Category Archives: Saving Money

10 Steps to a Sustainable Kitchen

This is part of a Sustainable Kitchen presentation I did for Planet Home last year. I found it while cleaning things out but it’s still as timely and accurate as ever. Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. Stop looking for commercial solutions to ease your guilt. Just buck up and do it.

1. Stop Wasting Food (or water, or energy for that matter)
Did you know that 40% of all food goes to waste? And rather than getting a rain barrel or solar panels how about you just cut back on your consumption? Not only is decreasing consumption free – it will save you money. Reducing spending is actually better than making money because it saves you from paying tax on that money!! Sustainable and fiscally responsible. Look at you go!

2. Eat more nutrient dense food
You’ll consume less of it, and reduce your garbage at the same time. Did you know that nutritionally-bereft food is the most packaged food there is? It just means more poop and more garbage – you don’t need either one!

3. Garden year round, and eat seasonally
Stop trying to preserve everything in sight – eat winter squash and kale in winter and strawberries and zucchini in summer. You’ll appreciate it all that much more when you only eat it in season.

4. If you don’t garden, consider getting a local, organic CSA
This helps reduce monocrop faring and GM foods, and supports food security in your local economy. If everyone did this it would change the shape of modern agriculture.

5. Learn to ferment, culture dairy and cure meats
This is a great, no electricity-required way to preserve perishable foods until spring. You won’t need to buy those emergency supply kits with their freeze dried meals – you’ll be ready to feed your whole block!

6. Trade surplus produce with friends and neighbors, or donate it to food banks
Don’t let large bounties go to waste and create pest and disease problems!

7. Compost kitchen and garden scraps and turn your past-prime foods into garden gold. This reduces your yard waste and strengthens the web of life in your yard (the good web – the one that keeps down pests and plagues and things.)

8. Get chickens, rabbits or worms (or all three!)
Before becoming garden gold, those food scraps could become eggs, or meat. The synergy between rabbits, chickens and worms is amazing. The rabbits will spill alfalfa pellets (or poop the partially digested alfalfa), the chickens will eat any form of alfalfa on the ground, reducing the amount of chicken feed you need to buy, rabbit and chicken feces will feed composting worms and the worms and any fly larvae will feed the chickens. It’s so cyclical it will blow your mind. And you will get meat and eggs for half the amount feed.

9. Buy a grain grinder and learn to make your own baked goods.
You and your local grain farmers will be healthier for it. And when I say baked goods, I mean that middle 1/3 of the grocery store. Crackers, cereal, breads, buns, cookies. It represents more of your grocery bill than you realize, more of your middle-aged spread than you care to notice, the majority of your garbage, and most of the food preservatives and flavor “enhancers” the industry so loves to pawn off on your kids.

10. Buy local, pastured meats and learn to use the whole animal. Nothing goes to waste. No feed lots to support. No recalls to watch. Find caring farmers who raise happy and healthy animals (or raise your own backyard meats.)

Guest Post – How I Fit Real Food Into My Busy Life and Tight Budget

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.

    Can of Casserole – Scratch Style

    chicken-enchilada-casserole-4

    I have to admit back in the day I called this the Can of Casserole because it involved opening a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of olives, a can of Rotelle, a can of green chile peppers and buying a pre-roasted chicken or poaching a Costco chicken breast while I was opening all those cans. At one point in my life, and I shudder to admit this, I even used crushed Fritos as the base layer.

    Boy have times changed. I do still shop at Costco – it’s a great place to buy cases of Northwest wine and beer, Beecher’s or Tillamook cheese, organic sugar and maple syrup. But that’s my consumable limit there.

    My challenge since taking this local pledge is to replace as many of my family’s comfort foods with “from scratch” options as possible. In this case that has meant figuring out how to make things like tortillas from scratch and replace canned items with home grown and home canned things.

    And while I do generally make all our tortillas from scratch, either using Wardeh’s spelt tortillasor the recipe on the back of the Bob’s masa harina bag for corn tortillas. I even went so far as to nixtamalize dent corn from Oregon last year and grind it in the food processor but I’m trying to take a step back this year and regain some balance in my life so I broke down and bought corn tortillas. I don’t know where the corn was grown or where they were made so it was a bitter pill to swallow but something has to give and that seemed a good place to push this week.

    I’ve previously mentioned I like to make build upon meals where one night you roast a chicken (or two or three while you are at it) and successive nights you turn that into new meals lest your family mutiny. I do this not really to save money because sometimes pastured meat costs less than other things you may fortify it with, like local cheese in this case. The chicken was $4.50 per pound but the Beecher’s cheddar, even through Costco was $8 per pound. However, eating cheese and eggs seems more sustainable in the long run to me than consuming lots of meat which it sometimes feels like we do in excess while trying to eat locally.

