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Will work for food

Published April 19. 2010 05:00PM

My husband and I spent our weekend getting the garden ready for spring and planting our spring vegetables loose-leaf lettuce, snap peas and shelled peas.

While we were digging straight little rows for our springtime treats, we started talking about what living in the "country" means to us and what the typical family does in Mahoning Township.

We're not the only family with a garden every family within sight of our home has a vegetable garden. But it's a lot of work to grow your food. Why do we bother when there are several grocery stores within a 10-minute drive?

I think the reason is two-fold. Firstly, it's much less expensive to grow fruits and vegetables in your own backyard. We paid $2 for lettuce and pea seeds and will grow more than $50 worth of vegetables. Local greenhouses will soon sell tomato plants for 50 cents to $1 per plant.

If you harvest just two or three plump, ripe tomatoes, you've eaten your money's worth. And unlike lettuce, most summer vegetables can be preserved by freezing or canning, which means you can grow an entire year's worth of veggies in your backyard.

Secondly, we've become a society that values convenience and we're willing to pay for that convenience. We pay through both higher costs and preservatives and chemicals added to keep our food from spoiling.

There's nothing fresher than homegrown vegetables, and you know exactly what chemicals have been added to your food.

Whether you choose to start your own garden this year or not, this principle applies to all types of foods.

You can buy a rotisserie chicken, fully cooked and ready to eat. You could also buy a raw chicken and prepare it the way you like you'll have more control over the end product and it's significantly less expensive.

On the extreme end, you could also raise chickens and butcher your meal for even less.

I'm not into butchering my own meals, so let's look at lettuce as an example.

I try to eat salads fairly often, and we use lettuce to dress up lots of our quick meals like tacos and burgers. When you're eating a food fairly often, it pays to find the right balance between price and convenience.

Fresh fromthe backyard

Packets of loose-leaf lettuce cost about $1, or $2-$3 for organic seeds. In that packet, you'll find a few hundred seeds. Each tiny, tiny seed will grow an entire head of loose-leaf lettuce.

If you harvest from that head throughout the spring, it will keep growing new leaves. Talk about efficiency!

Heads above the rest

A head of lettuce costs about $1-$3, depending on what type of lettuce you prefer.

Iceberg lettuce doesn't have much taste or nutritional value, and it costs $1 per head. Romaine is a bit more expensive but contains more nutrients.

You can also buy loose-leaf groupings for about $3. Keep in mind that these are conventionally-grown prices, not organic. Expect to pay nearly twice as much for organic vegetables.

Ready to eat

A small bag of precut and washed lettuce leaves costs $3-$5. It's a tremendous timesaver, but you don't get very much food for your money. If you prefer to eat convenience and prepared foods, keep an eye open for sales and coupons.

I'm prepared to bet that most families use the most- and second-most convenient methods of preparing foods buying food prepared or ready-to-prepare.

So take a look at your shopping list this week. Are there any items that rate high in convenience and cost?

It only takes a few more minutes to prepare foods from their semi-prepared state to cut your food costs significantly. Give it a try!

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