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imagesWith the start of the new year, the season of deciding to make healthier food choices is upon us yet again.  The most common New Year’s resolution is to eat better and exercise more.  The problem with this resolution is that most people become overwhelmed, feel lost and quickly fall back into their past habits.  One of the biggest issues that we face when we decide to make any sort of a diet or exercise change is where to begin.  Planning is the key, as is shopping wisely.  When we first decide to cook more than we have in the past, the first trip to the grocery store might cause a slight nervous breakdown when we reach the register.   This shock is what causes people to have the erroneous belief that cooking for ourselves is more expensive than eating out.  This could not be farther from the truth.  I had made a post similar to this in the past and one of my resolutions this year is to post more to show people that cooking is not only healthier for us, but it is also amazingly cheap.

I understand the pressure of time when it comes to cooking.  Over the past year I have been in grad school to get my second Masters in nutrition so my time is also very limited.  The way I deal with this limited time is I cook in advance on a day when I will be around the house and have a bit of time.  We ALL have time if we think about it.  Just forgo one night of TV and you’ll be amazed at what you can get done.  I mean, the Duck Dynasty people aren’t really THAT interesting, are they???  Before I go shopping, I make a plan of a number of meals that I will cook and then freeze, so when I come home from class and have to hit the books right away, I have a healthy meal ready for me. The only preparation is heating it up.

One of the meals I’m planning on making this weekend is Beef Stew.  In contrast to the Chicken Piccata post that I wrote a while back, this dish does take a bit more time to prepare only because it stews for about 2 hours.  The active time of preparation is limited, however.  It will take maybe about 30 minutes of your time then the rest of the time you’re free to do what you wish while it cooks.  Just walk over and check it every once in a while to make sure that it isn’t boiling.  Let’s take a gander at how affordable this delicious meal is…

Recipe: (modified from 1,000 Low Fat Recipes by Terry Blonder Goldson)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 pound lean beef chuck, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

3 cups sliced onions

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup red wine

3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 large carrots, cut into 1 inch rounds

2 large potatoes (about 1 pound) cut into 2 inch pieces (I use red potatoes and keep the skin on to keep the nutrition)

2 cups reduced sodium beef broth

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 bay leaf

One 10 oz package frozen peas, thawed (I use fresh when I can)

One 10 oz package frozen cut green beans, thawed (I use fresh)

1) Heat the oil in a large, nonstick pot.  Dust the cubes of beef with the flour and brown them on all sides.  Removed the beef to a plate.  Add the onions and garlic to the pot.  Stir and scrape up bits of flour.  Cook until the onions begin to turn golden.  Keep covered between stirrings to capture the vegetables’ moisture, but if that is not enough to keep them from sticking, add a little bit of the wine.  Once the onions are golden, stir in any remaining flour.

2) Put the beef back in the pot along with the celery, carrots and potatoes.  Pour in the wine and broth.  Stir in the salt, pepper and bay leaf.  Pour in water to come just to the top of the vegetables.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.  Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.

3) Stir in the peas and green beans and cook for 15 min longer.  Remove the bay leaf.

So here’s the cost breakdown.  I won’t be including items like spices and flour due to the fact that most people already have these items in their kitchen and also the cost per recipe is minimal.  Here is what we have…

1 pound beef = $4.45

Onion = ~ $1.00

Garlic – 2 cloves = ~$0.10 (1 head cost $0.50. There are about 10 cloves in 1 head.  $0.50/10 = $0.05 per clove)

Wine – 1/4 cup = $0.24 (One cheap bottle cost $3.99.  There are roughly 4 cups in one bottle.  $3.99/4 cups = $0.99 per cup.  We only need 1/4 cup so $0.99/4 = $0.24 per 1/4 cup)

Celery – 3 ribs = $0.54 (One bunch of celery cost $1.79.  There are roughly 10 ribs in one bunch.  $1.79/10 = $0.18 per rib)

Carrots – 3 large carrots = $0.60 (One bag of organic carrots cost $1.99.  There are roughly 10 carrots in a bag.  $1.99/10 = $0.20 per carrot)

Potatoes – 1 pound of potatoes cost $1.50

Peas – 1 package of peas cost $1.20

Green beans – 1 package of fresh green beans (not frozen) cost $3.80 (If you use frozen, it will be cheaper)

After we add all that up we see that the total cost for this entire dish is $13.43.  The dish serves 5 meals though so take $13.43 and divide by 5 and you get $2.77 per meal.  I will add some rice and Brussels sprouts as side dishes which will add, roughly, another $3 to the meal.

So, look at what we have here.  We have beef stew, rice and some vegetables all for about $5.77 a meal.  Again, show me this meal on a value menu!