Everyday Gourmet (3/26/09)

Recession lessons

March 26, 2009

By Kim Dannies

The crashing economy presents a unique “shop-portunity” to score more bang for our nutritional buck at the supermarket. While downgrading the quality of our food is never the way to go, reviewing a few shopping and eating lessons can make a big difference to our waistlines and bottom lines.

First and foremost, do your homework. Study supermarket circulars to spot weekly deals and learn the prices of staple items for comparison. Next, make a strategic shopping list: List general sections of the store and plug needed items in by section. On the reverse side, sketch out the week’s meal plan. Planning provides focus, reduces impulse purchasing and ensures that you have all the ingredients you need for the entire week. No more multiple trips for forgotten items (this is what really jacks up the food budget.)

Buy food in a natural state whenever possible. While overly processed packaged foods are always more expensive, coupons are a smart way to load up on healthy non-perishables like canned beans, pasta sauce, whole-wheat pasta and tuna. A stockpile ensures that nutritious food is always available, and a quick, home-cooked meal is only 15 minutes away.

Don’t forget to shop at ethnic and farmers’ markets. In addition to inexpensive produce, they also sell unique bottled sauces and cooking condiments below retail prices of stores. Always buy what’s in season and branch out of your culinary comfort zone by experimenting with new varieties of veggies.

Fruit is a challenge this time of year: Expensive and a big carbon footprint, yet it’s vital to our well-being. Invest in citrus fruits that pack well in lunches; homemade applesauce is always a hit for snacks or dessert. I splurge on honeydew melon and black grapes to prep containers of fruit salad for workdays.

Penny-wise is pound goulash: Don’t buy cheap bulk stuff you don’t really want to eat. You’ll end up tortured by palate-numbing meals you hate, squashing any inclination to stay on a healthy nutritional track. Rather, invest in smaller amounts of quality foods that satisfy you and keep you enthusiastic about mealtimes. (This is how the French manage to eat well yet stay slim.) For example, to trim your meat budget, eat pork or chicken sparingly — as a condiment with grains or rice — rather than as a main course.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Invest in an electric rice cooker. Aromatic steel-cut oatmeal is ready to eat when you wake up in the morning; a healthy brown rice stew perfumes the air as you walk in the door for dinner; and it even works as a mini Crock-Pot for braising cheaper cuts of meat. Now that’s what I call a bargain.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.