Top Cheap and Healthy Foods

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The more financially challenged a family is (I deliberately avoid using the word ‘poor’, as I believe poverty is as much a state of mind as of the pocket), the higher proportion of its budget is directed towards buying food. It makes sense – you can scrimp on entertainment, clothes, and all sorts of frills, but everyone needs to eat.

Some things are really no brainers when it comes to food choices: avoid prepackaged ready-to-eat stuff, soft drinks, and anything that isn’t food in its basic, natural state. But what if you really need to take this a step further? What foods are the best bargain, financially and health-wise?

Whole, dry pulses and grains – beans, lentils and peas of all kinds have provided a source of protein and nourished healthy populations all around the world for millennia. Combined with barley, rice, bulgur, corn, etc, these create dishes with an amino acid balance that needs only a little animal protein to make a well-rounded, low-cost diet. Learn how to prepare grains and pulses the right way by soaking and/or fermenting them.

You can get a lot of food out of a few bags of lentils, peas and beans, and when properly stored, they will keep almost indefinitely.

Oats – oats are very nutritious and make an excellent breakfast cereal, much better than any cold cereal you can buy. Get your oats whole and roll them yourself for longer storage and to get the most of their health benefits, and pre-soak for maximum digestibility.

Eggs – containing the most effectively bioavailable protein in human nutrition, eggs are filling, nourishing and incredibly versatile. They also have the advantage of being almost universally cheap. Of course, it’s a million times better to consume home-grown eggs with a healthier fatty acid profile and essential vitamins, but even a store-bought egg is a source of wholesome protein when you can ill afford anything else.

Organ meats – the general public has a refined taste when it comes to chicken and turkey, and prefers clean, white meat, breast being the most popular. Stuff like liver, hearts, stomachs, etc, falls by the wayside, and can often be got very cheaply – all the better for you! Organ meats contain plenty of iron and B12, and, of course, are an excellent source of animal protein. They can figure in a variety of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.

Vegetables – if you have a productive garden of your own, you’re in luck. If not, you still rely on what you buy – and though fresh vegetables are an essential in a healthy diet, they can be tricky on the budget. Prices go up and down according to season and other factors, and even when you get a really good deal on certain veggies, there’s only so much you can buy, and they won’t store forever. Learn to buy what is cheap and in season, rather than have a fixed idea of what you’re going to eat.

Plain dairy products – commercial dairy products are controversial, but if you don’t keep a dairy animal, plain unsweetened store-bought dairy products are still a good bet, and are usually affordable. Stick to whole milk, plain yogurt, naturally processed cheese and unsalted butter.

Canned goods – don’t automatically dismiss all that comes from a can. Some canned foods are very nutritious – such as canned tomatoes, beans, tuna, sardines, and more – and sometimes you can get very good deals on them, so keep your eyes open.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to make your meals more palatable or filling by the addition of refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oils. It will only mess up your blood sugar and satiety signals, and will ultimately make you hungrier.

Good luck in finding the best way to feed your family healthy, inexpensive food – I know this can be tricky, but the rewards are well worth it.

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Vacations and holidays on the cheap

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I am just catching my breath after a string of Jewish holidays that lasted nearly a month, and afforded quite a lot of in-between days that are commonly used for family outings. As a family living on a budget, we almost always choose to avoid any sort of entertainment one must pay for (be it amusement parks, zoos, petting zoos, or even the swimming pool).

There are more than enough places, we have found out, that we can visit, and pleasantly spend our time in, without paying a thing, or paying very little: beaches, parks, historical sites, farms that encourage visitors without charging a fee, and so forth. Furthermore, we take advantage of having many friends who farm or homestead, and visit them (and, of course, invite them to visit us in return).

The price of gas, naturally, is a consideration as well. There are some lovely places that open their gates to the public for free, but as they are so far from us, just the ride there and back is pricey. We focus, therefore, on our area, and always find something new to explore. You should try it as well.

If you have family or friends who have gone out on vacation themselves, and left an empty house, they might allow you to stay in their place for free (and will sometimes be quite happy with the arrangement, if you throw some pet-sitting or watering the plants into the bargain). This gives you a whole new area to explore, with a convenient, free base.

Another expense that people often don’t think of is eating out. When you go somewhere, after a couple of hours naturally you will begin to feel peckish. This is even truer for children, who seem to become insatiably hungry the moment they are strapped to the car seat. So make sure to pack up healthy snacks for the ride, a nutritious lunch for the whole family, and a big bottle of water. Ideas for non-mess food: egg and/or tuna sandwiches, cold pasta, sliced fruits and vegetables, cold sliced quiches, hard-boiled eggs, a trail mix of nuts and raisins, and salads with stuff like lentils, quinoa or beans will keep you going for a long time.

Vacationing and family outings in general don’t need to be budget-breakers. Just try it and see for yourself!

