Thoughts on a Low Grocery Bill

Whenever I post a recipe or another food post, I usually hear from a reader or two who tout cooking everything from scratch. They’ll tell me about their very low food bill and encourage me to post recipes that start from even more staple-oriented food.

A great example comes from my recent recipe for lemony fettuccine with asparagus:

Fettuccine in our pasta bowl

Commenters on the recipe offered lots of great suggestions for how to improve the recipe: use broccoli instead of asparagus, use olive oil instead of canola, and so on.

One reader emailed me and offered up a further interesting suggestion:

Your lemon fettuccine recipe was pretty low on protein. I make my own pasta and sometimes add ground flaxseed to the dough to increase the protein count. It creates a great taste and keeps my grocery bill low.

Undoubtedly, making my own pasta (something I do from time to time) is a great way to make mind-blowingly delicious pasta and it’s way cheaper than the boxed stuff. You can make a giant pile of pasta with just a couple cups of flour and a few eggs.

Time
There’s a problem, though: from-scratch pasta is time expensive. Making the dough, pressing it, cutting it, and drying it can eat up a good hour of your time. Considering that I’m trimming about a dollar in cost off of a box of pasta for that effort, I’m only saving $1 for that hour of my time.

For a busy person (and who isn’t), saving $1 for an hour’s worth of work is not a good deal.

This is true for many from-scratch dishes: the closer you get to the raw ingredients, the less it costs, but the more involved time it takes. I don’t mean total time – it’s often comparable between from-scratch recipes and others – but the time you have to spend focused on the meal itself.

Time has a cost. Time spent on one activity is time not spent on something else – even if it’s just idle relaxation. That time could be used to increase your earnings or to save money in other ways.

Health
Most of us are biologically wired to enjoy and to crave fattening foods. Our ancestors found such foods so rarely that they were hard-wired to love them and to pack it away when such an opportunity arose.

Today, with the abundance of food around us, that can be a real danger. Without psychological reinforcement that we shouldn’t, we tend to eat everything served to us. Without being careful, we’ll eat an unbalanced diet. Both of these are detrimental to our long term health.

This problem is made worse by the fact that unhealthier options are generally less expensive. Take a look at the cuts at your local butcher or meat counter – the fatty cuts are the cheap cuts. Wander through the aisles and compare the cheap pasta sauce and the organic pasta sauce on the nutrition label. Compare a loaf of bread made from whole grains and a loaf of generic white bread. Time and time again, the unhealthy option is the cheap option.

I look at such food purchases in a very simple way: you save money now to pay more later on. Pay more later? A consistent diet of unhealthy foods will cost you later in life with medical bills and other health-related choices that are foisted upon you.

Personal Values
For some people, food is merely a fuel to help you plow through the day. For others, it’s an art form that speaks directly to your soul. The rest of us are in the middle, alternating back and forth.

Take me, for example. Most days, I’m perfectly content to eat leftovers for lunch and prepare a really simple dinner with my family.

Yet, every once in a while, I’ll devote three hours to making coq au vin from scratch, as I did last Friday. I’ll splurge and make croque-madames for a surprise lunch on a lazy Saturday. I’ll attempt some soul food dish from my own childhood, slaving for hours to recapture some flavor from my youth.

I don’t make these things because they’re quick. I don’t make them because they’re healthy, either, and they’re certainly not cheap. I make them because cooking is a pastime I get a great deal of personal enjoyment from.

Finding Value
In the end, it’s all about value. What’s truly important in your own life? Do you view an occasional afternoon in the kitchen as drudge work or as a soul-nurturing experience? Do you look at breads in the bread aisle by their price tag, by their nutrition facts label, or by their texture and color – or some combination thereof?

For many people, minimizing your food bill is a worthwhile goal. You live an active and very busy life and minimizing the costs in an area where you don’t have much personal added value is a great way to maximize value in your overall life.

For others, personal health is a key value and thus spending money on healthy ingredients is key. It’s worth your extra dollar to get raw organic vegetables for the meals you create and you pride yourself on putting pure, whole foods in your body.

