Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tips for Real Food on the Cheap

As promised, here is a list of tips for incorporating real food into your diet even on a budget. This post is a part of Anne Marie (of Cheeseslave) and Kelly's (of Kelly the Kitchen Kop) Real Food Wednesdays. I think this post is a little different than many of the others in this week's carnival, but it's something I've been meaning to write up for a while.

As I mentioned in my last post the first step to changing your diet is to make a prioritized list of what you want to change first. Use that list to determine which of these tips to tackle first. This list is more or less in the order of my priority list, but don't let that sway you and your priorities.

Fats and Oils

Switch to healthy cooking oils and incorporate animal fat into your diet. Vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats and are regularly rancid by the time they get to your kitchen. Source and learn to use coconut oil, lard, bacon grease and ghee for your cooking.

Switch from canola or “vegetable” oil to expeller pressed coconut oil. It does not have the flavor of coconut but is a healthy, saturated cooking fat. Buy and use butter. Pastured or raw butter is amazingly healthy but even store butter is better for you than margarine or vegetable oil. Save and use bacon grease. It adds a lovely smokey flavor to any and all cooking, and is the best for cooking eggs.

Read labels of any store lard before buying it. Every one I’ve seen contains hydrogenated lard and preservatives that are not traditional in any way. Save fat from pork roasts and learn to render your own lard if you can’t find it from a farmer.

Healthy Meat and Bone Broth

Price grassfed meat locally and online. You may be able to find deals, especially if you can buy in bulk. Meat freezes beautifully so this is an excellent option.

Buy bony cuts of meat and save the bones to make stock. Stock, even made from store bought chickens, is full of healthy gelatin and minerals. Save bones, skin and gristle along with vegetable trimmings in the freezer and make stock on the weekends when you have time.
Use your homemade stock to cook rice and beans. The gelatin and minerals make this cost effective vegetarian fare so much more nutritious. And it tastes delicious!

Eggs and Dairy

Buy the best quality eggs you can find. This is the first thing to find from a real farmer, you’ll never go back to store bought eggs again. Free range chickens that eat bugs and growing grass have vastly more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in their eggs. A good breakfast of eggs with bacon or sausage means that you and your loved ones will have the energy to get things done in the morning and not need to eat again until it truly is lunch time.

Learn about raw milk regulations in your state or region. It may be easier to get and/or cheaper than you may have thought.

Look for raw cheese and butter as well as grassfed cheese and butter in stores and online. Organic Pastures just came out with a pastured butter and Kerrygold Irish butter is always from grassfed cows. It's deep yellow color just screams about it's nutrition. Use regular store butter for cooking and as much eating as you can, but get these slightly more expensive products as real, nutritious treats.

Learn to make yogurt, villi, buttermilk or kefir. Culturing even storebought milk restores some of the nutrition that was lost through pasturization. You can use these cultured milk products in the Blender Batter recipes noted below!

Nutritious Plant Foods

Learn to make sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables. Sauerkraut is surprisingly easy to make, costs pennies per serving and goes miles towards improving digestion and overall health. Here are my easy directions for making sauerkraut, and a good article about why lacto-fermented vegetables are so darn healthy. P.S. I’m currently working my way through a quart of apple cranberry kraut made just like the instructions but with the addition of 2/3 of a tart apple, shredded and 1 cup cranberries, quartered, added to the cabbage before fermentation. Wow, so so good.

Master Sue Gregg’s blender batter pancake recipe. This recipe grinds whole grains in your blender with buttermilk, yogurt or kefir and soaks them over night to reduce phytic acid and make the grains more digestible. They can be made with any grain so are easily adapted to gluten free diets, can be made different flavors and can be made in big batches. Once cooked the pancakes or waffles can be frozen and reheated for a quick breakfast or lunch in the future.

Learn to shop seasonally for produce. Yes, this means eating kale and turnips and cabbage in the winter, but it also means eating tomatoes and peppers when they are cheap and taste good. Last summer I bought bell peppers at the farmers market for 5 for 3 dollars and they were delicious! This winter my mom bought one green bell pepper for 99 cents, and it was not very flavorful. It’s too expensive, and it’s just not worth it.

Winter vegetables lend themselves to roasting or creaming. Master the art of oven roasting root vegetables and you will never bemoan the lack of tomatoes in February ever again. Greens like kale, collards and mustard greens are so jam packed with nutrients it’s a crime they are so cheap. Learn to steam-sautee the greens with garlic and your family will thank you.

Learn to do some simple preserving like freezing or making berry jam to save some of the summer harvest. Frozen tomatoes cook up great, and you know exactly where they came from and just how cheap they were.


Watch sugar content and make sure sweets have nutritive value. My general rule is that if a recipe for a non-dessert item has sugar in it, I simply leave it out or at the very least halve the amount. Small amounts of maple syrup or honey can be used, but they certainly aren’t necessary. When choosing sweet treats for your family choose ones that have real food products in them. Ice cream is much better nutrition-wise than white flour cookies, and fruit can be a great dessert. There are lots of recipes for desserts that include nuts, fruit, maple syrup, molasses, shredded vegetables, eggs, milk and other foods that provide actual nutrition, not just empty sugar and white flour calories.

Good luck, and I'd love to hear how any of these tips fit into your kitchen.


  1. Great to see you blogging about food! :)

    All your ideas are good ones to keep costs down. The only thing I can think of to add is to eat out less so you have more money to buy organic and local foods that are healthier anyway.

    Oh, wait, here's another idea - eat your food before it goes bad, so it's not wasted. Also, save your left-overs for another day.

    Now, if I can just convince my daughter to eat left-overs :)

  2. Thanks for your post! These are all great ideas. I was amazed at the number of people who posted to the Carnival with tips instead of recipes. (I posted tips, myself.)

  3. Hey, great new blog! I'm going to bookmark it so I can point people here who are new to WAPF and need help getting going!