Keeping food costs down


Published Sunday, April 12, 2009

Recently, a congressional report was released that said that the increased use of ethanol as a fuel additive could cost the government up to $900 million for food stamps and child nutrition programs.

Huh?

It took a moment for my brain to make the connection when I first saw this report. Ethanol, of course, comes from corn and thus why it has an effect on food prices. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report, the higher use of ethanol accounted for about a 10 to 15 percent rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008. That translates into higher costs for food programs for the needy, but it doesn't stop there, it also translate into all consumers paying more at the grocery store.

Nearly 3 billion bushels of corn were used to produce ethanol in the United States last year an increase of almost a billion bushels over 2007.

Last year's higher gas prices, coupled with drought or floods in food production areas of the world are taking a toll on supply and demand.

Last May, a report was released by the World Bank stating that in a two month period rice increased in price by 75% globally. You may even remember some of the stories from last summer about the price of rice.

Wheat prices from 2007 to 2008 rose by more than 120 percent according to the World Bank report.

All of this makes it harder and harder to feed our families, especially with layoffs, hour or wage cuts and other things cutting deeply into families budgets.

I know my own family is having a hard time making the same amount of money stretch each week and it is increasingly difficult for seniors on fixed incomes like pensions and social security.

So what are the cheapest foods around?

1. Oats are still cheap. A dollar will buy you a week's worth of breakfasts or make oatmeal cookies or homemade granola bars.

2. Eggs I've mentioned before in my column. They are a great source of protein and are the cheapest form of protein as well.

3. Potatoes are still one of the cheapest staples and can be used in all sorts of ways that even kids enjoy.

4. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away these are a cheap, single serving sweet that is good for you. Or you can make it not so good by incorporating apples into cakes, breakfast breads, pies and other sweets. They cost very little and can do a lot, much like potatoes.

5. Dried beans are a cheap form of protein and high in fiber. Pintos, garbanzo, lentils, navy beans, black beans all are good for you and can be eaten alone or in recipes. Make a pot of pinto beans and serve with corn bread then take the left overs and make chili the next day and if there is left over chili make enchiladas, or burritos or use the chili to top a hot dog for a chili dog.

6. Milk. Yes, the price of milk and milk products have risen but compared to other drinks full of protein, vitamins and minerals you might be better off drinking the milk, even if you add chocolate to it.

7. Pasta is a great source of vitamins and complex carbohydrates. It is one of the cheapest staples you can buy for your pantry and things like spaghetti can go a long way for very little cost.

8. Even though the cost of rice went up dramatically last year, even in the U.S. it is still relatively cheap. If you choose wild rice or brown rice, you may like the different flavors or consistencies too. It can also make a stir fry produce more servings for your family. Fried rice is another option that uses more rice and vegetables than it does meat. So you can use a good cut of a smaller amount of meat that costs less and your dish will still be as filling.

My Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup raisins

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups light brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch grated nutmeg

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant or old-fashioned)

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets and set aside. Place the raisins in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit until plump and moist, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and eggs, and beat to combine. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Stir into the butter mixture, and add the buttermilk, stirring to mix. Fold in the oatmeal, raisins and nuts blending well. Drop the dough onto the baking sheets by rounded tablespoons, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. These cookies tend to stick together and are very moist, so place wax paper between rows when storing.

Sources the Associated Press and WorldBank.org.