It can be pretty frustrating sometimes, as I well know. With scattered employment, I have had to learn how I can stay healthy and well, within a budget.
It’s all very well knowing that quinoa and organic stuff is the best – but sometimes it’s not easy to stretch to that.
So here’s some things I’d like to share, without getting into a bit of a rant about a system that can make it expensive to get brocolli, but easy and cheap to get sugar! (Oops, maybe a *bit* of a rant).
Yeah – I said it. And I actually hate saying this, because I really don’t like non-organic foods and the system that conventional growing employs, and I would love to just always have organic veggies on hand. But sometimes, that can’t happen.
In the last couple of years I’ve had to rely almost soley on buying food to fill my food needs because I was in the process of moving house and didn’t have a garden to tend. So from a food perspective I figured out a few things to keep me nourished.
I found that it’s better just to be relaxed sometimes and simply eat non-organic veggies. Because vegetables are so important! We need them! But there are ways to get the best of both. Some veggies that get sprayed keep a residue of pesticides on them, even when washed, but some don’t seem to hold onto the pesticides and it doesn’t matter SO much if they aren’t organic.
I’ve found this list from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) to be useful to determine foods to eat organic, and foods that you can save on. Check out the ‘Clean Fifteen’ to see which are the best to eat even if non-organic.
If they keep a residue on their skin (even after washing), like apples, strawberries and grapes, see if you can go without or eat organic ones less often.
It’s also clear to me that if I eat in-season crops then I’m going to get more nourishment as they haven’t had to be fertilized and chemically cajoled to grow when they aren’t ready. Do an internet search to check which crops are in season in your locality.
If I eat root vegetables or veg and fruits with thicker skins, then I can relax a bit more even if they are sprayed with stuff as I’ll be peeling the skin off anyways.
If I want leaves and edible skin stuff – then I may splash out on organic for these things, especially lettuces, spinach and apples which I happen to eat a lot of and I don’t want a pesticide build up inside my body thankyouverymuch.
And when I do eat non-organic crops I make sure to wash them thoroughly and may lean towards cooking them rather than eating them raw. But it depends what they are. I like to steam most of my veggies; and as non-organic/conventional veggies aren’t grown in rich soil, then the veggies aren’t rich in nutrition, it’s even more important to keep the nutrients IN. Some people say that roasting locks in nutrients, but I still like to steam as it’s much easier and quicker than roasting, and I think it’s also good for keeping most nutrients in the food. If you can use the water again, then that’s a great way to keep the nutrients hanging around for longer – as water can take away nutrients. Freezing steam and boil water for soup or stock, or using it to boil grains and pseudo-grains can be a good way of recycling those nutrients.
It’s also a good idea to skip huge supermarkets and go to the greengrocers instead. This way you can have a conversation about the food to see where it has come from. It might have been grown quite near to you. (Although, not necessarily and immediately affecting your health, some crops get flown or shipped around the world for processing before being shipped back to be sold ‘locally’! Might as well have a conversation about that too, if you’re into that sort of thing). It’s cheaper to go to the greengrocers or bulk veggie places as they are selling you unpackaged stuff and that’s always cheaper. Local markets might have local growers who will also sell cheaper groceries and may only sell in season stuff that they have grown without as much chemical help. Potatoes are a wonderfully filling, versatile and cheap veg that gives us that carby hit without going for grains.
But I’m always on the look-out for ways to get cheaper organic veg.
I am lucky to have a CSA – community supported agriculture group near to where I live. And although I haven’t used them yet, I know they are a great way to get organic veggies slightly cheaper than a plastic packed supermarket. These veggies are fresh, seasonal, organic and local. A massive win win. Check out whether you have something similar in your area. The deal is usually to pay a membership fee and then pay for a box a week of mixed veggies. Lots of these farms are run purely on volunteer force and are always looking for some help. If you have some hours, then by helping out you can get some vegetables for free or for cheaper yet.
If you have a local health food store, they are more likely to sell off fruit and veggies that have gone a bit soft, brown and ugly. I sometimes get brown bananas for way cheaper this way, and this makes a wonderful addition to desserts and makes a lovely ice cream, which I can share a recipe with you soon.
For certain stuff – consider growing your own.
For tiny spaces and for novice gardeners, growing salad veggies is an easy way of securing very nourishing food for extremely cheap. Plus they are the crops that really are better when organic.
I’ve gardened almost my whole life, but as I was moving around the last few years – I stopped. And having to constantly buy veggies all the time really takes a financial toll.
When I garden I appreciate that there’s an immediate outgoing cost – for sacks of compost and packets of seeds, mainly. But they can be gotten quite cheap too.
