This guest post is from Becky of Becky’s Stockpot. This is a HUGE topic that I get a lot of comments about so thank you, Becky, for tackling it! And maybe could we get a link to that pie recipe?…
How I Fit Real Food Into My Busy Life And Tight Budget
I watched “Food Inc.” over New Year’s with my husband, my sister, and her husband. To say that it affected me would be an understatement. Though I have always been interested in feeding my family healthy foods, the movie inspired me to learn more about our food… where and how it was raised, how it’s processed, and simply what was in it. At the start of the year, I made a few resolutions or challenges for myself that had to do with feeding my family.
Resolution #1 – Buy/consume fewer processed foods
Resolution #2 – Buy local whenever possible.
Resolution #3 – Make the best use of my own garden
These resolutions gave me a focus. It’s been almost 4 months since I watched Food Inc. (and subsequently read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense Of Food”) and I’m really proud of the changes I’ve made…. both for myself and my family.
I’ve learned a few things over the past 4 months that have made it easier for me to stick to my resolutions while working from home and sticking to my budget.
My husband is a band director at a local high school and I do in-home daycare for a toddler and an infant. We make enough money to live what we consider to be a good life but there’s never a lot of wiggle room in the budget. I have always been a coupon clipper and a sale shopper. I was worried that buying whole foods and shopping locally was going to break the bank. On average, we spend about 18% of our income on groceries (including non-food items like toilet paper and toothpaste). We spend more then the national average (of 9%) on food but it’s worth it to me. I don’t own a cell phone, we only eat out once every two months or so, and our clothes come from a local Mega Thrift store whenever possible. I knew that we couldn’t spend more then our 18% on food so I had to find ways to buy healthier food while sticking to the same budget or less.
Here are some of the things I do to help to save money.
I’ve switched to shopping every 2 weeks for most items. I find that if I go weekly, I end up buying things we really don’t need just because I’m there. I sometimes have to make a quick stop on the non-shopping weekends for produce or a gallon of milk.
I make up a meal list and make a grocery list based on that meal list. If we’re only have pasta once during that 2 weeks, no reason to stock up on 5 boxes of pasta.
Buying my local, grass-fed meats is more expensive so I plan at least 2 meat-free meals each week. I also stretch the amount of meat by using only half as much in each recipe. One night I might make spaghetti with only a 1/2 lb. of ground beef. I’ll set the other 1/2 lb. aside until the next night and make tacos with it. I add a cup or two of cooked black beans to the taco meat to make up the difference.
We make sure to use leftovers. No sense in wasting food that you’ve spent money on. I make sure to put leftovers in clear containers so that we’re more likely to use them. I often ignore leftovers if they’re put in yogurt containers since I assume it’s yogurt. My husband loves taking leftovers to work for lunch.
Stocking up when produce is in season will save some serious money. Last fall I bought 2 huge pumpkins (since I didn’t have any luck with mine in the garden) and put about 50 cups of pumpkin puree in the freezer for $12! This year I’m planning on going to as many U-Pick farms locally as possible and filling my freezers with all kinds of wonderful produce. Nothing like blueberry muffins in December.
The second obstacle I’m continuing to work to overcome is balancing preparing food from scratch with parenting, housework, and down-time. Luckily I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking and thanks to my mom, I’m pretty good at it. Part of the fun for me is finding new recipes. I love to find recipes for foods that people can’t believe can be made at home. I mentioned to my daycare parent that the kids had homemade graham crackers for snack and she said, “I didn’t know you could make those at home.” It still amazes me that people think food processors are the only ones with the magic to make snack foods.
Here are a couple of things that I do to be able to make more homemade food without spending hours in the kitchen (not that I mind hours in the kitchen but the kids tend to need to be checked on occasionally).
Working from home gives me the added advantage of monitoring rising bread dough or to put on a pot of beans to cook while the kids play. I realize that not everyone can work from home but using the crockpot could work for those who aren’t home during the day. Nothing like having dinner ready when you get home.
I will sometimes bake during naptime but I find if I do that too often, I feel like I haven’t had a break. Knitting and catching up on Project Runway is my favorite naptime activity.
I’ve recently started baking in double or triple batches and freezing the extra. I don’t find it much more work to make 8 loaves of bread instead of 4 and that means that I’m only baking bread once a month or so. I freeze batches of muffins, cookies, banana bread, pizza dough, precooked beans… the list goes on. On a busy day when the toddlers have been cranky or the daycare baby has been fussy, it’s nice to be able to go th the freezer and pull something out that just needs to warm up instead of starting from scratch.
Doubled recipes don’t always head for the freezer. I make double batches of pizza dough so we can have pizza one night and maybe have calzones or “hot pockets” the next night. If I’m making rice, I’ll sometimes make a double batch to add to a casserole or stir fry for later in the week.
I’ve started trying to limit my baking to 2-3 times a week. Sometimes I just need a baking fix so I break my own rule but I’m allowed to…. I made the rule. I find that if I condense my baking to a few times a week, it saves time for laundry, cleaning, kid wrestling, knitting, etc and I don’t get so tired of being in the kitchen.
When I have the patience and the time, I involve my kids in the kitchen. My two year old, Evan, loves to stir ingredients. He’s anxious to crack eggs but those locally grown beauties are too precious. My five year old, Charlotte, is getting quite good at kneading dough and mixing batters together. Involving them in the process not only keeps them nearby where I know they’re not climbing on things they shouldn’t be, but it also gives them valuable skills and self- confidence. I want both of my children to feel comfortable in the kitchen and to be able to provide healthy food for themselves when they grow up.
This food journey continues to be an exciting one for me. I love every step of the process from ordering seeds in February, to sourcing local meats, to making hamburger buns.
Ooo… time to go find a great recipe for breakfast cookies! Gotta run!
More ways to save money by eating locally.