I've heard it said often that it's hard to eat healthily on a budget. One is forced to purchase less expensive cuts of meat, and make lesser protein choices, to meet the constraints of the portion of family income allocated to groceries. This can be even more difficult when food allergies are involved.
Well, first off, let me say that we eat gluten free in our household. We don't have any other restrictions however, so this post is not for families who are dealing with multiple allergies or dietary restrictions.
We do however, loosely follow the menu plans of a well known weight loss guru here in Australia, primarily because we find the menu choices are well suited to our preferences. The plan focuses on quality protein, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and very little in the way of convenience foods and sugary treats. We love it, but for a family, it can be a pricier way to eat.
Over a period of time though, we've found ways to slash our food budget even when following this plan, and incorporate some of our previously 'less healthy' choices, seriously modified, so that they too, can be included.
An interesting point for the budget conscious, is that we've found that often, weight for weight, it is actually less expensive to buy fresh, than tinned or pre-packaged foods, that we'd always considered 'healthy'. That was a revelation.
For example, let's take spicy salami like Chorizo, sliced deli meats like Pepperoni, and mince based meals like rissoles, burgers and sausages.
These are all considered inexpensive family foods as you either need little of them to make a meal, as in Pepperoni on a pizza, putting a patty in a bun for a burger, or tossing Chorizo through a salad or pasta dish. The fact that they're high in fat and salt, is what makes them so tasty, but these factors mean they're also not that good for you. Weight for weight, they are also not always that budget friendly if you do the maths. In terms of filling hungry tummies, protein wins hands down too.
I make my own sausage/spicy meat patties, seen here below, and served on a slice of gluten free bread that's been lightly sprayed with olive oil, pan fried, and settled on a leafy salad, they're as good as any fatty, over salted, unhealthy salami. I hasten to add, that this is not genuine home made salami, which is a far more complex item to replicate. This is simply little rounds of well spiced and seasoned meat, that are a very acceptable replacement when salami is called for. Here's the recipe, Nanna style, in four sentences....
Home made Spicy Sausage (Salami replacement)
Combine leanest beef or turkey mince, with 1/2 teaspoon each Smoky Paprika, dried garlic granules, dried onion flakes, dried Thyme, dried red chilli, a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, and a pinch of salt. Add a generous grind of black pepper. Place the seasoned mince between two sheets of Baking Paper, and roll very thinly with a rolling pin. Dip a round scone (biscuit for my U.S. friends) cutter in flour and removing the top sheet of baking paper first, cut the mince into little rounds. Re-roll the leftover mince as you go, or simply flatten with clean hands, and keep cutting.
This yields an astounding number of these little thin patties (at least as many as you'd slice from a knob of salami or chorizo), and they can be frozen between the sheets of baking paper, then tipped into a ziplock bag for easy storage once frozen. To use, you simply remove them from the freezer, and pan fry them from frozen, as you would Chorizo, salami or any other deli meat. They are less expensive, infinitely healthier, and moist, flavoursome and succulent over a salad, topping pasta, between slices of bread, or atop a salad as seen below. They're also excellent served as Burger chain style cheeseburgers on a small bun with pickle and tomato relish. Scrumptious!
A healthier choice and a further great budget saving on deli meats, can also be made with my poached chicken or Annabels meatloaves.
Whole flat field mushrooms, oven roasted, are a great vegan or vegetarian option for the same type of meal, and again, a meal like this one, served at a café` (where you've had to wait up to 45 minutes for your food) would relieve you of at least $12-$16 of your hard earned cash. All well and good if you have it, but if not...well....
I allow 8 field mushrooms per serve for this one, as they shrink with roasting. We love this for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, and it always leaves the crowds begging for more. Here's that recipe...
Roasted Field Mushrooms with Herby Ciabatta and vegetables
Make a marinade of olive oil, juice and zest of one lemon, one small red chilli deseeded and sliced finely, a pinch of Sumac (a citrusy Middle Eastern Spice), salt and pepper. Marinate the whole field mushrooms for up to 30 minutes, while your oven preheats to 175C fan forced. Roast the marinated mushrooms on a lined tray for 20-30 minutes, then serve atop a salad of rocket (arugula) and tomato wedges. Spray a slice of Ciabatta or other bread lightly with olive oil and pan fry, pressing flat with a spatula to brown well, and serve with the mushrooms, topping with home marinated feta cubes.
Protein is protein, provided you replace a lean protein with a similar one. So when our diet gurus menu plan called for lamb fillets and there were none to be found, they were replaced with easily sourced (and significantly less expensive weight for weight) Pork leg steaks. Similarly, when the menu plan called for Wraps, and we know from long hard experience that the gluten free Wraps are....well....a word that rhymes with Wrap...we replaced that carb with a small quantity of one that is more palatable. Therefore, lamb and salad wraps with minted yoghurt, becomes pork steak and pasta salad with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan.