Safety for remote living

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Do you dream of living in the neck of the woods somewhere, with no other house in sight? If you ever consider it, homestead security should be your top priority. It might seem that, living away from the hustle and bustle of a city, in a quiet, small way, you are not a likely target for robbers and other unsavory elements, but you can’t count on this. There are plenty of unscrupulous people roaming out there, who wouldn’t hesitate to steal your livestock and farm equipment if they aren’t well protected.

We know farmers who have had their herds stolen from them, repeatedly, up to the point that some have given up on the beloved pursuit into which they had put all their money and many years of their lives. It is heartbreaking, but not imminent.

In Israel, things are even more edgy, because isolated homesteads, farms, and even simply houses located on the fringes of a settled area have suffered from terrorist attacks, and one can never know for sure whether the intruder spotted in the yard is after stealing sheep or murdering people.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post.

“When we first moved into our old house – which was located on the fringes of a tiny settlement, with no neighbors in sight – I was a little apprehensive. I grew even more apprehensive when my husband announced that we will have to keep a dog for safety purposes. I’ve never had a dog; never felt comfortable around dogs, and never thought I’d find myself taking care of one. Still, I had to admit that my husband has a point, as nothing deters intruders so effectively as a large, alert and protective dog.”

Not all on our own

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Image: exhausted mom
Reading this excellent post made me think about many things. In essence I agree; Me Time is often over-emphasized, over-rated and, worst of all, over-indulged, as in the notion that you are allowed to do almost anything that will make you “happy” or more comfortable.

However, it is true that motherhood can be draining. It is a joy, it is the greatest project of my life, but it is also hard, hard work 24/7. I will even venture to say that so far, things haven’t even really become easier as the children grow. The challenges are simply different. Sure, I get more sleep now than I did when I had newborns, and my day is more orderly, but frankly, breastfeeding and changing diapers was more… straightforward than handling some of the behavioral problems and educational choices we are facing now.

Before we reminisce about how our great-grandmothers did it all on their own and didn’t ask for any help or time off, I would like to step in and say I don’t believe it was the case at all. Childcare wasn’t the exclusive task of the mother. Our great-grandmothers lived in a much more supportive community, and often close to family who could offer some help. A woman of that time could, perhaps, see her mother on a daily basis; or perhaps she lived near her sister, who had children of the same age, and each of them could take a turn watching the little ones. Or if there was no family nearby, neighbors would often step into its place. I’m not saying it always happened, but it was common.

When my two eldest children were toddlers, I had basically two choices: either I stay home with them all day, every day, no breaks (my husband worked long hours) – or I put them in daycare and I’m away from them all day, every day. But I didn’t want or need to be away from my children all day; I only needed an occasional break to refresh me and provide some variety. So I always had them at home with me, for better or worse.

In the past, it was common to let young children play outside and explore on their own – such young children that today it would be considered criminal neglect. The outdoors were safer, and there was almost always some responsible adult outside at every hour of the day.

My great-grandmother used to have a maid. Not a live-in maid, but someone who came on a regular basis and helped around the house. You will say, “it may be so, but she didn’t have a washing machine.” That is true – however, according to my Grandma, the children wore the same clothes all week and only got clean ones for Shabbat. You can imagine how those clothes looked at the end of the week (there were five boys in that family!). Can you imagine not giving your child fresh clothes to wear every day, perhaps more than once a day? If my daughters get a little stain or spill on their clothes – and it happens often, as you can imagine – they start to wail and beg for a change, and sometimes I have to put my foot down, especially if it happens an hour before bath-time.

So what is my point? Feeling tired and drained is bad enough. Feeling guilty because you are tired and drained and you don’t think you are supposed to feel this way is far, far worse. It is perfectly normal to want to feel refreshed and rejuvenated by doing something different. This doesn’t always have to involve spending time away from your family – I have learned to say yes to my husband’s offers of little escapades in the middle of the week, even if there are dishes piled up in the sink.

I have learned to put my feet up in the middle of the day for a short while, and to lock the bedroom door and say, “Mommy is resting”. Usually this means only a few minutes of lying down, with or without a book, but sometimes I manage to steal a cat nap.

I have also learned to enjoy my children more, and to participate in their fun activities rather than frantically say, “oh, good, they are occupied. Now let’s proceed to the next thing on the to-do list.”

I know there are moms out there who are struggling; who live far away from any family, and in places where it is uncommon to rely on friends or neighbors. Who spend all day, every day with their children and are so exhausted that a day in the office may seem like heaven sometimes. What I would like to say that it is normal to feel tired. It is normal to want help. And if you live in the way many live these days – a relatively isolated nuclear family – your best and only source of help will probably be your husband.

Before you feel guilty (“he has been working all day!”), remember that a break can mean not only putting your feet up, but also simply doing something different from what you did all day. I used to be all of a “no, no, let me, I’ll do everything” person. But then I realized that after my husband comes home, or on weekends – after he has had time to eat and rest, and do some of his own stuff, of course – he is perfectly happy to take charge of some childcare and household tasks, and doesn’t see that as a burden. There is a novelty in that to him, because it’s a change from what he has been doing all day and all week.

