Food and Frugality

I live on a budget.  Then again, who doesn’t?  My downfall is that I like to eat well.  When I was a little younger, I had a really great summer job that helped me make double my income from the previous year in just a few months.  By the end of the year, however,  I only had $600 in savings.  Why?  Because I ate all of my surplus income. No joke.  At one point, I realized I had spent $600 on food in just one month.  No kids, just me and my husband and whomever we wanted over for a barbeque every weekend.

Unfortunately, that splendor has ended and I’m back on living paycheck to paycheck, salivating over when I will finally get to finish up my degrees and get a real job.  I do pride myself on buying well-rounded meals and food and doing it now on merely $60 a week. Below is my typical shopping list for the beginning of the week.  I usually try to hit the store only once a week to keep me from spending more than I should.  My saving grace has been my Costco card, where I can buy most of my foods in bulk and save a bundle on food costs.

Here we go:
I almost always buy bananas.  I love them because they are versatile, good energy, a great source of potassium (goodbye leg cramps) and uber cheap (NutritionData 2012).  I can usually find the organic bananas at my local Sprouts for only 69 cents a pound.  If they start to turn brown before I can finish them off, then I freeze them and use them in protein shakes and fruit smoothies.

Image provided by  The Church of the Banana

I try to stock the kitchen with at least 2 fruit options and while bananas are usually the first on the list, my second choice is usually determined by what has the best sale going.  This means, seasonal fruit.  Most fruit isn’t in season in the fall and winter so I often go for the frozen varieties.  Frozen fruit often has just as much nutritional value as its fresh counterpart, sometimes even more so because the nutrients don’t deteriorate as quickly during shipping (Alice 2010). Not to mention that frozen fruit is often cheaper.
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My favorite way of using up frozen fruit is by making whole wheat, flax pancakes and topping them with homemade syrup.
Just add about 1/2 a cup of fruit to a pan with 1 tablespoon of water and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar.
Let it simmer and mash the fruit with a potato masher.
If the syrup isn’t thick enough, add 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch, one at a time, until desired thickness is achieved.

I try to always stock the refrigerator with 4 vegetables.
I like to have salad, long-lasting and nutrient dense veggies on hand.

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Light vegetables are salad fixings.  These include lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, sprouts, bell peppers and sugar snap peas.
Long-lasting vegetables are usually the type that either don’t need to refrigerated or last longer than light veggies in the fridge.  They are often root vegetables.  These include winter squash, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, corn, beets, radishes and turnips.
Finally, I have nutrient dense veggies. Vegetables that fall under this category are kale, chard, collards, or peas.
Keep in mind, this is by no means a comprehensive list.  Many of the vegetables fall under both categories but you get the picture.

I will usually buy either 4 veggies from the salad fixings list or 4 veggies from both the long-lasting and nutrient dense list.  I typically buy more vegetables that need to be cooked during colder weather and salads during warm seasons.  I do like having some of the salad veggies on hand for snacks, however, and again, I am influenced by what is on sale.  I can often get tomatoes for only 99 cents a pound from Sprouts and can find winter squash for only 88 cents a pound in the fall.    I don’t like buying too much of a variety of vegetables because when I do, some often get wasted.  I like simplicity in my meals and can appreciate having less to choose from.

By the way, I am very influenced by color.  I like buying red onions instead of white onions simply because they add more color to a meal.  If I buy tomatoes and bell peppers, I will often buy the orange ones instead of the red, to give more variety to dishes.  This is also important for getting a variety of nutrients in.  Different colors mean different nutrients.

Image provided by  She has a great rainbow vegetable pasta salad on her site, you should check it out!

I like to always have 3 forms of protein in the house.  My priorities are one form of fish, one type of nut and one lean meat.
I get these wonderful salmon patties from Costco, that wind up only being $5 a pound.  Tuna is my other fish that is often only 69 cents a can, if I catch them on sale.  Ono fish is also often on the cheap side and in my opinion really is the chicken of the sea.  It is very meaty and doesn’t have too fishy of a flavor to it.  Although you want that fishy flavor because of the oils, it is still an excellent source of lean protein.

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My favorite nuts are cashews and walnuts.  My husband is a Brazil and Pine nut junky.  We do have to be careful when we buy them because it is really easy to eat 4 handfuls and consume about 400 calories in less than 10 minutes.  They are an excellent source of good fats and protein, however, so we like keeping them on hand as snack food.  We just have to limit ourselves and practice some self restraint.  I often buy a bulk bag once a month of walnuts that I keep in the freezer.  They last a while, and if they do begin to get that freezer burn flavor, I simply use them in cooking instead.

