Stock a Natural Food Pantry for Less
Most people are under the impression that, while eating natural is healthier, it's also more expensive. And I'll grant that, sometimes, this is true. However, part of eating naturally is having natural food on hand, and this is where you can save money.
While having processed food on hand for snacks and recipes will cost you more (because you pay for the preparation), having natural ingredients is often cheaper simply because they aren't prepared. Read on for tips on what these cheaper items are, where to get the best deals, and why you might want to find them.
There are three places that I've found great deals on natural staples.
Bulk bins at local natural food stores
While much of what you'll find in these stores is more expensive than the regular supermarket, the bulk bins often offer good deals.
Big box stores
Big box stores also offer great deals on large quantities of ingredients that are more popular. If you'll use all the food before it goes bad, shopping like this can save you a lot of money.
Regular supermarkets and grocery stores
Many regular supermarkets and grocery stores have started offering unprocessed, natural foods. Look for them in large bags that cost less than similar processed food. You may have to look at the top and the bottom of the shelves to find these, as they'll want to sell you the more expensive food.
Here are some tips on how to buy and use some of the staples.
Because they're dried, a pound of these beans will feed quite a few people for one meal, or provide quite a few meals for just a few people. Beans pack quite the punch when it comes to fiber and protein, and some of them have a lot of iron, too. Be sure to keep a few kinds of beans on hand, as some of them have different nutritional offerings. In addition, different beans have different tastes and textures, so you'll want to keep more than one type on hand.
Lentils and Split Peas
Used in everything from soups to curries and great as fillers even in things like pasta sauce, these are definitely worth keeping on hand. While they might seem small and insignificant, lentils and split peas both contain a lot of protein, as well as being well up there on the soluble fiber scale. Small they might be, but they pack a nutritional punch that's worth more than their weight in gold.
Wild and Brown Rice
Brown rice is a great substitute for white rice. It doesn't have that same sticky texture, but its slightly sweet, nutty taste and the little bit of crunch it provides will only add to your rice dishes.
Wild rice, while not actually rice, can pretty much function as such when you need it to. In addition to the nutritional benefits it offers, like being high in protein, folic acid and B vitamins, it also adds a fragrance and a splash of color contrast to any dish you use it in.
Barley is a seriously underutilized grain. Pearled barley will cook faster, as it has the outer casing of the barley softened slightly. It won't lose that much nutritionally, though, so if you need something that cooks quickly, this is the grain for you. On the other hand, slow cooked whole barley has a crunch that nothing else can quite replicate. Barley is great in soups and pilafs, or wherever you might normally use rice. It functions well as a thickener, and also tends to absorb the flavors around it.
You can get oats in all sorts of varieties, though the old-fashioned rolled ones will cost you the least. They're great by themselves, as a hot breakfast cereal, but also function well to add texture to breads, cookies, even cakes and brownies. Oat flour is also available, though it will usually cost you more than regular flour. It can be used in a variety of recipes.
Make sure not to buy more nuts than you need, because they go rancid fairly quickly. Each kind of nut is slightly different, so it's worth keeping several on hand, or even a mixture. They can be eaten alone, added to soups and salads, toasted, even put on ice cream. The healthy fat they contain can go far both towards filling you up and helping you eat healthy.
This article was included in the Make It From Scratch Carnival.