People with horses are always knee deep in their beloved ponies’ muck! And are usually very happy to give away that stuff for free. If you have well rotted manure you can line the bottom of your pots with it, and fill the rest with potting compost. When the seedlings are established their longest roots (and not their delicate little baby roots) will make their way into the composted manure at the bottom of their pots and their new lives will be off to a strong and healthy start – and you’ve saved on sacks of compost too.
A cheap way of getting high quality seed is to find seed swapping events, befriending excitable gardeners or looking for seed clubs online. Buying packs of seeds can add up, surprisingly.
Gardners can get quite over enthused about buying seeds. It’s some kind of spring frenzy that happens whilst holding a plant catalogue at the start of the growing season. I should know, I am one of these seed-aholics!
Over buying seeds + a newbie asking questions = free seeds and advice for the new gardener.
If you have a space, you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, salad leaves, courgettes, and herbs very easily! A huge bonus as these are the things that are really preferable to be seasonal and organic. You can even grow strawberries in a hanging basket right next to the front door. Choose sunny spots and be prepared to spend more time, rather than money. If you have a grassy lawn, may I ask – why? Lawn is wasted space. Dig up that patch and sow seeds!
If you have zero space, consider asking a friend with unused land to borrow some space. Or how about an allotment? Some can be found very cheap and it’s possible to share plots with friends too. I like that gardening and community grow together.
I think that life and diet should be absolutely rammed stuffed full of veggies. The more raw they are – the more filling they are. That’s been my experience anyways. Do you know how long it takes to eat one lone raw carrot? 20 minutes! Ok, well it takes me 20 minutes to eat a raw carrot. I mean, that’s some MASS right there. If I grate raw vegetables then that is much more veggies in my belly with lots less chewing. All that water and lovely fibre absolutely fills the belly with volume. Also the nutrients are all there in the raw veggies – not lost in cooking, so when you eat raw vegetables you are getting much more nourishment. The brain clocks this and will keep you satiated for much longer than a piece of empty air such as white bread that has pretty much zero nourishment and will raise your blood sugar sky high. A white bap for lunch and you’ll be starving again in no time. Two raw carrots grated with apple and beetroot with a seed, nut, egg, or cheese on top (for protein and more filling power) and you are set with a meal that is cheap, filling and nourishing.
Green smoothies pack a lot of volume down into one glass or bowl. If you keep them thicker, you retain more whole fibre that hasn’t been shredded to smithereens if you were to make a smoothie liquid drink. This way you will easily get a lot of green leaves inside you and a lot of nourishment and filling volume.
Foraging for edible wild greens is another creative way to get some super nutrition for absolutely free. I do love a good forage in the spring and summer and early autumn, but I do so responsibly. I never gather any plants that look to be scarce in that area. It’s also been said that one should have permission before foraging if the plants are on some one else’s land. Also digging up roots is a bit of a no no for wild plants. Also – learn your plants! Don’t just go picking anything and everything. Some serious consequences or major tummy upsets can occur if leaves aren’t picked wisely.
Ramsons (wild garlic) are one of the best early summer wild crops ever. A lush dark green leaf with a white flower that smells of garlic when pressed or torn. Amazing in soup, stemed, or raw in a salad.
Another fantastic green that you’ll find in all common places is the stinging nettle. I put on my gloves in the morning, grab that lovely smelling plant, wash and in to the blender for a morning smoothie. I also like to dry the leaves over a period of time, and then my nettle tea addiction is satisfied! Greens are all around us, and once we get our heads out of the supermarkets we can see there is nourishment everywhere!
GRAINS, FAT, AND PROTEIN.
Moving on from vegetables….
Grains are having a bit of a bad press of late. Yet they have been a belly filling staple for many years. And let’s be logical here- you’ve probably eaten a lot of grains in your life, and if you don’t have a huge problem with them, then it’s not a huge problem for you!
Grains can be difficult when they are eaten every.single.meal. Every.single.day.
If you’re not doing that, then they can be happily included in a varied diet.
Oats, rice, wheat. If you mix them up; oats one day, rice the next, and wheat the next, then you are spreading out that heavy strain on your digestive system.
Breads – If you buy non organic, then you can get more cheaper wholegrain loaves. Look for breads with seeds in them and shop at the end of the day when they may sell for cheap. Sometimes ethnic shops or European cheaper stores carry dark rye and spelt breads complete with loads of seeds and nuts for a decent price. Try to get brown foods and not white – organic or not, they are a good base for a hearty meal.
Another way to get nourishment + bulk is to eat legumes. Tins of legumes can be quite cheap, and they add a something extra to lots of meals (protein, fibre, vits). I also find it easy to cook my own lentils – red being the easiest of lentils to cook. Buying dried legumes like chickpeas, mung beans, borlotti beans etc. is cheaper than tins on the whole because you aren’t paying for water and for the cooking and tinning process.