For still others, food is their art form, a way to get in touch with their spirit. It’s worth their extra money and extra time to create the perfect meal, combining sublime flavors like an artist at the canvas.

Each of those groups sacrifices something along the way, whether it’s time or flavor or money, in order to get in touch with what really matters to them.

The happiest person is the one who has looked inside themselves, figured out what they really valued, and chased it with gusto. No matter which path you follow, if it’s in line with what your true values are, your dollars are being spent in the right place.

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  1. Kelly says:

    Great post. I agree 100%. I’ve been working on reducing my grocery budget but I don’t feel comfortable going any lower since we would be sacrificing quality and our health.

    Even though I am stay at home parent my time is more valuable than saving a dollar. Most of the time being with my kids is more valuable then anything.

  2. Heather says:

    Great post. I just read an article by Michael Pollan on the NY Times online speaking to many of these same issues. Hope you don’t mind the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html?_r=2&src=twt&twt=nytimesdining&pagewanted=all

    While we get much better value for our food these days, we’re actually losing much of the value of the food. Not to mention, when we make more of our food, we can control what’s in (or not in) it.

  3. David says:

    one of the best articles I’ve read on here… awesome, awesome thoughts!

    Lately, I’ve been struggling with making a decision that costs more than an alternative, feeling guilty that I’m spending extra money at the grocery store, for example, instead of putting it against debt. This article helped draw those lines a little clearer for me… thank you!

  4. Loving Food says:

    Good article! Personally, I find a lot of value in buying organic and local, and vegetarian/vegan. For some things, quality comes into play over price. Some clothes, for example, can be very cheap but will fall apart after a couple of wears. Spending $20 more might get you a shirt that lasts a couple of years instead. The same can be said for food. Sure, the Top Ramen is cheap and filling, but it won’t help your body last as long as the organic fruits and veggies that cost a bit more.

  5. Michelle says:

    Trent, as you get busier, I see a lot of your posts leaning more toward an attitude of getting the most value for your time, rather than finding ways to cut costs on things. I understand that you’re going in a new direction since the blog is your life, but for people like me (a student) who have more time than they have money, those labor-intensive money-saving posts were great fun because they give something to do (fun!) that also saves you a little bit of money. If you were to still post on these types of topics every so often I would still very much enjoy it. Just a thought! Thanks!

  6. Carrie says:

    Good post! I try to make as many freezer or storage friendly foods as I can ahead of time. My freezer is currently full of pre-made soups, stews, frozen veggies, casseroles, and other things that I made in bulk and stored when I had the free time. Instead of purchasing convenience from the grocery store, I create it for myself.

  7. Matt says:

    I love food as a source of pleasure. I love cooking as a hobby. I’ve also been broke for the last 3 months. I spend part of every day trying to figure out how to balance food spending with food quality.

    I’ve discovered some great techniques for making very tasty meals out of very cheap ingredients, and I’ve managed to find local markets with much better prices than the big supermarket chains. Unfortunately, a lot of my inexpensive dishes are winter dishes, and it’s been too hot lately to make stew or braises, or to cook something in the oven for a long period of time.

    Also, due to medical problems, my diet is a bit limited, and I can’t use some of the best ingredients for saving money – no beans, limited potatoes, and I have to get most of my protein from meat. Not to mention I don’t have to energy to make everything from scratch.

    But despite everything, I manage to eat pretty well. Value to me is getting a balanced meal that tastes good, whether it’s leftover pot roast, or slow-barbecued spare ribs.

  8. Javi0084 says:

    Look for some sort of food co-op in your area. I participate in one that buys fruits and vegetables in bulk. I would post the link but my comment would probably take forever to get approved (it’s only in AZ and UT). (^_^)

  9. Rosa says:

    Cooking is a hobby for me when I have time – but cooking that way isn’t frugal, judged on a time/cost basis. The frugal aspect is the discipline of making quick & cheap dishes on the nights we don’t have time to “really” cook, instead of eating takeout or deli-meat sandwiches.

