HOW MUCH money do you have to spend for food? How much have you been spending? Have you kept records of your food expenditures? What kinds of food have you been buying? Are you eating as well as you could in today's economic squeeze? A favorite topic for discussion in this depressed economy is the high cost of food and how to afford a proper diet. What may at one time have been considered a necessary part of the daily diet may have become scarce or too expensive for the average consumer.
Factors to Consider
Take a few minutes and write down what you spent for food this week or last week. Multiply this amount by 52 (weeks) to find out how much this comes to in a year. Surprised? The yearly cost of food is more than most people realize! Planning is vital to get the most out of your food budget! The goal is to provide a nutritionally adequate diet that will promote the best health, yet be available where you live. Besides cost there are nine other factors to consider. Some of these are nutritional requirements of those to be fed, foods available, food habits, time available for food preparation, transportation, daily schedule, equipment, skills and special health considerations. Nutritional requirements are affected by such things as age, type of activity, pregnancy and lactation. The needs are greater at times of rapid growth such as teenage years and during pregnancy and lactation. When work is being done that requires a high level of physical activity, a higher calorie intake is needed than for sedentary work. Using foods available in the greatest quantity, highest nutritional value and that are in season, helps keep food costs down. In some parts of the world certain foods are plentiful and reasonable in price for a short time and then later other, different foods will be abundant. In many places meat is expensive, but dried beans such as soybeans and kidney beans, dried peas and soybean products such as tofu, miso and natto, are plentiful and less expensive. If dried legumes (peas, beans) or tofu, miso and natto are used in the same meal with a grain such as brown rice or whole grain bread, for example, good quality protein would be provided. Try using small amounts of meat along with the dried beans or soybean products as part of the main dish, instead of meat alone as the main dish. It might even be a matter of changing from eating beef to eating lamb, chicken or fish, which may be more abundant and economical in your area. You may be accustomed to eating oranges, but where you now live oranges may be scarce and expensive and instead there is an abundance of cheaper papaya and mango. These can be substituted for oranges for a lower cost and similar food value. Tomatoes may be considered a necessity. When they are scarce and expensive, other foods such as green cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and dark green leafy vegetables may be more abundant and cheaper. They can be used instead of tomatoes for similar nutritive value. Milk is generally considered fairly abundant and economical in some parts of the world, but in others it is scarce and expensive. In this situation the calcium, for which milk and milk products are valuable, may be low in the diet. With careful planning, desirable amounts of calcium can be provided in the diet by using adequate amounts of such foods as fish where the bones are also eaten (as with sardines); soybean products; dark green vegetables, such as various greens and broccoli; and lime treated corn tortillas. It is wise to develop tastes for all seasonal foods, as finicky food habits can lead to costly unnecessary purchases of more scarce and more expensive foods. If a move is made to another country and culture, or even a different part of a country, the foods that are plentiful may be quite different from the ones you are accustomed to. Developing a liking for foods new to you may mean the difference between being well-fed or being poorly nourished. The more variety included in the diet the more likely
It might be a matter of changing from eating beef to eating lamb, chicken or fish.
you are to obtain the nutrients needed. From this standpoint it is also wise to develop a taste for many foods. Try to get nutritive value from foods instead of pills or other supplements. If there is a need for a supplement it should be planned to do just that — supplement, rather than be used instead of a nutritious diet. The daily schedule or routine should be considered. It may have a direct influence on when or where you buy food and the time available for food preparation. Along with this the mode of transportation plays an important part. Shopping may need to be done on the way home after a day at work or after children are taken to or picked up from school, or some other time during the day. Where shopping is done and how much is bought at a time, are not only affected by when the shopping is done, but whether one is walking or riding a bus or in one's own car or in a friend's car. The amount that can be carried is more limited when on foot or riding a bus, than when in a car. The daily schedule for food preparation needs to be considered realistically so it can be used to greatest advantage for the health and welfare of all concerned. When time is limited it is wise to concentrate on preparing those foods that would provide the greatest food value for the family — not in preparing those unnecessary extras, such as time-consuming desserts. The equipment available for food preparation — and for storage needs to be considered before food items are bought. Oven-baked homemade bread can be delicious and nutritious, but if you do not have an oven or an oven that functions adequately, other alternatives should be considered. Yeast breads in the form of muffins or pancakes can be made on griddles or in surface cooking pans. If a refrigerator or a freezer is not a part of your household, then foods that do not need such storage, or that can be bought in amounts needed and prepared and consumed soon after preparation, should be selected. Even though you may have considered all of these factors, what about your skills in food preparation? Are you trying to do what a friend, who is quite accomplished in food preparation, does, yet end up with a waste of time, money and food? It is wisest to recognize your abilities and start there with simpler food preparation techniques. Besides, many of the easier things to prepare are often most nutritious and economical. In addition to these factors, special health considerations may require a modified diet because of such conditions as diabetes and high blood pressure. Arthritis, the wearing of dentures or other potentially limiting conditions need to be remembered in planning the kinds of food that will be easiest to eat as well as most nourishing and economical.
