Feeding Your Family Well During Hard -- and Harder -- Times, by Lin H.

Wednesday, Dec 9, 2009

We can all agree that at the very least hard times are here, for way too many of ourselves, our friends, our family members, our acquaintances. And most of us here agree that harder times are a’coming. And I’ll add  another basic human agreement: we all need to nourish our bodies with food, preferably good-tasting and health-sustaining food. I’d like to address and share my thoughts on this basic human requirement. I am not an expert in food nutrition or preparation. I have no college degrees in these areas: my credentials are only a little common sense and 30 years of feeding my family, as well as possible, on the smallest dime possible.

So first I’ll address hard times: feeding your family on as little as possible during normal hard times. I have a few “rules” for thrifty cooking: (1) basics are better; (2) beans, rice and pasta; (3) meat is a flavoring agent, not a main dish;  (4) if it’s on sale, buy a bunch; and (5) use your imagination.

  1. Basics are better. I’m talking basic cooking ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, oatmeal, baking powder/soda, spices/herbs, oil/shortening, bouillon/broth, dried milk, eggs, vinegars and soy sauce, basic vegetables etc. Learning to cook from scratch using basic ingredients will save you big bucks, is healthier, and can bring you immense satisfaction.  Learn to bake bread (I recently discovered the wonderful new “no knead” bread recipes: as easy as it gets, and makes delicious bread). Practice making scratch biscuits, cornbread and pie crusts. Play with serving flavored oatmeal for the kids’ breakfasts, instead of the expensive store-bought cereals. Try creating different soups and stews using the various spice and herb possibilities. Experiment with making a “kitchen sink” casserole or stir-fry, using different combinations of ingredients and flavorings.
  2. Beans, rice and pasta. These should become your kitchen “go to” staples. They can be purchased affordably in bulk and can stretch any meal far beyond the usual menu ideas. Countless sauces and toppings can be created and stretched by being served over rice or pasta; all three items can bulk up soups or be the basis of warming and nourishing casseroles. I understand that if your constitution isn’t adapted to bean-eating (and carbohydrates in general) you may have intestinal distress - so start now on adding some bean dishes to your family’s diet. They’re cheap, tasty and healthy. Learn to cook a perfect pot of rice. It’s not hard, it just takes a little practice.
  3. Meat is a flavoring agent, not a main dish. Meats tend to be the most expensive part of any meal, so get away from the “meat-n-potato” mindset when planning menus. Less meat, mixed and stretched with sauces, vegetables, broths, and the aforementioned beans, rice and pasta, etc. gives you a similar satisfaction, and good taste, for a lot less money. It’s healthier too. An example: I’m going to fix Sunday brunch for my family of five. I have a pound of bacon, which if I fried and had a basic meal of bacon, eggs, potatoes, toast, juice - we’d eat most, if not all, of that bacon. So instead I only fry up 3-4 slices, and stir it in with beaten eggs, potatoes, veggies, flavorings etc. and bake it for a breakfast casserole. I now still have 2/3 of the bacon, so for supper tonight I might use another 3-4 slices to flavor a pot of beans. With appropriate side dishes, it‘s another whole meal. And the last third I can use for another supper - a skillet of bacon/veggie  fried rice. We’ve eaten 3 wholesome and satisfying meals vs. 1 meal using the same pound of bacon. This is just one example, but you can see how a little thinking about your meat usage can really stretch a food budget.
  4. If it’s on sale, buy a bunch. This is self-evident. If your grocery budget is very tight, start small on stocking up on sales, but start. Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season and therefore lower in price. Pay attention to grocery prices so that you’ll know what a good price is. In my area of the country, the price of a pound of cheddar cheese (which we use a fair amount of) can fluctuate from $2.69 all the way to $3.89. I know, from price-watching, that $2.99/lb. and below is a good price. So I always buy at least two at those times (four if the budget allows). Cheddar freezes excellently, I always have it on hand, and never have to overpay for it.
  5. Use your imagination. I’d like to suggest a paradigm shift here: when planning your main meal of the day (let’s call it supper), don’t ask yourself in the morning “What sounds good for supper tonight?” Rather, you should ask “What do we have around that needs used up for supper?” Are there any leftovers in the fridge that could be adapted to a casserole? Any veggies that are starting to look bad, but could still be thrown into a pot of soup? Something you could “sauce up” and eat over rice or pasta? The possibilities are endless, and the creativity of trying to come up with a tasty meal using a little bit of nothing can even be fun!

