With food prices soaring, more parents like me are wondering how to get the best bang for their buck. I’ve found the following five nutrient-dense foods to be a good deal.
1. Whole free range chickens.
Now I know free range chickens cost more than cage/barn-raised chickens, but they’re also a lot more nutritious. When chickens are free to range outside in the sun, they make vitamin D which is then passed on to us when we eat them. Most of us are deficient in vitamin D, especially in winter, so it’s important to absorb it from as many food sources as possible.
Free range chickens also eat insects and plant material that increase the quality of their meat, making them richer in essential omega 3 fatty acids. (Essential because our bodies can’t make them and have to get them through our food.)
And I think free range chickens taste better.
On a couple of occasions I’ve managed to find size 14 frozen free range chickens for less than $10… and I’ve bought as many as I could fit in my freezer.
If you buy fresh whole chickens, you’ve got the option of home butchering them into their various pieces. I found this YouTube video by Ian Knaur of Gourmet Magazine really helpful when I tried it.
Otherwise, the simplest way to use a whole chicken is to roast it for dinner one night and then pick off the leftover meat for sandwiches or the next night’s dinner. I usually bag up small amounts of leftover roast chicken in ziplock bags and freeze them. Then it’s easy as pie to pull out a bag to add to soup, curry, pizza or any other meal that requires small bits of chicken.
Don’t think you’re done with the chicken once you’ve eaten the meat though. You’ve still got the empty bones to make chicken stock with and that is one of the main benefits of buying whole chickens. I save vegetable scraps that would normally go in the compost and chuck them in a stock pot with the chicken bones to make rich, gorgeous chicken stock.
It is so nutritious. There’s a reason we’re told to eat chicken soup when we’re sick – chicken stock is incredibly healing.
I feed chicken stock to my 11 month old as a drink most days. She has had digestive issues since birth and chicken stock helps with that. I also use my homemade chicken stock in soups, casseroles and any dinner recipe that normally calls for water. I even cook my rice and quinoa in chicken stock to give them a nutritional boost.
I do this because eating chicken stock helps us extract more nutrients from any meat we eat. That means I can get away with feeding my family less meat and they feel more satisfied.
Overall one chicken might cost a big chunk of your grocery budget, but you’ll get many meals out of it, especially if you use it to make chicken stock.
Worried about getting good quality, fresh, organic vegetables into your diet year round? Well it couldn’t be easier to sprout your own beans and seeds at home to add to sandwiches, salads and stir-fries. I even know someone who throws a handful of sprouts into her smoothies.
When you eat sprouts, you’re eating the whole plant at its freshest and most enzyme-rich. Eating sprouts provides vitamins A, B, C and E; calcium, iron and potassium; protein and fibre. It only takes a few days to sprout seeds and beans, so you can get sprouting them at the start of the week, and menu plan them for meals at the end of the week.
It only takes a couple of tablespoons of seeds, peas or beans to fill a whole jar with sprouts, so a little goes a long way. Have fun experimenting with different sprouts to find your family favourites.
Ok, I know the thought of eating liver is more likely to have you gagging than drooling, but hear me out.
Liver is the most nutrient-dense food you can eat. You don’t need much of it – about 100-200 grams per week – to get some serious health benefits. It’s an excellent source of iron, protein, vitamin A, all the B vitamins – especially B12, folic acid, and trace minerals. It also has an unexplained anti-fatigue factor. So if you’re tired (name a parent who isn’t!), eat some liver.
If you find the taste truly repulsive (as I do), just grate a little bit of frozen liver into any mince dishes you make. You won’t notice it’s there but your meal will get an instant nutritional boost.
I buy lamb’s liver from my local butcher and it’s really cheap. (I guess there’s not that much demand for liver.) I freeze it in the bag it comes in. When it’s time to use it, I just peel back the bag and grate some liver directly into the frying pan.
4. Rolled oats
Rolled oats are a handy (and inexpensive) pantry staple to have on hand – useful for making energising breakfasts or healthy baked goods.
Oats are low in gluten, while being rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. However, you won’t get the benefit of these vitamins and minerals unless you soak rolled oats in warm water with a little wholemeal flour for 12 hours before cooking.
5. Animal fats
We are so lucky to live in New Zealand, where our sheep and beef graze on their natural diet of grass out in the fresh air and sunshine.
While most of us are happy to eat animal meat, not many of us take advantage of an even more nourishing animal product – fat.
A wonderful book, called Nourishing Traditions, talks about the health benefits of eating animal fats. They “provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.”
Animal fats, like beef dripping and lard, are also excellent for cooking with as they have high heat points. This means they don’t oxidise and go rancid when cooked at high temperatures, so they’re safe to use for frying and roasting foods.
Tubs of beef dripping are relatively cheap from the meat section of the supermarket. Again, demand isn’t high so we can take advantage of that to save money on our grocery budgets by using them instead of more expensive fats like olive oil and butter.
Otherwise, it’s easy enough to render animal fat at home – the easiest way I’ve found is to add chicken skin to the pot when making chicken stock, or to add bits of lamb or beef fat to the pot when making lamb or beef stock. Leave to simmer for several hours, allow the liquid stock to cool and set in the fridge, then scrape the fat off the top and use it for cooking savoury foods.
Adding these fats to any vegetable purees you make for your baby will help your child absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables, so they will be better nourished by them.
Babies, toddlers and children need to consume a lot of animal fat in general, since so much of their mental and physical development depends on it. It’s really important that women who are planning to conceive, pregnant or nursing eat lots of animal fats, so they can help their babies form correctly right from the get-go.
So there you have it. My top five tips for stretching your grocery budget further with truly nourishing foods. What are the healthiest foods you’ve found to be a good deal?