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Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Price of Healthy Food

I stopped at the convenience store a couple of nights ago.  I needed gas for the car and there’s a convenience store right on the site.  I needed milk and the price for 4 l of milk (if you are Canadian, you know the bag of 3 smaller bags of milk) is cheaper than what I find in the grocery store. 

As I was waiting to pay, there was a bunch of displays for what is often called ‘impulse buys’: chocolate bars, candies, chewing gum, as well as a very large freezer full of frozen treats: ice cream bars; frozen juice bars; etc. The luxury ice cream bar (premium ice cream covered in thick milk chocolate) costs the same price as my 4 liters of milk.  What? I could drink milk for more than a week for the same price as one ice cream bar that would be gone in minutes?!  This is crazy!

This is just one of many examples where healthy food, if bought carefully, is cheaper than unhealthy food.  Compare the cost of a bag of apples (about $4) with two large bags of chips (about $4); the apples are much healthier and will last longer than the bags of chips (if both are eaten every day).  Another easy one is a dozen eggs (just over $2) compared with toaster pastries (about the same or slightly less): the eggs pack more protein and vitamins than the sugar-iced carb-loaded pastries; the eggs will last longer than the pastries if both are eaten for breakfast at the same frequency.

So what’s the catch? Well, apples can often seem less fun than potato chips; it’s easier to put two pastries in the toaster than to cook eggs.  An ice cream bar is WAY more appealing than 4 l of milk on many days!

So, is there a moral here? Yes, of course!  When going food shopping, buy all the healthy food you need for the week first; if there is any money left, then buy a treat, not the other way around!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Clothing and style on a budget

It’s nice to be well dressed, but luckily, in college and university, the dress code is pretty casual.  This should mean being a little easier to stay on budget.  And of course, clothing is not JUST for staying covered and warm – a sense of fashion is fun too!  Here are a few ideas to limit your clothing budget.

New clothes can now count as a luxury – unless all your pants get ruined at once, or having black pants are a requirement at your new waiting job, new clothes are not essential.  Therefore, they are prime candidates to be received as gifts.  Why not ask for clothing as gift for birthdays and other occasions? And if your parents do not understand your style, suggest gift cards to the stores you like.

Before you decide that you need something new, ask yourself if you can wait a few months before getting new items; if you use this philosophy for 3-4 years, this may means hundreds of dollars saved.  And remember that once you start working, your wardrobe may need to change so stockpiling jeans and T-shirts may be useless. 

In our house, we use clothing to their last bones.  For example, the too-short leggings are used as long underwear; a very large souvenir T-shirt that doesn’t fit well becomes a great night shirt; a favorite but worn T-shirt becomes an undershirt, worn sweatpants become PJ pants, socks can be unmatched, and jeans and PJs are unisex.  As well, clothing is repaired before being replaced.  This means that we sew new buttons onto clothes, repair undone seams, and remake hems.  Also, pants ripped at the knee (if not fashionable!) become shorts, and long sleeve T-shirts with torn wrist become short-sleeve Ts. 

We also take good care of our clothing: we wash them in cold water and hang them to dry.  For anything that relies heavily on elastics for its use (bras, bathing suits, sports apparel etc.), high heat equals damage so an apartment size drying rack is a sound investment; they fold up nicely and can be stored behind a piece of furniture.  A rope or sewing elastic hung across your room close to the ceiling will work too (hanging bras behind your door is great because you can’t see them when you open your door!).  Finally, we treat stains as soon as they happen – my kids are used to taking off their shirt in the middle of a meal if they drop anything that may stain on it (they are 7 and 9 so it’s ok!) and shirt collars are sprayed with pre-treatment spray before they go into the washing machine.

In our house, we love hand-me downs – and they don’t always come from older people!  My friends and I used to have clothing swaps (yes, we were roughly the same size) and now my sister who is a clothing horse will give me the clothes she doesn’t wear anymore (and I send her the clothing my daughter has outgrown for her two little ones).  I also offer clothing on Freecycle, and I receive some too.

Overall, we do not use shopping as a hobby; clothes are useful but purchasing them is not an activity, but merely a task to be done when needed.  However, we all look stylish (even if I say so myself) and we keep up with the latest styles appropriate for our age(s).  The main purpose of clothing is to keep you covered, comfortable, and warm.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Freezer spaghetti sauce

 I like spaghetti; actually, spaghetti was my all-time favorite food (read : this is what I wanted for my birthday dinner) for years.  It is still my favorite comfort food ever.  However, having been raised by a mom who made her own sauce, it was difficult, even as a student, to go to canned spaghetti sauce.  So I didn’t.  However, I was frugal (cheap!) and did not have time to spend a Saturday afternoon cooking a huge pot of pasta sauce.  So came the freezer spaghetti sauce.
Here is the basic idea: you freeze bits of vegetable that you are chopping for other meals into a large yogurt container (the type you buy at the grocery store and do NOT eat in one sitting – it has a plastic lid); once the container is full, you have enough veggies for making a great spaghetti sauce. 
Ingredients for freezer spaghetti sauce:
1 yogurt container of chopped veggies (more about the veggies below)
1 lb of ground meat/beef or ½ cup TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
1 jar/can of tomato pasta sauce (commercial)
Start with stir frying the meat if using.  Once it is brown, add the vegetables (frozen) and stir.  Let simmer a bit (the liquid in the vegetables will come out); if the mix dries out, add water (there is enough fat in the meat that you do not have to add any).  When the veggies are soft, add the commercial pasta sauce; add a bit of water to the jar/can, swirl to get all the sauce off the sides, and pour into the mix.  Add more water if this is too thick.  Add spices and seasoning (more below).  Let simmer at least 20 min so the flavours mix well.  Done!
If you are using TVP instead of meat, start stir frying the veggies in a bit of oil. Add the TVP (dry) and the commercial pasta sauce at the same time (you do not need to soak the TVP since you are cooking it in liquid – it will pick up the flavour of the sauce if it cooks in it).  Continue with directions above.
Vegetables: the choice of your vegetable will change the flavour of your sauce every time, so do not aim for consistency from one time to another.  Almost any veg, if chopped small enough, can be put into a spaghetti sauce: onion and garlic (almost two ‘musts’ for pasta sauce!), celery, carrots (chopped small, they take too long to cook otherwise), cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, hot peppers (if you like your sauce hot), and spinach, really, almost anything.  I strongly recommend having at least some onion and garlic in your sauce – to me, it’s essential, and if I don’t have any in my freezer container, I add some from my fresh onions and garlic (garlic in a jar is great too).  Dried onion flakes and garlic powder or garlic salt are good substitutes.  Since nobody in my house likes eating the celery hearts, broccoli or cauliflower stems, I chopped all of these very finely and they are perfect for pasta sauce.  The green part of the inside of sweet pepper (not the white parts or the seeds) are good too (they are just not all that attractive in a salad).  Finally, any tomatoes (or parts of tomatoes) that are too soft to be eaten raw are chopped, frozen, and later cooked in spaghetti sauce.
Spices and seasoning: salt and pepper I use always (although often on the finished product in my plate directly), dried herbs (almost anything goes: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, etc.; no mint, no dill); if you like your pasta spicy, a bit of chili or hot sauce.  Finally, I like to empty left over jars of different things in my pasta sauce: salsa, alfredo sauce (to make it a bit more like a rosé sauce), even a bit of BBQ sauce if I am trying to finish the bottle.  At this point, go with your guts and your sense of art.
Once made, the spaghetti sauce can be frozen in plastic (food-safe) containers – don’t forget to label them!  Bon appétit.