The NYT article on dieting deliciously made me realize that the other aspect of dieting that can seem brutal is the cost. Some people feel, especially at the start, that they need to lean on commercial products–like Jenny Craig meals, special shakes, etc. I can’t knock them since everyone needs to do what’s right for them. But for me, those pre-packaged meals were very expensive and ridiculous when I started realizing that it wasn’t complicated to make them. Processed anything for the most part comes with its own set of demons! So if you are going to diet deliciously, what are some tips for dieting affordably?
The first one that comes to mind is to use plenty of flavor to keep meals yummy and to keep the diet motivating. Most flavor is affordable. I am going to start a short list quickly and then come back to this post.
$ Growing herbs. Whether in pots or on the ground, I have found growing thyme, oregano, basil and mint is a great way to get flavor naturally and freely in meals. These particular herbs are cheap to buy and easy to grow. They are tenacious! Must head basil continously though. I have also experienced eating micro-grated herbs and was surprised at the explosion of flavor in my mouth.
$ Use citris. I can typically get a bunch of limes for $1. Same with lemons though they are slightly more expensive.
$ Nuts. I thought pine nuts were not affordable until I found Whole Foods bulk section. I get roughly a fist-ful and keep it as stock around the house to throw in here and there (store in refrigerator for longer periods). Toasting just a bunch and to put in a salad is priceless! Similarly, now I buy halved pieces of walnuts and slivered almonds from the same bulk section. If I buy a quarter pound or so, that is typically sufficient and no more than between $2 to $5 each. Not bad considering I can stretch it out quite a bit using as sprinkles in oatmeal and salads and to punch up a baked good here and there.
$Spices, in bulk if possible. Whole Foods used to have spices in bulk. It was awesome, because I could literally just get a wee portion of a spice for a particularly recipe if needed, without needing to invest in an expensive bottle of something that would sit on myself. (Shout out to Erin for pointing it out to me). I once got something like a one-quarter or half-pound bag of FRESH ground cardamon there for maybe a buck or two and I am only at the end of it like four years later. and I use that stuff alot!! Sadly, they seem to have done away with it. Ethnic grocery stores should also offer cheaper prices on spices. I will have to do some research to get the facts to you but in the past I have noticed that whole peppercorns (black) are much cheaper in the indian grocery store. Some spices have shot up in price so have gone over to the “investment” category. For these, just buy them and have them in stock. I don’t buy anything in those little bottles anymore at the grocery store. Whole cinnamon sticks instead of ground. I use a simple coffee bean grounder as a separate spice grinder (thanks Mom!). Fast, easy to clean. oh, and definitely get a mortar and pestle. My friends always tease me the amount of spices i have!
o A favorite spice is ground, roasted cumin. Basically I roast a bunch of cumin on a stove top. The smell is worth it alone. Then I take the hot cumin seeds and grind them in my grinder. That’s it. Then I put the whole thing in my spice container. This grounded spice immediately jazzes up sliced fruit. (In fact my husband and I enjoy making a simple pear and avocado salad with toasted cumin, lemon or lime juice, and a little bit of salt as a favorite weekend breakfast pairing).
$ Trader Joes pure vanilla extract. Seems cheaper to me than at the grocery store. To research.
$Vinegars. I use Trader Joes Balsamic Vinegar for good quality and low price. I use this on everything to meats to fish to salads.
$Fresh chile peppers. The little green ones, for the Indian palate. 🙂 I freeze these since I don’t go through them as quickly as a traditional Indian household. Cut them and heat them in oil prior to adding the food and you get great sizzle and spice.
$Sliced black olives. Also, great flavor! and affordable from Trader Joes. They have a little can of sliced olives so they stay ready for me when i need them. I believe they are kept in water only. I will check that and the price and repost. I can add olives to pasta sauces, salads, even meats such as chicken nicoise.
$ Shallots. Cheap as long as you don’t get these from Whole Foods! 🙂 but can serve as a great base and flavor for most sides and entrees.
$ Stevia. I don’t think this is for everyone’s liking but its a must have in my dieting plan. My body does best when its not beset with sugar. Stevia is ground up from tree bark that is naturally sweet. It does not have the molecular structure of sugar so is not absorbed or digested in the way sugar is. I use the powder form from Trader Joes and use it in my tea, coffee and oatmeal. I sometimes even use it in baking. Its $6.99 for 315 servings, coming out to two cents a serving.
$ Dried fruit. Dried fruit such as apricots, apple rings, pineapples and figs are great flavorings in both meats and baked goods. Now, they are sugary but at least they are natural sugars. I love how they moisten and plump up while cooking. I use them in my Thanksgiving stuffings too. That reminds me. I also love having a stash of dried cranberries around. They are great in salads and even with white meats like chicken and pork. Dried cranberries come sweetended and unsweetended. Unsweetened is healthier but I have not yet figured out how to use them well as flavor. I get dried fruit from Whole Foods Bulk food section whenever possible. Again, I just buy a little bit so that each purchase is usually under a dollar!
Yes, these are all tried and true items in my pantry. What works for you? I promise to update with actual prices soon.