As the economy continues to sound for the bottom of the market, those of us who aren’t economists or politicians are reading the headlines and wondering just where this recession is heading. In times like these, we scrimp and save like the generations before us. However, there is probably considerable room for belt tightening for most of us, and thinking about doing more with less is a lesson in gratitude that shows us how much we actually have. When the economy and culture isn’t constantly driving us to want, want, want, we find that there is remarkably little that we really need.
Eating on a budget is about eating consciously, not going without. Bringing home some fresh fruit and a loaf of bread means so much more to me when I’m down on my luck than the prepared foods I might eat otherwise without thinking, much less a tasting. Having a full pantry of food that you will last you through X number of months can really lessen the psychological load of stress in general, especially when it comes to money. The last time I heard that a lay off was definitely in the cards in my industry, I stopped by the grocery store and just stocked up on food. I really felt better afterwards, too. If things are looking a little grim financially or employment-wise, you’d be surprised at just how therapeutic car load of staples can be.
Remember to include plenty of variety in your pantry; even hard core survivalists caution against the phenomena known as flavor fatigue, where you simply can’t stomach eating the same food over and over. Picking a few foods you really like that you’ll buy regardless of cost will help you and your household put up with a few cut backs and not feel like you’re missing anything. You might indulge in good meats or nice baked goods. My indulgences include a decent olive oil, honey, butter, and reasonably fresh herbs/spices, and I can enjoy these foods without thinking of the extra expenses because of the money I save everywhere else.
Contrary to common opinion, eating cheaply does not have to mean eating unhealthily. Sure, a person can live off the dollar menu at the fast food joints, but who’d want to? Actually some of the most healthy foods in the grocery store are also the cheapest: carrots, greens, bananas, cereals, almost everything we’re supposed to eat is very affordable. The misconception that cheap food is unhealthy comes from the assumption that you’re eating cheap processed food, and, yeah, that stuff is pretty nasty.
Cooking on a budget, however, is a whole different ballgame. Stretching the food budget in the kitchen is an art that goes back through the history of the family hearth of nearly every bloodline on earth. For instance, most of the meals most closely associated with the home in the United States start looking suspiciously like leftovers once you get snooping around: meatloaf, stews, soups, pies, casseroles, etc. I have a hunch that it’s the same the world over. The holiday roast might be the centerpiece of the celebration, but it’s when your eating the leftovers a few days later that you know that you’re living in a home.
If nothing else, the economic downturn has given us an opportunity to count are blessings and realize just how much we may have wasted in the past. Difficult times give us a chance to look inward and remember that all of the outward things that we’re reaching for aren’t nearly as precious as that which is right around us.