Plan of Action
Consideration of various factors that affect the food intake is just the beginning of a program that can help you obtain the most nourishing and economical food available to you. To be of real value these factors need to become part of a plan that can work favorably in your situation. The first part of this plan is to decide what foods you intend to serve for the coming week. Writing menus for a week's meals can be a great help to make the best use of your time and money, as well as provide foods high in nutritive value. An important point to keep in mind is the number of people for whom the food is being planned, bought and prepared. Avoid waste by careful planning and use of food. Use foods in their natural state whenever possible and feasible. In general the less processed foods have more nutritive value than those that have been highly refined. Even though some of the nutrients removed may again be replaced, they may not be of the same quality or in the same amounts as in the original product. Some are never replaced. Before deciding on your menus for the week, become aware of the most abundant local foods that are high in nutritive value and the most economical. These foods may be different from what has become a routine part of your diet.
After making a menu for meals for a week, check to see what items you already have and what you need to buy. Have a shopping list based on the menu needs for the week. This is a must if you want to use your time and money to the best advantage. Avoid impulse buying. Make substitutions only if you find a better buy than the item that you planned to use. Become familiar with food prices as you shop. Also study food advertisements in the newspapers to find out prices. Compare the cost of convenience foods with the cost to make the items from the various ingredients yourself. Discuss food prices with friends to see what might be available. Keep a list of prices of frequently purchased food items to refer to for more effective use of your food money. When shopping, keep track of the money you spend as you select the items so you will know the approximate cost before it is time to pay the cashier. Consider your storage space and equipment when deciding on the quantity to buy at one time. Where possible, and if adequate storage is available, plan to buy enough to last a week. Exceptions would be perishable items such as milk and
Milk is generally considered fairly abundant and economical, but in some parts of the world, it is scarce and expensive.
fresh green, leafy vegetables. Learn the source of the best buys of high quality food that also meet your needs. In some instances the price may be a bargain, but the products are no bargain! Quality as well as price is important! The roadside fresh produce stand may sound like a better place to shop than the regular marketplace. But be sure to consider the traveling time needed. If a long distance is involved the fuel costs may cause the purchase to be more expensive than in local markets. Buying in large quantities or co-op buying may sound like a great idea when the savings on food items are mentioned — but is it always? It depends on your needs. If you end up with items that spoil before they can be used it could be more of an expense rather than a savings. It is important to purchase food while it is at peak (top) quality and also use it before it deteriorates or spoils. To be an effective buyer you need to become aware of what constitutes quality in food products. Size is not necessarily a good criteria. The largest eggs may just cost more to buy, not be superior in quality. Most recipes assume that medium or large eggs will be used, not the more costly, extra-large or jumbo ones. With berries, fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and poultry, freshness is an important consideration. Where possible it is helpful to find out delivery times at the market, especially for the more perishable items. With this in mind you may be able to plan your shopping at times when these items are freshest. Purchasing a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself is usually cheaper than buying one already cut up. Become aware of the possible cuts available from certain roasts or pieces of meat. Variety can be added to the menus by buying a larger cut and dividing it into pieces for various uses yourself. For example, a large slice of round steak or roast can be cut into pieces suitable for broiling, grilling or frying and can also be cut into pieces for braising or cooking in a small amount of liquid. Coupons may be regarded by some as a sure way to save money. But are they always? If by using the coupons you would save money on an item you ordinarily would use, the answer is yes. If you would not ordinarily buy the item the answer is no.
