False Frugality

Here is a quote in my mother’s copy of Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, by Meta Given, one of the few cookbooks she owned.  It was given to her as a gift on her “one month” anniversary in 1955.  I love this quote as much for its quaint, old-fashioned wording as for its applicability in today’s world.

False Frugality x

“Because she can save the most money by cutting down on just these protective foods, (speaking of milk, eggs, meat, vegetables and fresh fruits) the homemaker who is not guided by a definitive menu plan for a well balanced diet may easily fall into this false economy at the expense of the family’s health and her own.”

While we all have our own ideas of what’s healthy, I’ve browsed many sites on homemakers who are determined to keep their food budgets down, and often, glancing through their recipes and shopping lists there is an appalling lack of vegetables and fruits. I’ve come across wonderful sites, too, by the way, and even I find myself wavering between what tastes great and what is good for me…

I think it can be easy, and even addictive for some, when shopping and using coupons and trying to be frugal to buy always what seems cheapest or is free. We forget sometimes that we can make really good quality foods and meals and save on the ingredients with sales and coupons, or that we can often make things so cheaply at home that it can beat the sale with coupon prices on many items, and really beat the premade items in taste and quality.

We forget sometimes, too, I think, that we can take some of the money we’re saving on ingredients by using coupons and shopping carefully, and allocate those funds to healthier items, like fresh fruit and veggies that might blow our budget otherwise.

There was a day when there was hardly anything you could buy “premade” at the grocery store, and now it’s becoming harder to find some basic ingredients – I was on a mad search for barley one day at my store, and found a tiny little box near the cereal, which extended nearly the whole aisle.

  • We have only the most basic cuts of meat, and it’s rare to find anything but chicken, beef or pork, but running parallel to the very small fresh meat aisle is a whole bin of prepared and frozen foods, filled from both sides.
  • We used to have one freezer aisle, now its three, in addition to the ones in the meat/fish department.
  • In the last 15 years, our vegetable aisle has dropped in size by literally two-thirds.
  • When I last stocked up on rice, there were only three or four varieties, all on the bottom shelf, but row upon row of boxed rice mixes extending up to the top shelf.
  • I could go on and on, but if you’ve been into a basic grocery store lately, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.  We have a few higher end, more gourmet stores in town, and several Trader Joes, and on the lower end, an Aldi’s and several cut-rate stores, but the two big contenders in our area have definitely changed drastically over the years.

Grocery stores are becoming more focused on what they call “value added” products, what we know as convenience products, because that’s where they perceive the money is. They must be right, or they’d be out of business.

How do we measure the true cost of convenience? These foods never taste as good as homemade, they cost more, and they are often full of questionable ingredients.  What is the long-term effect on our health?  What does that do to our wallets?

Studies have shown over and over, for years and years, that a focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins in moderation helps to support a healthy body – Meta Given wrote in the 30’s through the 50’s, and she says basically what the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions, maybe?) over the last 70 years researching and publishing – none of this is new. My grandmother’s cookbooks from (1910 – 1917 say much the same thing.)

By all means, shop carefully: Take advantage of sales and coupons whenever possible. Don’t get into stocking up on junk because it’s free or near free. I find coupons all the time for healthy items, and for the most part, I generally ignore large areas of the grocery store.

Take the best of the old-fashioned ideas about food and combine them with the best available in modern cooking methods, and our wonderful array of spices and foods, and really think about what your dollar is buying you.

Life is hectic, and always busy – I read somewhere that almost all of America is sleep-deprived.  It seems to me we have two choices when eating healthy. You’re either:

  • Spending Time or
  • Spending Money

I hope you’ll find some inspiration here to help you spend less of both, and eat better than ever on less.

I’m not about perfection – I’m a home cook, a mom, a grandmother. I am about balance, however, and most whole heartedly all about being informed.  I splurge and make something decadent, but I know my numbers, calories, fat, etc., and then I balance it, the same meal, the same day or the same week with something wonderful and clean. I do the same with the money I spend – a special meal one night of the week can be balanced with something dirt cheap like lentil soup later.

I’m always comparing – here’s an example:  I made a Chicken Cordon Bleu meal this week for four for about the same price as the chicken nugget meal my son picked up at McDonald’s last week, and it was infinitely more impressive and satisfying.  Maybe Chicken Cordon Bleu isn’t the best meal for you, health wise, but making it at home is a going to be a lot better and a lot cheaper, and definitely a lot healthier than what you might get eating out or buying at the grocery store.  At home, I have a choice, too, of what I’m going to serve it with, allowing for a little more balance of nutrition.

There is that “wow” factor, or the luxury factor, and even the satiety factor to consider when planning meals.  I’m always looking for what might give me the most “bang” for my buck.  How do I take a few dollars and make a meal that everyone enjoys, fills you up and doesn’t feel cheap?  And that has some redeeming healthy aspect, at least most of the time?  No days and days of boxed Mac & Cheese or Ramen at my house.  Deprivation is not my thing, and I’m out to prove to you that you CAN be frugal and still eat well.  I’ve been doing it for most of my life, after all.

By the way, my blog stats have been showing many people search for Meta Given’s Recipes. If you’re looking for any one in particular, leave a comment – if it’s in my copy, I’d be happy to write it up.  Please tell me you don’t want her Possum Stew recipe…although now that I think of it, Possums have moved their territory north in recent years and are becoming quite common in Minnesota…


I’ve recently been following a blog I’ve come across, Meta’s 1942 Meals. I’ve had a lot of fun viewing the recipes and photos, and think you will, too!


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