Face it, a lot of us are looking for ways to cut corners and make our skimpy dollars go further. Often, the only portion of the budget that has “flex” room is our food budget, and that’s what gets cut first.
Often, people will choose desserts as the first “extras” to cut out, leaving the entire family longing at pictures of gourmet cakes and fancy tarts. It doesn’t have to be the dessert that makes the sacrifice for the rest of the meal. Often, expensive ingredients can be eliminated from across the monthly menu, leaving plenty of room for delicious and inexpensive answers to that craving for sweet, and still making it a reasonably healthy addition to the daily routine.
Fruit is an obvious choice to retain on the grocery list-it’s good for us. But how can we make our dollar value go up?
Eat fruits in season. Visit “you pick” farms and turn it into a family outing. Make jams, jellies, freeze some, or even can some for use in the off season. The initial outlay for jars and equipment will pay off fairly quickly, especially when you stick with things that can be “water bath” canned rather than requiring pressure canning. (The pressure canner is one of the most expensive pieces of canning equipment there is to buy.) Shop farmers markets and produce stores for best quality and best prices.
Fruits lend themselves well to desserts. They can be prepared quite simply with a light sprinkling of sugar and a drizzle of cream, sour cream, half & half, or evaporated milk. Variations include sprinkling with cereals such as granola, topping with yogurt, using them as a topping on waffles or plain cake, or even shortcake.
A scoop of ice cream, whether topped with fresh fruit, fruit topping, cereal, or sprinkles, can become a favored dessert, and is reasonable in both price and calorie count when eaten in moderation. In addition to the traditional version, there is also ice milk (lower fat and often lower price), reduced fat or reduced sugar versions, sherbets and frozen yogurts. For a special treat, try making your own. There are many versions that do not require the use of a special ice cream maker and just use your freezer and a freezer-proof container that are quite delicious. (My favorite one is a cantaloupe sherbet that is frozen and periodically beaten during the course of a few hours.)
For other dessert ideas, look at the “depression” recipes. These recipes were born in a period of hardship, and use minimal ingredients, most of which are still inexpensive today. (Many are very good, as well as helpful when dealing with an egg or milk allergy.)
Almost all homemade desserts are less expensive than the bakery or grocery store version, as well as far fresher and often tastier. If you are clumsy with the decorative touches, practice will improve your skill, or try sticking to simple tactics. Often, you can save time, money, and calories by skipping the traditional sugar-and-fat-filled frostings and opt to top with a scoop of ice cream, fresh fruit, a sprinkling of powdered sugar (plain or flavored with spices or cocoa), toppings such as pudding and sauces, etc.
For those who are intimidated by the process and concept of cooking “from scratch”, take heart. Not all homemade cakes and other desserts are complicated and fussy to make. Here is a recipe that I first made “all by myself” when I was a third grader, and it has been a lifetime favorite recipe. It’s easy, delicious, sturdy enough for lunchboxes, and inexpensive enough to even take to the office. It also dates from some unknown cook’s ingenuity in truly “hard times” of the Great Depression.
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3 cups flour
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 6 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups cold water
- 1 teaspoons vanilla
Heat oven to 350Â°. Place all dry ingredients into a 9″x13″ baking pan. Stir until combined. Make 3 small depressions in the flour mixture, and place vinegar, vanilla, and oil into these depressions. Next, pour the water over entire mixture. Stir well. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. May be eaten plain or iced with a butter icing.
As an alternative, you can mix this cake in a bowl and bake in a 1/2 sheet pan to make thinner cake servings, these thinner pieces can have a scoop of softened ice cream sandwiched in the middle, then be frozen to create delicious ice cream sandwiches. Try filling with more novel flavors than just vanilla, such as chocolate, mint, or any other flavor that would combine well with the chocolate cake.
(My favorite for lunchbox cakes or to freeze for eating later is to sprinkle the top with chocolate chips or two broken chocolate bars, let the chocolate melt, and spread it to coat the top with a thin coating. Cut cake into squares when cake is cool, but BEFORE the chocolate hardens. Let chocolate cool & harden before removing from pan and wrapping individual squares.)