Archive | food RSS feed for this section

#881 Halloween Savings: How To Save 50% On Halloween Candy

22 Oct

This money saving tip takes planning and patience. And a secret stash hideout that no one can find.

Step 1: Hit the post-Halloween 50% off sales on candy on November 1. (The earlier you hit them the better the choices.)
50% off halloween candy discount

Step 2: Check the expiration date to make sure the candy will be good NEXT Halloween. Check… (I did indeed buy this candy and plan this post a year ago…)
halloween candy expiration date

Step 3: Sample a few… just to make sure they’re good.
halloween candy lemonheads

Step 4: Stash the candy in a cool, dry place where NO ONE will find the secret cache.

Step 5: Hand out candy when next year’s Halloween rolls around. Sample a few just to make sure they’re still good (they are!). No one is the wiser as you hand out the candy. Repeat yearly.
halloween candy in hand

 

Bonus: You don’t have to shop for candy last minute.

It has to be Halloween candy because many candies that are not usually individually wrapped are individually wrapped for handing out. Other holidays have themed candy that makes it obvious that you are handing out the wrong holiday’s candy.

Alternatives to handing out candy to massive amounts of ungrateful children:

Keep your house dark and hope no one comes by.

Hide in the bushes with a really scary costume and jump out to scare people away.

Personally, being cheap on this one is easier than the previous two. You can still enjoy the holiday and it eliminates my pet peeve that holiday candy is always 50% off after the fact. Well, I just solved that problem for you. You’re welcome. You can use this tip for any holiday. Just don’t let anyone know that it’s your game plan. They probably will tell others to avoid your treats on the holidays. Come on people, sugar never goes bad!

#882 Halloween Savings: Don’t Let That Pumpkin Go To Waste

21 Oct

jack o lanternAfter carving up your Halloween jack o’ lantern, do you:

A. Let it rot on your lawn or doorstep until it is a disgusting heap of orange and black moldy goo.

B. Throw it away.

C. Compost it.

D. Roast it for pumpkin puree.

I pick D.

So this money-saving idea may be bordering on cheap, but I like to think of it as Native American resourceful. As in nothing goes to waste. I thought my mom was seriously cheap and weird when she did this, but then I moved to Europe where they don’t have pumpkin puree in a can. But they do sell pumpkin slices in the grocery store. That’s when I started to roast my own pumpkin, and my mom’s crazy ways seemed a little less crazy.

Please note: Pumpkins go moldy very quickly so this has to be done within 24 hours of carving to be safe. This means, don’t carve the Halloween pumpkin until the day of or day before Halloween. Who really uses a jack o’ lantern for more than Halloween night anyways?

Step 1: Discard the top with the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.
halloween pumpkin and top

halloween pumpkin cut in half

Step 2: Cut the pumpkin into even-sized cubes and trim the dried-out layer. Don’t worry about trimming the rind off, leave it during roasting.

halloween pumpkin cubes
Step 3: Place the cubes on a cookie tray, rind side down, and brush or spray with canola oil. Roast at 350 degrees until a skewer inserts easily into the cubes, about 40 minutes.

halloween pumpkin roasted
Step 4: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then trim off the rind with a butter knife and place soft cubes in a bowl. Mash to desired consistency. Or place in food processor for a smoother finish.

mashed halloween pumpkin
Alternatives: Steam on the stove top or cook in a pressure cooker (the rind should be removed for these methods). The end result will be more watery. I like the drier finish of roasting, plus it adds a nice flavor.

Step 5: Measure into 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze what is not used right away.

halloween pumkpin puree

How this Halloween money-saving tip actually saves you money: From one average-priced $6 pumpkin, you can get roasted pumpkin seeds (isn’t that the best part of carving a pumpkin), a Halloween decoration and pumpkin puree. A small pumpkin (that in my case was actually $4.50)  yielded exactly 7 cups of pumpkin puree. libby's pumpkin pureeOne can of premium brand puree is $1.98. Generic brands are $0.99 – $1.20 per can. One can of pumpkin puree is 2 cups. That means my 7 cups is equal to 3 1/2 cans of store-bought puree or $6.93 worth of premium brand or $3.37 – $4.20 worth of generic brand puree. The premium brand canned pumpkin puree cost is more than the original cost of the pumpkin. The generic brand cost is slightly less than the original cost of the pumpkin. And that’s not factoring in that this would be the third use of the single purchase of a pumpkin.

