Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Guest Post: Four Key Ingredients to Eat Well and Frugally at Home

Vincent Scordo is the proprietor of, a fabulous blog about Italian American cooking. Check out his Pasta Challenge, which is more than sufficiently awesome.

As I've said in the past, eating out/ordering in is a colossal waste of money, and beyond the occasional breakdown or special night out I tend not to reach for the Chinese take out menu or make reservations at our local restaurant. My other rationale for not eating out is that I simply will not get the same quality food at 95 percent of the restaurants in our immediate area (including New York City). I'm not a trained Chef, but outside some extraordinary restaurants in New York, I'll take a simple meal prepared at home, with high quality ingredients, over a mediocre restaurant experience. Eating well at home is not rocket science, and moreover, you don't always need to purchase exotic ingredients to make tasty dishes. (The ingredients need to be high quality, but they shouldn't break the bank).

Here are 4 ingredients that can help you eat cheap and well for as long as our recession lasts:

From Flickr's
Minimalist Photography

1. Eggs
Eggs are a terrific source of protein and can be prepared in a variety of ways. My two "go-to" recipes for eggs include the basic onion and potato frittata and the cheese omelet. I often have eggs for dinner, but aim to keep my egg consumption to 1-2X per week. Also, I've gone back and forth on using organic/free range vs your typical Omega 3 fortified, Eggland, eggs and to be perfectly blunt there isn't much difference taste-wise. (Eggs taste best fresh so only buy what you're going to consume.)

2. Tuna in Olive Oil
I always keep between 3-4 cans of Italian tuna in olive oil stocked in my kitchen. My ideal tuna sandwich consists of one can of tuna (do not discard the oil!) with salt and pepper on toasted whole wheat bread. You can also add some fresh parsley and a few slices of tomatoes if they're in season. (Try it without the mayonnaise, I swear you'll like it.)

3. Pasta and Rice
My pasta and rice arsenal includes: thin linguine, angel hair or capellini, linguine, rigatoni, penne rigate, pastine, soba noodles, arborio rice for risotto, Carolina rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, and whole wheat couscous. Having the aforementioned pasta and rice on hand at all times gives you limitless possibilities, including: linguine with olive oil, parsley, and garlic, baked rigatoni with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, soba noodles stir fried with green peppers, chicken breast, and onion, brown rice with ginger, cilantro, and cracked black pepper, couscous with feta, red onion, cucumber, and olive oil, etc.

4. Whole Chicken
Buying a whole, free range, chicken is the equivalent to getting the deal of a lifetime. A whole chicken gets you two types of meat (dark and white) as well various parts which translate into various types of dishes. I purchase a whole, free range, chicken every other week and butcher the chicken according to my preferences. If I'm interested in making a whole roasted chicken, I'll simply leave the bird as is and make a rub mixture with lemon zest, salt and pepper, rosemary, and olive oil. If I have a little more time on my hands I'll butcher the bird into nine pieces and freeze the parts for various dishes throughout the week, including: braised chicken thighs with fresh mint, breaded and baked drumsticks and wings, thinly pounded chicken breast with shitake mushrooms and sherry wine, etc.


If you like this article, check out:

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Anonymous said...

Thanks for including us! I hope Cheap Healthy Good readers enjoy the article! I know there are many more ingredients to include in terms of eating well and frugally, here are some more:

12 Ingredients every Italian Pantry Should be Stocked with..

Vince from

MsLeading said...

Unfortunately, the tuna and chicken are so cheap because they have a high cost environmentally and economically.

So, some strategies for eating cheap that won't also make you feel like a jerk:

- Bulk dry beans. Insanely cheap, densely nutritious, filling, and they cook up to about 3x their dry volume. They can be sprouted for an extra nutritional boost, or just soaked overnight and then cooked normally - a pressure cooker is helpful but not necessary. Split peas and lentils don't even need to be soaked.

- Homemade soup. Have some older vegetables that aren't moldy or rotten, but perhaps past their prime in looks or texture? Put them in a soup. Have beet greens, carrot tops, celery leaves, wilty kale, or other perfectly edible produce that just isn't your favorite in terms of taste? Soup. Soups are a great way to use up extra produce, and with some legumes and whole grains are incredibly nourishing - but I make a ton of delicious soup with nothing more than vegetables and broth/bouillon. And you can use a blender to puree everything until it's unrecognizable, thus making soups an ideal vehicle for sneaking unliked veggies into your family's diet (hello cauliflower).

- Peanut butter. You can make homemade nut butters very easily with just a food processor or powerful blender. Buy nuts in bulk when they're on sale, grind up a bunch of butter, and then freeze the extra.

- Sale produce. Even through the winter, supermarkets will put in-season or overstock produce on sale. Buy a whole bunch, prep it and freeze it. This way you'll be able to get a good range of vitamins and minerals throughout the year, without forking over $6/lb.

Adrienne said...

How much do you pay for free range chicken? For me, eggs and chicken are not cheap. A whole free range chicken here costs about $12. There's not much taste difference in the eggs but I refuse to buy eggs from battery hens- IMO the animals are basically being tortured and I can't support that. Free range eggs are $3/dozen when I can get them at the farmer's market; in the winter they're $4/dozen. Not cheap at all.

Danielle said...

Great tips! I also love solid white tuna packed in water in a pita pocket with garlic (or whatever you prefer) hummus. It cuts out the mayo but still gives great flavor! Happy New Year!

Consumed: My Culinary Adventure

Autumn said...

I really like the 2 pack of the organic free range chickens at costco. Price is great, one for fresh and one for the freezer. Just don't let the freezer one jump out and land on your foot. Yelping and cussing have been known to follow

diane said...

Eggs are cheap compared to other protein. At $3/lb (still cheap, as non-factory eggs go for $5 and up here), that's about $0.50/serving for 2 eggs per person. Cheaper than squid. Cheaper than canned tuna. Not as cheap as beans, true, but still very reasonable. Even at double, that would still be reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the comments. My aim in including the four food products was to emphasize "eating well" and frugally. Of course, you can find cheaper ingredients, but canned tuna in olive oil, free range whole chicken, etc. are excellent food choices and, relatively speaking, are inexpensive compared to processed foods, fast food, etc.

You can eat well and not spend lots of money; have a look at this article:

Vince from

Sally said...

Vince, I love your site! I don't have a drop of Italian blood, have never been (and will probably never get) to Italy, but I love all things Italian.

About the poor eating habits article: I grew up during the 1950s and 60s. As far back as I can remember, my mom, my aunt, and nearly all of my friend's mothers worked. With the exception of my mom, all of them cooked dinner every night. There weren't many other options. What they didn't do was take kids to numerous lessons, practices, games, and so on. They also generally didn't have long commutes to and from work, go to gyms, book clubs or shopping on weeknights (nothing was open). There are many things that gobble up our time now that didn't exist then. All of those things take away from time spent in the kitchen preparing a meal. After work, nearly everything was focused on the home and family.

Gigi Centaro said...

I agree 100%. If you have pasta in your kitchen a good, healthy dinner is less than 30 minutes away. Put the pasta water on to boil. While the pasta is cooking, cut ANY vegetable into small pieces and cook it in olive oil with salt. Drain the pasta saving a bit of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the vegetables adding a bit of water if necessary. Enjoy!