  10. Louis-Philippe says:

    First comment on the simple dollar for me !

    I love this website ! I really find interesting what you write (both from the author and the comments) It really is helpful and there’s a lot of information I can use !

    This meal seems delicious, I think you like asperagus as I have seen them in other recipes posted before.

    Making our own pasta seems really cool, think I could try it, at least once to see how it feels !

  11. Ruth says:

    I know it’s not the point of the article but it sounds like you are saying that organic foods are healthier. It MAY be the case that you are avoiding pesticides or chemicals, especially in a prepared organic food like pasta sauce, but you can’t assume that because something says “organic” (and comes with a 2x price tag) it is healthier than a version that doesn’t say that. That’s like buying a name brand over generic. Organic doesn’t mean less fat, less salt, less sugar… it doesn’t even mean that you will recognize all of the ingredients if you take a peek at the back. There are a lot of reasons to buy organic foods, but don’t assume nutritional superiority.

  12. Jenn says:

    I like a balance between scratch and not. I agree with you that I COULD make all my pasta…but I happen to like the store bought stuff for some applications! I think it is great for people to have a mix of totally from scratch and “easier” meals to show on blogs. Otherwise, you might totally overwhelm people who are just learning to cook for foods from scratch.

    Matt- I am vegetarian so don’t eat meat myself, but family and partner eat a lot of it. I barbecue/grill/crock pot a bunch at once- 3-4 chicken breasts per person at a time and stick the leftovers in the fridge to make sandwiches, chicken salad, stir fry, top salads with, etc. Then they can just top whatever I am cooking with the meat. I also roast a lot of veggies- thick slices of onion and whole carrots, squash, etc on the grill (I actually use an indoor grill most of the time). It might not be super cheap, but it is healthy. Leftover roasted veggies from a meal become a side the next night, or can be made in to a quick soup.

    I don’t worry too much about my grocery bill- I would rather eat good food than save tons of money. Sure, it costs me more to buy veggies from the farmer’s market, but they taste a lot better (I actually like tomatoes, just only when they are picked ripe!).

  13. InadequateWife says:

    I find that the quality of food is more important than the price, but that doesn’t guarantee that I can always afford to buy it. We try to buy beef, chicken, pork and seafood when they are on sale and put them in the freezer.

    We choose whole grains and minimally processed foods whenever possible. We avoid aspertame, high fructose corn syrup and several other ingredients by always reading labels.

    But we hardly ever buy organic fruits and veggies because we can’t justify the price difference in our small town where selection in poor, and product turnover slow enough that the organic veggies aren’t very fresh looking. We do buy at the local farmer’s market, and have a garden of our own.

    My husband was recently referred to a dietician for weight loss and we finally told her to stop visiting because we were tired of explaining that we were NOT going to trade butter for a chemical laden, low-calorie butter-flavored spread that she recommended, nor were we going to start using a low-fat, HFCS salad dressing when we’ve been using homemade olive oil/flavored vinegar dressings.

    We’d rather be overweight (and healthy – at least in blood pressure, cholesterol, and other diagnostic tests) and enjoy our food than be miserable skinny people!

  14. Tricia says:

    It’s all in what you value most at the time. I do find that often when someone is proclaiming themselves “busy”, they are really just filling their time with worthless things. Cooking from scratch is something that will improve your health and potentially your wallet, so it’s definitely a good thing to learn, whether you think surfing the internet is more fun or not. I think it’s rather sad that so many people now have no idea how to make very basic food. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, have fifteen ingredients, or use processed food to be easy.

    I’m not really buying the argument that making pasta is a waste of time that you could be using to make more money. Maybe if you skipped out on work to do it, but otherwise, that doesn’t make much sense. It just all goes back to our nation’s dysfunction when it comes to food.

  15. Trent,

    I am always intrigued by your creations… not standard dishes here in cattle country… but they have proven tasty.

