Frugal living is really important to me. I’m guessing that one of the reasons you’re here is because frugal living is important to you, too. Frugal living means better food for less money…and other better quality things, too (just fewer of them — we buy what is most needed). One way that I practice frugal living is by taking semi-annual trips to Amish country for a bulk shopping trip to stock up on pantry staples and other food items. It’s been 3 months since my last “small” trip and 6 since my last “big” trip, so it’s time!
I thought I’d share what I’m planning to buy, and what I hope to do with it. After my trip (because part of it will be seeing what is in season and cheap when I get there), I’ll share any awesome or unique finds with you too. I’m hoping to show some of my good sources, prices, and more.
A Word of Caution
It can be easy to fall into the trap that “because it’s Amish, it’s healthy.” But don’t make this mistake. There will be excellent finds, and awful finds. One of the major stores I am planning to go to has Real Salt, sucanat, organic wheat berries, and spices; but they also have lots of candy, “cheez powder,” and other terribly processed foods. Read the labels, especially on bulk items, and know what you are actually buying.
It is equally true that one farm’s fresh produce or eggs may been raised chemical-free and extremely well, and another may have raised theirs in a very conventional manner. Shopping in Amish country doesn’t mean you don’t have to ask questions. You still do. Hopefully you will find some good sources, though, and when you go back on future trips, you will know which ones are good. Small, family-run stands are great to find because you can talk to the person who raised the crops and also support them directly, if you like what they are doing.
What is Modern Alternative Mama Buying?
I will end up going to many stores while I am in Amish country. Most of the day will be spent driving from place to place and shopping. I am only planning to take my oldest, and my mom, and a friend of mine. I am not taking the boys. My daughter will be excited to help me shop (and probably ‘suggest’ several more items!) and be able to handle the rigorous day. My boys would not do so well. Hence, they will stay with Daddy and Grandpa and enjoy some outside play time and a slower pace. 🙂
- Sucanat ($1.85/lb.)
- Cane sugar (for kombucha; unsure of price, looking for under $1/lb.)
- Hard white wheat berries ($0.65/lb.)
- Barley ($0.65/lb.)
- Onion powder ($3 for a large container)
- Nutmeg ($0.50 for a medium container)
- Cinnamon ($0.50 for a medium container)
- Cocoa powder ($5 for a 1/2 lb. container; probably buy 2)
- Raw cheddar (around $3/lb.)
- Raw Swiss (around $3/lb.)
- Romano or parmesan (around $3 – $4/lb.)
- Brown basmati rice (if under $1.50/lb.)
- Light honey (looking for under $3/lb.; up to 10 lbs. or about 1 gal.)
- Dark maple syrup (looking for under $45/gal)
- Apple cider (under $3/gal)
- Organic crackers ($1/box)
- Organic snacks ($1 – $1.50 per item)
- Potatoes (if unsprayed and under $0.80/lb.)
- Eggs (if pastured and less than $2/doz)
- Real Salt (if under $3/lb.)
- Pastured butter (if under $3/lb.)
- Pastured meats (grass-fed beef under $3/lb.; whole chickens under $2/lb.)
I really, really want most of the things on my “possibly” list, but I won’t pay more for them than the prices I can get locally in Columbus. I know my prices so I won’t accidentally overspend.
In addition to The Ashery Country Store (where I buy most of my spices, grains, and sugars) and several produce stands (Kidron Nursery and Produce as well as any we drive by that look good), I’ll also be hitting a couple of discount grocery stores. I’ll take advantage of these to pick up some organic crackers and other snack foods I normally wouldn’t buy, because they’ll be so cheap. Then I will do my best to keep them hidden in the pantry for when we are on the go or having a bad day. Discount grocery stores are very hit-or-miss, but it only takes a few minutes to stroll through each one, so I like to do it a few times a year. My kids are always pleased to have a bag of organic cookies or crackers to eat.
If I get lucky, I may pick up grapes, raspberries, squash, or other fresh produce if I can find seconds or if it is cheap. I have only made these trips in June, November, and March, when not nearly as much is in season. I am very excited to get to go in early September, when nearly everything is in season!
What To Do With It All?
In addition to the above items, I’ll be picking up 4 bushels of apples from a local farmer. They are low-spray and the farmers are fans of this blog. 🙂 (Their farm is Apolloson Acres, if you’re curious.)
The apples, along with the sucanat, cinnamon, and nutmeg, will get turned into apple pie filling, applesauce, and apple butter — possibly also dried apple fruit leather. I will make quite a lot of pie filling, because we use this with soaked oats for a very quick soaked apple crisp with grass-fed cream for breakfasts on busy mornings. Healthy and a kid favorite. Recipes will come for those in a few weeks, once I have made them.
I will be buying bulk beans locally (have not found them to be cheaper in Amish country) and using beans and rice to make pots of cheap soup. This is very important: some things are not cheaper in Amish country. I have yet to find beans, rice, or pasta that are actually cheaper than what I might find at Trader Joe’s locally. Know your prices.
I will be using oats to make oatmeal for my husband for breakfasts, and to make the aforementioned soaked apple crisp for me and the kids.
Honey and maple syrup will be used in various baking projects, ice cream, etc. Cocoa will as well.
Cheese will be bought in major bulk, then frozen in large chunks. Most often we slice or cube the cheese and use it as a snack or side dish for the kids’ meals. It is also often served with organic crackers for snacks for adults. Along with some of our apples, this will make fast lunches or snacks.
If I pick up any zucchini, it will likely be shredded and frozen to be added to soups, sauces, or breads.
Whole wheat berries will be ground into flour and soaked for various breads. I’ll be trying to make more of my honey-oat English muffins (my last soaked batch went pretty well, so I’ll take pictures next time), soaked pitas, and other breads that can be frozen and pulled out for quick meals. I like to make meals where bread can stretch the food but is not a crucial component, so I can serve it without the grains to those who prefer (like the baby). I will spend some time when I’m not canning making these breads and freezing them.
Speaking of canning, I’m also doing several hundred pounds of tomatoes (no, you didn’t misread that). I’ve done 150+ so far and will do another 250 or so yet. Meals like pita pizzas will be very cheap and easy for us.
I just bought a bunch of coconut products, too. I have gallon of coconut oil, a few 8-oz. boxes of coconut milk and cream, and some shredded coconut. If I could find cheap peanuts I’d make soaked nut butter and use this plus coconut flakes or oil plus oats to make a lot of cheap granola bars.
I’ll also be getting creative with what is on hand. You may see some new recipes in the coming weeks using various pantry staples! In fact, I’d eventually like to write a cookbook on using up what you have and creating cheap meals from pantry staples…. But that’s another dream.
Once I return from my trip, I’ll share with you what I actually bought, and what I plan to do with it!
Do you do any bulk shopping? What are your favorite cheap meals?
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