And now we address harder times, or serious hard times, which is much more difficult because it’s theoretical. But we are all here on this most excellent Survivalblog.com because we at least see the possibility of food shortages, hyperinflation, loss of basic utility services, theta. So we’re stockpiling. Later, we may have to make do with the foodstuffs we’ve stockpiled or can otherwise forage. We may need to dramatically stretch small amounts of food. And we’ll want to be able to feed our families as healthily and tastefully as possible with what we’ve been able to put by. If we’ve already practiced the tips I’ve stated above regarding thrifty frugal cooking, then those ideas will also stand us in good stead in the event of serious hard times.

(For the purposes of staying on-topic, I have to assume that those reading this will have already addressed the basics of water procurement/storage/purification, and having at least three sources of a cooking method, in the event of serious hard times.) So back to:

  1. Basics are better. I have stockpiled my own personal list of dehydrated veggies, herbs/spices, canned meats, and kitchen staples. Your choices would probably be different than mine. But the point is that stockpiling basic kitchen ingredients, rather than only prefab meals, means my choices in feeding my family varied and tasty meals dramatically increases.  Using my stores of basics I can bake bread, or use a bit of oil to make flatbread. I can prepare either cornbread or johnny cakes. I can make a breakfast of oatmeal, or even a treat of pancakes, because I’ve learned to make my own pancake batter and maple-flavored syrup. I can make noodles to stretch a pot of broth. Rather than deciding which can of soup to open, I can cook any  of a number of types of flavorful soups, stir-fries, or casseroles, using different ingredients and spices. My personal “A-list” of stored veggies is dehydrated celery, carrots and onions. I can mix these same three ingredients into a beef stew with potatoes; or I can use them with a bit of canned bacon or ham and make fried rice; or I can layer them with a flavored white sauce, a bit of canned ham or tuna,  some peas and some pasta for a hearty casserole; or I can cook them in a chicken broth with some beans, corn, rice, tomatoes, garlic and cumin for a tasty Southwestern soup. Same basic ingredients, infinite possibilities.
  2. Beans, rice and pasta. Because I’ve stored quantities of these foodstuffs, my ability to stretch my stockpiles has also increased. I could open up a can of chili and feed 2 people, and rather minimally at that. Or I could heat that can of chili along with a cup or can of cooked beans, a cup or can of tomatoes, some garlic, oregano and cumin, serve a dollop of it on top of bowls of rice, and feed 4-5 people with plenty of flavor and satisfaction.
  3. Meat is a flavoring agent, not a main dish. I can guess that meat would be in much shorter supply in harder times, and I am afraid to depend on electrical power to maintain stores of meat products in this event; therefore I’ve concentrated my budget on canned meat stores. This is expensive stockpiling. (Many people pressure-can their own meats; this is something you may want to look into.) So of course I would be rationing those precious meat stores to the greatest extent possible. Because I already cook our meals using smaller amounts of meats, I am in practice of imagining meals using meat more for flavoring than as a main dish.
  4. If it’s on sale, buy a bunch. Saving money on my grocery budget today helps enable me to prep  foodstuffs for a possible harder-times tomorrow.
  5. Use your imagination. This will be more important than ever in the event of serious hard times. I will have to substitute and make do with my stores. For instance, I have been researching sourdough bread-making, in the event that commercially-produced yeast isn’t available. I have been practicing bread-biscuit-and-pizza-making both in the charcoal grill and over (and under) the fire pit. I have been researching the foraging possibilities in my area - trying to learn what grows wild that I may be able to use to improve the nutrition of our meals. (Or even simply to keep us alive.) I’m thinking about the possibilities of “you bring me some of your venison and I’ll cook and stretch it three different delicious ways, using my stores, and we’ll share”. 

Entire books have been written on just small areas of what I’ve touched on here. Because the subject matter is so vast,  I’ve only hit the high points, hoping to give a learner somewhere to start, some things to think about. Every cooking skill we learn today, when grocery stores are full of affordable and available foodstuffs, could come in very handy later if shortages occur. Knowing how to create an edible and good-tasting meal from available little-bits-o’-nothing could become an important skill-set to have and share with others. Indeed, having this knowledge could someday be essential toward keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive and healthy.


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