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!

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.

Does Self-Reliance Pay Off?

Not long ago, as I was working in the tomato patch, my 8-year-old strolled over and asked, “why bother growing tomatoes? Buying at the store is easier.”

This is a legitimate question, and one many people much older than her have asked. Why should anyone bother growing their own tomatoes, raising their own chickens, mending their own clothes and repairing their own plumbing? Well, one can easily come up with half a dozen ready answers, such as, “it’s fun”, or “I can grow healthier food in my backyard”, or “I like tinkering with my own stuff”, or “I save money that way”, but at the core, this is a conflict between two basic attitudes; one that is for making more money, which can be turned into goods and services, and another, that is for making do with less money, and meeting more of your needs on your own.

Read more on the topic in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Products and services that are readily available today might not be so in the near future. It is the belief of many wise people that our current economy is not sustainable. I do not have the ability to predict whether we are facing something like the Great Depression in the near future, or simply economical fluctuations, or even nothing at all – but it’s good to be prepared. In case prices go up and store shelves empty, the people who know how to grow their own food, fix their own roof and make a little go a long way will be a lot more comfortable than those who have become used to a lifestyle of frivolous spending.”

Making Things Last

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Part of living economically is not only the avoidance of unnecessary purchases, but also making things last; by “things” I mean anything you would use long-term – clothes, shoes, appliances – as well as your non-perishable grocery store items, such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, etc.

With clothes it’s really straightforward. We have work/play clothes, which we tend to treat a little more carelessly (and more often than not, we either got them for free or for a bargain), and we have good clothes, such as for Shabbat. Clothes go into the wash because they need a wash, not because they had been worn once. Of course, with children’s clothes, being worn once usually means a wash is in order!..

Doing less loads of laundry means reducing your expenses of electricity, water, detergent, and wear and tear on the clothes and on your washing machine. Line-drying minimizes wear and tear, too, not to mention it also saves electricity.

Good shoes receive regular treatment of shining, oiling and polishing, which makes them last longer. I have a black pair for summer and a black pair for winter, and they are in such condition that I hope they might last years. Of course, for walking, yard jobs and home, I also have sneakers, mud boots, and slippers.

When it comes to non-perishables, I guess disposables should be mentioned. I wish I could say I don’t use disposables, but I will be honest. I do. Sometimes we have friends over and I use paper cups because it’s late at night and I can’t face waking up to a sink full of dirty glasses. Sometimes, when you go out for a picnic, for example, using disposables makes sense. But generally I try to minimize that.

As for other non-perishables, I don’t mean to imply gross things such as that you shouldn’t wash your hair, skip washing your hands, etc. Use what you need – but not more than you need, like the manufacturers of every product would have you do (so that you run out soon and go and have to buy more). Have you noticed the enormous holes they make in toothpaste tubes? If I’m not careful and squeeze just a little bit too hard, half the toothpaste comes out at once.

I used to wash my hair three times a week, and thought I needed it. But then, one winter it was cold and I only washed two times a week, and I noticed that very soon, my scalp adjusted its oil production so that I had the same result as when I washed three times a week. Now I wash once a week, and find it more than enough to keep my hair in good condition. This, obviously, means I use three times less shampoo and conditioner.

It’s important to keep your hands clean, especially when working in the kitchen, but you don’t have to use soap every time. Using too much soap makes your skin dry. When I use detergents – such as for laundry, for floors, for windows, etc – I always use less than is recommended, and the results are very satisfactory. Remember, the instructions on the package are made by people who want you to use it all up and go buy more!

Thrifty finds

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Yesterday our local second hand store threw a huge fair, and I found several nice little dresses for the girls, and one for myself. This morning, up they went on the cheerful sunny clothesline (two leftmost and third on the right). I’m very happy with them. They cost next to nothing, and are of much higher quality than anything I could have afforded to buy new.

Enjoying another nice summer day of homemade lemonade, working in the garden, playing with the baby chicks and hand-feeding Little Pea, our peafowl chick, who now runs to us to get a treat whenever we approach.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the amazing people who were among the first buyers and readers of The Landlord. I know some of the downloads came from the blog readers, and I am truly overwhelmed by your generosity. I hope you will take a few minutes to leave a review once you finish reading – it would mean the world to me.

Stockpiling for sustainability

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If you aren’t stockpiling yet, you definitely should. It saves time on shopping, enables one to take advantage of the best deals, and has the potential to tide one over a tough period. In several instances we have eaten our way through our stockpile, relying heavily on it when times were rough.

Read more on stockpiling in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and barley, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.”