Yes, it's nearing that time of year again (isn't it always?), when people start thinking about New Year's Resolutions (either making them or breaking them). A majority of the resolutions I hear about annually include a healthier lifestyle, and a healthier budget.
This book covers both of those issues, without the usual superior attitude. The author uses herself as an example, but urges the reader to "find your own system", and provides the tools to begin.
In "Eat Healthy for $50 a Week", Rhonda Barfield, wife, and mother of 4 pre-teens, revamps her previous book, "Eat Well for $50 a Week", which was criticized sharply for being full of less-than-nutritious guidelines. There's a difference between "well fed" and "well...FED".
Barfield doesn't pretend this new book is any kind of nutrition bible, just a healthier version of her previous book, while staying within the same budget range. But then, "The Barfields Eat Lower-Fat Junk Than They Used To While Spending the Same Amount of Money" isn't a terribly catchy title. Still, I'm not convinced the "healthy" and "$50" in the title are entirely accurate.
So how much can you really save with this plan? Depends. Barfield suggests the typical American family spends $120/week on groceries, and by cutting back to $50/week, can save $3,640/year. My family grocery budget is more like $70/week, so I'd only be saving $1040/year, but still, every bit helps, so I dove into the book with a happy heart, and a hopeful checkbook. I was disappointed.
Before you get as excited as I did about the prospect of feeding 6 people on $50 a week, keep these things in mind;
1) The book was published in 1996, so the prices given in the book are already 4 or 5 years old, plus writing time.
2) The $50 does not include non-food items often purchased at supermarkets (health and beauty aids, bath tissue, detergent, tinfoil, pet food, etc.)
3) It does not include the cost of the Barfield family's (at least) weekly restaurant meals. (Wait! I've got it! If I only eat at restaurants, I won't have to spend any money on groceries! What a deal!)
4) While she does mention that her husband is an artist, she does not mention whether he works outside the home, skipping breakfast like so many adults do during the morning rush out the door, or if he buys lunch out (in which case, she would not consider its cost as part of her food budget) or brings it from home (in which case she would).
The author does present several good suggestions for ways to save money on groceries, whether or not you choose to eat "healthier". In the first part of the book, she discusses shopping strategies to help save money at the supermarket (not shopping when you're hungry, stocking up on sale items, using coupons, keeping a price book, etc.) as well as less conventional ways to obtain food; co-ops, wholesalers, farmer's stands, factory outlets, barter, gleaning, and gardening (your own or your friend's). Lest all these suggestions at once seem overwhelming, Barfield includes a sample calendar of an imaginary family, and how they gradually implement several of the book's ideas.
She also touches on the topics of bulk cooking and menu planning. I thought the best part of the book was the suggestion that one plan the menus around what is on sale or abundant, rather than the usual proposal that one plan the menu first, then try to find affordable ingredients. (A great website for help with this type of "backwards" menu planning is http://www.bettycrocker.com/onhand/ )
While the author doesn't discuss each strategy in depth, she does provide a "resources" section with the book's index, including phone numbers and addresses where readers can get further information.
Using herself as an example, Barfield presents her grocery shopping lists (and prices) for four weeks, and shows menus for three weeks for her family. I found it odd that there were only three weeks' worth of menus for four weeks of shopping. Does that mean the $200 worth of groceries won't last the full four weeks?
The second section of the book contains several low-cost recipes, from main dishes to home made yogurt. Most of the recipes are good, low-budget fare, made "healthy" by the usual methods: avoiding egg yolk, substituting poultry for red meat, using tuna that has been packed in water instead of oil, and low-fat or non-fat everything (milk, mayonnaise, etc.) Nutritional data is provided for several of the recipes.
Unfortunately, many of Barfield's "healthy" ideas sacrifice savings. She states that it's cheaper to use two egg whites and throw away the yolks than to buy egg substitutes. I prefer to use one whole egg and only throw the shell in the compost, but then, I'm not yolkaphobic. She often uses cooking spray instead of greasing pans, admitting that cooking spray can be costly. However, she fails to mention the option of buying a hand-pumped oil sprayer and filling it with regular cooking oil instead of buying pre-filled, disposable spray cans.
I did notice a glitch in one of the recipes, wrongly stating that two teaspoons of yeast is equivalent to two packages of yeast (one package of yeast contains approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast). While practiced bakers will know that is wrong, it could cause problems for beginners. And, although I don't think it is a glitch, I do think a recipe that calls for adding sugar to tuna salad is unusual.
Barfield has some...um...interesting ideas of what is "healthy" eating. Not only is dessert served every night, but quite often the children have candy as "lunch dessert" as well. It could be that I'm simply a disinterested cook, but dessert at our house is a rare treat. One day a week, the Barfield children are served three bowls (each) of sugary cereal for breakfast. Just the idea of four kids, each on 3 bowls of sugary cereal, has me reaching for my helmet. Barfield emphasizes that with this cereal, they are each getting at least 2 servings of milk. By this overly optimistic logic, fudge, made with cocoa beans, qualifies as a vegetable dish. Add THAT to my 5-a-day, please! Certainly a bowl or two of oatmeal, with a few chocolate chips or some cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top, would be heartier and cheaper. Calcium-enriched orange juice to drink with it would substitute nicely for the milk, or the milk itself could be included in a glass instead of in the bowl.
While the book did contain some good basic ideas as far as cutting food costs, it also contained some suspicious logic in regard to what qualifies as "healthy", and exactly how the budget is figured. Certainly worth a look for ideas next time you're at the library, definitely not a book I'll be adding to my permanent reference collection.