When I was at the store last time, I did some price checking. I was a little dismayed to see that my homemade muelsi (oatmeal, wheat flakes, dried cranberries, dried pears), at $3.85 a pound, is slightly more expensive than the least expensive ("unsweetened") bulk muesli (baby cut oatmeal, wheat flakes, dates, walnuts) at the Rainbow, which is only $3.77 a pound. I have some this morning, and I can say with some pride that mine tastes better. The walnuts are a very nice touch in the store-bought, but I can easily add those to mine. It's not always about price—it can be about flavor.
I also check on the price of a loaf of bread. The King Arthur recipe, last week came to $3.43. The cheapest loaf of organic whole wheat bread I can find at the store is $3.19. Now, obviously there are cheaper loaves you can make—this one included 4 TB (.50) worth of butter. The organic whole wheat flour cost me $2.03, and so a less luxurious loaf might save you .50 to .75. Unless you really enjoy making bread (I do) or you're really struggling, the tradeoff in your time for a pre-made loaf probably isn't worth it—as long as you buy the cheapest loaf.
This is the lesson Amy Dacyczyn pounds on over and over again in The Complete Tightwad Gazette: never assume, always measure. And then make a decision based on your own circumstances and values. It's perfectly valid to rent a studio apartment and eat as cheaply as you can in order to travel for a month later in the year. And—in my opinion—if money is tight and your family is hungry, buying the cheapest food you can find, even if that means non-local and non-organic, is not just valid, it's probably the most responsible thing you can do. When times are better, you can make a different choice.
(Don't get me started on the people who would lecture me that "I couldn't afford not to eat organic" at a time when I could afford only lentils, rice, and potatoes—and no vegetables at all. It's easy to judge other people's food choices. Sometimes it's hard just to buy enough food.)
One of the thriftiest snacks I've found is peanuts. I get mine from the bulk bins at $1.75 a pound. A quarter of a cup (1 ounce) is usually enough to quell my hunger pains, even when I'm famished (sometimes to the point that I'm not hungry for dinner!) at a cost of 11 cents. Peanuts are good for you, too. According to Walter C. Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health:
Contrary to popular opinion, nuts aren't junk food. They're actually a great source of protein and other nutritional goodies. An ounce of almonds, walnuts, peanuts, or pistachios gives you about 8 grams of protein, the same as a glass of milk. True, nuts have quite a bit of fat, but those are mostly unsaturated fats that reduce LDL cholesterol and keep HDL cholesterol high.
One of the more surprising findings from nutritional research over the past decade is that people who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who rarely eat them. That's not just an interesting but oddball result. Several of the largest cohort studies, including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women's Health Study, and the Nurse's Health Study, have shown a consistent 30 to 50 percent lower risk of heart attacks or heart disease associated with eating nuts several times a week. Regularly including nuts in the diet also seems to help prevent type 2 diabetes and gallstones.
If you haven't read it, I can't recommend his book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy enough. Dr. Willett is famous for recognizing that the USDA Food Pyramid is influenced by the economic concerns of agricultural interests, sometimes to the detriment of good science. It is, after all, constructed by an agency whose mission is to promote US agriculture, not to steer people away from their less healthful products. In response to this conflict of interest, Dr. Willett constructed his own Food Pyramid based on the results and recommendations that come out of decades of nutritional studies.
The book is clear, non-hysterical, easy to read, and filled with information you can start to use the day you read it. It's not guilt-inducing by any means: I found that I was eating a much healthier diet than I had imagined—and that fat is good for you! I initially checked a copy out of the library, and was so impressed that I bought one of my own.
Breakfast today is coffee, muesli, and the last of the yogurt. I'll make some more today. I send Peas and Rice, some peanuts, a cup of summer tea, and a grapefruit with Jesse for lunch. I finish the Fried Rice. have a little Split Pea Soup, and eat a grapefruit of my own.
For dinner, I make a simple garlic pasta with the sugar snap peas. We like this pasta—it really is a "cupboard is bare" meal: spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes, and toasted bread crumbs. The bread crumbs are important—the texture really adds to the dish. The sugar snow peas add a nice texture to the dish, but not much flavor.
We have my dilled carrot pickles on the side, and they are delicious. Really wonderful, I'll be pickling carrots again. We do not eat the blue garlic. For dessert, I pull out some of the leftover cake and put it in the microwave. We have some ice cream left, and we have that, too.
Pickles and cake in one meal! What more could any American family ask for? (Today's total includes $2.08 for a new batch of yogurt.)
Tuesday total: $7.27. Remaining weekly allowance: $48.81.
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