The Kenwood Press
: 10/15/2010

Food budgeting

Tricia O'Brien

How can you eat healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables while trying to make ends meet? Itís a question that our mothers and grandmothers battled with in their own tough economic times. Does eating well have to mean cutting back on good, fresh food? I donít think so, but there might be some rearranging you will have to do so you donít break the bank. Here are some tips for the budget minded.

Eat produce that is in season and locally grown, and avoid buying anything that is not. Food that is in season costs less, and the bonus is that it tastes so much better.

Try to buy less. When my household shrunk down to just the two of us, I was initially buying too much. Now, with a couple years of adjustment under my belt, IĎve got it down. I donít like food waste, so I make sure that we have eaten most everything before going out to eat, or buying fresh supplies.

If you can make it yourself, do. This is a good philosophy. Some sauces or condiments might seem difficult, but taking the time to learn a few things brings big rewards. Better tasting pesto, jam, and tasty tomato sauce is not only cheaper to make yourself than purchasing the processed version, but it gives you the reward of knowing where it came from and how it was prepared. If you canít make it yourself, look for discounts on your favorite brands.

Eat more vegetarian meals or use protein sparingly by not making it the main focus of the meal. Think about Asian dishes and how meat is chopped up or shredded into a dish and used along with vegetables, rather than serving a large stand-alone piece of meat. This method will extend the meat into more than one meal as well.

Make meal plans and lists, and stick to them. Taking along a list not only ensures that you get everything that you really need, but you will save money as well.

Buying certain pantry items on sale and keeping them on reserve will allow you some cooking versatility. My pantry is stocked with vinegars, olive oil, chicken stock, roasted peppers, canned tomatoes, kalamata olives, tuna, capers, canned and dried beans, and so forth. Grains like risotto, farro, pastas, polenta and couscous will keep for several months in a dry dark cupboard. Having a variety in your pantry enables you to put together a dish on the fly or after a long day at work. The fresh seasonal ingredients then become the highlight of the dish.

Instead of following a recipe to the letter, think about what is in your fridge and what you can substitute that is on hand. Itís in my fridge, therefore it must be usedÖthat is my motto. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing after you get home, that you had what you went to the store to buy, but it was tucked away and out of sight. I canít tell you how many times I have done that! So, organize your fridge. It is crucial.

Budgeting doesnít have to feel like you are giving something up. If you are organized and use what you have on hand, you might be surprised how fun it is to cook and eat healthy meals on a budget!

A Salad for All Seasons

This salad is one of my standards and I never get tired of it. Itís great in fall, but with fresh peaches, it can make a beautiful late summer salad. Try it with a little fresh basil or mint thrown in.

1 large bunch of fresh Spinach leaves
1/2 large Onion, thinly sliced and carmelized
1 handful toasted Pecans
3 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola or goat cheese
1 sliced Apple or Peach, skin on
2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar
1/3 cup Olive Oil
3 TBS White Balsamic Vinegar
juice of Lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

To make the vinaigrette, start by adding the vinegar, salt and pepper and lemon juice to a small bowl. Whisk together and slowly add the olive oil until it has emulsified. Adjust taste. If too acidic, add a tsp. sugar.

Wash the spinach and spin or towel dry. Slice the onion, sautť in olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar and let cook another 5 minutes or so, until the vinegar is cooked off and the onions are soft. Let cool. Toast the pecans in a warm skillet or oven for about 7-8 minutes, watching closely so they donít burn. Slice the apple or peach just before assembling the salad, or drizzle lemon juice over the top, so it doesnít brown.

Assemble all of the ingredients and toss with the vinaigrette right before serving. Crumble the cheese over the top.

Serves two.