Food Budgeting in History

Our ancestors knew a thing or two about food budgeting, which led to the creation of some of our favorite meals. Meat loaf and French toast can trace their origins at least as far back as ancient Rome. If you are interested in recreating these historical recipes, you can read translations of Apicius’s “De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking)”. This one for “French Toast” (minus the eggs)  is adapted from “Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome” by Patrick Faas.

Aliter dulcia: muteos afros optimos rades et in lacte infundis. Cum biberint, in furnum mittis, ne arescant, modice. Eximes eos calidos, melle perfundis, compungis ut bibant. Piper asperges et inferes

“Another sweet dish: cut the crust from the best African mustaceum bread and soak it in milk. When it is saturated, bake it in oven, but not for too long to avoid drying it out. Remove the bread when it is hot and pour honey over it. Prick holes in it so that it absorbs the honey. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.”

It may seem obvious, but Apicicus was certainly not the first person to recognize the importance of not wasting leftovers. Bread dries out quickly, especially without preservatives. What better way to use up old bread than to turn it into new culinary delights such as French toast, or grind it into crumbs to make a small amount of meat be able to feed more people (as is the case with meatloaf).

Boccaccio in his 14th century “Decameron” described a dish as “pan lavato” (washed bread). In medieval Tuscany, stale bread was “washed” with liquid, squeezed, and then added to salad. With the arrival of tomatoes from the Americas a few centuries later, and the change from soaking to toasting the bread, Panzanella salad was born. You do not even need an exact recipe to make it! Simply tear or chop stale bread (ideally rustic and not soft white), toss it with olive oil and toast until crisp. Add it to a salad of crisp greens, sliced red onions, tomatoes, and perhaps some torn basil if you are feeling fancy. Toss with a good, strong extra virgin olive oil and your choice of vinegar. Salt and pepper.

We at LMG Financial Solutions recognize that not everyone is a gourmet chef. However, we have some simple suggestions that anyone can use to help them with their food budget during these financially uncertain times.

1. Start by tracking your current food expenditures including groceries, take out and dining. Do this for at least a few weeks to truly get a sense of your average food spending. From there, it will be easier to decide on a budget.

2. We believe in supporting small and local businesses such as mom and pop restaurants, especially in light of Covid. However, dining out does not need to be a weekly or semi-weekly ritual. Turn eating out into a treat and try to limit it to once or twice a month.     

3. Sending your spouse to pick up a specific grocery item only to return with the most ridiculous sounding ice cream flavor (such as Rip Van Winkel Rum Raisin Delite) is a common sitcom trope. Do not become a sitcom stereotype! Make a grocery list based on your budget and stick to the list, allotting a specific amount set aside for those “extra” purchases.   

4. Purchase “ugly” fresh and organic fruits and vegetables at a lower cost by way of Misfits Market, or Imperfectfoods.com. It is an unfortunate reality how “ugly” yet fresh and delicious foods can get tossed out and wasted. Not only can you save perfectly good food from being sent to the garbage, but you can save money doing it.

5. Become a leftover specialist. The late and beloved Anthony Bourdain was known to lambast brunch, calling it overpriced leftovers. While true if you eat your avocado toast and drink your mimosa in a crowded midtown restaurant at 1pm on a Sunday, this will not be true if made in your own kitchen! Save the scraps of your fresh vegetables and toss them into an omelet. If you have stale bread and are not in a mood for meat loaf, French toast or Panzanella salad, perhaps add them with your vegetable scraps into a casserole dish, top with a milk and egg custard and voila… you have a fancy schmancy strata (savory bread pudding). If you have leftover white or brown takeout rice, throw it into your rice or slow cooker with some dairy or almond milk and make yourself a creamy rice pudding. 

Eating frugally can not only help keep you on a budget, but it can connect you to history, and be delicious and healthy at the same time.

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