(I’ve updated this post from a couple of years ago for you all! Sorry for the delay in getting it up. We have been very busy with a very happy newly engaged family member – wedding dress shopping and the whole bit. This is part of my 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet series)
Several weeks ago a few of you asked how I was able to add seafood into our diets without raising our budget. Good question. We have not always eaten seafood consistently for various reasons (I didn’t realize I liked seafood until recently and because of the cost). But the health benefits of seafood made me realize that I really wanted to be able to fit it in for the omega 3’s, and zinc and other nutritious attributes to seafood. Dr. Price was most impressed with the health of people groups in coastal regions who ate a lot of seafood, by the way, which was just one more score for seafood.
How to fit it in our budget was the tricky part.
Seafood is one of those foods that is important not to skimp on quality. No farmed salmon here! While it is a lot cheaper, they are fed wild fish (an unsustainable option), are often overcrowded and diseased, they are dyed to hide their unnatural gray flesh, and antibiotics are routinely were used to treat them. They are generally not as nutritious, good for the environment and probably are not going to taste as good either. I also don’t recommend tilapia, as unless you are getting it from a fish farm that uses excellent methods, you are likely buying a very inferior product very high in Omega 6’s. With farmed salmon and tilapia out of the picture, you may find yourself wondering how to fit more expensive fish into your budget. Here are a few things that have worked for me.
Tip Number One: Figure Out Your Daily Budget
First, figure out how much you have to spend per day on food. For me, I had to first subtract how much I spend on my bulk orders (oils, grains, etc). Then I took the remaining amount left in our budget and divided it by weeks, then by days. This helped put my spending in perspective. (If we go out to eat and spend 20 dollars on dinner or on seafood at the store that takes up the money for X amount of days). I realized that the cost of seafood could sometimes take up most of a day’s worth of our budget.
So then, on seafood night, I make sure that we eat leftovers for lunch and an inexpensive breakfast. That enables me to spend almost all of my day’s budget on dinner. I also try to do a very frugal dinner the night before, to help give me wiggle room in my budget. It was really that simple for us. When I had a whole day’s budget for our dinner, I was able to “splurge” on seafood much more easily.
Tip Number Two: Don’t Give Large Portions
My philosophy is that some seafood is better than none. We can’t afford to have large portions of seafood, generally (though sometimes we do). But instead of just nixing the idea of eating seafood at all, we eat smaller portions of it. A serving size of seafood is 3 ounces, which isn’t huge, and is better than no seafood!
Tip Number Three: Stretch Seafood With Hearty Dishes
But obviously you don’t want seafood night to become “skimpy night”. I try to make our seafood meals satisfying, and filling, even if everyone doesn’t have large portions of wild salmon. Here are a few ways I stretch out the seafood in ways that doesn’t make the meal seem skimpy.
- Pasta is always a special treat around here, so sometimes I make a seafood sauce to go over pasta for a filling meal that also effectively stretches seafood. (two examples of this is my fresh clam and herb sauce and this recipe for a simple creme freshe and canned salmon sauce.
- Soups are my personal favorite. They are so nourishing and filling. I adore soups, so I like to make seafood soups and it’s really easy to stretch out your seafood a bit in soups. I have recipes in my soup cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons for clam chowder, salmon chowder, miso udon and salmon soup, and a simple white fish and rice soup (pictured above) all of which are frugal ways to stretch out seafood.
- Watch a video here of me showing how to make a seafood stir-fried rice, which is great, frugal way to use leftover seafood.
- Salads work equally as well. A favorite simple dinner is to cook up a fillet of fish (or open a can), add some celery and nuts, and serve it over lettuce with homemade dressing poured over it all. We love this.
- Another option is to make simple salmon cakes using either canned salmon or leftover salmon bits.
- And finally sandwiches work as well. Most of us grew up on tuna salad sandwiches, so we know how this works.
Tip Number Four: Shopping Tips
Watching for sales at various stores in your area can enable you to find some steals. The only downside to this is that sometimes the “on sale” seafood can be a little old (and that is not good taste-wise). Getting fresh seafood is pretty mandatory if you want it to taste good!
Asian stores can be a real boon because their seafood is often significantly cheaper. Some are better than others, however. Many will have signs with not only the names of the fish, but also whether it’s wild or farmed. Unfortunately, mine doesn’t and most of the employees don’t speak English, which makes it very hard to be able to ensure the quality of anything I buy. However, I will buy dried sardines or anchovies there, which I discuss here. You may or may not like these, but they certainly are very nutrient dense and cheap too!
I also like to buy live mussels and clams as they are generally at least a dollar or two cheaper per pound. However, yours may be significantly better than mine are. Readers have let me know about their local Asian stores which are teeming with live fish, beautiful oysters and other fresh seafood. I would definitely check out what is available near you.
Tip Number Five: Wild Salmon Isn’t Your Only Option
Don’t get too stuck on one fish (such as the popular salmon). Black cod is just as high in omega 3’s, so if it is a good price, snatch it up (it is mild and delicious and just as easy to cook). Learn to cook with a wide variety of fish, and you can more easily work with what is a good price at the fish market. If you can only work with, say, salmon and clams, you are going to be limited. Experiment!
Tip Number Six: Frozen and Canned
Frozen wild salmon is very convenient to have on hand, since you need to make sure you cook seafood right away when you buy it fresh. In fact, I have some defrosting today for dinner tonight! And you can often buy it cheaper per pound frozen too. I recently found New Zealand frozen mussels for a cheaper price than the live mussels behind the seafood counter. I’ve also seen frozen clams and other seafood at Trader Jo’s (just make sure what by at Trader Jo’s is sustainable – not all seafood is). Frozen seafood is not only helpful for budgeting at times, but it is also great for those who live far away from the ocean.
We also keep on hand canned low-mercury tuna in BPA-free cans (Wild Planet brand, we buy at Costco), salmon, and sardines. These give us inexpensive, quick meals. While I prefer fresh or frozen, I am grateful for canned fish as well.
Those are the ways I am making seafood work on our budget. But I am sure there are many more tips out there. Want to share yours?