Fresh vegetables with cream or butter-based sauces; grass-fed beef; free range eggs; home baked bread. While the Queen of England may have a larger food budget than most of us—and she’s entitled, since she’s feeding her support staff and visiting dignitaries all the time—the basics don’t change. Good food, well-cooked and attractively presented, is the key to eating like royalty.
“But I have a budget!” I can hear you wailing now. Yes, so spend your dollars wisely.
Buy raw. The first thing is to avoid prepared or processed food and buy raw materials. When you purchase frozen creamed peas, you are paying for the peas, the cream sauce (which often has stuff in it you may not want to eat) and the labor. It’s convenient, expensive, not particularly healthy and not likely to taste as good as what you can make yourself. I can whip up a cream sauce in the five minutes while the peas are simmering; the frozen stuff takes longer than that. When you stop buying processed foods, it frees up your money for the good stuff.
Bake. Bread is easy to make and lends itself to freezing—whole, sliced or in crumbs—as well as mass production. And when you make your own, you can soak the flour overnight to reduce the phytates. Muffins and coffee cake batter can be prepared and frozen, then baked at leisure. Make extra waffles when you have a lazy Sunday breakfast and freeze some to pop in the toaster on a weekday morning.
Buy whole foods. Brown rice, whole wheat flour, dried beans, regular onions instead of those dehydrated flakes. A corollary to this is to buy foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do. Something that can sit on the shelf in a box for a couple of years may not be the best choice. And ft you use those whole foods for low cost meals with complementary proteins, you can afford some steak dinners as well. Soups, stews and casseroles make your food dollar go farther; they can be frozen and reheated, or taken to eat for lunch at work.
Eat seasonally. Not only do you save money, you get a much wider variety of foods and nutrients. As an example, cucumbers in January cost nearly three times what they do in July. Winter is the time for root vegetables—which taste terrific roasted with a little olive oil and are easy on the cook—or greens like kale and chard, broccoli rabe and cabbage. Eat asparagus and fresh peas in the spring; tomatoes in summer and early fall. Some things are always good buys—bananas, oranges, potatoes and onions come to mind—but even they have seasons. Remember that the apples you see in March may have been in cold storage for several months, while the apples in November may have been picked within a week or so.
Garden. Grow as much of your own food as you can, even if it’s just a few flower pots or a window box with green onions, radishes and herbs. When the food on your plate was still alive and growing less than thirty minutes ago, it’s much more likely to contain enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients than the stuff in the store, which was trucked 1500 miles or more and may be a week old.
Buy organic. Organic fruits and vegetables may be a little more expensive compared to their conventionally grown counterparts, but they have more vitamins and you aren’t ingesting pesticides or herbicides. You’ll save money in doctor bills.
Cook! Many poor cultures have learned how to create beautiful, filling and healthy foods for very little money, so think outside of the American food box: cheese quesadillas with tomato vegetable soup; chicken fried rice; minestrone with sausage, parmesan and whole wheat rolls. If you want to stick with the tried and true, a salad, fresh vegetables steamed with a little butter and some herbs and a hamburger on home baked bread can indeed be a meal fit for a king.