Saturday, March 14, 2009

No money to eat

One of my ezines has an ongoing forum for people asking what to do when they have already pared down their budget.
One poster was only eating bread and eggs. Here is my reply to her:

It is hard, isn't it? I'm a single mom, so I understand when there is no food budget. I work 2 part-time jobs, plus homeschool. I have kids in church and scouts, so I'm pressed for time as well.

One of the things I've just started doing is using sprouts. It only takes 2 tbs of seed to make a couple of cups of sprouts. I find seeds to sprout in many different places. I bought some mung bean seeds at the health food store. They were $7 for about 2 1/2 cups of seeds. There are 16 Tbs in a cup, so that's about 40 batches of sprouts for that money. Mung beans when they are eaten under 1/2" taste like sugar snap peas!

I have wheat. Whole wheat sprouts. Again, 2 Tbs makes up to a quart jar full of sprouts. They are a little chewier than mung bean, with a sweet taste to them.

You can also sprout raw sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, broccoli seeds, rye, oat groats, any type of dried beans, peas or lentils, etc. Many seeds can be found in the grocery store. As long as the seeds haven't been heated/roasted, etc, you can make sprouts from them. Even in my rural area, the regular grocery stores have a "gourmet" section where you can by grains. Remember, you don't need to buy a pound at a time. Buy a smaller amount so that you can afford it. Even at $8 a lb, a 1/4 lb is only $2. and 1/4 lb will be about 1/4 - 1/2 cup. This amount will make 2-8 cups of fresh veggies for $2.

Make SURE you use FOOD SEEDS, not garden seeds. Garden seeds are usually treated with some sort of chemical to prevent problems with sprouting and to keep them fresh.

Look up sprouts on the net and you will see how easy it is to use grow them, the flavors of the different sprouts and the HUGE nutritional advantage to eating them. Even if you only used them for 2-3 meals a week, at least it's SOME fresh veggies. Also, even people who are "allergic" to a food can many times eat the sprouts. Wheat loses all of it's starch when sprouted for a few days.

Use dried beans/peas to cook with. It doesn't take as long as people think to cook beans/peas. For the price of a dozen eggs, you can buy a 16-24 oz bag of dried beans/peas and they are much more filling than eggs, for the same cost.

1 lb dry beans = 2 1/2 cups dry beans = about 7 1/2 cups cooked beans
1 cup dry beans = about 3 cups cooked beans
14 oz/398 ml can beans = about 1 1/2 cups drained beans
19 oz/540 ml can beans = about 2 cups drained beans

That bag will make 7 1/2 cups of beans. Beans are much more filling than eggs! I cook mine by dumping the bag of beans out onto my table, sorting through the beans and removing any broken, moldy-looking or shriveled beans or stray rocks or dirt clumps. I scoop the good ones into a pot, doing a bit at a time while I sort. I fill the pot 1/2 full of water, swish the beans around, and drain them - to remove dust/dirt. I then refill the pot with water (about 3 cups for each 1 cup of beans, though I don't measure it.) and put on stove on high. Bring to a boil, boil for 1-2 mins. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for 1 hr. At this point, some people drain the beans and refill pot with water. I just turn the heat back on and bring beans to a boil again. Lower heat and simmer for 45 mins to an hour, or until tender. I don't add salt to the beans until they are cooked, as the salt can make them tough. You can season them after they are cooked.

If you won't be home, then either soak them the night before, or do the quick soak in the morning. Then plop them into a Crockpot and let cook.

If you have a pressure cooker, it only takes a few minutes to cook dried beans and you don't have to presoak them.

DO NOT ADD BAKING SODA. Yes, it will make the beans soften quicker. BUT it also kills the vitamins in the food. And if you're not eating them for the nutrition, they WHY are you bothering to eat them at all? No nutrition = a packet of sugar or cardboard. (Ever thought of food that way before?)

You can grow a lettuce "garden". On a patio, in the house or in the yard. All you need is some food grade soil (potting soil for veggies, dirt from your yard, unless you use chemicals on the yard.), and some containers. See Dollar Stretcher for the instructions on growing a lettuce patch in containers.