Additional benefits of turning your jack o’ lantern into pumpkin puree:

  • No concerns about BPA in canned goods
  • Pumpkins are packed with nutrients namely beta-carotene just like orange carrots. The fresher the pumpkin, the better the nutrients so making your own means it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around, exposed to extreme temps to kill bacteria during manufacture and other practices that kills food nutrients.

Your regular jack o’ lanterns might not be the best flavor choice, but there are a huge variety of pumpkins. If you get one from a farm stand or farmer’s market, the grower may be able to tell you more about the richer-flavored pumpkins to choose from.

What to do with all this roasted pumpkin?
If you’re Euro, you’ll go savory with pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli or pumpkin risotto.
If you’re American, you’ll go sweet with pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. I once made killer pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin creme brulee.

The best part is that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you’ll be able to wow the guests with tales of home-roasted pumpkin pie.

#885 Pet Savings: Make Your Own Dog Biscuits

29 May

homemade dog biscuits

Homemade dog treats were faster and easier made than expected. Cheaper too.

Making my own dog biscuits turned out to solve two problems for me. First, how to keep my dog in treats and second, how to keep my daughter out of the dog food.

My dog is half-pig, half-dog. The breeder said so when we picked him up. (I know I advocate adoption, but the puppy adoption we wanted didn’t work out so we made the new dog owner mistake of paying lots of money for a pure breed puppy). Anyways, our puppy was the fattest puppy in the  litter. He was huge compared to his brothers and sisters. Because this dog has an appetite. If he doesn’t get treats he goes a little insane, so we like to satiate him a little with treats. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s not dog food from the bag.

My daughter loves everything dog. She has a huge collection of play dogs. We can get her to wear anything if it has a dog on it. She loves our real dog so much that she pretty much wants everything he has… his collar, his dog food, his dog treats. So to avoid having her demand dog food every time the dog eats his breakfast, I looked up dog biscuit recipes.

First, I tried a Bernard Clayton recipe in which he wrote that he wanted a dog biscuit that was tasty for dogs and humans. My dog would not eat them. Did I mention this dog is half-pig? He eats everything. The fact that he refused a dog treat was a little mind-blowing. Sorry, Bernard Clayton, your recipe failed the tasty-to-dogs test.

So I created my own dog biscuit recipe, which you can find here. And here are video instructions.

The dog biscuit recipe been tested on multiple dogs and multiple toddlers. Everyone loves them. Turns out other parents have the same issue with their toddlers eating their dog’s food and treats. I was embarrassed at first to admit that my daughter had this penchant for all things dog, including food. But then she started sharing her homemade biscuits with friends, and the parents admitted to the same problem.

I was doubtful of the cost savings of making my own dog biscuits, so I did out the numbers. Turns out the materials are cheaper by cents per pound than generic brands, but by dollars per pound than premium brands. And I’m sure the homemade product is far superior to even premium brand dog treats. I decided it was worth it to me to make my own dog biscuits for the 20 active minutes time it takes to make them because I was assured that the product was safe and palatable not only for my dog, but for my kid. Dog food has not been immune to tainting by food poisoning bacteria and other unsafe materials, so if I can provide a safe alternative I would rather do that. I know everything that goes into the biscuits is fresh, safe and tasty. Plus, it’s a fun activity that my daughter and I usually do on the weekend. I’ve been even known to sample a few of the final product.

To make the recipe even cheaper than store options, you can substitute whole wheat flour for rye flour. Rye flour lends a nice flavor that might be lost on dog-only consumption.

#891 Reuse Ziploc Bags

17 May

brownies in ziploc bag

Photo via flickr by quinn.anya.

This is one of those things my mom did that I swore I would never do. But then I hated to throw out a Ziploc bag that was perfectly useable. And I hated even more to run out of Ziploc bags when I was in the middle of trying to throw something in the freezer. So once I was the one cleaning up the kitchen and freezing food, I started to reuse Ziploc bags. Something I really disliked before suddenly seemed like a great idea. An added bonus is that it saves money by significantly reducing how often you buy Ziploc bags.

