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Dry Beans and Other Cheap Secrets of Healthy Eating

Personal Finance

If you are trying to figure out how to eat healthy without spending your whole paycheck at Whole Foods, look no further than your mom.

A vegetable basket and wine glass on a table

Let’s just take the family diet on offer at my household circa the mid-90s. This was pre-internet. There were no mommy forums, no meal-planning sites, no coupon-clipping apps.

But my mom knew what to do save money and make incredible food.

Oh, my dad cooked once or twice a week too, but it was never quite as impressive as my mom’s meals.

Looking back, I can see some of the simple things she did that not only saved us money but more importantly, taught us to savor food and make food with sincerity and not just jam a frozen lasagna into a microwave and call it dinner.

Fresh is Cheaper

Spaghetti sauce in a jar is still unheard of to my mom. We’re not Italian, but my mom makes the best (does everyone say that?) pasta dishes, especially spaghetti and lasagna.

Everything was fresh: whole garlic, onions, basil and oregano and either fresh tomatoes or the simple (and cheap) crushed tomatoes in a can.

This made the sauce, and even though it was several more ingredients than making spaghetti sauce from a jar, it was an inexpensive, fresh meal that tasted even better the next day.

To this day, I start most of my quick meals with fresh garlic and onions simmering in a pan. I’m no chef, but I know the value of fresh vegetables and herbs. And that has never made a difference in my grocery costs.

Dry Beans Taste Better

I never had canned beans until I was living on my own. My parents always bought dry beans and soaked them in water before cooking them.

Beans were an easy crockpot dinner when my mom didn’t have time to cook from scratch: She would soak them overnight then throw them in the crockpot with plenty of spices, cooking them all day.

When we got home, we would scoop a big bowlful, squeeze fresh lime juice on top and eat with bread and a salad.

It cost all of $0.79 for a one-pound bag of beans and our refrigerator was always stocked with the basics for a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, onions and Persian cucumbers).

Canned beans never taste quite as good. Think about it: you have to wash beans from a can since they’ve been sitting in their own juice. Have you ever had unwashed, canned beans? It’s enough to motivate you to take the extra time and soak beans and do it yourself.

Food Matters

What we eat matters. Even if you’re on a $150 monthly food budget, you can still eat healthily. Just think of what my mom would do. She never let us leave the house without 2 or 3 fruits in our backpack, and dinner always included vegetables and food made from scratch: whether it was her own broth, sauce or rice (don’t talk to her about instant rice- that’s sinful).

Those habits become ingrained.

You know what my grab-and-go breakfast is when I don’t have time to sit down and eat? Two tangerines, a banana, sliced cucumbers and a granola bar.

OK, the last part is a bit of a cheat, but overall it’s healthy and cheap!

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