You do not have to be rich to eat great food. You can eat really healthfully and well, on a tight budget. You just need to know how to buy good stuff, have a few decent utensils (like a good knife) and use some resourcefulness. Also, read my blog. I love to talk about gardening and cooking.
My fascination with this started early.
My grandmother Wilma Hasty was a wonderful cook, and my mom was a great cook.
When I think sometimes about my grandmother and her skill at cooking, I remember that her early marriage years were a sort of baptism by fire. She had studied Home Economics in college, but then she dropped out and did the Southern Belle debutante thing.
My grandfather was a major league baseball player for The Philedelphia Athletics, and then his contract was sold and he and my grandmother got sent out to Oregon. The story of all that is complicated. Suffice to say, Mamaw thought she would be living the high life, and after a year of marriage she found herself stuck in Oregon, living in a boardinghouse, trying to manage a household on very little money. [Not to diss Oregon, I know it's a beautiful state, but in the 1920's it was a 3 day journey from home and their families back east.]
Living in boardinghouses was not an easy life. Meals weren't always included. Even if they were, my grandfather was a big man [6'3, 220] and he could eat a LOT. Mamaw had no kitchen. My mom always says Mamaw could prepare a lovely 3 course meal with a hot plate and a toaster.
In the 1920's there weren't many convenience foods. You couldn't just buy frozen meals to prepare. There were no microwave ovens. Refrigerators were small, or you might only have an Ice Box.
This is an example of an icebox. Mamaw always called the fridge the "icebox" and I grew up believing there were really two words that meant fridge, and one was "icebox" even though I didn't normally hear anyone other than my grandparents use that term
Mamaw knew how to stretch a food budget, though. She could cook a chicken 50 different ways. She lived through the Depression trying to feed 3 kids and she lived through World War II on a farm. The family moved around a lot, and didn't always have running water or electricity.
What got me started thinking about this was a long discussion on Facebook with many comments. A friend of mine who teaches in a small college was saying one of her students had written about trying to eat on $10/day. She got a lot of harsh comments from folks saying that was plenty of money and she shouldn't complain.
Well, yes and no. Part of the reason people sometimes don't eat well is because they are simply ignorant. They don't know how to cook. They don't understand how to budget. Perhaps they grew up with a working mom who just fed them frozen food and takeout food and sandwiches and pizza.
My mom put a hot meal on the table every night, mostly stuff made from scratch. However, we also ate our share of tater tots and canned beans and frozen chicken pot pies. My mom couldn't cook when she got married, so she spent years learning, and teaching us. We all learned together. This is probably why I am a good cook, as is my brother.
What I'm trying to say is that we didn't have a non-cooking mom BUT we had a mom who was always learning, always trying to improve our meals, always seeking better ways to make healthy meals. Mom, OTOH, grew up with Mamaw, who was Queen of the Kitchen and never bothered to teach her daughter how to cook. When Mom would try to learn, Mamaw would say "If you want to help, go set the table." Mom married a man who expected a hot meal every night, not tuna salad and fudge [Mom's only two dishes she could cook when they married.]
Anyway, I digressed.
When my brother was a young lieutenant in the Army, he learned quickly that some of his troops were running out of food money by the end of the month. They might have a wife and baby to feed, and because of poor budgeting, they found themselves out of money at month's end.
I don't recall the exact story, but what my brother did was tell his men basically "Look, at the beginning of the month when you get paid, I want you to go to the commissary and buy a 10 lb. bag of rice and a 10 lb. bag of dried beans. When you run out of money, you can live on rice and beans." He likes to cook and he patiently explained to them how to COOK rice, and cook dried beans.
If you eliminate sodas and alcoholic beverages and drink water or milk, you save money. If you snack on fruit instead of fruit rollups or cookies, you save money and you are more healthy. The banana is the perfect snack - packed with nutrition and easy to carry.
Last time I looked, our local super Walmart had a great selection of fresh fruits and veggies, and good prices.
I wish I could teach poor people who have never learned, the skills of budgeting and cooking and eating well. First thing I'd say is don't spend food stamps on sodas and junk foods. Don't buy frozen pizza and McDonalds and all that crap.
Give your kids proteins for stamina and veggies for energy, and good complex carbs, like oatmeal.
Rice and beans make a complete protein. Or buy black beans or lentils - tons of protein there, and cheaper than meat. Eggs are also good.
My friend Cindy has raised 39 children [ranging in age from 11 to 39, all adopted but one], and she is a retired, single school librarian. She writes about food often, and I am always fascinated by those posts. Her kids are all healthy. She grows most of their food. She's been a vegetarian most of her life and now is vegan, but her kids are not required to be vegan. She has managed to feed them all and teach them her food values, and she has done an amazing job.
Even if you don't have a big yard, you can grow a surprisingly large number of fruits and veggies in small plots, even in containers on a balcony if you live in an apartment. You don't have to be a great gardener, either. I suck at gardening but I can grow a lot of stuff.
Above are some seeds I started in Jiffy pots - spend $10 on dirt and fertilizer and you can plant in egg cartons, old paper cups, whatever - and in a few months you'll have TONS of tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. I've started seeds inside many times in a sunny window when it was 30 degrees outside.
Many people I know who don't cook are afraid of raw vegetables. They literally think there is nothing they can do but eat salads, and what if they don't like salads? Or what if you can't really cook and you are intimidated by the cooking channel shows?
Roast the veggies. Seriously. Wash them. Peel them if necessary. Chop them up. Throw them in a bowl or in a plastic bag, and toss them with some olive or canola oil, and some spices. Put foil or parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Put the veggies on the sheet, spread them out, and roast at 400 for 10-20 minutes. After you take them out, throw away the foil or parchment paper.
Spices you can use: onion powder, garlic powder, Lawrey's seasoned salt, Italian seasoning - tons of others out there to choose from but these are our staples.
Fresh herbs can be scary to non cooks. I totally understand that. They still intimidate me a bit. So be it. It's also yummy to toss roasted veggies with some parmesan cheese.
Fresh spinach is even easier. Heat up some olive oil in a skillet and throw in fresh spinach and minced garlic, Sea Salt and pepper. Saute for 2-5 minutes. Yummy and SO nutritious.
Don't know how to mince garlic, or have a garlic press? Use the jarred kind, below. You can almost always find this in the produce section of the store.
Any sort of squash, zucchini, or peppers can benefit from being cooking with onion. Do onions intimidate you? YouTube is your friend. Check out this video on how to chop an onion.
I like red onions because they have more flavor.
Veggies cry out for a good knife. If you don't have a decent knife, all my veggie cooking lessons are for nothing. You don't have to spend a fortune for a good knife, either.
In this video by Alton Brown he tells you about kitchen knives. My brother bought me some good knives from a company called Cold Steel. Here is a link to a knife similar to the one I use a lot. Yes, it costs $32. Best money you will ever spend. You can use it for years.
Veggie peelers are also important. I hate veggie peels. If you are going to eat them, wash the veggies very carefully. I just tend to peel more and wash less because I don't like chemicals on my food, and sometimes unpeeled veggies cause an allergic reaction in me, like my face swelled up one time from eggplant.
Anyway, to recap: cooking helps you stick to a budget. Growing your own veggies helps you eat better and saves money. Finding cheap protein sources is important. Eggs are cheap and easy to cook. Spices make food taste better. LEARN TO DO SOME BASIC COOKING.
I could go on and on but I have to stop now.
Leave me a comment if you have some good tips you want to share.