Here are some ideas for reusing Ziploc bags to save money and reduce trash output:

  • Get the good kind. If you’re going to be reusing bags, the good brands are sturdier and will endure more washing and re-washing. Generic brands tend to be flimsy and thin. Neither Ziploc or Glad zip bags have BPA so that is not a concern with re-use.
  • Only get the large ones.
    sandwich bento box

    Go reusable for sandwiches and lunch items instead of wasting money on sandwich bags. Photo via flickr by anotherlunch.com

    Limit purchasing Ziplocs to gallon and quart sizes, which are great for freezing and storing food. Use a reusable, plastic sandwich saver or Tupperware container for sandwiches. Sandwich bags are a waste of money and resources. Plus your sandwich will never be crushed in your lunch bag if it’s in a hard plastic container. When using the large bags for food storage and freezing, limit your use by using a more durable, reusable container if possible. Ziplocs are ideal for freezing chicken breasts and fruit or keeping fresh an open bag of chips.

  • Mark the bags. Most large Ziploc bags come with a spot where you can write on them. Write down the contents and date it with a permanent marker. When you wash the bag, use the bag for the same item again and re-date. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to use a bag used for chicken for cereal, so I avoid cross-contamination skeevies by reusing chicken Ziplocs for chicken. It’s easiest to reuse Ziplocs used for bread or dry good storage because if the product was in a bag, the Ziploc might just need an quick, dry wipe out to reuse.
  • Wash and dry properly. To really get a good clean, make sure the bags are turned inside out, and the Ziplocs get a good hot water and soap scrub. Inside out bags can also go in the dishwasher. Now for drying, they can be hung clothes line style in your kitchen or on your clothes line with the open bag end down so the inside and outside are aired out. Make sure the bags are well opened so they can dry thoroughly. If I need one right away, I will get a fresh dish or hand towel and pat dry.
  • Know when to throw them out. I think why I hated my mom’s version of Ziploc reuse is that she continued to reuse them well past when they were done in. If the seams are ripping or the bags are irreparably greasy (bacon and tomato sauce are the worst), then throw the bags out or recycle them if your waste disposable accepts them for recycling.

Happy saving!

#894 Love Your Spatula

13 May

Is spatulize a word? If not, it’s the word I made up to to indicate an “empty” jar is not empty. I can spatulize it and get what I need. No running to the grocery store or doing without. Here is a demonstration from today’s lunch:

This jar of peanut butter…

jar of peanut butter

Is NOT empty…

empty jar of peanut butter

Enter the spatula…

red silicone spatula

I prefer a good quality, silicone spatula that really gets the job done…

spatual and peanut butter

Enough peanut butter after spatulizing…

spatula with peanut butter

To put on a slice of cinnamon-raisin bread…

cinnamon raisin bread and peanut butter

Because that’s all I have…

And some jam that also needs a little spatula love…

peanut butter and jam

Yum…

peanut butter and jelly

A scraped together, strange sandwich calls for excessively nice china…

peanut butter sandwich on china

Limoges, to be exact…

limoges china stamp

The first half of the sandwich was much nicer than I thought it would be…Kids would like this for sure….

peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Spatulize!

If you would like to feed this starving artist, donate here. I promise to use a spatula to get the most of the jar of peanut butter your donation will provide.

 

#898 Buy Farm Fresh Eggs

6 May

farm fresh eggs sign“Growing up in Croatia, I always wanted perfect, white eggs like on American TV,” a friend told me once. She was eating brown farm eggs. The truth is that the dream of having perfect, white eggs is a lot less tasty and nutritious than those brown farm eggs. And if you have access to a local farm or a neighbor with a chicken coop, the cost of a dozen fresh eggs can rival that of the store brands that use claims like “free range,” “cage free” and “humane” to lure the more conscientious shoppers. At the store, the lowest price for eggs with happy chicken claims stamped on the carton is $3.99 a dozen and goes up from there. Around where I live the price for a local carton of eggs from chickens I can see for myself are happy ranges from $2 to $3.50 a dozen. Not only are the eggs cheaper, but I can be assured they are far fresher than anything that has endured transport and storage at the grocery store.

farm fresh eggs

Farm eggs come in a rainbow of colors.

Studies have shown that eggs from free range chickens are lower in cholesterol, have less saturated fat, have more Omega-3s and more vitamin A and E. Buying farm fresh eggs, almost ensures that the chickens are free range. The beauty of buying directly from the person who raises the chickens is that you can see the chickens for yourself. Usually they’re running around under your feet or pecking away in an enclosure around their coop. Small scale farmers and neighborhood hobbyists aren’t ones for cramming chickens into cages so they can lay away without moving.

Then there’s the taste. After you experience the deep orange yolks and richer taste of farm fresh eggs, the insipid yellow yolks of store eggs, no matter how much you paid for them, are unappealing and disappointing.

