Monday, June 13, 2011

Cooking at Home

Wow. I never would have guessed it.

With a vegetarian diet, coupons, stocking up, pantry, and home cookin', we spend an average of $98 per month on groceries.

$98! We used to spend over $200 for both of us

I'm sure you're going to ask us how this could possibly be. Well here's our most basic rule: Don't buy anything that's pre-made.

You know the term that goes 'you pay for convenience'? It's true. Pre-made dinners, ready-packed lunches, seasoning packet mixes, even things you wouldn't think about like loaves of bread and cans of biscuit dough, all are assembled for you at a factory, packaged and labeled, then shipped to the store for your consumption. All of that costs money. You can skip all of that by just buying the ingredients and making it at home. In this way, not only are you saving money, but you are also carefully monitoring the amount of ingredients going into what you eat, and thereby making it healthier as well (cutting down on salt, butter, oil, and certainly preservatives.) Don't forget that this applies for restaurant meals as well

How can you get that convenience back, while still cooking at home? I know you're a busy person. As busy as ever. But I guarantee you, you have time to cook at home! Imagine how long it takes to go out to eat at a restaurant. leave at 6:30, seated at 7, order, eat, schmooze, etc, you're home by 8:30 or so. That's two hours. You could have cooked something extravagant in that time at home and saved an $80 dinner tab! Double the ingredients, same cooking time, and you easily have another dinner later in the week too (if your family members don't eat it all before then.) How hard is that

Ok, so you only order in, and you still want to squeeze in the time? Well, When was the last time you said 'there's nothing good on TV'? Instead of flipping around for something to watch, make yourself some lunches to take to work later in the week. Assemble some sandwiches, start a stew in the slow cooker, make pasta salad, or bake up some goodies to take with you. You don't have to do everything at once, and none of these tasks can take more than 15 minutes of your time, tops. Sandwiches? Please. Stew? Drop some beans and veggies in the cooker and turn it on low for 8 hours. Saute and add meat if you like. Something to bake up? Cookies just take a minute in the mixer and 15 in the oven. Make granola bars or oatmeal cookies for a healthier option. If you have a bread maker, toss in some ingredients and get it started to go with dinner that night

How much money will this save you? Well, going out to eat some pasta will cost you around $30 for two people. More if you have class. A pre-packaged home-cooked pasta meal will be in the $9-10 range (going off the Buitoni prices here.) A similar hand-made home-cooked meal could be as little as $2. A half of a pound of pasta, a can of crushed tomatoes, some basil and minced garlic, olive oil, and homemade garlic bread on the side. Toss in some fresh Portabella 'shrooms if they are on sale that week and add another $0.50 to the price. That's about a 90% savings from going out for dinner! If you must, some ground beef or sausage will only add $2 tops

In one afternoon of brown-bagging lunch at work, you could at least $5. A combo special at Wendy's sets you back $8 with a medium fries, while a sandwich from home ($0.40), homemade cookies ($0.30), an apple ($0.28), banana ($0.18), pretzels ($0.14), yogurt (from a big tub, $0.20) and a granola bar ($0.19) come to around $2. No one I know goes out to eat twice a day everyday for a whole month, but it can really add up even if you do it once a week.

The health savings are significant as well. You know that when you go to a restaurant, whatever you buy will not be good for you. This is why it tastes SO GOOD. Prepackaged foods at the grocery store will be packed with preservatives to make them last longer, and also packed with fats to make them taste better (because preserved things don't taste quite as good as fresh, so they have to compensate.)

On the other hand, fresh things at the grocery store can be hand inspected by you before being purchased, to ensure quality. They can be organic if you so choose (not an option with many restaurants or premade meals.) The recipe can be scrutinized and things that are bad for you can be reduced, replaced, or omitted. Things like chocolate chips, vegetable oil, whipped cream, etc. can all be rethought, deleted, or minimized to some degree

You will recall Hillary's earlier post about salt, therefore you already know how some of the things you don't even think to look at on a label really are quite bad for you. Take my advice and set aside a little time to cook at home. Your family, your figure, and your wallet will all thank you for it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Salt, Salt Everywhere....

