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Staying Home

Get Cooking!

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 4, July-August 2006, pp. 180-183

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I'm new to staying at home and I'm learning how to cook. My husband and I want to prioritize eating fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables. But we are also getting used to living on one income and have noticed that organic options are sometimes more expensive. How do other families deal with this dilemma? Also, are there cookbooks that can help me to learn this skill?

Mother's Response

I applaud you for choosing to prepare meals at home for your family. Not only are you ensuring better health for your children, but you will introduce them to the freshness of whole foods. Perhaps you will inspire them to cook as they grow. And you might be surprised to see that, whether you buy organic produce or not, you can save money on groceries.

As you learn to cook, find cookbooks that contain simple recipes. Though I have several books on hand, I turn to the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook more than anything else. Once you get the basics down, you can improvise and experiment with ingredients. Allow yourself to make mistakes. You might create some happy accidents along the way.

Shop for groceries at several places and compare prices. In addition to the local grocery or health food stores, locate a farmer's market in your town. Local growers of produce tend to cultivate organic fruits and vegetables. Develop a relationship with farmers you trust. They can negotiate bargains with you.

Buy produce in season to save money and to savor the best taste. You might purchase large quantities of some items that you can freeze for future use. Consider growing your own vegetables and herbs, too. Build a compost bin to turn trimmings into dirt that can be used in a garden.

Also try making your own baby food. The LLLI book WHOLE FOODS FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS, by Margaret Kenda, is an excellent resource. You might be surprised at how simple it is to create purees and simple cereals. Homemade baby food is much healthier and less expensive than processed foods sold in jars at grocery stores. They taste good, too Have fun and enjoy your adventures in the kitchen!

Camille Sommer
Phoenix AZ USA

Mother's Response

Eating well can be quite a challenge. I went through the same struggles, which led to my writing the LLL-approved book Refined to Real Food: Moving Your Family Toward Healthier, Wholesome Eating. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way.

First, save money by increasing plant foods in your diet and cut back on animal products. Quality animal foods tend to be very expensive. By using more whole grains, inexpensive produce, and beans, you can stretch your grocery budget and afford higher quality animal products. Also, toxins tend to settle in fats, so use your money for organic versions of high-fat foods like meat, dairy, nuts, and oils.

Second, be realistic about what you will use. I found that in my quest to eat healthier foods, I often bought more than we could use. Because these foods are often perishable, they would go to waste. Make it a challenge to see how far you can stretch your foods, supplement with the traditionally inexpensive foods like beans, and develop some "stretching" habits like soups, stir fries, and casseroles that use up miscellaneous items hanging around the fridge.

For produce, foods "in season" tend to be less expensive. Others, including carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, are generally a good buy all year round. Find ways to use these foods so when a craving for organic berries comes up in the middle of winter, you can splurge. Copy the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide from the Web site www.ewg.org and bring it to the grocery store. If organic produce is too expensive or unavailable, choose conventional products from the "lowest in pesticides" list.

Often, you can save money by investing more time. Use dried beans instead of canned, plant a little garden or even a few pots, and buy in bulk. Many areas have food cooperatives where people buy cases of food on sale.

As for cookbooks, LLL-published WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, by Roberta Johnson, is a classic and should be in everyone's kitchen. LLL has other resources and recommendations available at www.lalecheleague.org and there is a "Recommended Reading" section in the back of my book as well.

Allison Anneser
Hollis NH USA

Mother's Response

Five years ago when I got married, I literally could not distinguish a California lettuce from spinach. With practice and the help of some talented women, I am now better prepared to feed my family. Here are some suggestions you might find helpful:

• Find a mentor: there are women who really enjoy cooking and can teach you some valuable skills. Grandmothers usually received a lot more instruction in "home arts" than we did.

• If you taste something you like, ask the person who made it for the recipe.

• The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook is a great book that teaches a lot of basics and shows pictures of meat cuts, vegetables, and fruits.

• A great Web site to find new recipes is www.epicurious.com.

My family is also living on one income since I decided to stay at home with my children. Here is what I do to try and save money:

• Plan your menu for the week and create a grocery list based on the menu. This will keep you from wasting food because you forgot you had it.

• Prepare as much food from scratch as you can. Pre-prepared products are more expensive and contain more sodium and other additives than foods you prepare at home.