Not only are farm eggs more nutritious, flavorful and less expensive, but supporting the local economy means your dollars spent will help your community thrive and aren’t going far away to a faceless entity. If you live in an  area where you have farm stands, there will be someone selling his or her extra eggs as well. Maybe even at the same farm stand.

Here are a few more things that I love about farm fresh eggs:

  • The colors.
    double yolk egg

    Free range eggs are tastier, more nutritious and seem to have double yolks quite often.

    I can appreciate a romantic vision of America where eggs are white and perfect, but I love the colors of farm eggs. They range from all shades of brown to speckled to colorful depending on the type of chicken that laid the egg.

  • The freshness. It’s rare that I buy eggs from someone who’s got a sign out that are more than a day or two old. Most times, they tell me the eggs are fresh from that morning. The biggest challenge is finding someone who isn’t sold out during times of the year when hens lay less.
  • The bits of straw and feathers. Most egg cartons I buy have a stray feather or piece of straw in them. It’s a relaxing reminder that I know where my food came from. Sometimes the eggs have a speck of poop, but they’re usually well scrubbed.
  • Duck eggs. Duck eggs taste pretty much like chicken eggs only they’re enormous and the yolks are a little richer with a little different, but pleasing consistency. Duck eggs pack a lot more nutrition than chicken eggs, but have more cholesterol and calories. A lot of locals who have chickens also have ducks and will give you a duck egg or two on occasion. Or have them available to buy. If I were to raise fowl to provide my own source of eggs, I’d go for ducks over chickens any day. They’re friendlier and cuter.

Next time you’re driving around and see a sign for eggs for sale, stop in. You may have to knock on the door. Or buy them at the farmer’s market. If you’re really adventurous, you can take on backyard chickens or ducks and be selling your own eggs before you know it.

#899 Buy Your Fruits And Vegetables Seasonally

3 May

fiddleheads

I expect to see these in the store soon, or could forage my own. Photo via flickr by New Brunswick Tourism.

It’s nice that we can have tomatoes and strawberries year round, but they don’t taste the same for the majority of the year when the fruit is out of season, and they’re more expensive when they’re out of season. To get the most out of flavor and your dollar, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.

Following the seasons is not just for top chefs but for the thrifty as well:

  • In season is always on sale. When the market is flooded with a crop of fruits or vegetables that are ripe and ready to sell, the grocery store needs to move the inventory. The in season fruits and vegetables are always on sale because the produce needs to move off the shelves. This meaning savings for you and better quality and taste because the produce is naturally in season, which always taste better than year-round hot house varieties or produce that has been shipped halfway across the world to get to you.
  • It builds anticipation.
    rhubarb plant

    Rhubarb produces spring cooking joy after a root vegetable winter. Photo via flickr by MiikaS.

    At the end of winter when you can’t stand another root vegetable, strawberry season is like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. Throw in rhubarb for a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate May Day, and you may just swoon with joy. Fruits don’t get that kind of reaction if you have them all the time. Following the seasons has you looking forward to the next crop to play with in the kitchen.

  • You can buy local. It’s nice that you can get fresh produce that came from the area, which means your dollars are staying close to home. You can also take advantage of farm stands and deals on organic produce. Just because the produce is local doesn’t mean it’s more expensive, often you can get great deals on local produce.
  • Buy in bulk. If you’re ready to try some canning and freezing to combat those dull winter days, you can buy produce in bulk and save a lot of money. You can even split a bulk buy with a friend to benefit the both of you. It’s expensive to buy the quantities of fruits and vegetables you need for preserving if you don’t grow it yourself or buy in bulk when the crop is in season locally.
  • You can pick your own. I love going to pick your own farms. I’ve already discussed how it saves money and how much fun it is here.
  • A glimpse of the fleeting. Some crops have such a short in season window that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Local delicacies shine in this respect. Don’t be afraid to try a local forage or crop that is not seen elsewhere.

#900 Make A Pit Stop For The Roadside Farm Stand

2 May

fresh produce farm stand truck

Because buying produce from the back of a pick up truck is awesome.

 

The easiest way to score a deal on organic produce? Stop by a roadside farm stand to check out the seasonal fruits and vegetables. The key secret is that farm stands are often “organic” without the official label. Getting certified organic is a lengthy process, so a lot of casual farmers, neighborhood gardeners or even regular, small-scale farmers don’t go through the process to get certified. Lots of times there is no way to know that they are not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers unless you stop in. Some advertise “chem free” or “no spray” on their signs, but many will only tell you once you stop in that they don’t use chemicals or sprays.

