(This is the second post in a series on living sugar and gluten free.)
Instead of wasting a lot of money in high GI foods supposedly "low in sugar" at Whole Foods (or pick your favorite, over-priced health food store), we have found the simplest, most economical way to live within our food issues is to eat protein and vegetables--essentially a Paleo, or cave man diet.
It sounds like a very limited diet, but if you think of the meals you are served at really nice restaurants, they generally consist of the meat/protein and vegetables. Eating this way has made us both love our food, love the way we feel, and love how much we (don't) spend on it.
The "cost" to this way of life, however, is the prep time to cook from scratch. It is difficult to impossible to purchase pre-prepared foods--or really anything in a package (even condiments1)--that are free from both sugar and carbohydrates (including gluten), so it is best to cook from ground zero.
So...the cheapest way to eat well and live longer is to make your own food wherever you can.
Because I like to do more in life than just cook and clean, I have done many things to cut down on the time it takes to cook. The first principle is encompassed in the economic principle of "economies of scale": I cook in bulk.
Generally, over the weekend, we will make something in the crockpot that will last for 3-4 meals throughout the week. Additionally, I only cook twice a day: once for breakfast, and another for dinner. Lunch is almost always leftovers from the previous evening's meal or a simple salad with lots of pre-cooked protein.
The second principle I abide by is that I generally only "cook" one thing per meal. I make something with protein in it, and a carbohydrate. Very rarely will the carbohydrate require any more attention then heating it in some fashion. All of my energies go into prepping the protein, unless the carb and protein are in the same dish.
This means we eat a lot of soups, casseroles, salads, and the like. If not one of these three things, the go-to carbs are rice, sweet potatoes, or, occasionally, corn on the cob. Each of these are made as simply as possible - throw rice, water, salt, and a knob of butter into the pot without measurement (although I do make sure there is more water than rice, and may add a bit more water at a late stage to make sure the rice comes out right) and watch it closely. For the sweet potato, I wash them and throw them whole - no poking - into the oven on high heat for an hour. The same goes for the corn.
The third principles is that I spend a maximum of an hour in the kitchen, generally only 30 minutes. I search for recipes that are simple and not time-consuming, and then perfect and memorize them to make them even faster.
One beautiful thing about cooking is that because there is no chemical transformation as there is in baking, you can "fudge" or eye-ball measurements rather than pulling out the measuring spoons. This makes everything faster. Another thing that makes everything faster is immaculate organization in a kitchen, including organizing foodstuffs in a fashion to minimize movements needed to access things (think Cheaper by the Dozen - the book version). I also prefer my small kitchen, as everything is much more accessible within very small movements.
More to come on cooking health food on a budget, ingredient basics, and recipes!