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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Choosing a Chicken Breed

Our chicken-keeping adventure has lasted for some years now, and during this time we have learned a great deal, met some wonderful new friends with whom we bonded over this common interest, and stopped making a fuss over stepping in bird poop. We have even gained the status of something like chicken experts in our local community; but still, when people ask us, “which breed of chickens should I choose?” more often than not we can offer no better answer than “it depends”.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Whichever breed you choose, make sure you get your stock from a reputable hatchery or private breeder. This is the only way to guarantee you get healthy birds (or fresh, good quality hatching eggs) that come from pure bloodlines. Don’t be tempted by unusually low prices, and shun places where birds are kept in substandard conditions, or are looking sickly.”

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!

The fading summer

A nostalgic post from our old home – a look at our then-garden:

It’s time to take another stroll and feel the strengthening winds of autumn. Pick up some herbs for herb tea…

Look at some of the young trees hopefully awaiting the next season of life and warmth to bear fruit…

And see how the grape vine is waving goodbye with leaves that are falling one by one.

Yes, I know that some of our friends overseas are already shoveling snow, but for us it’s barely fall, and I’m looking forward to cooler weather, rain, and winter flowers.

Women in the IDF: an opinion

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I have read, more than once, articles by people in the US who say, “if the Israeli army drafts women, they must be doing something right, because they’re a darn good army!”

This reasoning is problematic on very many levels.

IDF is really very much the people’s army. Most men (excepting the Ultra Orthodox and, of course, Arabs) serve, as do the majority of the secular women. This is considered a rite of passage, and something most Israelis culturally identify with.

It is worth noting, however, that the idea of “everyone doing their part” is rather based upon old-school communist ideology, the same that instilled children’s homes in the kibbutzim to revolutionize the family unit, an experiment that traumatized a whole generation of children. The IDF is notorious for its ineffective management of human resources – it is commonly known that quite often, women in the Israeli army are assigned office jobs with little value, because there are just too many soldiers in auxiliary positions to dispose of. This leaves many, many young women – and, to tell the truth, many young men as well – in a position of basically killing time (a little less than two years) while they could have worked, studied or started a family. Essentially, the massive draft of women turns into an economic drain, and something that stands in the way of a professional, efficient army.

Israel is, to my knowledge, the only country in the world with an obligatory military service for women. Contrary to popular belief, it is not justified by Israel’s precarious political situation, since advanced technology plays a more important part these days than numbers, certainly more than numbers of soldiers who are superfluous.

This wastefulness and inefficiency, however, is not the worst of it. The feminist agenda of integrating women into combat units which were previously comprised of men only has led to reduced capabilities of said units, and a whole host of problems.

The young women who apply to serve in combat units are often highly motivated and propelled by the best intentions, being little aware of the left-wing agenda that is ready to undermine the army’s capabilities in the name of gender equality.

When it comes to physical performance, it’s a no-brainer, really: women are not as strong as men, on average, and less able to carry heavy loads. The thresholds of acceptance into said combat units have been lowered for the sake of admitting women, which is alarming in itself, but in the moment of truth, men often find themselves performing physical tasks for women who are simply incapable to do what must be done. Nevertheless, the young women are still driven to exertion far beyond their physical capability, sometimes to the detriment of their long-term health.

The second thing one must remember is that the vast majority of Israeli military recruits consists of 18-year-olds straight out of highschool. Put a bunch of teenagers in coed army units, and you get a whole lot of sexual tension, and reduced discipline and unit cohesion.

The third, and very concerning prospect, is what might happen if a woman soldier is taken into captivity. The horrors that would fall to her lot are hardly imaginable (though it is horrifying to think of any soldier in enemy’s hands).

Ultimately, the IDF is supposed to have one single purpose: defending Israel with the utmost efficiency. It’s not a place for social experiments, for gratifying feminists or for indulging individual ambition. If combat units function better when they include men only – and hardly anyone can argue against it being the case – no agendas or prickly egos are supposed to interfere with that.

Furthermore, if a smaller, better managed and more professional army would do better to defend me and my country, I’d take this army any day over a large, clumsily managed “people’s army”.

A lot of people might dispute this, but here is what I, and many others who know far better than I, believe: IDF can do without all its women, and a significant part of its men, with rational management. I believe that such management, and maintaining the safety of Israel, are the only principles that should guide our army.

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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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.