It’s up to you if you think an hour of cooking chickpeas defeats the point of saving money, if you’re heating stuff like that for hours. But if you have a dusty pressure cooker somewhere, then pull it out as this is where they come into their own. I have a slight fear of pressure cookers – the noise! The steam! But perhaps a better quality one would be a lot more reassuring and does reduce the cooking time.
Fats and Proteins.
Things start to get a bit more expensive at this end. Eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, seeds, and nuts; unfortunately we can’t always grow these things for ourselves so easily, and we can’t process some of these things either.
But as I’m aware of my health, I don’t want to settle for rapeseed oils (called: vegetable oil). This stuff is actually damaging at high temperatures, like when we fry foods.
So here’s what I’ve figured. If I cook differently, I don’t need that much oily stuff. That way I can splash out on the nice stuff (coconut oil) and eat well, but not lose too much money in the process.
I tend to splurge when buying fats – like tahini and coconut oil for example. (The two main fats I eat). I have found that coconut oil lasts for a long time because it seems to hang around the pan quite easily when cooking rather than evaporating away. And a little bit goes a long way as it is sold in solid form and you can spoon up a tiny amount and it melts in the pan. But if you buy sunflower oil you can just get carried away pouring it in the pan and waste much more than what you need.
In a fry pan, I can use a very small amount of fat to get the party started, but once I’ve introduced the herbs I can then just add tiny splashes of water – this then steams/boils the veggies in the pan. With a lid on the pan, all the good stuff (taste and nutrients) isn’t going anywhere and I use a lot less fat.
I always steam veggies and add them into a pan at the end.
Eggs – I do eat eggs now and again these days, simply because my father rears free ranged happy hens (not in any sort of cage) so I know that at least they are having a good life and if I’m going to eat eggs, then those are the ones for me. I do feel on the fence about the ethicality of eating eggs in any instance, I feel that now and again, for the sake of my health, I’ve come to the point where I do want to eat some eggs now and again. I find them very filling, they keep me going for a long time and I load them up with tonnes of veggies.
To get good eggs – you have to splash out. I feel quite firmly about that because if you buy cheap caged eggs, you are voting with your money and saying that that is an acceptable practice to inhumanely rear chickens, and it just isn’t. They are also of poor quality with not many nutrients. I would suggest looking for some friendly gardeners – allotment holders, CSA’s, neighbours or small scale farms. If anyone has some hens just for themselves then they are bound to have eggs in surplus and are happy to give some away for a reasonable cost. Hens that have access to bugs, grass, grit and sunshine will produce better eggs.
Dairy – Again, I find that if I’m going to eat dairy I want to vote with my money and support a better system. One that protects the land I live on. So I can’t really advise on buying cheap dairy other than the splurge now and again route. I don’t eat meat either – so can’t advise on that one. If you do eat meat and fish then it’s up to you what you feel happy to support.
Also on the EWG list – avocadoes don’t retain much pesticide residue. Hurrah! I love avocados. An amazingly healthy fat that is definitely filling and satiating. Greengrocers can sell bags of these quite cheaply.
FASTING AND PLANNING.
Ok – this might get controversial. Or maybe not, as fasting is a growing health phenomenon these days. A fast now and again is very obviously going to save you money, and is actually wonderfully beneficial to health – if done correctly. If you skip a meal, then that’s a meal kept for another day as well as a break for your digestion and a boost to your health. The way I like to fast is to skip a supper now and again – nothing crazy, so don’t worry, maybe once a fortnight, maybe once a month. It’s actually very indulgent to choose to be able to fast. And I appreciate that sometimes the darn cheapest thing to do is to just eat a bowl of breakfast cereal or cheap ready meal. Which brings me to my next point – if we plan, then we can save. Yadda yadda yadda – I bet you’ve heard that before. But it is true afterall. If you make soups and stews and your own rice filled burgers and freeze all these things (which I am hopeless at!) you don’t get caught in a rabbit-in-the-headlights state of having nothing in the house to eat and then HAVING to buy something that seems cheap, but probably isn’t.
Mindset is really important too – hence…
Sometimes I crave raw cocoa, or a huge bag of almonds to make almond milk – but these things get really pricey and I haven’t yet found a way around that other than to simply go without. Sometimes I get caught up in reading amazing recipes online complete with wonderous superfoods like lucuma, bee pollen and maca. But here’s the deal: parsnips, carrots, kale, brown rice, leeks, mushrooms – they are all super! They are packed full of wonderful body loving nutrients that we will thrive on. Seriously.
Fresh, in season stuff – that’s really the best we can get.
I’m going to tie this up here for today and get back to you with PART II shortly, in which I will talk about nourishing ourselves in other ways besides food. Such as nourishing our skin, hair, body and mind!
If you have any tips to eat well and save money whilst doing it, I’d love to hear from you. Share your experiences below!