    In an effort to cut the grocery bill we have taken a shining to bulk cooking (some people go as far as once a month cooking, but we aren’t that organized). Overall it works well, we buy our meats and side dishes in bulk, cook once and freeze.

    Then… the best part… is when we get home from work, we can pop dinner in the microwave or oven and in 10 minutes be eating home made meals, slow cooked roast… spaghetti… whatever. I will admit it seemed strange to make 10 pounds of spaghetti sauce at once, but wow is it convenient.

    Keep up the interesting dishes… looking forward to your next creation.

  16. I enjoy cooking most of the time. I can avoid a lot of sodium, strange chemical ingredients, and make tasty, healthy meals all while I stay within my budget too. Most processed food is expensive and fattening too. I don’t miss it.

  17. mare says:

    Pot each and every meal needs to have a protein component. In general, North Americans consume too much protein!

  18. Becky says:

    I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m a modern day Roseanne. I hate cooking. I’m a stay-at-home mom and apparently I’m suppose to be cooking and baking away all the time and loving it. Blah. I’d eat out every night if I could. I hate prepping stuff, I hate smelling stuff as it cooks, I hate washing the dishes involved. Also, whenever I cook – I’m so sick of looking at whatever I cooked that I don’t want to eat it.

    I’m also very “food stupid” – I can’t tell “good” stuff from “bad” stuff. I understand how eating healthy is great for the body and mind and whatnot. It doesn’t change my view of cooking. I hate it. I would never even consider making pasta from scratch – it’s so easy to open a box!

    For the inquiring minds, I grill a lot (not really cooking). I usually make a frozen vegetable (Green Giant boxes – all disposable)and a box starch to go along with the meat I’m grilling. Healthiest thing? Nah. Unhealthiest thing? maybe

  19. Sierra says:

    I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, but I do have a very labor intensive, low-cost approach to family meals. We cook almost everything from scratch, and we’re vegetarians.

    Why do I do it? In addition to eating in line with my ethics, all that food prep is healthy work that I can do with my kids. They wash vegetables while I chop them, measure ingredients, knead bread dough, and pick flowers and fruits from the garden. I spend all day with the kids and we have to do *something* that they can be engaged and involved with. Why not do slow food? The cooking isn’t a special joy to me, but keeping our cost of living low enough that I can be a full-time parent is.

  20. spaces says:

    I do love cooking. I think once you figure out the principles of a given style of cooking, it’s easy to get away from the written recipes and have some fun.

    I’m allergic to eggs, but I love baked goods. To deal with the allergy, and still get my muffins, etc., I’ve resorted to creating my own recipes, mostly by (tasty) trial and error. When I started towards that end, I worked in an office with about 100 people, so it was easy to bake a bunch and get testers I mean guinea pigs I mean subjects. Tofu is a good enough binder, but I found out that you really don’t need it. Any fruit and many vegetables work just as well. I find myself using banana, apple sauce and pumpkin regularly. I also just plain leave out the egg sometimes — chocolate chip cookies do just fine if you ditch the egg and add a bit of water. (You can also cut the sugar and fat in half and they come out fine. Just keep the chocolate in, and nobody will get hurt.)

    For a while I got into cooking Thai. I ended up having to grow a couple of key ingredients myself, and also grew a third because I could do so for pennies or pay a stupidly high price for a local source. Most dishes come down to fish sauce, galanga, lime juice, brown sugar, keffir leaves.

    My more recent efforts revolve around beans. I’m trying to come up with something new every few days. No doubt “my” recipes are out there, in total or as variations on things others found out a long time ago, but it’s still fun, to me, to make it all up as I go along. I haven’t come up with my version of essential beans yet, but I suspect it’s going to vary based on the bean. Essential black beans include a wee bit of salt, tomato, onion, hot peppers and lime juice.

    If I ever wrote a book, it would likely be a cook book. Too bad for me there are 20,000,000 in print.