As spring starts to yield the first crops of spinach, lettuce and rhubarb, roadside farm stands will start to pop up at the end of driveways and or in seasonal vegetable stands. If you live in a rural location, the farm stand is a common site, if you live in an urban environment, you don’t have to go too far into the country to start seeing them.

Here are some reasons why I love roadside farm stands and why they are a bargain.

  • Freshness!
    roadside farm stand

    Many farm stands offer unofficially organic produce at low prices.

    Most of the time you’ll hear things like “I dug them this morning” or “I’ll get you some more from the garden.” The quality of vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are the best the fresher they are, and the vegetables are crunchier, tastier, firmer or whatever ideal quality you are looking for. Don’t waste the huge bonus of super fresh fruits or vegetables by waiting to prepare the produce. Prepare and eat it the same day or the next day if possible.

  • Cheap! Like I said, a lot of these stands are unofficially organic. That’s good enough for me. Most of the time the produce is 50 cents or more less than the conventional produce price at the grocery store. Plus you’re getting that freshness factor, which is priceless. If you regularly grocery shop with a budget, you should be able to identify whether the price of produce is cheaper than in the store. Even if it’s the same price and you’re not getting any savings, you’ll win with taste. In all likelihood, it is cheaper than the store. Especially organic produce.
  • Variety! The variety of produce that you can find in roadside stands is much greater than at the grocery store. You can discover new kinds of squash, potatoes, herbs and tomatoes that will make you wonder why anyone decided that mass producing only one kind of tomato was a good idea. People like to put labels like “heirloom” or “heritage” on fruits and vegetables that fell out of favor with the advent of agribusiness, but these small stands keep up the variety of produce with little pretension and lots of flavor.
  • It’s not the farmer’s market. I love farmer’s markets too, but usually only to look. Prices at farmer’s markets tend to be high, and it’s much harder to score a deal on organic or even conventional produce. At a farmer’s market, the vendors will be much more likely throw around words like “heirloom” and discuss the broodiness of a rare Chilean hen, which just makes me feel out of place if I’m not wearing vegan sandals and don’t know what my exact carbon footprint is. I like what they’re doing, but I prefer the more regular Joe feel of farm stands.
  • Trust. If you wonder about where the world has gone to today, stop by a farm stand that has a glass jar or wooden box as a cash drop and a thank you sign. I really hope these people don’t get their money stolen too often. I like to think everyone is honest and sees how awesome it is that you can leave money in a glass jar. On that note, most stands are cash only, so be prepared with exact change or bring a lot of dollar bills.

Farm stands get started in the spring and will run through the fall to around the end of October. Here’s a visual illustration of a roadside vegetable stand:

farm stand truck illustration

#901 Know What Fruits And Vegetables To Buy Organic

30 Apr

organic strawberries and grapesOrganic fruits and vegetables can cost twice as much or more than conventional fruits and vegetables. Buying organic can throw your grocery budget off every month if you don’t organize your shopping to focus on the most important produce to buy organic. There are lots of fruits and vegetables that you can skip buying organic, and some that are no-brainers to buy organic. The best way to organize your organic shopping is to use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. The lists take the data from pesticide tests run by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration to rank fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues from high to low. High pesticide residue equals “dirty,” and low pesticide residue equals “clean.” Focus your organic shopping on the “dirty” fruits and vegetables to reduce your chemical exposure and live a healthier life. I do most of my shopping at a regular grocery store, where organic selections are often limited but getting better. At health food stores or places like Whole Foods, organic is easier to find, but more expensive. Look into buying bulk to save money through a local coop or health food store for the dirtiest fruits and vegetables.

Here are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which change every year based on yearly pesticide data, and some tips and alternatives. The EWG’s ratings are based on how people would normally eat the fruits or vegetables, so washing doesn’t make a difference. Not washing before eating actually means there are more chemicals than the ratings suggest.

These are the 2013 “dirty” fruits and vegetables you should make an effort to buy organic when available and the budget allows:

organic apples

Organic apples aren’t as big or pretty but they’re much safer to eat to reduce pesticide exposure.

