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:
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.