Food for Thought...

A few months ago, I was reading an issue of MacLean's magazine and came across an article about Kerri Leonard and Christopher Greenslate's book On a Dollar a Day: One Couple's Unlikely Adventures in Eating in AmericaIn September of 2008, the couple decided to challenge themselves to eat for a dollar a day each, just as many people across the world have to out of necessity, and they chronicled their experiences on a blog.

I Heart Pulses!

Since the couple is vegan, they used a lot of grains and pulses in their recipes, and so  I was reminded of their project a few weeks ago as I perused Indian, vegetarian, and rice recipes while preparing for a healthy eating kick. Every few months I'll do this; make a bunch of  veggie and bean dishes that are high  protein, low fat, filling, and nutritious.  We'll eat these for lunches (and often supper) and before long my rings are looser and my energy is up! We still have meat and some treats within reason; I find that simply adding the healthier dishes makes a difference.  That being said, I also occasionally put us on a week or two of "clean" eating where we cut out all white sugar, white flour, and bad fats.

In addition to being healthy, these dishes can also be really cheap if you do your homework.  Even though it may seem expensive initially, the groceries you purchase will last a long time.  For example, the bag of dry bulk chick peas we bought cost $8.00, which seems like a lot for a bag of boring beige beans.  However, so far I've made a big pot of Italian Chickpea Soup, Chana Masala, and four batches of roasted chick peas.  And there's still almost half a bag left!  In addition to the chick peas, we also bought big bags of bulk green and red lentils.  With the lentils I've made two different daals and you can't even tell that I've dipped into the bags.  Daal and Chana Masala are East Indian vegetable stews made with tons of delicious spices.  I made a pot of garlic rice pilaf to serve the stews with, and I made a very happy discovery at one of our local grocery stores: authentic Indian naan bread sold by the dozen for $5.49!  Yum yum yum!

As I was preparing for this post, and reveling in how cost effective these dishes are, I realized that I hadn't done a post on eating economically in a while.  I enjoy reading blogs and articles on how people are dealing with rising food costs in difficult economic times.  In particular I like when people look at how much "fat" you can cut from your grocery order.  It got me looking at how I shop for, prepare, and utilize the food we eat.  As well, reading over the "On a Dollar a Day" posts really made me realize how much food we have access too, and that for most of us, the fact that we can make a decision to reduce our food intake, whether for diet or budgeting purposes, is a luxury when you consider how many people have to do this out of necessity.

Now, as many of you have realized by now, cooking is something of a passion for me.  I LOVE to cook, food and cooking are my hobbies and I adore shopping for groceries.  What this sometimes means is that, despite a well planned grocery order, I might get inspired to make, say, a traditional Mexican meal and off we'll go to the grocery store.  Even something as simple as "let's get some sandwich stuff" gets pricey when a foodie like me is involved.  It didn't take long to figure out why our grocery budget was going off the rails.  Multiple trips to the grocery store to pick up ingredients adds up quickly.  Sometimes, it was for non-glamorous items like bread, or an everyday ingredient (like onions) that I had run out of and needed for a dish I was preparing.

And so, armed with a full grocery order tucked away into cupboards, fridge, and freezer, I challenged myself to use what I had.  No trips to the store because I was out of onions!  I could've avoided the shops completely, except that we had an unusually high number of social activities this week that required me to pick up a few items that I hadn't planned for originally.  However, I stuck to the plan as much as possible.  Today, for example, I was inspired to make Chana Masala after reading the "On a Dollar a Day" blog, but I was out of onions.  Where before I would either have abandoned the recipe or made a quick call to my husband to drop by the grocery store on his way home, today I decided to plow ahead and make do with what I had.  A quick peek in the crisper revealed green onions and celery, so I used those items instead.  I was following the recipe on the "On a Dollar a Day" blog, which is adapted from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey.  They list the original ingredients and then their adaptations in italics.  Since I am not aiming to eat on a dollar a day, for the most part I used the ingredients and yields from the original recipe, but found their adaptations helpful for items I didn't have on hand, like fresh green chilis and amchoor powder.  