#1 Apples. Number one on the list – EEK! I don’t find many organic apples available for purchase in the grocery store. You’re better off buying organic apples locally when apples are in season. My mom used to buy organic apples in bulk from the health food store to save money and get organic. Apples, if stored properly, can be kept fresh for a long time. The best thing for non-organic apples is to wash, peel and core as the pesticides reside in the peel and in the stem/core area in the highest concentrations. I usually only use apples for purposes that require peeling and coring. If you can’t find organic apples, go with another, lower pesticide fruit for snacking or use apples for pies where peeling and coring is a given. Apples are on the “dirty” list year after year.

#2 Celery. Organic celery really doesn’t cost much more than conventional celery so it’s worth the extra $1 for the organic version as it’s number 2 on the “dirty” list. It’s easy to find an organic celery option in the grocery store.

organic tomatoes #3 Cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are separate from tomatoes, which are an in-between fruit (neither dirty or clean). You can make your own judgement call on the in-between fruits. Organic tomatoes are easy to find and don’t cost much more than conventional tomatoes. Tomatoes are also incredibly easy to grow yourself. I like to get plants that are already started by the green house for you. Tomatoes don’t need much space, just a lot of sun, so any apartment with a sunny, outdoor spot has potential for tomato growing. If you take good care of them, they’ll produce like crazy August through September. Tomatoes are best in season anyways, so avoid out-of-season tomatoes. Tomatoes from hot houses are likely to have fewer pesticides because the environment is better controlled.

#4 Cucumbers. Another super easy crop to grow yourself, although they need more space than tomatoes. If you’ve ever known anyone who’s grown cucumbers, you know they’re always trying to foist their bountiful harvest on anyone who will accept a bag of cucumbers. You don’t need more than a few plants for lots of yield. Alternatively, organic cucumbers are a grocery store staple and not hugely more expensive than conventional cucumbers.

#5 Grapes. Grapes are always too hard and sour or one their way out when I test them in the store. Buying in season is best, as it’s the imported varieties for year-round consumption that are the worst pesticide offenders. Local grapes are safer. It’s hard to find organic grapes in stores.

#6 Hot peppers. If you’re growing some tomatoes, why not have a hot pepper plant too? They take up little space and are just as easy to grow yourself as tomatoes. They can be dried for out-of-season use. I don’t see too many organic hot pepper varieties in the grocery store.

#7 Nectarines (imported). Imported varieties of nectarines, like imported varieties of grapes, have higher pesticide concentrations. Buy local or organic. Sweet fruits are not only loved by humans, but also ants and other insects, so pesticides ensure the fruit is blemish-free, bug-free and perfect, but the thin-skinned fruit absorbs the chemicals easily into the flesh. I’ve never seen organic nectarines available where I live for purchase in the grocery store.

#8 Peaches. Another sweet fruit beloved by bugs, peaches are not much better than nectarines. If you can’t find organic, only buy in-season and limit your intake. Like nectarines, organic peaches for sale in the grocery store are scarce.

potatoes#9 Potatoes. What passes for a potatoes these days is sad. There are so many varieties, colors, tastes and textures to potatoes that reducing the plant to a bland, white version should be a crime. Potatoes have such variety that Peruvians can have a complete diet covering all needed nutrients from potatoes alone. It’s something like close to 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru. Potatoes also get a lot of pesticides and fungicides doused on them. If you have outdoor space, growing your own potatoes is satisfying and can open a whole world of varieties. I like to buy local for organic potatoes. The taste difference is mind blowing. I live in a state that is a proud producer of potatoes, so organic options are easy to come by and worth the little extra money. The mealy, white non-organic potatoes aren’t worth buying anyways. It’s a pity to peel a potato to try to reduce pesticide exposure as most of the nutrients are in the peel.

#10 Spinach. Spinach is quick-growing and packed with nutrients. Get organic greens when you can, or grow your own in a window box or garden if you have space.

organic strawberries

Organic strawberries taste a lot better.

#11 Strawberries. I’ve got to admit, organic strawberries are one of the most expensive organic produce items to buy relative to the conventional price. Organic strawberries are often twice as expensive. But don’t let the price stop you. I find non-organic strawberries to taste chemically, not like strawberries at all or worse, tasteless. Unlike conventional strawberries, organic strawberries are tasty. The huge difference in taste is enough to make me buy organic. The fact that strawberries are a “dirty” fruit is more convincing evidence to buy organic. Make strawberries a luxury, in-season purchase for minimal impact on the budget.

