You Can Eat Well for Less
“WITH prices what they are today, I just don’t know what to feed my family anymore.” Do those words sound familiar? Do they echo your sentiments? Many housewives find they can no longer purchase foods they once did and still stay within their budgets. The reason is that food prices throughout the world have risen so much in the last decade. And in the United States more than one third of the increase between 1964 and 1968 was due to a 15-percent rise in meat, poultry and fish prices.
Many are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The current plight of the American consumer has received a great deal of attention and many are the proposals to arrest the hike in food prices. Despite various steps taken on federal or local levels to protect the interests of the consumer, it is finally up to the average housewife to achieve savings on her own. She knows just what areas she can cut down without jeopardizing the family’s health. To achieve this goal she must know which foods are essential for their health and which they can do without.
Basic requirements for adequate nutrition may be roughly divided into four groups:
(1) Meats and substitutes for meat, embracing eggs, cheese, nuts, soybeans, and so forth.
(2) Bread, flour and various cereals (grains).
(3) Milk and milk products.
(4) Fruits and vegetables in as great a variety as possible.
For those who do not relish drinking the recommended two to three cups of milk per day for adults and three to four cups for children, it can be used in other forms. It is recommended by nutrition experts that housewives plan their menus around such basic requirements to ensure that their families eat the right foods.
How to Cut Meat Prices
Knowing which foods are essential is important. But if the average housewife is to cut her food expenses to any appreciable degree, she must first start with meat—usually the highest item in her food bill. She can watch for specials in the newspapers and build her menus around the meat bargains of the week. Perhaps it will be advantageous to buy liver and lower-cost cuts of meat such as rump, neck, flank, chuck or bottom round. Rib chops are relatively inexpensive. Blade shoulder steaks are even more economical. Ham shank is just as flavorful as ham butt, yet much less expensive.
The redeeming feature is that these cuts are just as high in food value as the more expensive ones. The only difference is that more care must be taken in cooking them, since they may be less tender. Tongue is another money saver. When braised in an aromatic sauce and properly garnished, it is delicious, and yet is often only half the price of beef!
Low-cost meat, however, is not always economical. Sometimes it contains much inedible waste. So, in comparing the basic cost, it is best to figure out the cost per serving. A pound of ground chuck, for example, may provide four servings. If it costs 69 cents a pound, that means about 17 cents a serving. How does that compare with some other item?
Foods That Satisfy
Once it is appreciated that meat is not the only protein, there can be a start at some real economizing. There are other foods rich in protein, but for best results they need to be prepared and served with special care so that they will be both inviting in appearance and delicious to the taste.
Fish is one of those protein foods, and in some areas it can be obtained at low cost. A great variety of fish foods are now available in ever-increasing supply—mussels, scallops, periwinkles, sea urchins. They can be baked, planked, pan- or deep-fat-fried, poached or steamed, whichever method brings out the best in each one. Are you keeping your eye on the fish market?
The egg is another satisfier that is a complete protein. It, too, can be prepared in a variety of ways—from the hard-boiled egg to the exquisite soufflé. No wonder it is so popular!
Some foods, though not being complete proteins such as eggs, still contain valuable protein. These foods, such as peas, navy and lima beans, are often called “incomplete” proteins because they do not contain as many of the essential amino acids. Lentils are another example. They, combine with many foods to provide satisfying yet inexpensive dishes.
The fact of the matter is that not every meal needs to be a high-protein one. There are other dishes that are quite satisfying. The humble potato is an example. It is astonishing the number of ways it can be prepared and served up in tasty dishes, alone or in combination with other foods. If a cook runs out of ideas in this regard, she may be able to compare notes with her neighbors. Then there is also rice. White rice and brown rice offer plenty of scope, and can be cooked either as a potato substitute or as dessert. It all depends on what seasoning or flavoring is added.
There are many more one-dish meals that can provide satisfying meals: macaroni, spaghetti and tomato sauce, stuffed eggplant, chicken chow mein, stuffed green peppers, to name but a few. True, these present a challenge to the skill of the cook, for they are often expected to rival the meat dish in appeal and taste. But the effort is well worth while, for it will add variety to your menus while also cutting costs.
Shopping Takes Skill
Are you a skillful shopper? Do you know what to buy, where to buy, and, most important, when to buy? It is a skill that can be acquired, and there are many aids. Food specials are usually advertised by radio, TV and in the public press. If you can obtain at a saving items you use frequently, it is worth while to purchase an extra quantity, as long as there is no problem as to storage. But make sure that you do not involve yourself in extra travel cost that can easily wipe out any gain from buying at a bargain price. It is best if you can find a place that is close to home where food bargains can be had.
The first thing the wise shopper will do, before leaving home, is to check the pantry shelves and make a list of items that are running low. In this way the housekeeper will be buying necessary things. It will tend to prevent compulsive buying, or running up a large bill for items that are not really essential.
