Before I go on it must be said that, while good food does cost more in the short term, a diet rife with processed, devitalized “food” is far more expensive in the long run when one considers where it leads in terms of poor health, disease, and loss of production due to low energy and illness. It is for this reason that our family is committed to a healthy diet, no matter what!
This past winter is an excellent case in point. My husband is a very talented, self-employed high-end designer and carpenter who does not always get paid on time. In fact, when facing unexpected obstacles on a job, he may not get paid for weeks or months at a time, which is exactly where we found ourselves this past year. We had very little money trickling in and found ourselves falling way behind on everything. Week after week we would have only a few dollars, if any, that we could spend on food, and so we had to be very frugal and creative to make every penny and every morsel count!
The main thing that got is through this tough period was bone broth. Do you have any idea how much you can do with this wonderful food?! By itself it is a wonderful, warming breakfast with a little egg mixed in. Add vegetables that are past their prime or leftover and you have an endless variety of soups! A little rice or brown rice pasta, beans (soaked for 24 hours with a little vinegar, of course) and you have a filling meal. I was able to empty my freezer of garden leftovers as well as purchase wilting or scarred organic produce, slice it up, toss it in the pot, and then puree everything into one delicious concoction, meal after meal. No need to throw away any veggie peels (nutrients!) as my Kitcehn Aide stick blender works wonders for this. Add a little potato, or whisked egg yolk if you want your soup to be thicker. Sometimes I also add souring cream or milk. Nothing need go to waste!
It is of the utmost priority to us that we have raw dairy daily in the form of fresh raw milk, raw yogurt or kefir, and cheese. Thankfully at this point in time we have our own family cow to supply most of this, but even in times past when things have been rough we have always made sure to have enough raw milk on hand to make yogurt and kefir, as well as for drinking. We might have a limit as to how much is available for general consumption, but we will have our raw, grass-fed milk, even if it means searching for pennies in the sofa! And raw milk cheese is a relatively inexpensive, filling source of nutrients that we always keep on hand. As with the fresh milk, quantity may be limited, but it is always available.
We can make a big pot of chili and really stretch it out by using a lot of beans (I prefer pinto) and less meat. Top it off with some of that cheese and some homemade sour cream and you have another cheap but nutritious and filling meal. I just made a stock pot full yesterday as a matter of fact, and it has already fed my large brood 3 times with still more left for later!
Making your own bread using whole grains is a great way to stretch the food dollar. I also make biscuits and muffins for my crew often, which helps them feel satisfied and pleased with their meal. Always soak your flour overnight, use sprouted grains, or make a long-fermented bread (sourdough is great!).
Eggs are a relatively cheap source of protein, and I work our supply into quiche, frittata, and scrambled eggs daily. By varying the form in which I serve eggs my kids don’t get bored with the same old thing. Cheese of course helps with this as well, and having several varieties on hand changes flavors dramatically. We almost always keep Montery Jack and Cheddar on hand, but also Blue and Parmesan. The Blue & hard, Italian cheeses I find at the supermarket or Trader Joe’s in the specialty cheese aisle, where I always look for lack of the word “pasteurized” in the ingredient list. These are more expensive and so I can’t always purchase them, but a little goes a long way so a 1/2 lb. block can actually last for several weeks if I’m careful (and the kids don’t raid the fridge).
I make stock pots full of pinto beans about once a month and keep them in quart jars to pull out for an easy, and cheap!, meal. They may go with Mexican-seasoned ground beef and be served over rice; or stuff a tortilla, along with cheese, to make quesadillas. Filling, quick, nutritious, and inexpensive! We enjoyed many such meals this past winter and never grew weary of them!
Potatoes are nourishing and cheap, so once the supply from our own garden ran out I sought organic potatoes in bulk direct from the farm. Appearance does not matter once food is pureed, put in a casserole, or simply in your mouth, so seconds are fine and again a money saver.
Don’t forget to have lots of butter and other good fats on hand, as I did, to help satiate and nourish. We will not be without butter or olive & coconut oils, but I take advantage of sales and “Bent-and-Dent” stores to load up on such important foods.
Buying all of these ingredients in bulk always saves you money, often lots of it, and stocking up in times of plenty helps pull you through the lean months. Because this is how we normally buy food, we did have quite a lot of staples in storage to see us through most of the winter.
We plant a very full garden, putting food by with dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing large quantities of vegetables to see us through into the next year. Even if all you have is a patio there is much that you can grow in containers, stretching the food budget immensely! Otherwise produce such as cabbage and potatoes are penny savers and can be fermented and/or stored for long periods of time with no loss of value.
Even in the city one can often raise a few chickens for eggs and/or meat. You can check your local regulations and may be surprised to find that it is perfectly legal to raise hens, at the least. But even if it is not technically legal, with understanding and friendly neighbors you may be able to get away with more than you think! We are in the country and can easily raise the majority of our own poultry, both for meat and eggs. Chickens are the ultimate recyclers, converting kitchen scrap into eggs and protein for the table!
One method of acquiring food not to be overlooked is by barter. At one point when we were without two pennies to rub together, quite literally, I was able to trade some of my home made goods for meat and bones with a farmer friend. If you have a product or service to offer you may be happy to find a farmer who would be thrilled to make a swap!
Also, we have nurtured a warm relationship between us and our famers. Our family has a great deal of respect, admiration, and love for these fine, hard working people! And so from time to time when one has known we are struggling, or because they also know that I am willing to take what others reject and make something good of it, we will be sometimes be offered extras or freezer overload. This winter we were blessed with more good beef bones, dried beans, rice and a few other things which added up to a lot. It pays to treat people well! I am so grateful for our farmers and friends and their generosity!
One thing which I haven’t addressed is the fact that much of what I mention is rather high-carb. This was problematic for me over the winter months, and I am still working on taking off a few of those extra pounds which I picked up from too much rice and beans. I will say that, generally speaking, I was able to avoid much of the carb-rich foods by just eating everything else, but at times this just could not be helped. So for those of you needing to restrict your carbohydrate intake for one reason another, bear in mind that if you can load up more on non-starchy vegetables and plenty of fat, along with the bone broth, you will fare much better. I am making sure to have far more vegetables, bones, and inexpensive cuts of meat in the freezer for next year. (We would have had much more meat in the freezer this past winter, had it not wondered off on four legs shortly before time to butcher )
Our family can not thank the Weston A Price Foundation and Sally Fallon Morell enough for the education which we have received which has helped get our family through this very rough time. Without Nourishing Traditions, Wise Traditions, or the opportunity to learn from others at events such as the annual conference, I would not have known the virtues of bone broth, real milk, fermented foods, or pastured eggs. How would I have known to replace soda with kombucha, or “whole grain” bread with sourdough? And would I have realized the importance of nutrient-dense, sacred foods, even when it was most difficult to acquire them? No, all of this information was acquired from hours spent with Sally and others in books, lectures, workshops, videos, and one-on-one. These lessons are far beyond any tangible value I could assess, and we are grateful! Consider becoming a member of this incredible organization! _
Now, don’t let money, or lack-there-of, be an issue in how you feed your family or yourself; if our family can survive and thrive on a tiny food budget, so can yours. I say, “Go for it!”!