While I'm happy that "Grocery Day!" is approaching, I am pleased with my little challenge and what it taught me:
  •  So often we find ourselves groaning "there's nothing to eat" when what we really mean is "there nothing easy to eat."  Preparing the chick peas for stews and snacks required me to soak them overnight and then simmer them for three hours before I could cook with them.  It is possible to eat well economically, but it requires more work than purchasing prepared foods.
  • Snacking becomes a habit when food is too easy to access. This ends up costing us in both money and our health.  By limiting my shopping this week, I though twice before popping bread in the toaster or making a latte; was I legitimately hungry and in need of nourishment, or was I bored or simply "liking" the idea of having a snack.
  • I use more of certain items than others.  Well, no kidding Kim!  Yet, why is it that we seem to always run out of the same items?  And, when we are putting away our fresh groceries, we seem to throw away the same spoiled items week after week?  By not running out to the store when I ran out of, say, soy milk, I got a better idea of how much I actually need to buy on my grocery order. This grocery cycle alone I identified that I need to buy more onions, soy milk, and coffee.  
  • Portion control.  Have you ever written down what you eat?  I sometimes do this when I am trying to get my diet "back on track" and it's revealing.  By agreeing not to replace items until our next order, we had to be aware of our consumption so that we didn't run out of items.  This cut down on taking un-necessary seconds, as well as casual snacking.
  • Planning Helps Remember those social gatherings?  Some of those I knew about but didn't consider when I shopped for groceries.  Others came up suddenly and had to be accommodated.  As well, we had several camp fire weiner roasts over the last two weeks which sent us to the local grocery store a few times.  So, going forward this summer, I'm going to make sure I have the ingredients on hand for impromptu potlucks, and we are going to visit the wholesale warehouse for better buys on hotdogs and marshmallows.
  • Wants versus Needs I love this phrase, a friend said it to me once and it's a great mantra for staying focused on budgeting.  Again, do I really need a latte (ie - I'm hungry and a big mug of soy milk will fill me) or do I want a latte because it's a rainy day and I'm curling up with a new magazine (in which case a cup of tea would serve the same purpose).  I'm not saying to never indulge, but if I notice I've burned through two litres of soy milk in less than a week, it's time to curb the lattes!
  • Make sure you use what you make Have you ever made a big batch of something only to get invited out a few times and it doesn't get eaten?  Or, you eat a lot of it but get tired of it and end up throwing out the last serving or two?  If you can't possibly eat all of what you've made, try freezing it.  I've decided to pick up some freezer safe plastic containers so that I can pack up those last few servings of a dish and freeze it in individual servings.  Voila, instant lunches for my husband!!
  • Creativity Saves Money  As I was picking up some fizzy fruit beverages to take to the river with us the other night, I got to thinking about the cookouts of my youth.  We never took along individual prepackaged drinks.  Mom had a big thermos jug that she would fill with lemonade or Kool-Aid that she made at home and took with us.  Why don't people do that anymore? 
This was a great exercise to do at the beginning of summer, since this season seems to lend itself to impulsive activities and get-togethers. I remember a few years ago, after a week of many, many barbecues, we remarked that we had probably eaten our weight in ground beef that week.  I'm going to take some time to plan for summer so that we can have a lot of fun without spending a fortune and gaining a ton!  We've already started planning some alternative fireside eats like potatoes and corn, and I'm definitely going to be looking for a Thermos jug! 

There's just something about "auditing" your diet, both in terms of money and nutrition, that feels so wonderfully virtuous, isn't there?!  If you have a tip or observation to share, I'd love to hear it!  Have a wonderful week, and I'll see you on Friday!


  1. What a great read Cousin! We've been re-thinking our grocery buying too. As we have to buy 4 to 6 weeks worth of food at a time, we often find ourselves buying way too much of the things we truly don't want to be stuck without (the kids favorite crackers, hotdogs, applesauce, coffee). This was costing us a lot of unnecessary spending each time we went to town. I've since made a master grocery list and printed off a number of copies. A day or two before we go shopping I now take an inventory of what we already have on hand in the pantry, fridge and freezers, and then make my list accordingly. It takes a lot of planning, but it was amazing how much less we spent on our last grocery order!

  2. Great blog , Kim . You are an inspiration to us all!Do you remember - in addition to the thermos jug of lemonade , we often took a large bag of homemade popcorn for you kids to munch on ? Much more economical than buying five bags of chips, and you learned to share !!

  3. I DO remember the popcorn! I actually inherited Mom's popcorn maker; still works great!

  4. You make me feel bad for inviting you to BBQ's :(

  5. LOL Nooooooooooo, don't feel bad! And don't stop inviting me, either! ACTUALLY, I made the cake from items I had on hand, so your event doesn't count! It was a few other things that came up!

  6. this is so true I don't even like to think of the amount of money we spend on groceries it is crazy I also agree with your point on having nothing to eat lol the cupboards are full I am just lazy to make anything lol. I have also decided to get back to making food and not being so darn lazy I need to go back to planning our meals and cooking on sundays cuz I am always so tired when I get home from work it is juswt easier and faster to go to subway or make something not so healthy and it is so expensive too.
    What kinds of things have you been putting on your roasted chick peas we love making these and you can do so many yummy things some of our favorites are salt and vinegar for torey and i love soysauce and curry spices yum so good


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