Monday, April 9, 2012

is eating well too expensive?

My post for day 9 of 30 days of health posts has taken a bit of a curve off topic.

Still, for many if not most of us, the question of cost is a huge one. We have a peculiar method of dealing with food budgets. We hide our heads in the sand and pretend. And heck, if we can't see it, it can't see us. Clearly, this approach may be flawed, and always, at some point, we have to face up to reality if only briefly.

Today, while grocery shopping, I thought a lot about such things. About budgets and choices and just how any of us manages to put this crazy puzzle together. We have a decent income. There are only two of us. It should be easy, but...clearly, it's not. It's not easy for lots of reasons, but most of those are universal, not ours alone. We want to eat healthy food. We want to eat safe food. We want to eat delicious food. Don't think we're alone in much of that.

I do not profess to have all the answers. I'm not sure I have all the questions. I do have a few tips. I'm a foodie. I'm a health nut. I'm also good at making my money go a pretty long way---never far enough to satisfy me, but a long way, nonetheless.

For most of us, our protein sources are the biggest portion of our food bill. (While it may be naive on my part, I'm assuming for the moment that none of us is still buying pre-made, boxed, frozen, or packaged food.) We drove well over a hundred miles to shop at stores that carry the meats we're comfortable eating. While that may sound odd to some, I know many of you know this experience only too well. When we do this, we stock up as much as we can. At New Frontiers in San Luis Obispo, the choices are amazing to me. They must have 30 different fresh sausages with all sorts of meat bases, and the complete list of ingredients is displayed in front of each one. I am a sucker for full disclosure.

They carry many types of beef, but we usually buy grass-fed beef from Hearst Ranch. They promise happy, healthy animals and humane conditions. We like such things. Rib eye steaks and New York steaks are $18.99 a pound at New Frontiers. That price is considerably less than if you order from their website or directly from their display in the visitors center at Hearst Castle. Still, that's hardly budget friendly. Sirloin tip steaks, on the other hand, sell for $6.99 per pound. While they made not carry the same name appeal, they have the same protein content and are equally flavorful. They are delightfully tender if not overcooked. One steak at just under a pound can easily serve two. I like to cook one, cut it into strips, and take it to work with a fresh vegetable or salad to serve as both breakfast and lunch. That is less than picking up a breakfast sandwich on the way to work and far, far more healthy.

My obsession with braising is pretty obvious, I know. If you also enjoy braising or a slow cooker, another great option for less expensive grass-fed beef is the chuck steak. We bought some yesterday for $5.99 per pound. This morning while breakfast was on the stove, I browned one that weighed in at 1.3 pounds and popped it in my small crock pot with sliced onion, 2 carrots, and a few cloves of whole garlic. This entire meal, which will serve 2 with leftovers for another meal (possibly my lunch tomorrow,) had a total cost of under $8. That includes all veggies and seasonings.

Of course, there are other inexpensive cuts, and sales are great options when you can find them. But for everyday choices, these cuts are two of my favorites.

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