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Budget Gourmet

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My latest project (project being something I've assigned myself to do out of curiosity) is to see how cheap healthy eating can be. My initial investigation began with this photo

Once again someone was putting out lies (clearly these prices were antiquated) and effectually making healthy eating on a budget seem more unattainable than it really is. Can somebody PLEASE just tell the truth?! I mean how hard is it, really? So the false prices are scratched through in red and the actual prices I found are listed to the right. Since the numbers in the picture are small I'll highlight a few "gems" a gallon of fat free milk was listed as $2, the cheapest I found (cheaper even than walmart's own brand) was over $3.78. They listed 2 lbs of chicken breast for $1.96. The cheapest I found boneless skinless was that price per pound, but only if you bought the family pack which contained at least 5 lbs total would be close to $10). The only accurately priced item was the bag of frozen peas! I will say that I did find a 5lb bag of potatoes on sale for 1.25 the week after I did the price comparisons. I also recall corn and peaches being on sale at various times, but I think for a meme like this the prices listed should be normal prices that can be found anywhere, at any time (or at least expicitly say that the price is seasonal or "special"). Their total price was $19.54. My guess is that they confused the price with the year those prices were current. My analysis revealed a total cost of over $35 for the items listed and that's before taxes, if food is taxable in your state.

So for my budget meal, I took the road less traveled and went exploring in some fewer frequented places and guess what I found.
Frozen salmon in the DOLLAR TREE! O_O it was a 4oz "all natural" (which really has no real meaning as far as label claims go) and wild caught filet for ONE DOLLAR!!! That's only $4 a pound!!! far cheaper than ANY salmon I've EVER seen for sale. Of course, I was a bit wary about the quality of the salmon, so I googled the company on the label and could find very little besides all the "good stuff" they want you to know about their company. Responsible, sustainable fishing, blah blah. No specifics on exactly where the fish were caught or the processing/packaging methods used. However, I did find two consumer reviews that said the fish was poor quality and the taste and texture were horrible. Nontheless, I decided to give it a chance.

My budget meal included the salmon, oven roasted potatoes, and green beans.
Cost analysis per serving: Salmon $1, Potatoes 9 cents (5 lb bag for $1.25, one serving is 5.3 oz or .33 lbs), green beans 16 cents ($1.18 per lb, one serving is about 2 oz)
Raw cost of meal: $1.25*
*assuming you already have oil, seasonings, cooking utensils/equipment and also not including the cost of energy costs and prep time).

Preparation: Green beans were blanched, drained, tossed in oil and oven roasted. Potatoes were treated similarly, but tossed in butter, onion powder and salt to taste before roasting. Both of these came out DELICIOUS!

Now for the Salmon...
I sprinkled seasoning on both sides, heated a pam-sprayed skillet to medium-high heat and put the fish, skin side down first to try and give the skin a crisp. Usually I cook my salmon for a short period of time, but since I was unfamiliar with the origin of this, I thought I'd err on the side of caution and cook it fully.
First observation: in the raw state the color of the fish was not very vibrant, but I'm not accustomed to eating frozen fish in the first place and so thought maybe that the off color was an effect of freezing/thawing.

Second observation: The skin did not crisp. On exposure to the heat, the skin just drew back and became elastic and rubbery.
I intended to broil the fish in the oven, but decided to continue cooking it completely in the skillet and just covered it with a see-through pot top. I cooked it just until it didn't look raw anymore, then removed it from the heat (with the lid still on) and let it finish cooking while the potatoes and green beans were finishing up. Here's what it all looked like when it was done.

I love how the salmon looks like an owl with the lemon wedges, lol! (This is how I play with my food!)

Third observation: The flavor of the fish is totally off. It tastes like plastic. For better comparison, it tastes like Captain D's fish (no offense if you're a Captain D's fan, but that's not how salmon is supposed to taste). It's not a terribly offensive flavor, so I bear through it to give it a fair chance. The texture is also off, the fish is terribly rubbery and a bit dry. I'm wondering if I'm getting any omegas at all. My experience with fresh salmon is that it is a bit oily and even the pan becomes oily even if you've added no oil in the cooking process. This is not so with this fish, it seems as if it is devoid of any oil at all. The flesh does flake apart, which is a plus. Overall I would recommend (and intend to experiment with) a different preparation of the salmon. Maybe in a salmon salad, marinated in oil before cooking, or breaded and oven fried with other seasonings to mask the off-flavor.

Summation of meal evaluation: Overall, I give the meal a B-. You can't beat the cost ($5 for a family of 4), the prep time was very minimal (potatoes and green beans were boiled for about 5 minutes each and then roasted for about 20) Fish didn't take long to cook in the skillet (I didn't time it though). The only negative was the flavor and texture of the fish which may be a deal breaker for many. I have to say that personally, I would keep this option open for a cheap source of protein, but question its content of "good fats." It would definitely be a protein option for which I would be sacrificing satisfaction for pure nutrition (eating to live vs. living to eat). I do plan on purchasing the fish again to try different preparation methods and see how they work. Perhaps mixing it with mustard, spices, egg, & veggies to make a salmon patty will yield better results... I'll definitely keep you posted.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    emoticon job! I love the Dollar Tree! thanks for the tips girl! the food looked amazing! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2468 days ago
    Great blog! emoticon
    2468 days ago
  • -RUBIES-
    Excellent blog! You should become a research scientist for sure. Hey maybe you are. You're good girl!
    2468 days ago
    I've found the prices on those comparison pictures off as well. But do consider how many healthier meals you can get for $35 compared to the same amount of KFC. In my family of 4 it would have been maybe 1 meal for all 4 of us and a later meal for 2 people.

    Spending the money on the staples would have generated more meals, healthier & better tasting. Unless you cook like my mother did, in that case I'd be tempted to go with the KFC! LOL.

    Of course my ingredient list would be a little bit different, but the results would be the same.

    Thanks for taking the time & effort to share a real life experience!
    2468 days ago
  • DALID414
    I wish I was 1/2 as adventurous with food as you are.
    2468 days ago
  • no profile photo CD12377244
    emoticon Work you did to bring us this blog! Thanks so much!
    2468 days ago
    Yeah, salmon I buy from the grocery. I don't bother with fish from discount type stores! The rest of the meal seems doable though~
    2468 days ago
    What a great blog! Thanks so much for sharing this, and telling the truth! Here's to healthy eating.
    2468 days ago
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