• Cook once, eat twice. Double your recipes and freeze the extra meal. Use leftover chicken to make soup. Good luck!

Isabel Caldera
Germantown MD USA

Mother's Response

I began my journey as a stay-at-home mom two years ago. One topic my husband and I discussed was eating healthy (meaning organic). We wanted to encourage good eating habits in our children, and of course, provide the best food for our family. Money isn't necessarily tight in our household, but I wanted to save money for other expenses.

I started a small garden after reading a book called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I spend three hours a week tending to the garden and have been able to produce enough food that our grocery bill is cut into half. The next year, we expanded our garden and now have extras to can and preserve for the winter months. The garden has been great, and we appreciate seeing a $100 weekly grocery bill cut in half. It is quite a bit of savings over a year!

Cindy Rother
Manor TX USA

Mother's Response

I agree it can be difficult to budget for fresh fruits and vegetables, especially organic, while living on one income. Our family lives in a town home, so we are unable to grow any of our vegetables in a garden. (We are limited to pots on our patio). We have shopped at local farmers' markets in the past for our summer fruits and vegetables, but have found these prices to be climbing as well.

Our solution this year is to be a part of a "workshare" program at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in our area. Most people participating in CSA buy a "share" (for around $300-$350) each year and then receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs (in season) from the farm. However, this year our family will work at the farm twice a month planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Each time we go to the farm to work, we will receive a box of fresh vegetables to take home. We are looking forward to being farmers for the summer and enjoying the fruits (and vegetables!) of our labor.

As for cookbooks, I highly recommend Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. Leanne provides nutritious and easy recipes along with all the shopping lists you'll need. She also offers a weekly email subscription to a variety of menus (12 to choose from), which are extremely affordable. You can try out any of her "Menu-Mailers" for free by visiting her Web site at www.savingdinner.com. She has really helped make meal planning a breeze for me.

Barb Barrett
Woodbury MN USA

Mother's Response

One cookbook we have that I would not want to be without is The More With Less Cookbook. It encourages the use of fresh ingredients and has many "from scratch" recipes. The tables included are helpful for figuring out equivalents for recipes in other books that call for a can of this or a package of that. Good luck!

Ruth Hersey
Haiti

Mother's Response

It is wonderful that you are willing to give this adventure a try. You'll have fun experimenting with new recipes along with some old favorites using organic ingredients.

Most organic produce is more expensive and the transition can take a toll on your pocketbook. Here are some things I have tried:

• Go to the local natural food store and ask for distressed produce. "Distressed" produce is what they call produce just before it's too old to sell, and it's the yummiest since it is ripe and at its peak of flavor.

• Join a food co-op and buy in bulk.

• Contact your local extension service and ask where the produce or local farmers' markets are, and ask about gleaning programs.

• Buy from local merchants. This is better for the environment and you usually save money.

• Grow your own food. If you don't have the space for a garden, look into garden co-ops.

• Buy seasonal produce and freeze it. In the summer I pick berries and freeze for later use.

• Take the transition slowly.

I have found the LLL cookbooks to have my favorite recipes. I can trust that the food will be healthy and tasty. When you do choose whole foods, remember to go for nutrition and good flavor. A "virtuous" meal with a pat of butter and a dash of salt makes for a tastier experience. Happy cooking!

Selene Gold
Eugene OR USA

Mother's Response

The number one book I recommend for cooking is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham. This was the first cookbook published that didn't assume readers already knew the basics, and I think it's now in its 14th edition. It actually tells you such things as what it means to "scald" milk. The vegetables chapter goes through a long list of items alphabetically with not only recipes, but also information on when they're in season and how to choose the best ones.

A cheap way to get organic vegetables is to grow your own. Some plants will give a large yield without taking up a lot of space, and you can freeze or can the extra for winter. If you are as new to gardening as cooking, go to a garden supply shop and consult with a salesperson. You can start slow, and add something new to your garden each year as you get the hang of it.

Another good source is a farmers' market. Yes, the produce is often more expensive than at the grocery store because the farms are smaller, but you can often get a good deal at the end of the day on things that won't last until the following week (many vendors even give it away). Rainy days are especially good for this. Also, some local farmers have a co-op deal in which you pay one price at the beginning of the season for a certain amount of produce each week. Congratulations on your decision to learn home cooking, and good luck.

Juno Farnsworth
Burlington VT USA

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