Would you go into the kitchen late in the evening and start cooking? I wouldn’t, because by late evening I have seen enough of the kitchen for the day. But my husband is often inspired to cook or bake after he has come home from work, or on Fridays. For him, it’s recreation, not a chore. Also, often I’ll have tired, squabbling kids in the evening, but the moment there’s a knock on the door, they run swift as the wind to open and are so good and happy when they are around their father. Why? Because we all benefit from a change. The children, too.

I realize there are also single mothers (and often not by choice) out there. My heart truly goes out to them and I hope they, too, find the right healing balance for themselves and their children.

Choosing a dairy animal

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Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time probably know that I’m itching to get to milking again. And I have faith that G-d will eventually lead us down the path to further food self-sufficiency and sustainability, which will include keeping dairy animals.

Do you dream of having your own delicious milk, cheese and yogurt as well? Do you keep, or plan to keep, goats or cows? Are you struggling to choose between the two? Read my latest Mother Earth News post for more insight.

“This is a question many homesteaders seriously grapple with when they consider getting a dairy animal. Goats or cows? Cows or goats? There is no one clear-cut answer for all, but rather, many points to be considered while you make the decision about what kind of dairy animal is the right one for you.”

PS: Today, my thoughts are with my American friends as I remember September 11-th. The world is with you. Let’s not let evil get the upper hand.

What is enough? Thoughts about spending and debt

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We’ve been staying with my Mom for the last couple of days, and like many times before, I find myself stricken by the contrast between our life and the life of people in town, if only an hour ‘s ride or so away.

My kids are very unused to being cooped up in an apartment 24/7, so naturally, I go out with them a lot. Luckily, there are many beautiful parks in the area where they can run, jump, swing, climb, and take out all their seemingly boundless energy.

One thing that really struck me every time we go out is how much people buy. It seems that possibilities to spend money are endless – clothes, toys, books, any kind of stuff you can imagine, as well as eating out. I hardly know what to think when I see a waitress moving forward with a tray that probably costs as much as we spend on food in a week.

I must be honest, and can’t say the only thing I’m thinking is, “sheesh, how much money are they throwing out, these mindless spenders!” Sometimes I feel a pang of envy, wishing that I, too, could just sit down and order a meal in a cozy cafe without comparing its cost to my grocery budget; or whip out a credit card, walk into a store, and buy heaps of clothes – things that smell beautiful and new and that had been owned by nobody before; and if the size doesn’t fit, why, I can just go to the saleslady and ask for a bigger or smaller one. These are things we have gone totally out of habit of doing, and most of the time I’m not sorry we can’t afford them.

The thing is, judging from statistics on income and poverty, I’m not sure all the people who are caught up in shopping sprees can afford it, either.

Last Shabbat, I participated in a Torah class led by a lady who brought out a variety of very interesting sources, which all seemed to point into one direction, essentially stating that borrowing money and being in debt is wrong from the Jewish point of view, and should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, many people who are not Jewish or even religious at all have come to the same conclusion regardless. The big stumbling block to this principle is, of course, a mortgage, without which buying an apartment is impossible for most Israelis in most parts of the country. When women pointed this out, the lady said that the best compromise she knows of is to take as little a loan as possible and settle for a modest apartment.

Being committed to avoiding debt, we have never taken a mortgage and bought, so far, two houses with cash. They were old and fixer-uppers, and many people would no doubt say they wouldn’t have chosen such a bargain, but I still consider it a good choice. Financial freedom does not come without certain sacrifices.

Would love it if anyone cares to share their thoughts on this.

Late Summer

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August is approaching its middle, and while the days wan steadily shorter, I am looking forward to longer, cooler nights, autumn rains, and the fresh greenery in the landscape that will come with them.

Late summer is always a busy time for me, as I wrap up my spring and early summer garden (and prepare for a second growing season, that will last well into November). Last week, I pulled up my exhausted tomatoes, after having picked the last of the produce, planted some basil, and started more tomato plants indoors. The first spring chicks are almost pullets now, and two of my hens are sitting once more, probably for the last time this season.

The time of the year is turning me into quite a scatterbrain, and concise writing efforts are getting put off for cooler, serener times, but here are two of my latest Mother Earth News posts for your perusal:

Drying Produce – Herbs are one of the easiest things to dry. Simply cut a good-sized bunch, wash it thoroughly, tie by the stems and hang to dry – outside if the weather is sunny, inside if you have frequent rains or live in a very humid climate. In a few days, depending on the weather and humidity level, you should have a bunch of perfectly dry herbs ready to be stored in a tightly sealed glass jar or plastic bag. You can keep them as leaves for tea or crush them into powder for seasoning.

Dealing With House and Garden Pests – Having lived in town for most of my life, I experienced a kind of shock when we married and moved into a little house on a plot of land. The critters that have invaded our premises over the years could form a small menagerie: we’ve had lizards, snakes, black scorpions, giant yellow centipedes, mice, rats, spiders and, of course, a whole host of insects – beetles, ants, woodlice… you name it.