This fruit-and-nut granola bar recipe is versatile, nutritious, and delicious. Make it with ingredients you already have – clean out that pantry and save money!
This fruit-and-nut granola bar recipe is versatile, nutritious, and delicious. Make it with ingredients you already have – clean out that pantry and save money!
We interrupt our regularly scheduled keto feature to bring you “Nutrition in Quarantine!” We are in strange times, folks. Many of us have been in Coronavirus quarantine for at least a few days now and some are struggling to access the foods they typically eat. Now is a great time to complete a pantry or freezer challenge (or both!). These challenges involve “shopping” and meal planning primarily from the foods available in your pantry or freezer. They are typically used to prevent food waste, clean out your cupboards, and save money on food. In this case, the challenge will accomplish these goals as well as help you navigate nutrition throughout your time at home. I’ll take you through the process of a pantry challenge step-by-step. I’ll also be holding a Facebook Live event this Friday, March 20th at 12:30 pm PST for Pantry Challenge Q&A. Mark your calendars to join me on my Dietitian on a Diet Facebook page!
So let’s start our pantry/freezer challenge!
This can be a tedious process, but it’s crucial that you at least have some written representation of what is available to do the challenge most effectively. If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned out your freezer or pantry, this could take a while but the silver lining is, this challenge will be easier the more you have available! I recommend separating your list into things that need to be used up (usually perishable foods or those nearing expiration), and things that you have available but will keep for a while. To simplify the process, feel free to lump foods you know you have into categories. For example, instead of writing “flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, etc.” it’s fine to write “baking supplies.” Each week it will be easier since you’ll have the list from the week before.
Here’s my first week pantry challenge inventory for an example:
Need to use up:
|Dairy||cottage cheese x 2
|frozen ricotta cheese
1/2 gallon chocolate milk
frozen stir-fried veggies
frozen pumpkin puree
frozen diced onions/peppers
canned green beans
|Protein||hummus||2 links chicken sausage
1 frozen cooked pork chop
1 large frozen swai fillet
2 pcs cooked frozen carnitas
frozen cooked turkey
2 c. frozen ham
frozen ground beef
2 whole turkeys
frozen top round steak
|3 whole wheat + 8 white hot dog buns
frozen tater tots
6 sesame seed hamburger buns
frozen cheddar jalapeno bagels
1/2 box Cheez-Its
Ethiopian injera bread
|Fruit||dried fruits/raisins||frozen berries
15 gallons apple cider
|red curry paste
Sometimes groups of foods will stand out to you as things that go together well. For example, in my list, I see turkey, tomato, onion, pitas, and hummus that could go together to make gyros. Make a list of possible meal or recipe ideas that you see from the list you have available. For certain rarely-used ingredients, think of the recipe you bought them for in the first place. For me, I buy MaSeCa corn flour to make pupusas (Salvadoran savory corn “pancakes”). I have never actually used it for anything else. Fortunately for me, I see the rest of the ingredients for pupusas on my list, so that’s going to be an option.
A couple of tips for this step:
You can see my list of possible meal ideas below.
Decide if your goal is to get through the week without shopping at all, or if you plan to make a small grocery shopping trip. Skim your list to choose meals that use as many of your “need to use up” ingredients as possible, and don’t need ingredients you don’t have or can’t substitute (if you’re aiming not to shop – I’ll have a post coming up soon on making substitutions!). If there are things that you will need, make a shopping list. Here’s my first week’s meal plan:
Monday: steak, potatoes, veggies
Wednesday: lasagna casserole
Thursday: Thai turkey red curry
Friday: macaroni and cheese with sausage
Saturday: potluck (bring 2 gallons cider)
Head to the store and pick up the few things you might need if you’re planning to shop. With my first week, I was able to cut my grocery bill from my usual $100 per week to only $54!
Hopefully these tips will help you feel more confident in using the food that you already have in your pantry or freezer. Not stressing about food can be a huge comfort in the midst of all of the confusion. I would be remiss if I did not mention that my greatest source of peace and comfort in all of this is knowing that God is in control, that Jesus died for me, and that no matter what happens, I’m in good hands. I hope you know the same peace and comfort, so the stresses of the world shrink in comparison to His goodness and grace. Hang in there, folks – we will get through this!
To wrap up our series on Eating Well on a Budget, we’ll address one of the more common questions I get as a dietitian: is it worth spending more money on organic foods?
The answer is complex and individual. There are so many factors to consider – research, finances, and health concerns to name a few. The answer is a personal choice based on your consideration of all of these factors and how they interact in your own life. In an effort to inform those decisions, we will discuss some of the research surrounding these topics.
The USDA allows the use of the term “organic” on produce and products that meet the following criteria:
Food that meets organic criteria also often touts a higher price tag (49% higher, according to Consumer Reports2). So for the budget- and health-conscious consumer, the question is: does eating organic vs. non-organic foods have a significant impact on my health?
