My family eats a lot. We have five of us, all who eat now. And the baby can sometimes out-eat both of the older kids! (In addition to nursing several times a day.) So, having a lot of food on hand is a necessity. But how do you do that and save money on real food?
Over the last year, prices have crept up, and we’ve added that fifth eater, and the kids have gotten bigger. I stopped using my cash system for awhile, and I stopped meal planning. I found myself spending $500 – $600 per month on groceries, and I wasn’t even buying anything exorbitant (no $15/lb. seafood here!). I had nothing saved up to buy food to preserve this summer and we were rapidly running out of what I had preserved last year. Our yard isn’t much good for a garden, so I’m not spending the time and effort this year. Everything I preserve has to be purchased from local farmers. With what money?
I had to make some changes.
How to Fix This
A year ago, I would go to the ATM every two weeks and take out $220. I would immediately set aside $100 to save up for later (any bulk buying, large meat purchases, and preserving) and use $120 to buy groceries for the next two weeks. A few things make this system a bit more difficult now:
- Higher prices. My bottom price on lettuce last year when it was in season was $1.09/lb.; this year it is $1.49/lb. There are lots of little things like that. Ground beef is up to $4/lb. from $3.50.
- Another kid. Yeah, and my kids eat. A lot.
- No meat reserves. Last year I had most of a whole cow in my freezer, so I only had to buy a little chicken or fish to get us through. I don’t have that now. I’m buying all my meat retail until I can save up enough to do another large purchase.
- Grain-free. We’re not anymore, but for a long time we were. I still have to have grain-free options because the baby can’t eat grains, so serving pasta as a main dish is not an option.
Still, the basic system is good. Take out cash, set some aside, spend the rest. I settled on $260 — set aside $100, and spend $160. It’s a bit more, but spending $320 – $350 a month is reasonable, I think. Certainly much more so than $500+!
That was the first part of my plan. Use cash, and set aside what I want to save. I know if I have the money in the ATM and use the card, that I will spend it. I will intend to set it aside, but I’ll check and say, “Oh, I ran out of cheese…and there’s $10 in there….” With cash, when it’s gone — it’s gone.
I finally, really, truly made a meal plan. You can see my current plan here. We will not be hungry with this plan — haven’t been so far! In addition to what is on this plan, I will also have:
- Kombucha (about 3 bottles/day for the family)
- Yogurt popsicles (for snacks/breakfast)
- Chocolate macaroons (to use up extra egg whites, for snacks)
- Almond flour cake (for snacks)
- Celery/carrot sticks
- Sprouted “granola” bars (made from amaranth and millet I had on hand)
My goal was to get creative with what I had. I often have egg whites left since I make ice cream 2 – 3 times per week with just yolks. Rather than throwing them out, I use them to make macaroons or cheeseballs or another snack for the kids.
Making a plan allows you to know exactly what you really need. And it also allows you to look ahead to see if you need to thaw, marinate, sprout, or soak something. If you don’t do those things ahead of time, you will probably rely on more expensive convenience items. We tended to use more meat to make something quick, and it wasn’t junk, but it wasn’t a good use of our resources, either. With a plan, I’ll incorporate sprouted beans and sprouted brown rice and other cheap, heartier foods that take a bit of time to prepare.
I’ll post some more specifics about how I stretch the food in two weeks. But now to the nitty-gritty…
What Did I Buy?
You’ve seen the plan, you know the snacks. So what exactly did I buy with my $160?
- 1 lb. strawberries — $1.50 (these were not organic and it is a rare treat)
- 1 red onion — $0.50
- 1 spaghetti squash — $2
- 3 lbs. peas — $3
- 2 lbs. broccoli — $2
- 13 bananas — $3
- 2 lbs. grapes — $2 (these also were not organic and a rare treat)
- 1 small bottle hot sauce — $1
- 10 lbs. organic potatoes — $10
- 1/2 lb. mild raw cheddar — $3
- 1 lb. sharp raw cheddar — $7
- 1 lb. raw Romano — $7
- 4 doz. eggs — $6
- 1 lb. brown rice penne — $2
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms — $2
- 2 lbs. organic carrots — $2
- 4 lbs. organic brown basmati rice — $6
- 1 lb. uncured bacon — $3
- 1/2 gal. grass-fed cream — $10
- 2 1/2 lbs. organic lettuce — $4
- 1 1/2 lbs. organic celery — $3
- 2 heads organic garlic — $1
- 1 gal. raw milk — $5
- 1 3-lb. top round roast — $10
- 6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast — $20
- 4 lbs. boneless pork chops — $10
- 3 lbs. sausage — $10
- 5 lbs. beef bones — $10
- 1 whole chicken — $6
I also had on hand some oats, beans, wheat berries, honey, sucanat, and ground beef. I am almost out of most of these things though.
I used the grass-fed cream to turn into butter (6 cups) and used the rest for mashed potatoes and whipped cream to go with our fruit for dessert.
The bacon was so cheap because I bought an “ends and pieces” package. It’s funny shaped pieces and sometimes thick, unusable fat (not too often), but it works just fine for most things.
The rice and the beans from my pantry are going to be sprouted before I use them to increase nutrition.
Produce that wasn’t marked as organic, wasn’t. The majority of it is on the “clean 15” list, except the two noted items. I probably buy non-organic dirty dozen produce once every few months. Normally I would choose organic apples or pineapples instead but these were on sale and the kids like it.
I have a herd share and pay $20 a month for milk, and get 1 gallon per week. I use this to cook with, make ice cream, and make yogurt.
All the meat listed at the end comes from Mosley’s Meat Market, a local, family-owned butcher shop. They have a nice deal where if you buy a “meat box” (min. $50) you can choose 5 “choices” from their list. Except for a few steaks, the max. that you pay per lb. is $3.33. Sometimes quite a bit less! One choice they offer is 8 lbs. of chicken leg quarters (for $10!). I buy a box every two weeks, plus a couple other items (usually a chicken and some bones, like this time). All of their meat is locally and humanely raised, and the beef is grass-fed. Occasionally they have their ground sirloin (normally $4.79/lb.) for $2.69/lb. if you buy 10 lbs. or more. I take advantage of this. We did this last week and bought 30 lbs., which is why I had ground beef in the freezer. They are in SW Columbus, in Hilliard, about 30 min. from me. If you are anywhere near them, I encourage you to check it out.
I had the butcher slice the roast thinly (can I just say how awesome it was not to have to do that myself?) and I used half of it to make Philly Cheesesteak pockets (you’ll see that recipe soon), and half of it will be for a dinner next week. I will use the beef bones to make a couple large batches of stock — I only need to do this once a month or less, because I get 8 – 12 quarts out of it. I will also use the bones from the whole chicken to make a pot of chicken stock. This will be used for gravy, sauces, and soups, which helps to stretch the meat. I always put stock in my chili to increase the nutrition.
It did take me awhile to sprout, soak, and otherwise prepare all of this food. I did have every single one of my mixing bowls (at least 8) with “stuff” in them all at once. But I got it done over the weekend (for the most part).
In the future I’ll tell you more about how I stretch all of these items in my kitchen!