Opinion: Affordable eating for those looking to beat rising prices

Simple foods still the best healthy choice

As food is so vital to health, scrimping on wholesome food is foolish. There are few things as expensive as ill health. And while preparation time is a heavy expense, wholesome food need not be pricey.

A whole chicken boiled with onion, carrots, celery and spices makes for many portions for sandwiches and other dishes, with the broth being made into a delicious matzo ball soup. Any fowl carcass makes a great base for broth.

Frozen vegetables, so simple to cook, are delicious with perhaps just a light addition of salt. Sliced radishes on buttered white bread are a delicious snack.

Packaged breakfast foods (expensive for what they are) have all sorts of scary-sounding ingredients. Instead, a double boiler in which to cook various types of oatmeal makes breakfast cooking almost foolproof. Some boxed mixes sound like a joke. A pancake mix says all you need is to add milk, eggs and oil; ditto for cornbread mix needing the same additions. The web has so many recipes that are rated by cooks who have tried them that there is no need to buy cookbooks.

If keeping dry ingredients on hand, airtight canisters — a one-time expense — keep grains and flour from insect infestation, an expensive problem.

Potato chips and cookies sell by the ounce — their cost by the pound is as expensive as meat. One third of a cup of popcorn popped becomes a snack for two.

Inexpensive but wholesome eateries include La Especial Norte in Encinitas, taco Tuesday at Rubio’s, and Subway with its large selection of vegetable additions for its sandwiches. For a pricier meal that is worth the price — in contrast to pricey meals so bad they seem a joke — consider Jeune et Jolie and Campfire in Carlsbad. When we went to an upscale restaurant (price-wise), the advertised sturgeon — at 5:30 in the afternoon — was sold out and the coffee so stale it was undrinkable (an unpretentious diner would have made a new pot).

What made me so grateful to be in Encinitas was that in Los Angeles to get bagels required a lengthy, unpleasant drive to the bakery, a struggle to find parking, and then a ticket to wait my turn. So I found it easier to make the bagels myself. Here I just drive down the hill to get them and I pray driving stays so easy.

As I love to cook, my fault is to buy too many produce items. They look so appealing, but I just will have to learn to cut back. When I was a child, a friend’s mother never baked just one thing at a time in the oven (in the days when it was a sin to heat up an iron to press just one blouse).

With the high price of electricity, there may be a return to that practice. We are blessed with microwave ovens and dishwashers, so is there a solution for easier cleanup?

Daina Krigens, Encinitas

Have a game plan and then really stick to it

I follow a few rules of thumb that save me money when shopping.

1. Make a shopping list. Inventory what you have at home and what you need. I keep a pad of paper on my kitchen table and, as I think of stuff I need, I write it down. Then, when I go to the store, I don’t deviate from the list. Resist impulse buys, unless you find something really cool that you want (and can afford) to treat yourself.

2. Go to the store early in the day. At my local MegaMart, I often find meats on sale for half price. I asked the butcher who was putting it out to the case why it was so inexpensive. He said that they sometimes have excess inventory that they want to move, so they mark it way down and put it out in the morning. But it will be gone by midday.

3. Try generic products. Especially try generic staples like bread, canned goods and paper products. They’re not all winners, but you’ll soon learn which generic products are just as good as the name brands for a fraction of the cost.

4. Eat something before you go to the store. If you’re hungry when you shop, you’re more likely to purchase something on impulse that you might not ever eat.

5. Talk with the people who work at the store and get to know them. Ask if there’s any specials going on in their departments. They want to help you and will let you know.

Bottom line: Just be a smart shopper. Nothing I mentioned costs you anything, but it can save you a lot of money every time you go to the store.

Paul Willemssen, Clairemont

Food you grow for yourself is satisfying

Eating is a necessity, no matter what the budget circumstances and price of food. We’re fortunate to have a yard where during suitable weather we can grow much of our own produce — vegetables and herbs. We also have several fruit trees.

In addition, we have chickens who give us large, delicious eggs when the weather is suitable for egg-laying. We’re never at a lack for something to eat. My husband eats meat but I don’t, so groceries are less expensive than if we were both meat eaters.

