I adore fresh, home-cooked food made from fresh products. It's really the best for you – tasty, healthy, nutritious. But sometimes, compromises must be made. A generation or two ago, when fresh vegetables and fruit were still available only seasonally, during the winter people ate mostly fruit and veggies preserved in various ways – canned, salted, pickled, made into jams and jellies. Salted fish and meat were also common ingredients in winter meals.
Our grandmothers were experts in canning. Often, the circumstances required it – if you didn't can and preserve, you would have nothing to last you through the winter. Today, canning is oftentimes a lost art, but people who have large gardens with lots of surplus products are re-learning it. And some foods, like olives for example, are usually only eaten in their preserved/canned form. About a year and a half ago, my husband collected some olives and canned them (I don't remember exactly how he did it, but there was no special equipment involved). We only finished the jar a couple of months ago, and the olives did not spoil.
As a rule of the thumb, fresh produce is usually cheaper than pre-packaged, processed foods, but canned foods and grains and dry beans can often be cheaper than fresh vegetables and fruit. When your grocery budget is low, sometimes you have no choice but to opt for the cheaper parts of the fresh produce aisle, and heavily supplement your diet with ingredients from the pantry, whether they are something you grew/preserved yourself, or store-bought.
Here are some ideas:
Rice and lentils, in its varieties. Quick, easy, cheap, nutritious, readily available. Can be served as a side dish, but for us on weekdays, it can also be dinner, when served with something little on the side like salad or sautéed vegetables.
Tuna salad, made from canned tuna, again in its varieties – with avocado, canned corn, tomatoes, onions, pickles, olives. Served along with some bread, cheese and hummus, it can be a light lunch or dinner as well.
Enrich your soups with dry and canned beans. Ironically, canned beans can sometimes be cheaper than dry. Canned beans have the advantage that you don't have to soak them before use, but I prefer to buy dry beans whenever possible, because they take up less space than cans.
Other things that can be kept for a long time: onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apples. Those, too, we often buy in bulk and later use up in small portions.
An unexpected bonus of eating seasonally is the excitement of waiting for all those fruit and vegetables to become available (or available at normal prices, in our day!). My mother told me that the first time they ate fresh cucumbers after a long winter, was like a small celebration. This is something we are unfamiliar with, used as we are to anything being there all the time. I think doing without certain foods for a while would make us so much more appreciative of God's bounty when we can eat them again.
PS: anonymous comments are back, for the benefit of my faithful readers who were having some problem with the OpenID option. I added word verification, though. It's annoying, but with the amount of spam I've received lately, I'm afraid there's no choice.