#12 Sweet bell peppers. I’ve got to say there is a taste difference in organic sweet bell peppers as well. Organic versions of sweet bell peppers taste better to me than conventional versions. I’ve made it a habit to buy organic sweet bell peppers, which are easily available in the grocery store.

#13 Kale/collard greens. So there are so many contaminated fruits and vegetables the EWG decided to add two bonus “dirty” vegetables. Greens in general should be bought organic or grown yourself.

#14 Summer squash. The second “bonus” vegetable on the dirty list is another bumper crop plant that has gardeners’ everywhere looking for willing takers for end-of-summer bounty. Eat them in-season from your neighbor’s garden if he didn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. If you have enough space, the plants are huge, but generally yield a lot of produce.

Now for the “clean” fruits and vegetables as advised by the EWG. You can skip buying these organic if you want to save money on your grocery bill.

asparagus

Photo via flickr by chidorian.

#1 Asparagus. Asparagus is in season right now, so it’s great to be able to buy conventional asparagus with little worry. Asparagus tends to be more expensive than other vegetables so any savings in cost is welcome.

#2 Avocados. Pretty much anything that grows high in a tree with a thick peel is pretty safe and has low pesticide use. I go organic if the conventional ones are rock hard, and the organic ones are nicely ripe at purchase. But there’s no need to spend the extra money on organic avocados.

#3 Cabbage. Cabbage seems to have a generational and cultural divide. It’s most often thought of as poor people’s food. It’s cheap and packed with nutrients, so if you’re not eating cabbage, you should. And best of all, it’s clean, so non-organic will be even friendlier on the budget. I feel weird being a young person who buys cabbage, but it’s delicious with pork and can be a great leftover item to have at breakfast or lunch.

#4 Cantaloupe. As a fruit with a thick rind, cantaloupe passes the test for low pesticide residue. Cantaloupe is best during the summer months.

#5 Sweet corn. Corn makes the “clean” list, so add it into summer barbecues at bargain prices.

eggplants

Photo via flickr by graibeard.

#6 Eggplant. I used to hate eggplant. If you know how to cook it, it’s amazing. Even if it’s not on your regular grocery list, conventional eggplants are relatively free of pesticides.

#7 Grapefruit. Thick rind, grows high in a tree. Clean. Check.

#8 Kiwi. This fuzzy fruit native to New Zealand is also a clean fruit. Nice.

#9 Mango. Holy crap, mangoes are good when they’re ripe. They apply to the thick peel, high tree rule of clean fruits.

#10 Mushrooms. This one is good to keep in mind because I’m always tempted to get the more expensive, organic mushrooms. Mushrooms are in fact quite free of pesticides.

#11 Onions. The biggest challenge with onions are finding ones that aren’t too old when you buy them. The stinkier the onion smell when you chop, the older the onion. Softness and the middle growing a green shoot are also indications of a well-aged onion, which is not ideal for cooking. All those problems aside, you don’t have to worry about buying organic.

#12 Papaya. I hardly ever eat papaya, maybe I should. The whole tree/rind rule is also applicable to papayas.

pineapple

Photo via flickr by ECohen.

#13 Pineapple. I love pineapples. They’re best to buy on sale when they’re the cheapest and ripest. No need to go organic with pineapples.

#14 Sweet peas (frozen). What about fresh? Fresh are an “in-between” vegetable. The season for fresh peas is so short, frozen is the way to go most of the year anyways.

#15 Sweet potatoes. There has been a huge rise in sweet potatoes consumption over the past few years. It’s nice to know that unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are clean.

What about all the in-between fruits and vegetables? The EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are only for the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables. The full list is 51 fruits and vegetables long with differentiations for imported and domestic.

You can make your own judgement call on other fruits and vegetables. If you go with a rule that thin-skinned fruits like pears, cherries and berries tend to have more pesticide residue and ones with thicker rinds are cleaner, than you can start to sort out what you’ll buy organic and what you’ll buy conventional. Vegetables are a bit more all over the place. If it’s not much more to buy organic, and it fits in the grocery budget, I’ll get the organic kind. Things like carrots and beans are some of the quickest easiest crops to grow yourself. You can view the full list of the dirty to clean fruits and vegetables here.

If you’re panicked about actually remembering all this, there is an app that you can download for a quick reminder or a wallet size card to print out to take with you. During your grocery list organization, you can check back with the list.

Don’t forget about organic versions of processed fruit like raisins, apple sauce or frozen fruits and vegetables. If the fruit or vegetable is “dirty” try to get any version of it organic, if the fruit or vegetable is “clean, you can get the conventional, processed version.