  21. Matt says:

    Jenn – Adding meat to a vegetarian dish sounds like something I might like to do every once in a while, but my cooking style changes depending on my mood and who I’m cooking for/with. Usually I just cook for myself, and then I like to do things that are easy to eat but very flavorful, like curry or chili. When I’m over at my father house, though, we usually cook together and he tends to go for the meat-starch-veggie combo. In those cases it’s kinda hard to leave out the meat, or to make something that will go well with extra meat that’s still substantial on its own. Not that any of us are vegetarians – I’m quite the opposite. :)

    Becky – I get exactly what you mean. There are often nights that I have no evergy and I just want to throw something in the microwave, or dump a box into a pan and be done with it. What keeps me from doing that too often is that I’ve become accustomed to home-cooked food. Convenience food is almost universally too salty, or too sweet, or just doesn’t taste good to me. I think that’s the better alter-ego of food snobbishness: you get to like the stuff that’s good for you and dislike the stuff that’ll kill you.

  22. almost there says:

    In this past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine, Michale Pollan has an article called “Out of the Kitchen, onto the Couch”. It suprisingly states that meal preparation time is inversely correlated to obesity rates. “The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity”. It is a good article, here is the link:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html?pagewanted=8&_r=1&hpw

  23. Scotty says:

    As a quick aside, fresh pasta is simply AMAZING. The taste just doesn’t compare to almost any dried pasta. The best Fettuccine Alfredo that I’ve ever had in any restaurant does not compare to the simple stuff I make at home. Now, every time I try alfredo at a restaurant, I always regret it. Only really good, true italian restaurants will even bother making it fresh. (recipe below). The sad thing is how easy a good alfredo sauce is so easy to make, it’s almost ‘harder’ to pour a can of pre-made sauce into a pan!

    But Trent’s right, making fresh pasta is indeed time intensive. Even if you have all the tools, you’re going to spend a good 1/2 hour to make the dough (letting it rest for another 1/2 hour) and a good hour or two doing the noodles. But, the trade-off is an amazingly simple, tasty meal which will impress just about anyone you invite over. Fresh pasta really isn’t hard to make, and you dont even need the fancy tools. I actually find it easier to cut the noodles by hand.

    My alfredo recipe (adapted from Mario Batali’s publicly available recipe on food.ca/.com). This makes enough for a generous serving for 3 or 4. Keep in mind, this is not enough to drown the pasta in sauce, just enough to coat the noodles. Many people seem to think pasta should be drowning in sauce.

    - 1 stick (250ml) butter.
    - 1′ish cup of good parmesean reggiano, grated. The better, more flavorable cheese, the better the sauce. Using cheap, bland parmesean doesn’t cut it unfortunately. A good $10 wedge of reggiano is what you want.
    - 1 cup cream. Some say you need really heavy cream, but regular is plenty rich.
    - 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped.
    - Dash of salt/pepper.
    - (For a quick rose sauce, just add a few tablespoons of tomato paste).

    Heat it all in a sauce pan, pour over pasta. Amazing. True alfredo isn’t a really creamy sauce that your pasta is swimming in, it’s just noodles tossed in butter and reggiano, at least according to batali. It takes 5 mins to make, and will taste better than any pre-made stuff that a restaraunt will serve.

    Try this with fresh pasta one weekend, it’s fairly cheap, pretty easy to make, and tastes amazing. The only expensive part is the cheese.

  24. Can-eye says:

    Hi Trent

    I do like your recipies. I go through your blog each day. But I always wonder, on an average what percentage of the income is appropriate to spend on groceries in a month? Coming from a culture where all meals are home made and we eat out or buy a meal from the outside is only on occassions like birthdays, anniversaries or receptions, it becomes hard to relate to expenses pertaining to groceries.

    Thanks

  25. Dave says:

    My greatest meals are always the fresh ones I or someone I know cooks. Farmers Markets are usually the best route in saving money and having delicious local food. In my minimalist lifestyle, I always seem to find something great to make with just few items I have.