As promised, here is the follow-up to my previous post about the dangers of salt. We dutifully wrote down the sodium content in everything we ate for three days (probably should have done it for a little longer) to see what our current sodium intake is and then talk about ways to reduce.

The Good: Both of us are consuming on average between 1,200 and 2,200 Mg of sodium per day. Mine was a little lower and AJ's was a little higher, mostly because lunch meat is loaded with sodium.

The Bad: Eating anything processed packed on the sodium. For instance Pillsbury biscuits have over 500 Mgs per biscuit, and you know you can't just eat one :) I was also surprised at some of the meals I prepared being higher in sodium than I would have expected; next time I'll try to keep that in check. Lastly, condiments are very high in sodium, salad dressing really surprised me, but it made me keep portions in control and I found that I can actually use less than a serving and still have a tasty salad.

The Ugly: Eating out not only made it hard to calculate a total for food, but it definitely has a higher sodium content than eating at home. A sausage and egg biscuit from McDonald's packs a staggering 1170 Mgs of sodium, and that doesn't include the hash browns and ketchup. Restaurant eating will make staying under the recommended total difficult if you do it often.

What are we taking away from this? Well luckily thanks to changes we were already making our average intake was lower than I thought it would be, so that's encouraging. On the down side there are still a lot of changes that we can make that will mean a healthier diet in general. Also, I think that we should probably start keeping track again for at least a few more days to get a better average. How about you? Are you thinking about making changes in some of the bad foods you eat?

Next challenge will be tracking sugar. That will be my downfall.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Would you like some salt with that?

I know, I know, I still can't seem to stay on this blog thing. But we have a new plan. AJ is going to write about saving money on food, and I am going to write about staying healthy. So here goes.

Yesterday, I picked up a Prevention mag while I was babysitting, and it had a lengthy article about sodium in it. Basically sodium is bad for you, like anything that tastes good ;). There are myriad things that it causes, such as the usual high blood pressure, but also weight gain, sleep apnea, and stomach cancer among others. Yikes! Also bad is that when you look at the sodium percentages in food they are based on 2,400 Mg per day being your limit. Now doctors are saying that you should consume no more than 1,500 Mg in a day.

Now before you put away your salt shaker hear me out. The issue is rarely sprinkling too much salt on your food, it's the salt that is already added to all the processed foods we eat that is the problem. In an example given of a normal day's worth of eating from breakfast through dinner the average person consumes about 6,500 Mg. That's over three times the recommended total.

So what can you do? Well, obviously eating fewer processed foods is a big part of it, and these foods are great for other reasons, such as less sugar, fat, and unhealthy preservatives. Starting today we are both writing down every item that we eat and the sodium content. Just through breakfast and packing AJ a lunch it adds up fast. But we're not going to try to alter our habits yet. After a few days we will see where we are and then look at modifications. The good news is that we are already eating less processed foods than we were a few months ago. Also good is that even if you eat lots of salt and processed foods, your taste buds are full of receptors that have a life span of one to two weeks which means that you can fully wean yourself from a salt-laden diet in the time it takes for those receptors to be replaced.

I'll do a follow up in a few days to document how we are doing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Recipe Spot: Stuffed Mushrooms

This past weekend while we were grocery shopping we spotted some portabella mushroom caps on manager's special for a dollar. We figured "why not?" and scooped them up. Stuffed mushrooms should not be hard, but for some reason I pictured them stuffed with ricotta when typically they are stuffed with a cream cheese mixture. We mixed the ricotta with some basil, garlic, pepper, and the cut up mushroom stems and baked them for about 15 minutes at 350.

The verdict: They were good, but should have been cooked longer, and the ricotta cheese did not bake up all that well. Next time we will use at least some cream cheese to mix in with the ricotta.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Beef on Beef

On New Year's Eve we went to an awesome venue til the wee hours. Actually we babysat and watched movies, but it was pretty cool. One of the movies we watched was Food Inc., a documentary on the food industry in the United States. This movie touches on a lot of different aspects, but one major one is the beef industry and how it has changed drastically in the last 50 years. I won't go into a lot of detail that you could learn from the movie or any variety of other places, but the premise is that the meat you buy costs a lot more than what you paid. Costs like your health, the environmental costs, and costs to the workers who process this product. It's a pretty scary picture.

