Thursday, January 13, 2005

The grub at these here parties beats the pants off lunch at Sardi's

Jane Galt offers ideas on eating cheaply: I talk the talk about eating cheap, but would I really want to live that way, demand several interlocutors. My darlings, I am a journalist with MBA-sized student loans. Would I want to live that way? I do. Oh, I entertain more than someone poor could afford to, and I have several habits, such as diet ginger ale and berry-yogurt-compotes, that are not in the USDA's thrifty food plan. But I invite you to peruse today's menu: Breakfast: 1 packet instant oatmeal Banana Lunch: Microwave rice and peas* Apple Snack: Honey-nut cheerios Dinner: Not sure yet. Chicken soup, maybe, made from scratch and stuck in my freezer, or homemade chili treated the same way. I can heartily approve of her dinner menu. But frozen peas? Honey-Nut Cheerios? Instant oatmeal? Gee, Mrs. Rockefeller, thanks for the tips! All joking aside (and without any offense meant), there are better options. Take instant oatmeal. I grew up eating oatmeal porridge for breakfast every day until I was 16 or so, and finally became fed up with the healthful additions of flaxseed and soy milk with which my parents insisted on corrupting the pure, unadulterated recipe. Three-quarters of a cup of rolled or steel-cut oats, about twice as much water, brown sugar to taste, some kind of optional fruit and an optional egg for protein (and a custard-like consistency), and simmer the whole thing until thickened; that's all it takes. I like(d) raisins for preference in mine, but berries or chopped fruit also work. Make it plain out of even highly-marked-up boxed oats, and it still comes to only pennies per serving, slightly more if topping with milk. As for frozen peas, admittedly, buying fresh is a seasonal option, and not terribly cheaper. However, how elastic is the demand? I can get a 2kg bag of fresh carrots for $1.99; dice those, freeze some for later convenience if need be, and you've still got some vegetables in your mock congee/risotto, for a better price than frozen peas. (At least, compared to what the price of frozen peas tends to be around here.) Despite such miserly admonishments, that's not to say I don't occasionally splurge, albeit on a small scale. The most expensive meal I've made in the past month was sushi, and probably cost about $6 - remarkably high, for my budget; even that was largely due to $3 worth of fresh tuna, as well as the amortized cost of wasabi, nori, and pickled ginger. That's an anomaly, though; most of what I eat largely involves cheap bulk grain, whether barley in a soup or flour in homemade bread. Protein is easily found in ground beef or periodically-sale-priced cheese, which are a limited expense. (Oh, and Diet Pepsi. That's more of an expense than I'd like, but I can justify that with how awful Ottawa's municipal water supply tastes. Compared to well water out where I grew up, anyway. And as long as I'm buying something canned or bottled, why not something with flavour and caffeine?) Nitpicking aside, I'll certainly agree with Jane's basic point: It is possible to eat very frugally, on something like $40 a month for the essentials, as long as you're not obsessed with eating meat at every meal or cold cereal for breakfast. It's all about cutting down on the most processed, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods.


Blogger MM said...

Ah, but carrots don't provide protein; peas mixed with grain do. Plus I like them. And an 89 cent box of frozen peas goes for three meals, which is within my budget.

1/13/2005 01:06:00 PM  

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