As for eating out, since COVID-19 and other contagious diseases have been spreading, we don’t eat at restaurants. However, we occasionally stop at Starbucks in the morning for a hot drink to take out, or at Rubios for dinner to take home, both places being in Ramona and not out of the way, so there’s no extra gas involved. I do miss eating at Souplantation when it was in Rancho Bernardo, but since these diseases have been among us, we wouldn’t eat there now.

Fortunately, since the pandemic started, my husband, who usually depended on me to do the cooking, has taken over some of the responsibility, so meals are sometimes a creative surprise. We both cook foods that will last for more than one meal, thus conserving gas. Nevertheless, we don’t buy extra food, and we stay within our budget.

Iris Price, Ramona

Mom and Dad offered a lesson well learned

With food costs rising, what are my favorite options for eating well on a budget, whether at home or eating out? I learned from my parents a long time ago what eating with frugality in mind meant. Mom and Dad grew up during the Great Depression, so they both, out of necessity, had to learn how to eat frugally. For Dad, it was easy. He grew up on a ranch in Phoenix, and his family was fairly self-sufficient. Mom grew up in Mesa, Ariz., on a smaller ranch and felt the pinch more.

I remember Dad bringing home a chuck roast at the beginning of the week and Mom making it last for the next few days. She would roast the meat slowly on the stove with onions and garlic. We would have an American type of meal with meat, potatoes and watercress that night. The following evenings, she would take the leftovers from the roast and create Mexican dishes.

Mom would shred that roast meat up, add some tomatoes, onions, and yes, more garlic, make her own corn tortilla shells and stuff them with the shredded meat. Add a little dollop of guacamole, and the deed was done. All we had to do was devour them.

I learned from the best, so I do something similar when I’m eating during this time of economic hardship.

Every Sunday, I’ll barbecue chicken thighs, pork or beef ribs or a roast and make it last through the week for lunches and dinners. This past Sunday it was a $30 package of pork ribs from Costco. I placed them in a big aluminum container on the middle of the Weber grill after spreading the coals all around the inner portion so they received indirect heat. I put a couple of potatoes and onions in the corners of the pan. With the meat on the grill, I timed it for an hour and turned the slab of ribs over and continued barbecuing for another hour.

The last half hour I slathered the ribs with BBQ sauce, waiting patiently.

My wife and I seldom go out unless there is a special occasion; that’s similar to what I remember my parents doing when I was a child. If they took us to the Sizzler, Chinaland or some other fancy restaurant, we knew it was a special treat.

Otherwise, they taught us the value of a good home-cooked meal, a lesson I still live by 50-some years later.

Jim Valenzuela, Poway

Changing times call for a real strategy

The recent increases in food prices either in the store or eating out have facilitated novel approaches to fulfilling my main goal — to eat healthy and within budget. To accomplish this elusive goal I have developed a multi-pronged approach.

To meet our home budget restrictions, I have become a investigative shopper, scouring the Tuesday ads for Frazier farms, ALDI, Albertson’s, and Vine Ripe Market. My weekly menu is dictated by what is on special, boneless/skinless chicken breasts and hamburger at Vine Ripe, almond milk and bananas and orange juice at ALDIs, coffee on sale at Albertsons. I feel that this conscientious shopping has lowered my weekly food bill by at least 30 percent!

Eating out is a tougher nut to crack. The $4.99 chicken and $9.99 pizza from Costco are still a bargain (as is the $1.49 hot dog and drink). Wendy’s $6.00 Biggie bag with double double burger, chicken bits, and fries and a frosty gets reduced by 10 percent because I am senior citizen. There are $7.99 pizzas from Dominos, free coffee at McDonald’s and a host of other establishments that reduce prices for senior citizens.

Dining in restaurants has become a thing of the past. I cannot afford the increased costs due to the prices the owners must pay in increased wages and cost of food. My niece owns a pizzeria in Western New York. In 2019 she paid $24 for a crate of 24 heads of lettuce. Last week she paid $104! These type of price increases have been across the board. Two steak dinners cannot be found for under $100 after tax and tip. Cocktails cost another $15.

Thank goodness we live in San Diego. A night out is just that a night outside. Get food to go, grab a blanket and have a picnic. Or prepare the food yourself, pack a picnic lunch box and head out to the beach or one of the many parks Americans Finest City has to offer.

Not glamorous or extravagant, but objectives met….eating well on a budget.

Jack Keane, San Carlos

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