can do the following 4 strategies much more effectively. You can also plan your menus ahead, your grocery lists, etc. Use your time and your resources wisely. Get in the habit of planning ahead. Take food out of the freezer in time to thaw. Make up a muffin batter the night before. It can become a habit, this planning ahead thing.
2. Eat Simple Meals (and less meat): Beans and cornbread can be immensely satisfying, particularly if you're eating well-seasoned beans and good, homemade cornbread. A big salad with a small hunk of crusty bread can be a perfect summer dinner. Pick one night of the week to do a big meal--the meat and 3 variety perhaps. The rest of the week, go simple--stir-fry, pizza, soup and sandwich, breakfast for dinner, spaghetti, whatever.
3. Eat Leftovers--all of them: We throw away a lot of food! When you're planning ahead (see point number 1), plan to use some of that roast chicken for another meal (or two). Serve only the amount people need and reserve the rest. Did your kids leave a serving of veggies untouched on their plates? Pop it into the fridge to mix into a quesadilla or throw in a soup or just try it on them again the next night. Wonder why breadcrumbs top so many casseroles? Our foremothers used the bits of leftover bread to good use (I confess that I don't make my own breadcrumbs...). Nonetheless, it's a worthy strategy.
4. Cooking from scratch: perhaps the single biggest money-saver, this is a no brainer. If in doubt, compare costs for some of the things you buy pre-packaged (particularly the things that come in individual wrappers... like uncrustables....). Cooking from scratch is hard work, but if you're good at numbers 1-3, then cooking from scratch becomes much more doable. Case in point: I made a yummy pot roast that took me a bit of time one day. The next day, for dinner, we had roast beef hash (the leftover roast chopped up and stirred back into the gravy--that also had the seasoning veggies chopped up in it) on top of cornbread that was stashed in the freezer. Voila: meal on day #2 took about 10 minutes and was completely "from scratch."
5. Gardening: Another item on this list that takes time and is not for everyone. However, if you are committed to even a small bit of organic produce on your table, this can be one of the most cost effective ways to achieve that goal. If you have young children, this can also be a terrific daily activity--my kids love to dig in the dirt. It doesn't have to a big garden, either, to give a big harvest (or big enough). We try to eat local/organic produce during the growing season when we can afford it (and grow it) and don't worry about it as much during the rest of the year. It's a start!