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Growing up in India, the fate of hungry children was a frequent mealtime topic. Anytime that I was picky and refused to eat a vegetable, my grandma was ready with a sermon on how fortunate we were to be eating healthy meals every day.
Upon moving to the United States, it was easy to adapt to a lifestyle of excess. There’s an abundance of vegetables and fruits, snacks for every taste, and cuisines from all corners of the world. Huge grocery carts tempt us to fill them up every time. Watching our spending and learning to save becomes a chore rather than a good habit.
Did you know that, on average, we waste 100 billion pounds of food every year in the United States? This food gets thrown into landfills, producing methane that pollutes the earth 20 times more than carbon dioxide.
The economic crisis, job losses, and hardships of people around us should be a wake-up call to all of us to do more with less. Of course, the one area in which none of us wants to skimp is in providing healthy meals to our families. However, there are smart ways of doing so: buy just what you need, use what you buy, and preserve what you can use later.
Buying Food and Groceries
If you are a coupon clipper, that’s great. But if you are like me and do not have the patience, then here are some other ideas for you:
Go to the farmer’s market toward closing time, when the prices drop, and you get a better deal. If you aren’t offered a lower price, just ask.
Make friends with the closest butcher, to get the best deals on expensive meats.
Chinese markets are great for fresh fish and chicken, they are cheaper than wholesale markets, and they offer much better quality. Go early in the morning.
Seasonal cooking will bring down your costs. You get to try new vegetables, cook new dishes, and save money. For instance, this is the season for asparagus.
I chop vegetables like beans and cauliflower and put them into reusable Ziploc bags to be used over the next two days. This saves time and waste.
School and Work Lunches
An average school lunch is about $2 per kid. While it’s cheap, you can offer something comparable in cost that is much healthier for your child. Work lunches cost from $7 to $10 each day if you eat out, unless you eat a $0.99 burger and run up your cholesterol.
Toasting bread slices for a sandwich keeps it from becoming soggy.
Get a small soup thermos in which you can keep pasta or a burrito warm.
Designate a steel fork and spoon for school with the name of your child.
Buy chips in big economical packs, rather than small individual packs. Pack the chips in a Ziploc bag for lunch.
At work, start a home-cooked luncheon club. Book a conference room next to your office kitchen. Send out a notice asking your team to bring lunch from home at least 3 days a week. You all save time and money, network, and eat healthy.
There are two ingredients commonly used in our kitchens that often get wasted: herbs and bread.
Herbs: Fresh herbs have a very low shelf life. Basil leaves turn black in a few days after picking. Wrap herbs in paper towels and place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Extra herbs can be dried in the following ways.
Thick stemmed herbs like basil and rosemary can be bunched together, suspended inside a brown paper bag, and secured to the top of the bag with an elastic band. Store in a dark place.
If the herbs are washed, place them on a tray lined with paper towels, cover, and keep in a dry shady place. Make sure to turn the leaves for even drying. Use these dried herbs to make herbed bread crumbs, in soups and sauces.
Bread: Breads can be frozen. Cover an extra loaf with saran wrap and keep it in the freezer. Baguettes harden quickly. Wrap them in saran and store in a cool place, where it stays soft.
Herbed Bread Crumbs
Use any old dry bread and crust. Hardened baguettes are great for crumbs.
Dry the bread by slicing it and placing it in a warm oven (170ºF) for 10 minutes. Blend in a mixer to a coarse powder.
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dry basil
1 teaspoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon dry thyme
salt, to taste
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container in the freezer. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of casseroles, au gratins, breading meats, and fish.
Potato Au Gratin
Store potatoes in burlap bags. Do not keep them with onions. The following recipe is a quick and easy way to use potatoes. This gratin can be modified by using low fat milk, leftover cooked potatoes, vegetables, extra cheese, and fresh herbs.
1 pound of Yukon gold potatoes, sliced into thin 1/8 inch slices
1 cup heavy cream
half a white onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 cup herbed bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese butter for the baking pan
salt and pepper, to taste
Press the cloves into the half onion. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan with the onion and bay leaf. Butter a baking pan and layer the thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the cream comes to a boil, remove the onion and bay leaf and slowly pour it over the layered potatoes. Let it sit for half an hour, covered.
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Mix the herbed breadcrumbs with parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs mixture over the potatoes and cover with foil. Place in the warm oven for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Remove the foil and let bake until the top is golden brown. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes, then serve.
I make these with leftover dal. Add fresh cilantro and atta (wheat flour) to cooked dal, and make a dough by adding a little water and salt to taste. Roll it out with dry flour and shallow fry on a pan with oil/ghee. Serve warm as an evening snack for kids.
|Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She was Associate Chef at Green’s Restaurant, San Francisco. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com|