It is good, too, to get into the habit of reading labels. Said one housewife: “Although I’ve been shopping for years, I’ve only recently become label-conscious. Now I’m not influenced any more by deceptive sales slogans. Now I read the labels to see what I am actually getting before I buy, and it makes a big difference.” The labels should tell the ingredients as well as the quantity or weight. A little mental arithmetic should determine whether it is more economical to buy the small or the large can of some commodity.
Some supermarkets offer their own private-label foods at a lower price than nationally advertised brands of the same products. Why not try these private brands sometime? You may find them to be of just as good quality as those that are so cleverly promoted on billboards or by TV and radio. Indeed, in some cases it will be the identical product retailed under different labels.
And while we are on the subject of labels, another matter for consideration by the judicious shopper is the cost of packaging. Some food products are dressed up in special containers, the cost of which is passed on to the purchasing public. To be practical, it pays to be more concerned about the product itself than about the way it is packed, no matter how attractive it looks.
Also to be kept in mind is the use you are going to make of your purchase. If the item is canned tomatoes, there are top-quality brands as well as those of lesser quality. However, if the tomatoes are to be used in soup or spaghetti sauce, high quality is not a must. The difference in quality may be that one lacks the high color of the other, or one brand has more whole tomatoes than the other.
The time to buy such perishables as fruits and vegetables is important. To buy these just because they appeal to the eye, and regardless of season, can involve unwarranted expense. It should be simple to find out the plentiful season for each item, the season when they can be bought for less. True, one can buy frozen fruits and vegetables, but can it be done at a reasonable cost?
The wise shopper will also take into account the waste factor when purchasing fruits and vegetables. Of the total volume, in any purchase, how much will be thrown away? This is important in determining the real cost. And another point worth giving some thought to: Is it really necessary to throw away so much of the peelings and trimmings of vegetables and potatoes? When cutting raw celery for the table, for example, could the less attractive cuttings be saved in a plastic bag and used later for soup or salad?
The shopper might also ask herself, Am I in a rut when it comes to purchasing vegetables? There is a wide range to choose from, and most of them are excellent for salad-making. Consider, for instance, some of these: finocchio (or sweet fennel), kale, French endive, mustard greens, escarole, chicory and watercress. And in the case of lettuce, it should be kept in mind that those dark green outer leaves, often foolishly discarded, are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Meals to Stimulate the Appetite
A good cook can make the simplest of meals a delightful experience, for she knows that color, form, flavor and arrangement of the food can have a powerful influence on the eater. So, she gives attention to such items as herbs, spices and garnishes. A little extra thought and a few more minutes in preparing an attractive meal can make the difference.
The color factor in the finished meal can have a great deal of influence. A dish of meat that is a drab brown can be livened up with tomatoes, beets, carrots or broccoli. Radishes will add a flash of color to the salad. The attractive appearance of the food stimulates the taste buds and renders the meal more enjoyable.
Spices and flavorings, used moderately, can enhance the enjoyment of the meals and add to the variety of your dishes. And speaking of variety, it is good to try out new recipes from time to time. Take the potato, for instance. It has been said that there are more than 1,500 ways to serve this common commodity. Perhaps many housewives have used no more than half a dozen of these. So there is a big field of adventure here.
Nor is it necessary to cook every vegetable. Besides serving them raw in salads, some of these, such as carrots, onions and celery, can be served fresh. In this form they have more nutritional value than when cooked. Hungry children will gladly nibble on such items between meals.
Skillful use of leftovers is another way to achieve economy without sacrificing taste appeal. With imagination and skill, very popular dishes can be prepared. For example, leftover meat can be chopped quite small and cooked with rice, spiced or seasoned to just the right degree. Leftover mashed potatoes can be panfried the next day.
Love’s Contribution to Good Eating
A loving wife and mother is not merely interested in getting the cooking and serving of meals over in a hurry. She has concern about the health and welfare of the family. When there are school-age children, there is serious effort to stimulate their appetites for plain, nourishing food. Geography lessons could come alive right at the dinner table if dishes popular in faraway lands are worked into the menu from time to time—Russian borsch, Hungarian goulash, Mexican tamales, and so on. Many of these are quite economical too. The housewife will find it to her advantage to experiment and expand the tastes of her regular customers at the table. It will take extra time to watch for food bargains, to make sure that the family are receiving adequate nutrition, to introduce more variety into the menu, to cut down on wastage. But she herself will be relieved of monotony and she will enjoy the satisfaction that she is contributing toward an economy that is so vital in these days of rising costs.
There is one vital factor relative to meals that should never be overlooked or underestimated. It is free and so does not need any shopping. Without it, much of the day-by-day enjoyment of meals would be lost. What is it? The Bible book of Proverbs points it out unmistakably: “Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.” (Prov. 15:17) A pleasant, relaxed atmosphere, founded on love, is the sound basis for healthful eating.