    Thanks for the suggestions TSD…

    Have a great day…
    Dave
    LifeExcursion

  26. Jade says:

    Matt, I totally understand what you mean about being accustomed to home-cooked food, at least when it comes to smoothies. Sure, stopping at Jamba Juice is convenient (and since I was dumb and bought the stock, I want everyone to go to Jamba Juice every day, because it’s yummy!) and fairly yummy, or I could grab a yogurt smoothie at the store, but I much prefer my homemade smoothies. Whole, fresh or frozen fruit, I know exactly what’s in it, and it’s nice and thick but not too cold and not overly sweetened or too heavy on the yogurt.

    Unfortunately I don’t think I can name much else that I prefer homemade… :( I can make it for a few days on my own cooking, and then I need a break with some takeout. At least I know where to get yummy and cheap Mexican takeout…

  27. Jen says:

    Matt: your taste buds and body definitely become used to the good stuff, when you take the time to eat organic, whole foods made from scratch. Mmm… slow food, good food… for you, the farm workers, the animals, and the planet!!

    Ruth: if you are buying organic, REAL foods (not processed), they ARE better nutritionally! In addition, they’re sustainable and not dependent on petroleum based pesticides and fertilizers, GM seeds, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Therefore, they’re better for the farm workers, the animals, and the environment too. The increased nutrition from grass-fed pastured meats, dairy, eggs and produce are enough for me! However, I care about other people, animals and the environment too. So organic, whole (real) foods are a quadruple whammy. You vote with your dollars. I don’t shop in the grocery store anymore. I buy from my local farmers, who deserve to earn a living wage for producing the high quality food I feed my family.

  28. ChrisD says:

    I think saying that cooking from scratch is very time intensive with pasta as an example is a bit exaggerated as pasta is one ingredient where the premade stuff is just as healthy and free of additives, and much quicker. I would call dried pasta ‘scratch’ food. Steaming a few vegetables over the same pot you are boiling the pasta in is also very quick.
    RE organics not being better despite the 2x pricetag. A popular economics book said that because we are willing to pay more for healthy food (or fairtrade coffee), sellers take advantage and charge far more than is justified by the more expensive ingredients. I found wholemeal pasta was four times the price of normal pasta. There is no way this reflects real costs (I didn’t buy it).

  29. Matt says:

    Something I forgot to mention with respect to organic food being better: it’s not always true.

    It depends on what you’re comparing. Sure, if you compare blue-box mac & cheese with what you could make at home with “real” ingredients, the scratch-made stuff is better in all respects but price. But compare, say, a normal banana with an organic banana, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any sort of practical difference.

    It’s only fair to compare like products. I’ve found that organic, free-range chicken (not raised on a factory farm) tastes a lot better than the regular cheap chickens. I haven’t investigated, but I don’t think there’s enough of a difference between the lowest generic brand of instant mac & cheese and the best organic box. I don’t think I’d end up buying either.

    The differences I use to make my decisions are based more around whether I’m sure the food was raised well – grown by a local farmer, or produced by an artisan rather than a machine. That’s why I prefer to get my produce from farmers markets, and I buy whatever looks and smells best, regardless of “organic” or “no pesticide” labels. I can always wash the produce anyway.

  30. David says:

    My thoughts on this topic basically mirror the author’s. The recipes cooked in our household NEED to be both fast and easy. I have extensive experience in the restuarant industry, and can cook just about anything, but my days of spending hours in the kitchen cooking some extravagent dish ended the day my son was born.

    Most of the time, I can cook a meal for the three of us that will ast a few days and takes less than an hour, and that is from start thru clean-up. if it takes any longer than that, I simply don’t have the time to do it.

    And most of our cooking is done just about “from scratch”.

  31. Kathy says:

    The most inexpensive cuts of meat are not the fattiest. They are the toughest and the come from the part of the animal that gets the most work and have the most muscle. That is why they are so tough and why the best method of cooking is to braise them or stew them. The more expensive, most tender cuts of meat come from the middle part of the animal that does not get worked out. This is where your your cuts of tenderloin come from.

