Inflation, as measured by the government statisticians, is supposedly at 11+%. But if you see what goes into the inflation basket, it is heavily weighted by rice (hence the sudden rise, since prices were effectively controlled prior to that) and SO LITTLE ELSE of what a typical middle, upper middle or upper class consumer is buying. Best we can figure in our home, and we keep fairly good records, we are looking at a real inflation rate of some 20-25% over last year’s expenses. Our petroleum/LPG expenses are up roughly 12%, but ONLY after a concerted effort to travel less in cars and consume less electricity than before (-15% KWH). Our food expenses, however, have shot up a good 30%, despite entertaining less than we did last year! And considering that the peso is roughly 10-12% stronger than it was early last year, in dollar terms, our food expenses are effectively up some 35-40%! Whoa! And I’m sure we are not the only ones feeling the pinch, as so many readers have written me private emails asking for ideas for more reasonably priced dishes to help stretch their shrinking food budgets…
My first piece of advice, which many readers may be surprised at, is to look at your food expenditure at fast food restaurants and other prepared food outlets. Many folks think they are saving money by eating a branded chicken and rice for say PHP69, when in fact, with a little effort, you can do a similar dish at home for less than half the cost. So one of the MM solutions is to encourage you TO COOK MORE, COOK SMARTER, and COOK at home. Plan meals ahead so that you can be more efficient with your time in the kitchen. Cook up some meats as soon as you bring them home so that you don’t have to freeze the meat, defrost, cook small portions, etc. For example, with ground beef, form some hamburger patties and store that away, make meat filling for veggies, make spaghetti sauce, etc. And I don’t want to hear the “I don’t have the time” argument. If you have the time to go and sit in a fast food restaurant 4x a week, then you would have had the time to cook the dishes at home. We still eat out roughly 5-6 times a month (less than before), but we usually save that for special occasions and are much more likely to go to a GOOD restaurant rather than have many mediocre meals out…
The second bit of advice is to shop at large wet markets or weekend markets and EAT SEASONALLY. Fruits and vegetables that are at the peak of their season are often at their cheapest. Lately, santol and other late summer fruits were quite reasonably priced. Dalandan is abundant at the moment. Atis is just starting. Pineapples are always good value. Kalabasa blossoms and other leafy greens are better priced now than at the height of the summer heat. Also, pay attention to the cuts of meat or fish. Wagyu yakiniku sounds pricey but you only need a little bit as part of a larger meal, so you are splurging without imminent bankruptcy. Fish heads have lots of meat and flavor, sisig from a lechon head feeds 8-10 for a reasonable sum. And the tips could go on and on. But don’t limit your food forays to the groceries – hits the markets, roadside stands, etc. Load up on specialties from various provinces you manage to visit in the course of work or pleasure. And that doesn’t mean to buy dried danggit in the Cebu airport!
Finally, LOOK at what you eat and try to broaden or vary your menu a bit. Need proteins? How about more beans, legumes, tokwa or soybean curd, nuts, etc. Need for good carbohydrates? How about whole grain breads, red or brown rice, whole wheat pastas, more vegetables? A little bit of thought into your menu can really have a positive impact on your budget, your health and for some, your happiness. :)
As I think back to my archives, many of my lower cost or more economical dishes are heavily vegetable laden, vegetables having more bulk for less cost than meats. I also had lots of soups which were quite reasonable on a per portion basis. You may need to search back a year or two to find some of them. But I thought I should throw the question back out at the readers, so that we can all help each other out. What are your favorite delicious, nutritious and lower cost dishes prepared at home? Please leave a comment so that other readers can get some ideas and widen their arsenal of economical dishes. If there are some obvious dishes that I haven’t featured before, I will certainly try to cook them up myself. Your comments will be greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, here are some links to dishes that we like but won’t necessarily break the bank…
Grilled Tanguigue Steaks at roughly PHP50-55 per serving
Banana Cake, always a crowd pleaser and quite easy and economical to make
Laing in two variations, estimated cost per serving, less than PHP25
Beefsteak Tagalog, beef is pricey at the moment, but smash the beef to stretch it out, and a hearty serving is probably still less than PHP50
Torta a la Boholana, the way my mom made it. So easy to make, store, transport and serve. Approximately PHP25 or so per serving.
Grilled Talong and Tomato Salad, one of my all-time favorites, so refreshing and perfect with fried or grilled foods. With eggplants in abundance, this is roughly PHP20 or less per hefty serving.
Malasugui or Swordfish a la Marketman, a bit hoity toity with butter lemon and capers, but deliciious at roughly PHP100 for a very large portion or good for two with small appetites.
Carrot and Singkamas Salad – just a salad or side dish really, but refreshing, easy and cheap.
Grilled Galunggong, less than PHP20 per serving.
Inihaw na Pusit – The price of squid is ridiculous these days at PHP130+ a kilo, but a little goes a long way, so per serving costs at less than PHP25.
Ham and Chicken Soup a la Marketman – a fantastic hearty soup that is a full meal. A bit pricier at PHP80 per large serving, but try this and you will probably pick it over a Jollibee chicken and rice at a similar cost.
Zucchini Stir Fry – vegetarian and super easy and probably less than PHP20 per serving
Spicy Eggplant a la Marketman – MY ALL TIME FAVORITE economical dish. I can eat this often, and at PHP15-18 per large serving plus rice, totally affordable.
Ampalaya a la Marketman, brilliant, bitter and even better at less than PHP15 a serving
Fried Tilapia and Ampalaya Salad – With fish prices up, this must be some PHP70 or so per serving, but all you need to add is rice…
Stir-fried Shanghai Bok Choy – another vegetarian dish, easy, healthy and filling at less than PHP20-25 per serving
Binakol na Manok, heartwarming comfort food. If you feed 5 from one recipe, costs will run you some PHP70 per person.
Stir-fried Bean Sprouts – not too nutritious, but terrific crunch and side dish to fish or meat, add some lemon for a fresh twist. Less than PHP10 per serving.
Ginisang Munggo, an all-time favorite, just jazz it up with veggie or some chicharon. PHP15 or less per hearty serving and a perfect meal with rice.
Stir-fried Cabbage & Ham, easy and at PHP20 or less per person, economical.
Beef Tapa – Why buy marked up prepared tapa when you can make it at home in minutes? Probably less than PHP40 per serving.
Pork Tocino – just as easy as tapa, and a little less on the wallet, say PHP25-30 per serving.
Pancit Lucban or Hab-hab a la Marketman – Noodles always satisfy, and with little meat, this dish is probably less than PHP20 per portion.
Pospas/Lugaw/Arroz Caldo – Classic and well-priced at perhaps as little as PHP20-25 per serving.
Turbo Chicken, so much healthier than fried, and at 4-5 people per medium sized chicken, just PHP50 per person or less.
Tinowa a la Cebu, Visayan comfort food, at less than PHP30 per serving.
PHEW! That is a huge number of links, and that is only for dishes featured in the FIRST YEAR of this blog. There are dozens more in subsequent years. So please check the archives for more. Meanwhile, I hope to hear from readers about their lower-priced but delicious dishes! Thanks!