    Just over a year ago we were very close to becoming vegetarian in response to learning the truth about what we were eating. Instead, we decided to learn everything we could about food and only buy it from ethical and local farmers. Surprisingly, meat is one of the cheapest things we eat now. Pastured meat is cheaper even than local, organic legumes!

    So build upon meals represent shortcuts for me more than monetary savings, although sometimes they also represent huge monetary savings in the case of bone broth that become the basis of other extremely frugal meals.

    The Can of Casserole is one of those meals that can be frugal to make from scratch but can cost a small fortune when you are buying all those cans! I used to buy a rotisserie chicken, use the meat and throw away the carcass ($2.5 for half of the chicken), can of olives ($2.50), can of Rotelle ($3), can of green chilies ($2), can of cream of chicken soup ($2), container of sour cream ($3) and bag of tortillas ($3). I’m just guessing at these prices since it’s been so long now so if you think these numbers are way off feel free to let me know. That totals $18 to make this casserole.

    I can now make it for $12 using all local, organic (Beecher’s is not organic in certification but is organic in practice), pastured chicken and home grown food. That represents purchased corn tortillas ($3), 1/3 roasted pastured chicken ($5), 1/4 pound Beechers ($2), home canned green tomato/chili sauce ($1), home cured olives ($.25), milk ($.75) and pennies for 2 tablespoons of flour, butter and odd spices. Not bad for a meal that feeds my family for several nights. You could make this even more frugal (shave off $2) by making the corn tortillas from scratch and omitting the olives since I recognize not everyone wants to cure their own olives. Also I buy local, raw milk which costs considerably more than buying organic dairy pool milk at the store so you could get this down even more by replacing the milk in this recipe (shave off another $.25 that way.)

    That means what was costing $18 to make using highly processed ingredients of dubious quality and supporting food corporations I disagree with could cost $9.50 to make using all organic, local, pastured real foods. Granted it takes a little longer to make it this way but in all honesty if you are using leftover roast chicken and buying the tortillas it takes about 15 minutes to make the sauce – not too much longer than it takes to open, empty and rinse out all those cans for the recycling bin. You saved much longer than 15 minutes by not making a last minute trip to the store so you’ve got time to spare.

    If you wanted to make this vegetarian you could easily replace the chicken with black or pinto beans but that would change the costs. Buying organic but non-local black beans would bring the cost down even further while buying organic local black beans might raise it.

    Now on to the recipe…which is really a non-recipe. That allows you to use what you have in your freezer and pantry which is where things really get frugal. Cooking with what you have is lesson #1 in frugality.

    Begin by making a white sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and whisk until they are blended. Cook them for several minutes. The mixture will begin resembling mashed potatoes.

    making-roux

    Add 2 cups of milk, whisking to smooth out the lumps and cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. At that point you can add your spices – roast garlic or garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, oregano, grated cheese and/or home canned chilies or salsa to your taste.

    chili-cheese-sauce

    Spread one layer of corn tortillas (or polenta) in a lasagna pan. Over that scatter your cubed or shredded chicken, any corn of other veggies (squeezed of excess water) from your freezer and about 2/3 of your sauce.

    chicken-enchilada-casserole-1

    chicken-enchilada-casserole-2

    Cover that with another layer of corn tortillas or polenta. Top that with the remainder of your white sauce base and a generous layer of shredded sharp cheddar or other cheese. Queso fresco would be great here as well. I like to sprinkle chili powder or paprika on the top cheese layer because I like the added depth it gives to the cheese.

    chicken-enchilada-casserole-3

    Bake in a 350 degree oven until the sauce begins to bubble and it’s warmed through, about 45 minutes. This is another of those casseroles that you could assemble the night before and pop into the oven day of, or it could be frozen in smaller sizes for a future convenience dinner.

    chicken-green-chili-enchiladas

    How about you? Do you have any “can of” casseroles? I bet if you used this white sauce as the foundation to replace any of the creamed soups you could convert legacy recipes just like this. In fact, I’m thinking of going to the Rotelle website to get more casserole ideas for my green tomato chile sauce which I canned last summer and to the Cambpbell’s soup website to get more ideas for creamy casseroles like this since my family loves them.

    Saving Money by Eating Locally

    This post is part of Pennywise Platter hosted weekly by Kimi

    When I started this journey last year I was emotionally committed and luckily had the resources to back that commitment up. I had decided that even though it costs more to eat this way we would give up other things and hopefully finances would even out. A month into it I was shocked at our food bill. But rather than give up I dug into other areas and cut out frivolous spending instead of caving. Once you start a blog proclaiming your steadfastness it’s hard to tuck tail and hide!