My lean meats consist of ground turkey, eggs, and chicken.  All of these are very versatile.  We have a fantastic rotisserie machine that we use to rotisserie whole chickens.  This is wonderful for a number of reasons.  Whole chickens are much cheaper than pre-prepared breasts.  Slow cooking the chicken makes it incredibly tender and delicious.  I can boil the whole carcass afterwords and make a whole lot of chicken stock for later.
I don’t often eat red meat because it tends to be the wrong kind of fatty.  However, we do occasionally splurge on a red meat like bison, lamb or steak.  We have had the rare privileged of eating wild boar, antelope, venison, dove and even squirrel.

I haven’t forgotten the importance of beans for protein, but I have them categorized instead under grains and legumes.

Three grains need to be stocked in the house at all times.  I usually buy them in bulk and store them in jars.  My staples usually include: oatmeal, rice, quinoa, bread, tortillas, lentils, pinto beans, flax, whole wheat flour.

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By the way, have any of you seen those little rice weevils that come and multiply in your rice bag?  I haven’t never found a reliable source, but can say from experience, that they don’t like Bay leaves.  I always throw a few into my rice bag and haven’t spotted any weevils in years.  Just a neat little trick to keep your rice clean.

You must already know how much I like beans and lentils.  I can buy a 5 lb bag of pinto beans from Costco for only $12 and it is enough to last me quite a while.    My husband and I typically go at least 1 dinner eating only beans instead of meat.  Beans provide enough protein on their own that supplemental protein from meat isn’t necessary.  In fact, eating too much protein can exacerbate any gas you would get from eating the beans themselves.  Just make sure to couple your meals so that you receive a complete protein. makes suggestions for coupling foods under its amino acid profile.  Beans with rice.  Lentils with corn.  Et Cetera.

Oils are very important.  Again, I buy in bulk.  I have a large tub of cold pressed, organic coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and an olive oil, grapeseed, canola oil blend.  I usually don’t have to buy any oil for 6 months out of the year because I always have such a stockpile.

Another very important addition to my oils is the avocado.  I once did a diet analysis for a whole year and discovered that most of my nutrient deficiencies could be remedied by eating just one avocado a day.  They can be used in so many ways, even in smoothies.

Oftentimes, I have only the choice of overly ripe avocados and hard-as-a-rock ones.  I learned a trick for this as well.  Storing bananas and avocados next to one another will cause the avocados to ripen more quickly.  This is because fruits like bananas, tomatoes, mangoes and oranges produce a gas called ethylene which promotes ripening (USDA 1999).  Any fruit which comes into contact with this gas will also ripen as a result.  Since I always have bananas in the house, I usually just grab the rock hard avocados and store a few next to the bananas and a few at a distance.  That way I can eat them at different times, rather than all at once.

If you aren’t much of  a dairy person, be certain to supplement your calcium in some other way.  It is true that many vegetables contain a great deal of calcium; however, it isn’t as readily available to the body as dairy calcium is.

According to, “Calcium-rich foods are best absorbed when they are accompanied by protein and foods or supplements with high levels of magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D which significantly increase the absorbency of calcium into your body.”
Be certain to couple your calcium-rich foods well to ensure that calcium isn’t wasted.
I like my dairy and often try to have at least 2 on hand.  I love yogurt and nearly always have a tub in the fridge.  I buy low-fat, plain yogurt and add fruit or honey as a natural sweetener.

We rarely buy cheese, but it is an occasional indulgence.  We do like to buy a local milk though.  We can get raw, unpasteurized milk by purchasing a share in one of our local farms.  You cannot legally sell unpasteurized milk but by buying a share in the production and care of the cows and goats, the farmers provide you with farm fresh milk in exchange.  It’s a wonderful system and the raw stuff tastes like ice cream!  You can make your own homemade butter as well.  There’s nothing like it.

I do have a ridiculous sweet tooth sometimes and my favorite treat is Adele’s ice cream.  It has the creamiest, richest flavor and lowest-ingredient list of any ice cream I have ever had.  It’s silly good.

I nearly forgot to mention that I grow my own Kombucha.  I love it and love my little friend.  I brew a variety of teas from Mate and Black to Ginger and Lavender.  It is great for digestive health and certainly makes me feel healthier for having it around.

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Anyway, so here is a quick summary of my shopping list goals for the week.
Fruit – 2
Veggies – 4
Protein -3
Grains & Legumes – 3
Oils – 2
Dairy – 2
I often have some foods already in stock so don’t wind up buying all of these at once.  This is just my storage goals.  We do pretty well on this list and I can often eat a variety of healthy meals throughout the day when I stick to it.  Hope this was informative and helpful to all those out there eating on the cheap.   Take care!
Works Cited

NutritionData.  “Bananas, Raw”. Accessed November 10, 2012 from
Alice, J.”Frozen Fruit Nutrition”. (2010)
Moon, U. “Calcium in Vegetables & Fruit”. (2011)

USDA. “Ethylene” (1999)


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