Simple Foods

by Yauna Lee

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I was watching the news yesterday and was shocked to see a story on food lines in our country. The shocking part, at least to me, was the number of people who rely on food banks as their sole source of food the last week of each month (the line was huge).

While many people have survived their Top Ramen days and even laugh over it now, it is no laughing matter that a family of four can't buy enough food with $300 to last them a month!

I grew up with my grandparents who lived through the Depression, and even with very little money, we never went hungry, never relied on food stamps and never went to a food bank. Here are some of the ways they made a little food seem like a feast.

  • Breakfast was simple. During the week, breakfast consisted of oatmeal with a little bit of whatever fruit was in season. A little milk was poured over the top.
  • Our weekend breakfast was an event. Pancakes or waffles made from scratch, eggs, and bacon or sausage (all bought on sale as loss leaders or from the discount bin in the meat department) made up our weekend breakfasts.
  • Lunch was simple. We usually had soup that was made from leftovers from the night before or a simple sandwich (bread was baked from scratch).
  • Snacks consisted of whatever fruit or vegetable that was in season (these were deeply discounted loss leaders at stores, gleaned from local farmers, from our own small garden, or from roadside stands).
  • Popcorn was also a good snack. A little bit goes a long way and butter wasn't a necessity.
  • Dinner was often centered on grains bought in bulk. We would have Asian night (rice and stir-fried vegetables with a little meat), Mexican night (beans and rice were the centerpiece of the meal), Italian night (pasta and salad), and stews (heavy on the seasonal vegetables and grains or pasta).
  • We drank milk at breakfast and then water or occasionally juice the rest of the time.
  • Desserts were always made from scratch and usually made out of fruit.
  • We didn't have (or only had on very rare occasions) soda pop, TV dinners, pre-prepared foods, chips, candy, or instant foods. The food was filling and it tasted good. These simple foods kept us healthy and gave us energy for the rest of our day. Food was for sustenance not for therapy.
  • Shopping was an event. Loss leaders in the weekly ads dictated what we ate for the week. During particularly good sales, each kid was given a shopping list and money and then let loose in the store. You could definitely tell when tuna or pasta was on sale by the amount in our pantry!
  • Food was bought in bulk and then carefully packaged to remain fresh. Meat was double wrapped for the freezer and a bushel of tomatoes was turned into tomato juice or canned sauce, etc.
  • Food was traded or given away. If Granddad found a great sale on cases of onions, the whole neighborhood would have onions. If he returned home with cases of slightly damaged bananas, all of the ladies in the neighborhood would make banana bread for church the next weekend.
  • Food came from a variety of sources. We had a small garden. Hunting, fishing, and berry picking were seasonal events.
  • Cooking was important. At the time, microwaves and turbo ovens didn't exist. Cooking was a learned skill. Baking was a frequent event. Everyone learned how to actually cook something.

Today, simple food is a lot more complicated. People don't cook as much, don't have as much time to cook, and don't have the skill to turn out good old home cooking. Our taste buds have been desensitized to the point that box dinners seem like good food, and we often equate food with status. (Your kids have to have the over-processed, over-priced, unhealthy food that they see advertised on TV by their favorite actor, singer, or sports icon.)

My hope is that more people who need to stretch their food dollars will lean towards simpler cooking. Not only is it healthier, cheaper and more creative, but it is also good therapy (kneading bread), educational (you certainly learn your fractions and measurements), and a great family activity.

For more information on simple cooking, there are a variety of websites with this information, the library is full of cookbooks free for the borrowing, or you can round up an elderly family member, friend or neighbor to teach you some tricks of the trade.

Take the Next Step:

  • Once you trim the grocery budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
  • Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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