Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Real Food on a Real Budget...

...or at least on a budget like mine!  I've been learning a lot about "real" food, food that is nutrient dense and as close to its natural state as possible and not full of chemical preservatives, colorings, and flavorings. And thanks to A Peasant's Feast eCourse through The Nourishing Gourmet, I'm also learning how to do it on a budget.

Basically, what it boils down to is making the best use of every dollar I have to purchase the most nutrient packed foods. With my current budget, every week brings choices and compromises. Being armed with information about what's really in our food (and what's not that should be) helps me to make the best choices and, when necessary, the healthiest compromises that I can.

Ideally, I would be grinding my own, organic home-grown grains for freshly baked breads every day. I would use eggs freshly gathered from free-ranging chickens in my back yard. Butter would be churned from the rich, nutrient-packed cream and cheeses made from the cows milked in the morning, and delicious, cold, whole raw milk would grace our table with every meal. Pastured meats would simmer in nourishing bone broths on cold winter days for delicious soups and stews. And we would eat an abundance of seasonally available fruits, berries and vegetables grown in our back yard. And of course, we'd have a variety of lacto-fermented and cultured things...sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, cortido, pickles, yogurt, help keep our digestive systems in balance and our immune systems strong.

Reality, however, is not nearly so quaint. The "nutritional information" provided on packaged foods in the grocery store is like a scientific abstract written by Stephen King. My general rule of thumb is If I Can't Pronounce It I Shouldn't Eat It. The food industry has conditioned us to believe that food that can stay on the shelf longer without spoiling is healthy somehow. I disagree...true, the absence of microorganisms to make you sick is definitely healthier, but if the microorganisms can't live on it, how good can it really be four our bodies? Is it actually devoid of nutrients or is it just filled with deadly chemicals? Or both?

So, I try to plan meals that will have the greatest nutritional punch and try to buy the highest quality foods that I can. Here's an example of something I made recently...

Zucchini, Sausage and Brown Rice Skillet

Disclaimer: I just threw this together, so there's the possibility that some of the measurements aren't as exact as possible...sorry...that's how I roll in my kitchen! I'm fairly sure it's pretty close though.

  • 1 c uncooked brown rice
  • 1-2 Tbs ketchup, tomato sauce or 1/4 to 1/2 c diced, fresh tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder or a clove of garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1/3 to 1 pound bulk sausage
  • 1/2 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c water (mineral or filtered water, chlorine- and fluoride-free)
  • 1/4 c cooking sherry or white wine
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder or garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp ground marjoram
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced


Combine 2 1/2 c water, ketchup (or sauce or tomatoes), garlic, salt and butter and bring to a boil. Add rice, simmer 35-45 minutes or until rice is cooked and water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, brown sausage and onion, add water, sherry, garlic and marjoram and simmer while rice cooks. When rice is almost done, add zucchini to sausage mixture and cook until crisp-tender. Combine with rice. Could top with cheese if desired, parmesan or romano sound good.

I highlighted the ingredients that could have been healthier. For example, I used ketchup because I didn't have any fresh, organic tomatoes or tomato sauce. It was at least free of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) so that was a plus. Lacto-fermented ketchup would have been good as well, although I'm sure the heat would kill off the good bacteria, but it would still be healthier than commercially prepared ketchup. Fresh garlic would have been better than garlic powder, as well as the marjoram. And cultured butter made from cow's milk from pastured animals would have been ideal. The onion was not organic, but the zucchini was locally grown and organic (thanks to my mother-in-law!). The sausage was from a local butcher shop that has good quality local meat, but I doubt it was from pastured animals, so that could have healthier as well. You could always leave the meat out all together, or use grass-fed beef, free range chicken, venison, bison, etc. for healthy meat choices.

How much did this dish cost? My best calculation (figuring costs for tiny amounts of seasonings is more work than I have time for at the moment, so I guestimated it. I don't pay much for anything if I can help it, and I know I got most of these ingredients very inexpensively) is $1.78 for the WHOLE dish, which comes out to 45 cents a serving, for four servings. Using all organic vegetables and spices and high-quality pastured meats would increase this cost minimally to possibly significantly, depending on the prices in your area. I have found a local butcher that sells grass-fed ground beef for $3.29 a pound, and have seen grass-fed ground beef at a local natural foods co-op for over $6 a pound. Organic, out of season vegetables can be very expensive...I saw bell peppers at the same co-op for over $7 a pound this winter.

This dish was very tasty (although I thought it needed a bit more salt) and has a lot of room for variations, such as the types of vegetables, using nourishing bone broths instead of water (which will add even more nutritional punch), and fresh herbs from your garden. I love to have a 'base' recipe and tweak it for fun or be able to pull off a delicious, nutritious meal when there's just "nothing to eat in the house".

So, this is one example of how I'm doing "real food" with my less than "real" budget. Some weeks I have to buy things I wouldn't normally or go without some things, simply because I just don't have the money. But, I don't get myself all worked up about it if I can't buy something that I prefer. I keep in mind that we've eaten processed foods all of our lives and only recently have made the change to less processed and more healthy alternatives to the Food Industry's packaged poisons. While it's not ideal, any changes that mean we consume less of it will benefit our overall health. And in the mean time, I have a never-ending goal in front of me to provide the most nourishing and environmentally responsible foods as I can for my family.

My husband, when asked if he notices a difference in how he feels since I've been making these changes in our diet, commented that he did feel better. This is huge coming from someone who would live on frozen pizza, soda and cookies if he could get away with it! I've also noticed a difference in him and also in my children. They are still kids who like cookies and candy, but it does my heart good to see them enjoying things that are healthy, like my Li'l Man here, scarfing up this cheap, but healthy, meal!


  1. Great job Dawn- your family is lucky to have you!

  2. Thanks Jill! I'm lucky to have them, too (;

  3. wow...that looks great!! I am going to add this to my "Try This" pile!!!

  4. Let me know what you think! I really liked it. Jadon and I were the only ones home that night and I ate the leftovers the next day, so it's just my opinion really, but I want to make it again.