Pork, Pasta and Parmesan Salad
For each three persons, allow two lean pork steaks, pan frying these for 6 minutes on one side, 2 on the other, then setting aside to rest for a couple of minutes while you assemble the rest of the salad. Cook pasta spirals (just a small handful per person) to al dente`, and cut up two lettuce leaves and 10 cherry tomatoes per person, slicing the cooked pork into thin slivers while you're at it. Toss well with fresh parsley and sliced shallots, adding the Parmesan as a garnish. Serve with a fresh lemon wedge on the side. Lip smackin' good, I tell you.
We eat (and the diet guru recommends) a lot of chicken breast. Fortunately we love chicken breast so this is not a hardship in any way, but finding new and inventive ways to serve it can be challenging. When the guru called for chicken baked in tinned tomatoes and Mozzarella, and we had no tinned tomatoes or Mozzarella, I knew I could do better.
Italian Chicken with Vegetable Medley and Cherry Bocconcini
Cut one chicken breast in half lengthwise to yield two thinner fillets, and allow one fillet per person. Line a baking dish or pie dish with diced vegetables (I used celery, capsicum, and onion), and top with the chicken fillets. Embellish with more capsicum and cherry bocconcini, and dust with Oregano, Thyme and Basil. Bake in a preheated 175C oven for 25 minutes.
Watch out...shot coming up of one kitchen bench that has NOT been carefully styled....you've been warned....
Watch out...shot coming up of one kitchen bench that has NOT been carefully styled....you've been warned....
I top this one with my Roasted Field Mushrooms too. You can never have too many yummy oven roasted mushrooms, I say!
Often a high protein snack is called for, and tinned tuna and tinned or smoked salmon, seem to be a repeating theme for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Rather than buying the tiny single serve tins of tuna and salmon, you may find as I have, that buying salmon fillets and pan frying them, again weight for weight, is a good option. I regularly snap up fresh salmon when it's marked down, or on special, pan fry it immediately upon getting home, and store it in sealed containers in the fridge, for a ready addition to scrambled eggs, to have on toast or as a snack salad as seen below, where I've combined just one third of a freshly pan fried Salmon filet, with rocket and avocado for a delicious mid afternoon snack that leaves a Tim Tam and a coffee for dead. Well for me, at least.
You might be surprised to know that my two fresh salmon fillets, snapped up at Aldi yesterday for $6.50 for a 500gm tray, work out to be far less expensive than those tiny tins of salmon at $2 for 125gms. Weight for weight, that's $1.62 for 125gms fresh salmon, as opposed to $2-$3 for the tinned. An eye opener, right? And before you get all squeamish about buying marked down salmon (or anything for that matter), what do you think happened? Do you really think that one minute it was 'fresh' and the next minute it was 'off'? Please. These things are dictated by the 'use by' or 'best by' date. To be on the safe side though, it's always good policy to cook or freeze them immediately upon getting them home. Common sense, friends. Common sense.
And of course, when we've been sooooo good all week, and eaten healthfully, exercised and generally behaved ourselves, if we're going to have a treat, it's gonna be a good one. Like my home made berry jam and home made clotted cream, on a piece of gluten free toast. Yum. Lavish and mouthwatering and infinitely better than any bought treat. Sorry. It's the truth.
Now all of this looks like an expensive option, doesn't it? It might surprise you to know that my budget, for all meals and snacks is $65 per person, per week. So if it's my husband and I and our daughter is away (as she is for a week soon), I'll spend around $130. If she's home it's closer to $180. But remember, that's ALL meals and snacks and treats. It's a healthy diet, serving restaurant quality meals (or at least up market café` quality) meals, filled with good quality protein and lashings of fresh fruit and vegetables, AND it keeps us trim (well, trim-er than we've been in the past!), and energetic, rather than slow and sluggish. It's worth spending that smidgen more just for that alone.
This week, I can say that if we'd eaten out for each of the meals I've served, as we would perhaps on an overseas holiday, we'd have been looking at a bare minimum of $135 per day for the three of us, or $945 for the week. And that's a very conservative estimate. When we've been overseas, we've had days where we'd spend twice that depending upon where we were.
If we'd eaten similarly but used convenience foods and processed meats, I'd have spent around $45 per day for the three of us, or $315 for the week, and again, that's a very conservative figure.
By eating at home, replacing one good protein for another, but doing so with an eye to the budget, and as always, preparing as much as possible myself, as well as replacing out of season fresh produce with ones in season, I've spent just $178. No it's not a rock bottom figure, but it's pretty darned good.
That's a saving on an 'eating out' budget of $767, and a saving on a 'convenience food' menu of similar quality, of $137.
It just goes to show what a difference choosing wisely can make to the budget and your health. Certainly comparing a quantity of tinned or processed food, with a similar quantity of a like-for-like fresh food, can be a real eye opener in itself!
Be creative and see what healthier options you can come up with for your family menu and budget. You might surprise yourself!
Just a reminder that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a never ending linkup, with a featured blogger each and every time I post.
Todays featured blogger is Nicki over at Sweet Parrish Place. Nicki is a talented DIY-er and in the spirit of making do and making things your own, I thought it appropriate to feature her fabulous Pallet Bar....
Do pop over and visit Nicki. Her blog is full of clever ideas! Thanks Nicki!