One of the more compelling reasons for adopting a frugal lifestyle is, lets admit it, scarcity of resource. Whether it be an altruistic effort to preserve the resources of the planet or to get by on a smaller budget resulting from reduced income, frugality is rapidly becoming the norm rather than an option. Not only does frugal and simple living ease the burden on resources and income, but it is also a healthier and more ethical choice to exercise. One of the effects of adopting a frugal lifestyle a few years back dawned upon us recently as we realized that our eating had undergone a total revolution. We were eating healthier, eating a larger range of food, cooking different dishes, experimenting and trying out newer cuisines and preparations, using uncommon and exotic ingredients, and, hold your hats, spending less than we used to on groceries and provisions!
Here are some of the things that we were able to identify that made this change possible:
Home Cooking Only
Being pressed for time, a natural response was to either book a table or order home delivery. As we started watching our budget, one of the first things to go was the expense on eating out and ordering in, since it did come up to quite a bit once we looked at the whole month. The same thing had to be done for office and school lunches; packing them instead of buying at the cafeteria. While we did all we could to reinforce the value of the healthier home cooked food, it was not an easy habit to break, especially in the face of the seemingly tastier and more attractive commercial preparations, in addition to the bother of cooking when tired or late. However, as we practiced this habit for several weeks, we slowly found that we were beginning to dislike the commercial preparations, especially the fast food type of stuff. Our tastebuds had got used to the low sodium, low fat, and natural food flavors of home cooking, and revolted when we did eat out after a while. What surprised us was the fact that we never realized how salty and greasy the food was all these years!
Planning, Research and Strategy
We embarked on meal planning two years back, and it has paid off rich dividends. We make a weekly meal plan, which we mostly adhere to, making allowance for sudden changes, visitors, and food cravings! We use this to draw up our shopping list for provisions and groceries. Meal and menu planning helps to ensure that we are getting a good balance of all the essential nutrients and not missing out on anything. We keep time aside for auditing the pantry and stores and menu planning in our schedule in that order. This helps in using up ingredients that are creeping towards the use by dates and ingredients that are almost over before we get fresh supplies.
We try and shop strictly by our list and we visit the stores after a meal. Having a full stomach helps control impulsive purchases of food items. We look out for coupons, discounts and compare prices and ingredients. We have learned to go by price per unit weight rather than the number on the price tag. Buying larger packages of items often translates to lower cost. Challenge areas were herbs and spices, and we learned to come up with a basic set of spices that we would use and buy. Replacing dried herbs and dried spices with fresh variants either from the market or grown in the garden was one of the strategies we adopted. We also set up a collective buying plan for expensive spices that we really wanted in the kitchen like saffron and nutmeg, buying larger amounts at a lower price and sharing the cost and the spice with friends and family. We also studied pricing patterns at supermarkets and discovered that there are predictable discount patterns connected with time of day and day of week. These change from store to store, but the ground rule is that Wednesdays and Thursdays are lower priced as stores stock up midweek and are eager to let go of older inventories. Late evenings see discounts on perishables. Your will need to study your local store to figure out their discount pricing pattern.
Restaurant Style Cooking at Home
We built up a small repertoire of fancy restaurant style dishes using common and frugal ingredients that we would use when entertaining people. We took a few basic preparations, looked up different gourmet recipes and searched for images to get presentation ideas. Then we practiced them by cooking them often. This led to some wonderful meals as well as expertise and familiarity with preparing them. We also came up with a list of quick and easy to prepare emergency dishes and began practising them till we could do it in our sleep. These recipes are our saviors when we come home and are too tired or too lazy to do something elaborate.
The Social Aspect of Food
One of our greatest influences in our current eating and cooking has been the work of Michael Pollan. Apart from the health aspect of increasing plant foods and reducing animal products, his books have helped us understand that food is much more than mere fuel for the body. It is also fuel for the spirit and helps bind people together. We have started exploring the social ritual that cooking and eating really are. We cook as a family, allowing everyone to participate, from planning to shopping to cooking, and we frequently share our meals with friends and family. We take time to cook and take time to eat, rather than making mealtimes a rushed affair or a television dinner. Along with the financial impact of all the changes we have made, this helps us appreciate the gift of life, the gift of transmission of life through what we are eating, and the gift of people in our lives.
Google for Frugal Eating
There are many recipe tools on the internet that let you search for recipes based on ingredients. We use the recipes filter on the sidebar tools on Google Search since we find it the most useful. We have found unusual recipes from different cuisines using this tool. Apart from an ingredients option, it also allows you to filter results by the amount of time taken to prepare the dish.
There are a few other principles that we have adopted as part of our frugal but healthy eating plan that this article would be incomplete without. One of them is to buy vegetables by the colors. We try and include all the different colors of veggies since this ensures that all nutrients are covered for. We have also started exercising portion control and have eliminated wasting what we serve ourselves. And finally, we have started keeping leftovers in clear view in the refrigerator, to shelves, in front, and in the center. This makes sure that they get used up first rather than slowly drift to the back of the fridge only to be rediscovered and trashed.
This steps have helped us eat healthier, save money, enjoy our meals, come closer as a family, and appreciate food in a whole new way. Try them out yourself, and you will be amazed at how it impact the quality of your family’s life. Do remember to let me know how it turns out in the comments.
Subhorup Dasgupta is a Hyderabad based writer and artist who blogs at Subho’s Jejune Diet about minimalism, frugality and ethical living. He believes that the present crisis of civilization can only be addressed by adopting value-based and sustainable lifestyle and devotes his time to help people achieve this.
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