’Good and Cheap’ cookbook for students, families on tight food budget

Lois Abraham
The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Thousands of people on a tight food budget have benefited from a thesis project by a former Edmonton resident.
Leanne Brown, who earned a master’s degree from New York University in food studies, wrote a cookbook targeted to low-income people and Food Stamps recipients that she made available for free.
“Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” has now been downloaded more than 700,000 times.
But Brown, 30, wanted to get “Good and Cheap” into the hands of people who might not be have access so she launched a Kickstarter campaign to self-publish it.
Setting a goal of $10,000, she was overwhelmed when she ended up with more than $144,000, enabling her to print 40,000 copies — which she and her husband distributed out of their tiny New York apartment.
Workman Publishing has stepped in for the expanded second edition and agreed to the “buy one, give one” model — for every book sold, a copy is donated to a non-profit organization working with lower-income families.
“Good and Cheap” is designed to help families, students and retirees with limited funds develop cooking techniques using whole unprocessed food along with practical advice like how to stock a pantry.
People on social assistance with dependents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet have so little time.
“While everything can be cheaper when you’re cooking things from scratch your options are limited because you have to do things that are very quick and sometimes you come home at the end of your second eight-hour shift and you have to deal with the kids and get everyone to bed on time,” Brown says.
“It’s extremely difficult sometimes to carve out really truly enough time. It’s different from the middle class who say they don’t have time because of piano lessons and soccer and whatever.”
She provides strategies for making large quantities of tomato sauce, dumplings, chili, pulled pork or zucchini chocolate muffins on days when there might be a few extra hours. These can be eaten throughout the week or frozen.
Brown — who won the 2015 judge’s choice award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in the food and drink category — says she loves to help people understand the reason certain techniques are used so they can make a recipe and then adapt it using what’s on hand, what’s on sale or what’s tastiest to their palate.
Brown’s master tip is to buy flexible ingredients. At the store, think of several ways something can be used with pantry items at home.
Develop a pantry of basics — buying in bulk and on sale — with rice and other grains, dried beans, dry pasta, lentils, canned tomatoes, dried herbs and spices, then supplement these with eggs, butter and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“That will allow you to have great variety in your diet.”
Buy a bag of potatoes as needed rather than a few loose from a bin on each shopping trip, a bunch of carrots rather than a bag of baby carrots that can be double the price, a head of lettuce instead of salad mix and two-for-one loaves of bread (put one in the freezer).
Brown focuses many recipes on vegetables.
“When you have little flexibility in your budget, meat is really expensive. It’s easy to just do a lot of cheap starches, but that’s not particularly well balanced.”
Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can be a good alternative to fresh depending on the time of year.
Brown prefers butter for versatility and the flavour it adds during browning. It can be used in baking and as a spread. Cheap oils and margarine provide little flavour.
Compare unit prices. Generally items are less expensive when purchased in bulk.
Drink water. Most packaged drinks are overpriced, loaded with added sugar and don’t fill you up the way a piece of fruit or serving of yogurt do.
Buy plain yogurt in large tubs rather than individual servings and make your favourite flavours in your kitchen where you know exactly what’s going into it.
Develop strategies around leftovers. Add vegetables and meat or beans to rice, put them in a pita or scramble them with eggs.
She explains how to doctor up basic toast with Asian greens, caramelized onions and cheddar or roasted vegetables and suggests ways to transform inexpensive popcorn with spices, oils and Parmesan.

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