    “Organic” has become a marketing buzzword and tool because people will pay more for what they perceive is better even though it may not be all that much better. The public has been conditioned to believe that organic means more than it actually does. The criteria set forth by the government for what can be labeled organic is very loose and some very un-organic things are allowable. You would be very surprised to know that “organic” doesn’t automatically mean pesticide free. They use animal and plant based pesticides and fertilizers instead.

  32. Michael says:

    @Matt

    Penn & Teller recently did a show on organic food – (S07E06) – guess we have been watching the same show.

  33. It is definitely possible to have a low grocery bill, even if you make healthy eating a priority. I enjoy cooking– I am by no means a “fancy” cook- but I am able to get a healthy, mostly-from-scratch meal on the table every night, and my grocery bill hovers around $50 a week. I tend to stockpile staple foods when they are cheapest; most weeks the only things I need to run to the grocery store for are milk and seasonal produce. I have an extra freezer which is a huge asset- I can freeze produce when it’s free from the garden or on sale, I can freeze baked goods and dinners when I make double batches, and I can prep foods ahead of time, like beans, and freeze for later. Cheap food does not need to be unhealthy.

  34. “The happiest person is the one who has looked inside themselves, figured out what they really valued, and chased it with gusto. No matter which path you follow, if it’s in line with what your true values are, your dollars are being spent in the right place.”

    Probably the best part of the whole thing, amen! :)

    I also agree with Ruth (#4). Organic is just another thing most people tout as superior, when that isn’t always the case. It ticks me off when people throw it around like it makes them better, just because they can afford/choose to spend more money on food. Moderation is the key to a good diet, nothing else. Eat your cake, but eat your carrots too and you ought to be okay. (No where else in the world has the problems America has, but they eat mostly the same stuff! Europe actually has much better potato chips, IMO, and portion sizes are restaurants are typically smaller.)

  35. mary says:

    “The happiest person is the one who has looked inside themselves, figured out what they really valued, and chased it with gusto.”

    Trent- I so agree with this. I love having lots of time to do the things I love to do. I’m a very DIY person. I’m constantly honing a balanced lifestyle where I can get along on less money and have more time, and I find this to be creatively challanging in itself.

  36. Christine T. says:

    I think part of the reason organic is more expensive is becaue they are generally smaller farms that don’t qualify for alot of farm subsidies that the bigger ones do. So in a sense unhealthy food is being subsidized by our tax dollars.

  37. thecornerbooth says:

    Maybe you should ask the commenter if they mill their own flour? It sounds like the flour in their pasta is lacking in fiber. ;)

    It is about balance and compromise as you suggest.

  38. Balance is uber important. I can buy italian imported pasta at my local cheap grocery store for $1 per pound. It’s so good. If I can get pasta that inexpensively, I’d rather buy it and save the hour to do something else. I don’t think I’d have time for the blog if I had to make all the pasta we eat.

  39. Kim says:

    Hey Trent, It’s funny that you would write about this today. Right now I’m letting my pasta dough rest before I put it through the pasta machine to make spinach fettuccine for dinner tonight. I sometimes do quick and easy and sometimes I make everything from scratch. I love to cook and bake. I’d much rather be in the kitchen cooking than almost anything else.

  40. Amy says:

    Food, values, farm reality, organics: I hope everyone is taking the time to see Food, Inc. which is playing in smaller theaters across the nation right now. Talk about subsidizing the stuff that’s bad for us…

  41. EngineerMom says:

    I think there’s one point missing in the post – that for some people, cooking/baking is their hobby. So making things completely from scratch, while more time-consuming, also brings them pleasure. I enjoy cooking and baking – I use it as a way to wind down from a stressful day, so the time, for me, is not just preparing the meal, but also a sort of meditation.

    On a side note, I was laid off recently, and our grocery bills have gone down a lot because I now have more time to spend doing things like making hoagie buns and refried beans from scratch. Sometimes the benefit of not spending those few dollars really is worth that extra hour.