The trickiest part about answering that question is that humans are such complicated critters…it is difficult to tease out the health impacts of something like eating organic produce vs. non-organic produce because in most cases, the effects of that decision would be long-term – some even lifelong. That makes research difficult, because over the course of a lifetime there are so many confounding factors that it is darn near impossible to definitively pinpoint a specific cause or even correlational relationship. For example, since organic produce is more expensive, those who eat organically-grown produce regularly might be more likely to have higher incomes than those who don’t. If there is a difference in health outcomes, could it be due to living in less polluted areas or having better health care? I’m not sure that there will ever be a direct, consistent, and documented difference in many of cases, for that reason.
Instead, what often happens is that research tends to produce a lot of conflicting or confusing results. Here are the findings of a just a handful of different research studies:
Just a little research muddies the water a bit, doesn’t it?
In these cases I keep a mental category of recommendations that I call “common sense” recommendations. These recommendations apply to these complicated situations where research makes things less, rather than more, clear. Common sense would tell us that it is probably best for us to eat in the form in which God provided it to us. Common sense tells us that it is probably best to eat foods that was not grown with chemicals designed to kill other life forms.
That being said, these “common sense” recommendations are not wholeheartedly supported by research, as you saw above. They are not, by any means, hard and fast rules and, as mentioned earlier, there are many factors to consider.
One thing we absolutely know for sure is that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day is significantly beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, reducing inflammation, and so many other health conditions.2 Those benefits exist regardless of whether those fruits and vegetables are organic or not. I can say with certainty that eating several servings per day of non-organic produce is much more beneficial than no produce at all! So that’s where it ultimately comes down to personal choice. You need to balance your own personal health goals with your own personal budget. For those who feel that they would like to limit their exposure to pesticide residues but simply find it beyond what their grocery budget allows, there are a few options:
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While some sales come and go without warning, stores discount certain items on predictable sale cycles. These usually line up with holidays, seasons, or annual events (think back to school, etc). One way to lower your grocery (and overall household) budget is to work with the sale cycles as much as possible. Whenever a food or item is on sale, stock up! Buy as much as you can fit your budget and pantry and will reasonably use in the following year.
Produce, of course, also goes in and out of season. In-season produce is cheaper, more delicious, and more nutritious than out-of-season produce (which is usually picked before it is ripe and transported long distances to get to you). If your budget allows, purchase in-season produce in large volumes to preserve for the rest of the year. Food preservation is much simpler than you might think! Stay tuned, because I’ll be talking more about how to preserve foods to save money and boost nutrition in a future post.
Meanwhile, use this handy list to help guide you to a stockpile of useful items and nutritious foods, all purchased at rock-bottom prices. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars each year (and simultaneously upped the nutrition factor of our food) by following these sale cycles.
Click here for a free printable version of the list.
Food: broccoli*, cabbage*, tangerines/mandarins*, oatmeal, yogurt, chips, soda, Christmas candy
Household: exercise and fitness equipment, supplements, electronics, winter clothes, wrapping paper, Christmas decorations
Food: oranges*, kale*, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, canned goods, chocolate
Household: televisions, toothpaste/toothbrush, contraceptives, perfume
Food: avocados*, spinach*, frozen foods
Household: cleaning supplies, bleach
Food: bananas*, ham, eggs, Easter candy
Household: kitchenware, vacuums, cleaning supplies
Food: condiments, pickles, chips, hamburger patties/hot dogs and buns
Household: sunscreen, towels, paper/plastic plates and utensils
Food: strawberries*, watermelon*, milk, yogurt, condiments, pickles, chips, hamburger patties/hot dogs and buns
Household: sunscreen, paper/plastic plates and utensils, tools
Food: raspberries*, blackberries*, marionberries*
Household: sunscreen, aloe, paper/plastic plates and utensils, outdoor furniture
Food: cherries*, blueberries*, zucchini*, corn*, tomatoes*, cereal, lunch meat, cheese
Household: school/office supplies, clothes (including socks and underwear), tissues, bleach wipes, camping equipment, linens, pillows, towels
Food: peaches*, pears*, apples*, green beans*, live herbs
Household: school/office supplies, lawn mowers, barbecues, cellphones
Food: pumpkin (fresh* or canned), acorn or butternut squash*, potatoes (including sweet potatoes)*, candy, baking ingredients
Household: muffin cups, kitchen/baking utensils, tires
Food: turkey, boxed stuffing, baking ingredients, gelatin, marshmallows, gravy, broth, canned soup, canned green beans, Halloween candy
Household: toys, aluminum foil, electronics
Food: candy, baking ingredients, sweetened condensed milk
Household: wrapping paper, toys, batteries
*Produce seasonality varies by location. Click here to find a seasonal produce chart for your state.