If you're buying bread, start making your own. Look at "Artisan bread in 5 mins a day". It's wonderful bread, VERY inexpensive to make and you do NOT need a "pizza stone". I went to the local big box home improvement store and bought a 12"x12" unglazed Terra cotta tile for $1.50. Wash it off and plop it in the oven. Use as you would a pizza stone. I actually bought 2 of them, but when I measured my oven, I forgot to allow for the spot where the rack sits. I should have gotten them to cut about 1" - 1 1/2" off the side of one tile and then it would have fit my oven and I could do French bread. But for now, the single tile is working well. With this same easy to make dough, I make pizzas, calzones, rolls and more. I use whole wheat that I grind myself, but I do have a flour mill I got used for $50. The recipe uses flour, yeast and water. That's all. Takes longer to get the ingredients out than it does to make the dough. Dough lasts for a week or two in the fridge. Buy the yeast at a large big-box store in 1lb mylar packages. Bring it home, put in freezer. I had a friend with a Sam's membership bring me two packages that were twin packed (so I had 4 1lb packages of yeast) about 7 years ago. I put them straight into the freezer and I'm still using them. They are WAY past the "expired" date. Total cost then was $4. I'm sure yeast costs more now, but it's still cheaper to buy it in large quantities than the little foil packets or the only slightly larger jars from the grocery store.

Rice. Rice is also your friend. A 2 pound bag costs under $2. Even brown rices is under $3 for a large-ish bag. 1 cup of uncooked long-grain white rice = 3 cups cooked so that's about 6 cups of a very filling grain.

To cook rice the easy way in 24 minutes: MEASURE out 2 cups of water or stock for each 1 cup of rice you wish to cook and bring it to a boil. Add seasonings - salt, onion powder, garlic powder, Adobo, etc. (or cook plain and season when ready to use). Add your premeasured rice. Bring back to a boil. Cover pot, turn down to simmer and let cook for 14 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit another 10 minutes. DO NOT remove lid at any time between time you put lid on and the 24 minutes until it's done! Most recipes I just "eyeball", but this is one of those things, like making bread in a bread machine where you do need to measure carefully to have it turn out well. Also, you want the rice doing a slow boil, without boiling over for the 14 minutes that heat is applied.

Rice, beans and bread all freeze well. So if you work outside your home, making and freezing these basic items will make fixing dinner so much easier. It will take time to fix these recipes, but do it in large portions. It takes no longer to cook 2 loaves of bread at a time or 4 cups of dried beans/rice than it does to make 1 cup at a time. (Well ok, it will take 8 cups of water longer to come to a boil, but that's a few minutes, not hours.) Put cooked items in a zip bag or freezer container in portions that YOUR family needs or that you normally cook with. Then just pull out what you need for that meal. So I freeze my rice in either 1 cup or 3 cup portions. I freeze my chili in 1 cup portions, then take out the number of bags/containers I need for that meal.

Shop sales and look at the reduced meats and produce. Also, don't pass by larger cuts of meat when they are on sale. The only store that I've had NOT willing to cut or grind sale meat is my local Food Lion and they're weird anyway. (I think it's the local manager's decision, not a franchise-wide decision.) Every other store I've ever been to will grind a large on-sale cut of meat to hamburger for me. Make your own "stew" meat. Any roast can but cut up into cubes by you and then stored in 1lb packages for soups/stews/casseroles. When chuck or top sirloin go on sale, have the butcher run them through the cuber 2 times. Tender meat, low cost. Repackage into smaller portions. Google "cube steak" for recipes that don't require frying.

When you come home, repackage any meat products in recipe or serving size packages. Know that 3 oz of cooked meat is the size of a deck of cards! I package 5lb of ground whatever in 1lb zip bags by dividing the package in 5 portions, putting a portion in a zip bag and zipping bag closed. Remove air and then flatten bag out. Makes it easier to store when they are flat. (Flatten all freezer bags and you can stack them more easily or store them upright. Use an empty cereal box like you would a magazine holder to keep them in groups.)