Now it's becoming more common that consumers are asking these kinds of questions about the products they buy, and we had already been thinking about them ourselves. Of course we could get AJ organic, grass fed, local beef, but at what cost out of pocket? In the past it was too expensive to consider this alternative.

But now that has all changed. AJ recently found out that his co-worker's family had a few head of cattle on a nearby farm and they slaughter periodically for mostly their own needs, but they also allow friends to purchase some of the meat. Okay, that's great, but the cost must be atrocious. Turns out it was less than $2 per pound! That's about what you pay at Meijer - if it's on sale! We were sold. So a week or so ago AJ picked up about 9 pounds of meat for our freezer, which should last almost a year since he's the only one who will be eating it.

The moral of this post is that it might not be as hard as it seems to make diet changes for the better.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Cost of Food

It's been a while, all our plans to dutifully regale you with our food escapades seems to have fallen by the wayside. But fear not, we are making some changes to try to make writing posts a quick and painless process.

Just because we have not been posting does not mean we have not been trying some new recipes. Recently we I have been trying to work on my resolution to eat better (meaning less sugar, salt, processed foods, and dairy). It is slow going to say the least. Not buying as many processed foods hasn't actually been as hard as I would have thought, it's just that we get in a rut about what to make and end up eating something high in dairy or pasta and lacking in good proteins.

All of this is going hand in hand with our dutiful project to save as much as possible on our food. I recently came across a book at the library called "On A Dollar A Day" which looks at one couple's journey through a month of eating on a dollar each a day (what many people in the world live on) and a second challenge to live on the average food stamp allotment. This book is really opening my eyes to the challenges of eating healthy in this country on a minimum budget. Food producers make it very difficult to get the nutrients we need because the packaged, processed food swimming in salt and sugar and corn syrup is cheaper than healthy grains and veggies. Not to say that a lot of us don't like the convenience an easy meal-in-a-box provides us. We do this too. Grabbing a box of mac and cheese when we're tired and don't want to take the time to prepare from scratch is lovely when you've been at work for 10 hours.

So from this little soapbox post I am hoping that in the coming weeks we will be able to post more about the price of food (ie. not just the price you pay at the store), making foods from scratch/buying less processed, and sticking to our savings goals.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Well that was fast

Our plan for scrupulous saving is going very well.

For the month of January, we spent a total of $93.73 out of pocket for our 8 shopping trips, averaging a 46% savings overall with sales and coupons. The best trip was to Kroger this past weekend, we spent $1.39 for $23.67 worth of products. For those of you without calculators handy, that's a 94% savings! Did I mention how much I LUUUUURVE coupons?

Anyhoo, our recipes this week included an amazing walnut tart, similar to a mini pecan pie. The recipe came from one of Hillary's co-workers, who also has some other tempting treat recipes which I would like to make soon.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year, or, Save Scrupulously

OK, so I was 3 for 4 on my resolutions last year. Posture is fair, new car is great, and job hunting is over. Handwriting, however, has shown little to no improvement. I blame the lack of opportunity. I'm mostly glad I remembered what these resolutions WERE.

For my next trick, I resolve to carefully keep track of how much money I save. That is, how much money I don't spend. That is, the money that I would have spent had I paid full price for things. On the downside, this might lead me to believe that I have more money than I actually have, and will also lead me to flaunt my savings prowess. Hopefully I will be too modest for that.

On the upside, This is an exercise to show how it is possible to live within and under one's means to achieve a lifestyle at or above one's tax bracket.

And how might this tracking be done? I give you the tabulating savings chart, links courtesy of fellow couponers:

http://www.bargainstobounty.com/recommended-resources-tracking-your-savings-in-2011/

I'm personally going to be using the first one this year, slightly modified, but there are obviously several to choose from based on your preferred level of detail. In essence, you compare the full retail value of the item that you obtained with the amount which you paid for it, and continue to add these differences throughout the year. I think a goal of saving at least $2000 from coupons seems to be fair for the two of us. What do you think?

Of course, this need not apply only to groceries, but why start anywhere else? ;)