Thursday, August 22, 2013

Good, Better, Best...

I was planning to make up a list or chart of "good, better, best, & never" for various categories of foods. This website already has one made up for your viewing (& healthy, budget friendly eating) pleasure. Enjoy!

The only thing I would add/change is that poultry is always raised without hormones, while conventional beef almost certainly has been raised with the use of lots of artificial growth hormones. So even though "CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) meat" is listed in the BAD section, I will sometimes compromise and buy conventionally-raised chicken when my budget is really tight, even though I will never make the same compromise for beef.

Friday, June 21, 2013

What's Your Budget?

I still want to do a budget challenge eventually and write about my experiences here. But first, I want to know how much you spend on food. This includes groceries, eating out, buying bottled water or other drinks, etc. Tell me: How much do you spend, for what amount of time (per week, per month, etc.) and for how many people? Also tell me if you have a garden, chickens, goats or cows, etc. that provide food for you, and if so, please add in the cost of taking care of the animals, buying seeds & other stuff for the garden, etc. I want to get an idea of what we're all working with. I'd also love to know if you feel that your food budget is enough to eat the ideally healthy diet for your family, and any other considerations as far as special diet considerations you may have (i.e. gluten-free or other special needs). This will give me ideas of where to start in setting up my next budget challenge. Thanks for your participation!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Make-Ahead Monday: Peanut Butter Cookies

I once had a Tuesday through Saturday job and decided it was worth the time to spend several hours every Monday making food for the upcoming week. It was a busy day in the grocery store & kitchen, but it was great to have several things in the freezer so I could just thaw something the night before & pop it in the oven for a quick, convenient, homemade meal every day of the week. It saved me money over buying premade meals, and it ensured that the food was healthier because I was making most things from scratch rather than eating a lot of processed convenience foods.

Some of the things I made regularly back then:

*Lentil Soup
*Clam Chowder

I don't remember what else I made, but these were on the menu pretty regularly, and this list alone was a decent variety so I didn't get bored.

Interestingly enough, I now have Mondays off work again, over a decade later. I've done food prep days here & there in recent years, but I haven't been doing actual meals and it hasn't been as organized or as frequent as I'd like it to be. I've recently decided that I need to institute the weekly meal-making practice again in order to make my life easier and to save money by planning meals ahead of time. I'll keep you posted & try to share what I'm making each week. Today, I was limited by not planning ahead & by not having enough freezer space, so I made 3 quarts of ghee and started a batch of beef broth with some grassfed soup bones I had in the freezer.

Beef Broth

Broth is simple. Some people use veggies in the pot with the bones, but I never bother with that. I roast the bones at 400* or so until they're done and put them in the crock pot. Then I fill the crock pot up with water & turn it on low. I check the water level once or twice a day & keep the crock pot full. After a day (for chicken bones) or two or three days (for beef bones), the broth will be ready. At this point, I strain out the bones & refrigerate the broth until I'm ready to use it in soups, stews, for cooking liquid on rice & beans, etc.

The kid made a big batch of peanut butter cookies today, which are an inexpensive, easy-to-make treat with the nutritional goodness of natural peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Cookies - makes 12-15

*1 cup peanut butter (we buy it freshly ground & add 1/4 tsp. RealSalt to this recipe)
*1 cup natural sweetener of choice - we like turbinado sugar for the price, but it doesn't blend in as well as others (use only 1/2 cup if you choose honey)
*1 egg

Mix together well with a fork or spoon. Put blobs of dough (about 2 Tbsp. each) onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It will work without the parchment paper, but they do stick a little bit. Press each one with the back of a fork until maybe 1/3" thick or so. Bake at 350* F for 8 - 10 minutes. Let sit on parchment for several minutes to cool before carefully removing them in order to keep them from falling apart. Enjoy!

Have you ever had a food-making day to prepare food for the whole week? What was your experience &/or opinion of it?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Five Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Here are a few ideas to help you get started (or continue) eating healthy on a budget:

1 - Cook beans from scratch & use them in lots of different meals. Beans are nutritious & filling, but it gets pricey to buy them in a can. A pound of dry beans usually sells for $2 or less, and a big pot of beans can add significantly to the weekly menu plan.

2 - Make a weekly (or monthly) menu plan. I don't know about you, but if we wait until we're hungry, then we end up eating whatever is quick & easy to prepare, which isn't always what's cheapest. Planning ahead allows me to choose a healthy variety of foods and save money in the process. Another way meal planning can help save money is that I don't buy things that sound good only to have them go bad because we're busy using up all those other things I bought because THEY sounded good, too. ;)

3 - Make broth! Save the bones from all the meats you eat. Put them in a container or bag in the freezer if you don't have very many at a time. When you have a decent amount (like the bones from a whole chicken, or a few roasts, etc.), then put them in the crock pot, fill the crock pot with water, and turn it on low for 24 hours or so. Bone broths made this way extract the gelatin & other nutrients from the bones, which greatly enhances the nutrition of any diet. Did you know that the amino acid profile of gelatin perfectly complements that of the muscle meats? What one is missing, the other has - in perfect balance. Consuming broth made in this way has a protein-sparing effect, making our bodies happy with less meat than we might otherwise need to be satisfied.