Ahhh clipping coupons – a pastime that might conjure images of a raised-in-the-depression housewife from the fifties, snipping up a newspaper to save pennies on bread or canned soup. Today, though, I often hear complaints that clipping coupons is just not worth it, because there is usually a generic product that I still cheaper. I had the same issue for the longest time – why bother with taking the time to hunt out and clip coupons if it just doesn’t bring the cost down enough? I still desperately wanted to bring my grocery budget down as far as possible, so after some research on couponing for beginners I learned that there are some simple yet crucial steps to using coupons effectively.
The more coupons you have, the better coupons will work for you. Find your coupons and choose a way to store/organize them that works for you. If you don’t know where to start, try a coupon binder. You’ll need to keep your coupon stash updated to get the best value out of it!
Here’s where you can go to stock your coupon stash:
The key to getting the best value is to not just take a coupon and slap it on a product you want to buy. Much of the time, there is a generic option that still ends up cheaper than the brand name with a coupon.
The trick is stacking. In most stores, you can use two coupons on the same item, so long as one is a store coupon and the other is a manufacturer’s coupon. To maximize the value, you can also stack these on top of a sale price (to know for sure, check your grocery store’s website to find their coupon policy, and read the fine print on the coupon). Here’s an example of one such deal:
Large can of beans:
Original price $1.25
Sale price: 99¢
Manufacturer’s coupon: 50¢ off
Store coupon: 25¢ off
New price: 24¢
You can find these kind of deals by matching up your store’s weekly ad with coupons in your stash, but there are also coupon websites/blogs like The Krazy Coupon Lady where people go to post the deals they find for specific stores so you don’t have to find them for yourself! Why recreate the wheel?
Most coupons allow you to purchase more than one item at the discounted price. Whenever you can fit it into your budget, purchase the maximum amount that the coupon allows (provided that you will use the product). You can know for sure how much you can get by reading the coupon. There is usually some text that will say “Limit ___.” Buy as many as are allowed and fit your budget.
Purchasing several products at cheap, stacked coupon prices means you will have a pantry full of items (purchased at rock bottom prices) to use for weeks to come. That’s how to get the best bang for your grocery buck!
So there it is – couponing 101! You can get started couponing with just this little guide, but if you really want to dive in to the depths of coupon discounts, check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Couponing by The Krazy Coupon Lady. Give coupon stacking a try – it can be a lot less work (and save you a lot more money) than you might think!
Wouldn’t you love to know how to keep produce from going bad?
We’ve all experienced the sad breakup – when you look in your produce drawer and see the wilting broccoli you bought two weeks ago looking sadly up at you.
“You were going to eat me for snacks, remember? I was going to be good for you!”
“But,” you think, “you’re past your snacking prime! And I already have dinner plans that don’t involve you. Tomorrow’s not good either. I don’t know when I’ll get around to eating you.”
You sigh…and if you’re a conflict avoider, you slide the drawer shut to deal with it another day. If you’re a rip-the-Band-Aid-off person, you toss it in the trash right then and there. All your good intentions, all your dreams for your broccoli relationship dashed, and all that good grocery money wasted.
I know you know what I’m talking about.
It is frustrating to see a piece of produce nearing the end of its usable life, knowing that you will not realistically have a chance to eat it before it sees the other side.
Well, I have a solution: catch-alls!
I’ll tell you how it works. Let’s go back to poor Mr. Broccoli. He’s laying there, wanting to be nutritious, but you know he doesn’t have a chance in the next few days. Right then, you place him in your veggie catch-all container. This is a large plastic container or gallon zipper bag full of all of your previous veggie good-intentions-gone-bad. Then they all go in the freezer to commiserate together. Don’t worry about peeling, chopping, dicing, stemming, or anything right now (unless you have time). Just toss the whole darn thing in the bag and put it in the freezer. Keep a separate container for your fruit catch-alls.
Then, when your catch-all bag is full, put a catch-all on your meal plan for the next week. Catch-alls are meals that you can make with just about any combo of frozen fruits or vegetables past their prime, but not yet covered in fur. Here are some examples:
Veggie Catch-alls: stir fries, soups, curries, breakfast scrambles/frittatas
Fruit Catch-alls: smoothies, compotes (just simmer diced fruit in a pot with some cinnamon – add a little water if they aren’t juicy fruits – until it thickens, serve alone or over ice cream!)
Catch-alls make it so that you don’t necessarily have to do anything with the produce the minute you notice it is on the way out. Often, you don’t have time right then to do much about it, but you can take a second to toss it in the freezer. Then, when you use the catch-all, you have an entire meal’s worth of produce that you don’t have to buy!
Here are a couple of tips to make catch-alls work their very best:
To get you started, here are a few recipes for good catch-all recipes. You can exchange the produce in the recipe for whatever you have!
Veggie: Red Curry Soup
Give it a try – you won’t regret saving all that money and keeping all that food out of the garbage!