Monthly Archives: July 2015

How to eat well (health and taste) and cheaply

There are three goals in terms of eating.

First, the food must be affordable. Second, it should be healthy, and third, it should taste really good. Reconciling these three goals is not as hard as you think.

When I was younger, I was mainly concerned with affordability and taste, and so I invented such items as the hard shell taco with a couple of slices of bacon and my version of refried beans –  Heinz beans washed of that tomato goop and mashed with butter (baked beans were 7p a can in the UK in those days). A little shredded lettuce and it was all gourmet.

When I got older, I focused on taste at any price, and made great food.

But now I’m back to caring about cost, and, as I age, health. I’m still, of course, interested in taste.

To achieve all three goals at once, you seriously need to

(1) learn to cook and

(2) Learn to grow food.

In addition, it will help if you are open to learning other skills – curing meats, making cheese, raising chickens, etc.

For now, I will focus on (1) and (2).

Recipe: Heirloom tomato and Basil Salad. Cost, $0

Learn to grow tomatoes, and to save seed. Learn to make compost on which to grow said tomatoes. Learn to grow basil.

This is obviously for warm, mediterranean climates, but given such, you simply plant tomato seeds you saved from the previous year’s harvest into home-made compost in buckets, and wait. Chuck some basil seed in the same bucket ( the plants work well together). When ripe, harvest the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and basil (olive oil and mozzarella at extra expense), and serve.

This is a luscious dish if you grow the tomatoes yourself (and you should – its easy). The tomatoes are sweet, and the salt really brings out the flavor. Basil, of course, complements tomatoes perfectly. Olive oil, if you use it, will round out the flavor, as the fat will make more of the flavor accessible. Mozzarella acts as a bland but creamy foil against the intense basil/tomato flavors. Protein and fiber contents are high. Taste is out of this world.

Overall, the point I’m making here is that great food can be cheap and healthy.

A good list of ingredients to consider is:

Basil

Tomato

Garlic

Chilli

Lemon

Sardines

Sea Salt

Kale

Lettuce

Cucumber

Beans

Fresh tree fruit in season.

All of these are easily grown and add huge flavor and are healthy (sea salt in moderation, and beans are cheaply bought)

The kicker is when you add small quantities of relatively expensive ingredients that make these meals zing. Because you have saved on the cheap ingredients, you can splurge a little on healthy and tasty foods like

Prosciutto, Smoked Salmon, Raw Tuna, Parmesan, Goat cheese, Salmon eggs, free range chicken eggs, capers, olives and steak.

Use the latter as accents (prosciutto di melone in melon season – when you can buy a canteloupe for $1.50 – or as salmon eggs on rice/seaweed (learn to make sushi) – or shave a little Parmesan on a Rocket (arugula) salad (the stuff grows like a weed) lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil…

The trick is to grow as much as you can and prepare the food yourself.

For example, Rocket is a weed. Sprinkle some seed and you have it for life. Fill a plate (in spring) with young rocket leaves, add one slice of prosciutto, shave about 5 shavings of Parmesan (or Pecorina Romano – cheaper) on top, drizzle with olive oil and homegrown lemon juice, and you have a healthy, cheap salad. Cost? Prosciutto and Parmesan, about $1. Olive oil, 20c. Rocket and lemons – free, if you grow them. Toss on a teaspoon of capers for about 20c.

Or Prosciutto and Canteloupe. Cost, about $2 per serving, in season (heavy on the melon, light on the prosciutto).

Grilled Sardines with lemon juice

Simply, learn what grows in your area, and learn how to prepare those vegetables to show them off.

Herbs – mint, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, etc. are, in particular, easily grown and lift your dishes to gourmet level. As a bonus, many help your heath.

Eating fresh, healthy and tastily can indeed be cheap. But learn to grow stuff like herbs (woody herbs, like sage and rosemary, take little work and are expensive to buy) and tree fruit (once planted, you can almost ignore them). Learning to prepare stuff completes all you need.

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Diet Food

Tortilla (Frittata)

1 grated carrot, 1 grated zucchini, one small chilli,  2 eggs.  Fried with 1 tsp olive oil.

About 240 Calories. (50 for veg, 150 eggs, 40 oil).

Tortilla

IMG_2066

MEAL: 275 calories

60g roast beef (120 cal), sprinkled with a few celery and onion leaves finely chopped, salt, pepper

drizzled with 1 tsp olive oil (50 cal)

Fresh garden tomatoes, sprinkled with salt and basil (25 cal)

1/3 of the above tortilla (80 cal)

This is a pretty nutritious lunch, low in carbohydrates, high in protein. This is suitable for a starvation-level diet as the first meal of the day, around noon. Starvation diets have the potential to waste muscle mass, and should only be used over very short periods – a week or less. Eating high-protein meals will mitigate this to some extent, as will exercise. Cutting carbohydrates is the most important move because this will move the body to burning, not making fat. Eating vegetables is the single easiest way to low-calorie eating. A later meal in the day would include much larger portions of vegetables. Be sure to eat a wide variety. Some oil is included here to increase satiety, taste, and to get the body to burn fat as fuel, rather than carbs.

Overall principle: Eating good-tasting food with high levels of nutrients (minerals, vitamins, etc.) will help to compensate for the reduction in calories. I use plenty of salt (use your own judgement here), spices, basil, onion, hot sauce, etc. to increase the taste. Generally, cut out as many “empty carbs” and junk fats (olive oil, nut oils, sesame oil, butter are strong on taste and are useful in limited quantities) as possible. Get most of your carbs from high-fiber sources – beans and vegetables.