4 - Buy a crock pot. If you don't have one, it's well worth the $20 or $30 investment, even if broth is the only thing you ever use it for!

5 - Ditch the microwave. It changes the actual molecular structure of the food, rather than just making it hotter, which means that the foods aren't what your body is expecting from nature. Try a toaster oven for reheating leftovers or preparing something small. It takes some adjustment in getting used to things taking a bit longer, but there's no sense in damaging the food you worked so hard to afford & prepare.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Word About CLA

Have you ever heard of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)? It's a fatty acid that is anti-inflammatory in the body and helps a person to burn fat while maintaining muscle. And where can you can get it? The fats in grassfed animal products. I was wondering why I've been hurting a lot more than usual at the end of my workdays this week, so I finally decided to look at how I've changed my diet in the past week for this budget challenge, to see if I could figure out a simple connection. The one thing I REALLY keep craving is the grassfed dairy fats I usually consume in much higher amounts: grassfed cream, butter & cheese. I have used one quart of cream in a whole week, which is almost nothing for us, and I haven't bought any other grassfed dairy products except fresh whole milk. No wonder the kid keeps asking for "the good butter" - it's grassfed & will give him the CLA he has been missing in his diet this past week.

I like saving money. I like challenges...and games...and learning new things. I've learned something very important, and I'm done with the budget challenge the way I had it set up, in order to make sure we get what we need to be healthy. I have learned other things this week (as well as in other phases of my life), and I will continue to share recipes, nutrition information, money-saving ideas, tips for inexpensively boosting the nutrition content of a meal, etc. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


The fact that it's summer, combined with the sale on raw milk & the fact that bananas are one of the cheapest fruits available...well, it means that I've been making smoothies. EVERY. DAY. Bananas and fresh milk are both sources of electrolytes, which we all need in the heat of summer. Another thing I love about smoothies is the convenience. Not that it's inconvenient to eat fruit & drink milk...hmmmm...but sometimes I just want a delicious, creamy, nutritious drink. My smoothies always have bananas and milk. I usually add about one banana for every cup or so of milk. Sometimes I put strawberries in with the bananas. Sometimes I make a peanut butter & banana shake instead for an extra protein boost. Once, I even put them all together for a sort of pb&j taste. No matter which one I choose, they're creamy, cold, delicious & satisfying. Experiment with smoothies & enjoy your summer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Update - Progress & Priorities

I have to admit, I'm not sure how this budget challenge will turn out. I've already spent a lot of my budget, I don't know how this amount of food will last, and the kid is complaining about not having "the good butter" - and it's only been a week. I started out to learn along with you. I wanted to find out how I would make a small budget work with a determination to eat nutritious food. I'm learning. It's difficult. One of the main things I'm learning, though, is how difficult it can be...but I'm also learning that I'm not sure if it HAS to be so difficult. I am blessed to have a huge garden space & my own chickens, and I know that isn't something everyone has access to. If I didn't have a big garden space, I would grow a small garden. If I didn't have any garden space, I would make raised bed gardens on at least part of my lawn. If I didn't have that option, then I would grow food in containers - even if it was just wheatgrass or fresh herbs in my kitchen. (I did both of those when I lived in an apartment with no garden or patio space for growing food.) I make choices that help us eat healthier even when we can't spend a fortune on food. One of those choices has to do with my priorities. I got a big tax refund this year. I know it's popular & even fun to spend a tax refund on something fun like a vacation or a new TV. I actually did need a TV to replace the one that fuzzed out along with the sound of a movie, making it so we could listen to the movie & not see it o see the movie with the sound turned all the way down. We haven't had TV channels since the whole digital TV thing happened, but we do enjoy a good movie every now and then. Technically, we could go the rest of our lives without watching another movie and suffer no health problems from it, so "needing" a new TV may not be quite accurate, but I was on the lookout. When I got my tax refund, I spent some of the money on a TV. I admit it. I spent money on something I know very well is a luxury. I went to a yard sale & got a working television for $10! Movies can now be watched AND heard in our house, which definitely scored me some points with the kid. :) After the TV, there were a few needed clothing items, so I bought a few things and then shopped for a sewing machine (which I got on a really good sale!) along with fabric to take care of the rest along with future clothing needs. Most of the rest of my tax refund got spent on good nutrition that I might not otherwise be able to afford throughout the year. I loaded up on the pricier items we really enjoy & feel good eating, like the 72 pounds of grassfed butter that is taking up every inch of available space in my freezer (!), several bottles of the fermented cod liver oil that I talked about the other day (you can get it cheaper if you buy 12 bottles at once - see for details), and the raw olives and high-quality protein powders that are really nutritious (& tasty!) but don't always make it into our regular food budget. Would this work for you? I don't know. I don't know your situation. I don't know what will work for you. I'm blogging so I can share what I do, in hopes that it will help you. Even if you don't do everything the way I do, maybe you'll get an idea here & there. Maybe you'll find a way to eat something you haven't tried, or to make something you hadn't known how to make. Maybe you'll just laugh at something I do that you think is just plain weird, silly, or whatever. Entertainment has value, too, right? ;) Anyhow, I don't think this budget challenge accurate for my personal circumstances because it doesn't show all the things I do on a regular basis, but it is a place to start. We'll get to more of my real life after the challenge is done. Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to satisfy the kid who has such good taste in butter.