Besides growing your own, foraging is a great way to get organic fruits for free.

 

 

 

#904 Thrifty Baby: Make Your Own Baby Food Or Skip It Altogether

10 Apr

baby food jars

Both organic and conventional baby food are more expensive than making your own.

“It’s so easy to make your own baby food,” a friend told me when I was expecting. Really? I hadn’t thought about doing that. Then another acquaintance who was selling me her baby stuff had a whole baby food making system out for me when I came by to check the crib. “Do you want this,” she asked. They were trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible for a big move. There it was staring me in the face, I should make my own baby food.

Thank goodness I had already decided to do this by the time the baby was six months old. We had a few jars of baby food in the cupboard. When I tried them on my daughter, she hated them. No wonder. I tried them, and they were tasteless.  And they were the “good” brand. Baby food is processed so there is no iota of potential food poisoning, which means the food is tasteless and mostly stripped of any of the good stuff in fruits and vegetables. After opening a jar, there is only so long that it can stay in the fridge before throwing it out. After throwing out two mostly-full jars of baby food, I knew there was no way I could buy the baby food jars just to throw them away. If my baby had been the opposite and churned through jars with a voracious appetite, food expenses would have been much higher. In the end, I don’t think adding another mouth into our household cost us very much at all.

organic carrots

A bag of organic carrots is cheaper and can be used either for Baby Led Weaning or making your own baby food.

Instead I bought a bag of organic carrots and called it good. A bag of organic carrots costs around $1.50 per pound. Organic baby food will cost twice that amount or more. Conventional baby food will cost about $1 more per pound, and it will not be organic. A disturbing amount of pesticide residue is found in non-organic baby food.

The baby food system I acquired included a hand mill, a plug-in blender, covered freezer trays, a portable lunch box with spoon and a cookbook. We mostly put unseasoned portions of what we were eating through the hand mill at meal times so we made the baby food right at the table. On the weekends I might have cooked up a bunch of carrots and processed them through the baby blender and then frozen them in the trays. A note to others – two pounds of carrots is A LOT of baby food ice cubes. The baby will probably be sick of carrots by the time he or she is only half way through the amount you made. Make smaller batches of baby food from varied foods to switch things up. We still had the hated pea puree left in the ice cube trays by the time pureed food time was over.

Both the special baby blender and freezer trays are not needed if you’re doing with what you have – a regular blender or food processor will work. Regular freezer trays are fine if you transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer zip lock bag for long-term storage once the food is frozen. I didn’t use the cookbook. The portable lunch box came in handy a few times but wasn’t necessary.

baby led weaning meal

My nephew’s first Baby Led Weaning meal at six months.

We were not much into the baby food making stage when we accidentally started practicing more of a Baby Led Weaning approach. Baby Led Weaning (BLW) means that you eliminate the pureed baby food stage altogether! You give the baby food just like you would eat on a plate. So instead of spending time milling or blending those organic carrots, you give it to the baby well-cooked on his or her plate. While some people may be concerned about choking, a baby’s gag reflex is much closer to the front of the mouth than an adult’s, so if the piece of food is too big for the esophagus, the baby would spit it out instead of choking. My sister who officially read about and followed Baby Led Weaning, versus our accidental uncovery, said her son rarely had a choke moment, and it made life much easier, especially traveling. There were no worries about bringing “baby” food on a trip or to restaurants. It’s true, we didn’t worry about traveling, going out or jars of food either. Between continuing to breastfeed and giving the baby food she could eat from what we had, no one went hungry or had to carry a metric ton of baby mush around.

baby led weaning mess

The “gravity exists” lesson of Baby Led Weaning.

Advocates of Baby Led Weaning say there is lots of learning to be done by baby while eating his or her own non-mush food, like how much pressure is required to pick up different foods and learning shapes and colors. Babies love learning by touch so playing with their food is a great way to learn before they get too old, and grandma yells “didn’t anyone tell you not to play with your food!”

Those itty-bitty pots of baby food are so cute! But expensive! And unnecessary.

If you’re not comfortable with Baby Led Weaning, make your own baby food. Like my friend told me, it’s so easy. Plus, you’ll probably end up in the Baby-Led-Weaning-is-so-much-easier camp and quit the pureed food quickly. Either way, you’ll save money and won’t have to make special purchases. I know organic carrots is already on my grocery list most weeks.