    I had seen some significant savings immediately by grinding grains and baking myself and doing things like buying end of season boxes of apples and saucing them myself but the meat, cheese, fish and egg prices at the market were staggering!

    The flavor was amazing compared to what we had been use to and I felt really good about supporting local farmers and eating that fresh, genuine food. So I stuck with it.

    Finding Azure Standard was a boon for me because they grow many of their own beans and grains, grind them and make their own pasta. Finally, a semi-local source for corn, popcorn, and beans! Also finding BlueBird Grain and Lentz Spelt Farm gave me a ready source for truly local grains that I could grind as needed.

    I taught myself how to make cheese but without a free source of milk I realized very quickly why cheesemongers command such a high price for their wares. The only cheese you save money making is soft cheese where you get a high cheese to milk ratio with a short waiting period. Mozzarella, feta and chevre are three such cheeses and they are very gratifying to make.

    So how to get my costs down on eggs, meat, fish and cheeses?

    Backyard chickensand a second freezer to house farmer direct meat were my answer.

    Here is my short list for saving money with limited cooking time:

    Buy a grain grinder and several 5 gallon buckets and lids to store the grains in. Buy grains and beans in bulk. The savings will floor you. If you work, consider buying a bread machine and crock pot. Peruse my category list for pancake, bread and other baked good recipes and quit buying pancake mix since you already have everything in your cupboard to make them.

    Take 30 minutes once a week to plan out the week’s meals and write it down to keep you on track. Jot down reminders to take meat out of the freezer a few days before you need it. You can pre chop veggies days in advance to achieve some economies of scale.

    Consider cooking several meals over the weekend so you have a few meals ready for the week, or get one day ahead on cooking so you cook tomorrow night’s dinner tonight (at your leisure) and simply reheat tonight what you cooked last night, or plan “build upon” meals successive nights.

    This is when tonight you make beef pot roast in the crock pot, tomorrow night you make shredded meat tacos using that (or pasties) and start overnight beef bone broth, the third night you make shepard’s pie using that same meat and thickened roast juices, the fourth night you make beef barley soup with the final leftovers and your beef bone broth that you’ve now cooled, skimmed the fat from and seasoned.

    This same progression with chicken would be roast chicken to tacos to chicken pot pie to chicken noodle soup. In this way 2 pot roasts and 2 chickens could provide you with the better part of your meat needs for a whole month so you can see how you can get your dinner costs down with some planning and supplementing with dried beans and fresh veggies.

    Find a local source for 1/4 or 1/8 cow, 1/2 pig, a chicken package from a local farmer or case of fish fillets from local fisherman.

    Learn to make spendy sausages by seasoning pre-ground meats, fish cakes from canned salmon, and meatballs to freeze so you have a source for quick meals at the ready. My local meat on wheels, Thundering Hooves, charges $8/# for sausage but only $4/# for ground meat. What a huge savings just for mixing some spices already in your cupboard into their ground meat!

    Ask the farmers at your local farmers market if they have wholesale buying prices on large orders. Talk to them and ask if they know other local farmers who don’t participate at the market but would sell directly from the farm.

    In the summer hit the Upick stands and freeze, dry or process fruits en masse. Freeze, pickle and lacto ferment veggies when they are bountiful and inexpensive.

    Do what you can with the space you have. Plant an intensive orchard using fruit trees on dwarf stock that are proven to produce in your area. Plant a garden, again using crops proven to produce well with minimal disease in your climate.

    Oftentimes neighbors will have productive fruit trees in their yard and let crops rot on the tree. When you see this ask if you can pick fruit and give them back preserves you’ve made with it in exchange. I did this last summer and ended up with pears, cherries and over 100 pounds of plums to dry, can and jam.

    Find a canning buddy so you can divide and conquer. It’s much easier to spend a weekend canning one type of thing than to try and do several. If you spend the weekend canning peaches and peach jam perhaps your friend could spend the weekend canning tomato sauce and you can share in each other’s jars. Or host a swap with many friends and neighbors to really round out your stores in the fall. We did this last fall and I came away with jars of local honey, handmade goat’s milk soap, smoked salmon and new flavors of preserves.

    Start small and build upon your success season after season as you gain confidence. Remember, produce is only one piece of the puzzle so don’t beat yourself up for not being able to devote your life to a huge organic garden. But gardening is the most emotionally empowering and visually inspiring thing you can do so definitely consider it.

    How about you? What things have you found that help keep your costs and time down eating locally? I’d love to hear!