Melissa d'ArabianMelissa d'Arabian is not only the effervescent host of the Food Network's 10 Dollar Dinners, d'Arabian is also a mother to four and a spokesperson for The Bread Art Project, a non-profit with a fun website where you can go and design a virtual piece of art, using bread. For every piece of artwork created, $1 is donated to Share Our Strength, an organization fighting childhood hunger in America.
It's a match made in heaven, as grains are a staple in d'Arabian's money-saving strategy at the grocery store.
I talked with d'Arabian about feeding a family of four on a budget, (I scored tons of great grocery shopping tips!) and she filled me in on the resurgence of carbs and the upside of white bread and pointed me in the direction of the next hot grain in the grocery aisle. Quinoa is sooo 2009.
How did you get involved with the Bread Art Project?
The Bread Art Project is the mechanism from Grain Foods Foundation that donates money to Share Our Strength, whose mission is that no child be hungry. So this was such an easy “yes” for me.
As a mom I want to feed my kids not only enough food, but also the right foods. As a busy mom and now a working mom, I also understand the stresses of coming home at 5 o’clock and suddenly realizing I haven’t gotten dinner figured out yet. So I was thrilled to be able to share some of my tips and tricks and strategies [with Go With the Grain] for getting food on the table.
That’s what I bring to 10 Dollar Dinners. All of these tips and tricks are based on my experience. They’re all tips I've used on my family and in my own kitchen.
Are grains are becoming fashionable again after the Atkins diet scared people away from carbs?
We've always known that grains are a fantastic resource for nutrients. But I think that now it’s coming to the forefront. I think people are recognizing that grains are not only a source of a lot of fiber, but also a lot of nutrients.
Even poor little white bread -- the ugly cousin of the grain family -- people are realizing that white bread is our number one source of folic acid in the American diet. I don’t know about you, but when I was in the childbearing period of my life, folic acid was a really important nutrient to me not only as a pregnant woman, but also as a mom. There have been studies that have linked folic acid to memory. I think it’s great to have my kids have complex carbs and a nice solid breakfast, and if I can have some nutrients that will help encourage their memory, all the better.
I didn’t know white bread was a source of folic acid.
I know, isn't that crazy? Ever since the flour has been enriched with folic acid -- I think the late ‘80s -- the incidents of neural tube defects in newborn babies have gone down by over 25 percent. Just from the enrichment of the folic acid! So it’s actually a great source -- the number one source -- of folic acid in our diet.
I think white bread is such a fantastic recipe ingredient. I made little BLT tartlets out of white bread. In the summertime, take any fresh fruit and put it into one of those tartlets and top it with a Greek yogurt and you have a fantastic little strawberry tartlet or berry tartlet. You can feel really good about giving your kids this on a daily basis. I think there is a lot of opportunity for white bread and other grains.
Quinoa has been a hot grain as of late; what grain will everyone be serving next?
Quinoa is so huge because it’s an ancient grain and because it’s complete protein. The other thing I’m seeing flying off the shelves right now are millet and barley. People are making a lot of millet and barley these days. These are also great grain options.
I like to go to the bulk aisle of my grocery store and just see what fun, interesting grains are on sale, then I keep them in jars in my cupboard. My cupboard is stocked with a whole variety of grains from the millet to quinoa to polenta. I also have a huge variety of pastas from normal white pastas to whole grain pastas to flax seed pasta.
In the freezer I’ve got all my breads. I’m telling you, I can mix or match any of those grains with almost any meal and it just really works. I round out my meal and it’s pennies a serving.
And that’s how you feed four kids with your 10-dollar dinners?
Yes, that’s exactly right. There are a lot of people in this house to feed.
What do you say to people who think they can’t afford to feed their family healthy meals for $10?
To me 10 Dollar Dinners is really about celebrating food, celebrating ingredients, and feeling empowered. By not overspending on my groceries, I feel like I’m being responsible to my family and I’m being a good steward of my family’s resources.
People have this idea that they have to spend a lot of money, they have to spend a lot of time, or it’s confusing or difficult. Where we break the bank is when we start getting the small packaged foods that are portioned out into a convenient size.
Here’s a trick: I always go to the day-old bread aisle. Even if I don’t need bread that day, I can take it straight home and put it in my freezer and it will be fresh in a week or two weeks. At least in our house, bread sits around for more than a day. Why not have the first day be at the store?
If there is just one thing you can tell us to remember when we go to the grocery store, what would it be?
Just one tip? I’ve got two strategies that will make your last-minute trip to the grocery store more fruitful.
One is, check for loss leaders in the produce and meat aisle. The loss leaders are the items that are on sale for 50 percent off or more. You can usually tell that they’re loss leaders by looking at the front page of the circular. They will usually have one pork, one beef, and one chicken item that is more than 50 percent off. There are always loss leaders in the meat aisle and produce aisle.
The second stop is the bread and pasta aisles for sale items. Usually a rotating brand of pasta is on sale. The usual sale price will be under a dollar. So I try to get the under a dollar pasta. I can turn those into a fast meal, no problem.
If you don’t have your coupons with you, you’re not going to go wrong in your bread and pasta aisles and with your loss leaders for meat and produce.
I always forget coupons.
I’ll tell you about coupons. They’re an all or nothing affair. If you’re in it, you’re saving $150 a week and if you’re not, you’re saving 35 cents and feeling guilty for not bringing your coupons.
Coupons are one way to save at the grocery store, but they’re not the only way to save. I can definitely go shopping without my coupons and make 10-dollar dinners. In fact, I make sure you can make a 10-dollar dinner without coupons.
You need to know how to shop, and that’s what I try to impart. If I could go shopping with every single woman in America and go through the list and teach her how to shop her list, I would do it. That’s how passionate I am about it.
Learn more savings tips from Melissa d'Arabian on The Food Network.