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Food - save money, save the planet

In times of economic uncertainty itís tempting to cut back on the quality of our food to reduce cost, but as we literally are what we eat this could be a false economy.

Good quality organic food is packed full of nutrition and low in unnatural chemicals. This will ensure our body gets the best fuel it needs to sustain and repair our cells without having to struggle to clear unwanted chemicals out of our systems. How we prepare and eat food will also increase its nutritive value to us.

Raising value doesnít mean raising cost. Knowing the right places to shop, what to buy and how to prepare and eat food can all raise the value of it and save you money on your grocery bills. Spending more on buying better quality and organic food can actually save money in the long run because less is needed to get the same amount of nutrition. The added benefit to this is the positive effect it has on the environment: less food needs to be produced and transported, less dangerous chemicals are in our food and water system and more land can be left to nature.

Below are a few ideas to increase the value of your food and save you money.

  1. Buy local - If you have neighbours or friends who grow their own food ask if they have extra produce that you can buy. You may even be able to barter something you have with them. Itís the oldest form of trade and still works. If shopping at a supermarket or other retailer, look for local foods or at least produce from the country youíre living in. Itíll be cheaper and not have as many food miles - this goes for fresh, frozen and tinned/packaged foods.
  2. Buy from markets. Usually the smaller stallholders in the traditional Spanish markets - the ones that have a small selection of in season produce - are the locals who grow their own. You can be sure your food has hardly any food miles and is probably fresher and tastier.
  3. Ask for organic and free range. Itís hard to find here in Spain at the moment, but if we donít ask we wonít get and any improvement is better than none. The Spanish for free-range is Ďcriadas en libertadí and organic is Ďecologicoí. However Mercadona sell Ďcamperoí chicken and eggs, which weíve found out means theyíre free range and fed a more natural, but not organic, diet. Theyíre also raised in Spain.
  4. Buy in season Ė itís much cheaper, has less food miles and much more flavour.
  5. Grow your own - even if you only have a small garden you could grow your own herbs and salad veg. You could even keep a couple of chickens for fresh eggs.
  6. Shop with a list - and stick to it, unless you see not-to-be missed special offers.
  7. Bulk buy foods when you see special offers - be sure you can use them up within the sell by dates, especially perishables, or youíll end up wasting money and food. Sell by dates are slightly flexible. Learn to judge the food yourself as well as looking at dates. You can normally smell if something is ok or not.
  8. Bulk buy seasonal fruits and veg when theyíre cheaper and either dry, bottle or freeze as appropriate.
  9. Supermarkets can give you the economies of buying in bulk. Although this doesnít necessarily mean good quality, and they do tend to over-package fresh produce. You pay extra for that packaging apart from all the landfill it causes.
  10. Use your own bags. If retailers donít have to provide bags for you they can pass on this saving to their prices. It also means less plastic in landfill and scattered about the countryside.
  11. If you have favourite meals that call for long distance ingredients try to adapt them to use local and seasonal produce. This is how Spanish paella turns into risotto in Italy and biryani in India.
  12. Make your own convenience foods by batch cooking. Spag bol, ratatouille and soups, to name but a few, can be cooked easily in bulk and freeze really well. Much cheaper than buying pre-packed convenience foods from your supermarket and you have control of what goes into them.
  13. Buy cheaper cuts of meat, such as braising steak, and tenderise by cooking slowly in casseroles and stews. Just as nutritious and you can allow for the extra energy used by batch cooking.
  14. Chew food properly. Try this at your next meal and I bet youíll feel more satisfied and will probably eat less. Our stomach only has 2-3 hours to digest food. If we give it large chunks it doesnít have the time to break them down properly. When undigested food gets passed into the intestines not all the nutrients can be absorbed, so we have to eat more because weíre not satisfied. Basically youíre throwing good food straight down the toilet. Worse still, this undigested food can start to rot (eeeugh), causing gas and possibly letting toxic substances be absorbed into the blood.
  15. Donít over eat. Cup your hands together and imagine your food fitting into this cup - thatís all you should be eating at any one meal, itís all your stomach can cope with in one go. A bit like your washing machine - if you fill it too full of clothes it doesnít wash as well. If you put too much into your stomach it wonít be able to digest the food properly and youíll have the same process as above happening (double eeeugh).
  16. For me the key to succeeding at points 14 and 15 is to make sure I eat at regular intervals so I donít start any meal ravenously hungry.
  17. Use up left over food - I wasnít going to put this point in because Iím hoping no one throws food away now, but after seeing on the news a few weeks ago that huge amounts of food gets thrown out in the UK I felt I had to. Itís not dirty and doesnít go off just because itís been on a serving plate. In fact, some foods are much tastier the next day and work really well as snacks.
  18. Create a restful environment at mealtimes where you can focus on your food. If you must watch tv try to make it something that isnít going to cause you stress, the news probably isnít a good idea. If youíre sitting down to eat with family or friends try to make the conversation light, in fact develop your listening skills so youíll be able to chew your food properly. Itís a medical fact that when weíre in a stressful situation we go into fight or flight mode. This takes all the blood away from our digestive tract and puts it into our muscles. Dealing with your meal is not a priority to your body when in this mode.

If each of us does just one thing to help it will add up to a huge difference. As with all changes to your routines start small, pick one or two things to try out, fit them into your routine for a few weeks before trying others. Itíll be much easier and give you long-lasting results. Good quality flavoursome food is a delight to eat, especially when it hasnít cost the earth - enjoy!

Published in Levante Lifestyle Magazine October 2008