    Also, if you’re comparing homemade pasta with store-bought, at least compare it with the fresh pasta in the refrigerated section, not the dried boxed pasta! The price comparison is more accurate when you’re comparing like products.

  42. angela says:

    Like many other readers who have posted…this is a balance for our family. When I have the time (usually after dinner when I am cleaning up from that night) I begin to plan out the meal for tomorrow. If something needs to be cooked/chopped/combined etc. and if the kids are entertained, then I do a bit more complicated for the next night or prep the next two nights meals. If time does not allow for it, I try to have basics on hand and go for soup and salad or soup and sandwich.

    We are also on a really tight budget so we have been really working with what we have in the house (something so simple – use what you have). This weekend we had French Dips. Instead of running to the store, I made the buns from stuff I had at home. It was time consuming and turned out just OK. Yet it filled the void and I got time to putz and not spend anything more.

  43. Des says:

    RE: Organics – They are not more expensive because they come from small farms. In fact, it is often difficult for small farmers to jump through all the hoops to be labeled “organic”. They are more expensive because it costs more to grow them and because people will pay more for them.

    Studies have shown that organics are NOT nutritionally superior. They are better because they contain less (not *none*, but less) chemicals, but are nutritionally the same as non-organics. If you are looking for increased nutrition, think local farmers. The produce travels less from vine to plate, and thus retains more nutrients.

    Studies have shown that if you MUST choose, locally grown non-organics are superior to organic food from across the country. (Of course, it goes without saying that locally grown organics would be the best choice when money is not a concern.)

  44. Allison says:

    Trent — What a beautifully written article!! I completely agree — we all have to figure out what holds the most value for US as individuals.

    I weigh in differently depending on the day. I’m a working mom of five, so weeknights have to be quick, easy things. And handily enough with those five children, they are all learning to cook on one night a week! The littlest one (age 5) knows how to jazz up bag salad with cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds and he makes some great sandwiches. The oldest ones (16 and 18) can do anything Mom and Dad can do, because they’ve done it WITH us, and my 16-son makes anything Italian better than me!

    On weekends that are carefree (very rare), we bake bread or cook up tons of meat for the freezer. They are learning all these skills for their someday families too!

    Fabulous, fabulous article!

  45. I hear all the time about how I could save the $15 an hour my cleaning charges me by doing it myself but I pay her gladly for 3 reasons:
    1. I loathe cleaning–I’d rather work an extra shift to pay someone to do it for me than to do it myself!
    2. She’s better at it. It would take me 12 hours to do what she does in 6, AND she’s got to support her family too. If I got rid of her, it would be a lot easier for her to find a replacement for me than for me to find another cleaning lady I can trust.
    3. My hourly rate for work is much higher than hers so it doesn’t make sense for me to take a pay cut to do something I hate that takes me twice as long to do!
    So, she’s not a luxury–she’s a necessity!!

  46. owlhaven says:

    Nodding here…you make a lot of good points. I love having a variety of affordable recipes, some super quick and some much more labor intensive, so that I can tailor my cooking effort to the type of day I’m having.

    Mary Ostyn
    Family Feasts for $75 a Week

  47. Sarah says:

    I love food. I am a food freak. BUT I can’t cook worth beans. So I usually buy everything and then whip something together in minutes. Recently I have been all about the organic foods. And I hate to say it, but now I am starting to rethink my decision to go organic. Recently, in like the last few days, London released a study that says there is no reason to buy organic, that is has no higher amounts of goodness than regularly grown food. I don’t know how I feel about that, but the media is going buck wild with this one. Take a look at the video and let me know what you think, cause to be honest, I could probably save a lot of money if I didn’t go organic.
    http://www.newsy.com/videos/food_ethics_is_organic_the_right_choice

  48. Rob in Madrid says:

    I don’t cook bake or do anything unless the wife is present, too many disasters! She also has the knack to take an average meal add a few things (bit of sugar salt spices) that makes it WOW

    I do the chopping frying and cleaning and she adds the finishing touches.

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