Storage and Preparation
Proper storage may mean the difference between using and losing the items you buy. If frozen foods have been bought they should be stored in the freezer promptly or used quickly. If there is no adequate storage for perishable items such as poultry, fish and meat, they should be bought daily, in amounts that can be consumed on that day, unless the climate is cold enough to store them without refrigeration or freezing. Now consider food preparation. Along with conserving the most nutritive value of the food it is important to make the best use of food and of your time. Avoid soaking vegetables in water to keep them crisp as this causes a loss of nutrients. Foods cooked whole or in large pieces usually retain more nutritive value than when cut in small pieces. Other important nutrient saving practices include: steaming vegetables and fruit in a steamer; simmering vegetables and fruit in a small amount of water that is brought to a boil before adding the food, covering with a lid and cooking till just tender, or done — not mushy! Save any leftover liquid from cooking meats and dried beans or peas or other vegetables and use for soup. Vegetables will have more food value if they are cooked and served soon after preparation, instead of cooking them ahead of time and keeping them hot or warm till meal time. Preparing some types of foods in quantity for later use can be helpful if proper storage is available. Breads can be made in advance and stored successfully for short periods of time at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator or freezer. Meat and bean dishes can be cooked in quantity and stored in the freezer for future use. From the standpoint of getting the most food value and tastiest product, it is preferable to cook vegetables just before they are to be eaten.
More success in meal preparation and acceptance may be achieved when children are involved. They can be a help and taught good habits of food preparation from a young age by allowing them to share in experiences for which they are capable. Safety should always be a consideration. The young child should not be allowed to use sharp knives or to be around a hot oven or cooking surface. Younger children can derive enjoyment, while learning and being helpful, by doing such things as scrubbing potatoes or adding ingredients to bread.
More Money Saving Practices
Where possible it is quite helpful to grow your own food. It is amazing how much can be grown in a small area with careful planning. If carrots grow well for you but not cabbages, maybe your friend who has a large cabbage crop but has no success with growing carrots would be willing to trade cabbages for carrots. This way both of you benefit. Home preservation of food can be a money saving method to provide more nourishing food, or it can be expensive use of time and money. Do you already own the equipment needed, such as a large freezer, or canner and canning (bottling) jars? Do you raise more of your own food than can be eaten when it is fresh? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, than it might be worth freezing or canning food. When food preservation would involve buying equipment or the food items to be preserved, the cost might be so much it would mean less savings in the long run. Canning of acid foods such as most fruits and tomatoes would be preferable to canning low-acid vegetables and fruits. All home-canned low-acid vegetables and fruits need to be boiled at least 10 to 20 minutes before tasting, once the canned product is opened for use. The boiling is done to kill the deadly food poison botulism, should it be present. This process is necessary, but along with making the food safe to eat, it causes nutrients to be lost. So is it really worth the time, money and food used? If you raise your own foods, a more economical and nourishing procedure might be to plan to raise a wide variety of foods that would grow in the different seasons. Include foods that also have a relatively long storage time in their natural state. Some vegetables and fruits such as apples and potatoes can be stored under proper conditions for several weeks, or a few months in colder climates. More money could be available for food in some households if less were spent for certain nonfood items. The money spent for many plastic and paper items could be better used for food. Rags could often be used for cleaning and wiping up spills, instead of paper towels, and are much more economical than paper goods. Except for rare occasions, avoid the use of disposable plates, cups, glasses and cutlery in the home. Check the price of these items. It is more than most realize.
Entertaining and Eating Out
Entertaining guests and dining out are enjoyable experiences. They can either be costly or within your budget. Pot luck meals where the guests each bring a portion of the meal can add variety and enjoyment, as well as making it financially possible to share a meal with your friends. Bringing a lunch from home is usually less expensive than eating lunch in a nearby restaurant or cafe. These methods of dining work best when planning is done well ahead of time. They can provide enjoyment as well as stretch your food money. Many people may be malnourished and go hungry because they lack information as to available foods, plan poorly or not at all, fail to develop a taste for a variety of foods, or practice undesirable habits in food buying and food preparation. The problem, then, is a lack of information and productive action, rather than a lack of available food and money. Consider your individual situation, plan carefully and carry out your plans in a way that is best for you. You can be well nourished even in today's depressed economy.