This will be what I hope is the first of many posts. Posts on what seems to be affecting every household whether there is a big budget, small budget or no budget at all. We all must eat and I am so grateful to be able to share this series with all of you.
(From yesterdays post) The other day I was driving to the bank and a few thoughts came into my mind. Not wanting to forget them but not being able to write them down, I grabbed my phone and started recording a memo. That memo turned into quite a long conversation, I have had to break it up into two recordings on how we eat on a budget. I got so into it that I missed the bank by a few miles. Once home, I told the kids about it and after hearing it and laughing quite a bit, they thought you might want to hear it too. The kids thought it would be a good idea in case you all want to hear what I sound like. Here they are in case you would like to hear them. Sorry if my thoughts are a bit here and there but this was not ever really meant for anyone else to hear so just don’t laugh 🙂
I have thought and thought on this one, the following suggestions are what works for us. I love to hear all of your ideas because everyone will accomplish their goals differently yet we can all learn from each other so here goes.
1. Make a meal plan.
For me, the most important part in keeping my budget is to have a meal plan. I have to, have to, have to have a meal plan. I am an anarchist when it comes to anything I HAVE to do. I don’t like writing meal plans but when I don’t have a plan, I just don’t get it done. I end up spinning my wheels at dinner time, getting burned out and giving the kids cereal, letting Poppa convince me to let him pick up 3 pizzas on the way home or using ingredients I meant for another meal. You know, just bad stuff.
I know what you are going to say. I really don’t like to make meal plans or I won’t follow them. Even if you have tried it before, give it one more try. A meal plan can be as simple as a list of 6 dinners, 6 lunches and 6 breakfasts. If you don’t like feeling so planned don’t assign a day to each meal but at least you have a plan. You know what you need to buy, what you already have and you won’t need to make a last minute trip to the store for any more ingredients. You know you never get out of the store with just that one ingredient, somehow at least one other thing if not a few will jump in your shopping cart. I say 6 meals because we have a leftover day. That way I am saving on buying food for one day.
Get into the habit of looking at your meal plan before you go to bed. This is the time when you can put those beans to soak for the next day or move the meat from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw. The only reason canned beans are easier than dry (which are much less expensive) is because we have to remember to soak them overnight. You are already ahead of the game. You can also put any nuts you want to use to soak making them much easier to digest. So make the meal plan, it will save your sanity, it will save you from that 5 o’clock question “what do I make for dinner?”
2. Shop at home first.
Before I go shopping, I look through my pantry, refrigerator and freezer and look for anything I have in there that I can incorporate into this weeks meals since I already paid for all of that food and I want to get my money’s worth. I write down whatever I find, sit down and get creative. What meals can I make with this, can I make any complete meals with the food I already own? Any complete meals are a day of food I don’t have to buy. I sometimes look online and see what is on sale at the store and then I can plan to buy what is on sale to turn the food I have into a complete meal.
I does not take long at all. I don’t do coupons, coupons take a lot of planning and I don’t have the time to spend. I can take a little of my time to plan my meals and when I get to the store I already know what I need and that saves me time. If its not on the list, it does not come home with me, very important. Thank about the last time you went to the store, how many extra items did you buy that you did not plan on? You can easily save ten to twenty dollars just buy having and sticking to your list. If you didn’t think about it beforehand, you must not really need it to survive 😉
I am not sure if there is a term for my next strategy but that is what I call it. If I am going to buy an ingredient, I want to see if I can use that ingredient in more than on meal. So let’s say I have watercress for a salad (usually from my garden) but cheap at the store and oh so good for you. For another meal, I have purchased potatoes. I can use some of the watercress with some of the potatoes to make soup for lunch. The only thing I have to add is butter, some cream or milk and spices. If I want to make it creamier, I make a bechamel sauce which is as easy as melting a few tablespoons of butter, adding a tablespoon or two of flour and whisking it in really well, then slowly adding a cup of milk, salt, pepper and what ever spice you like and letting it get thick. This is the base of all cream soups. You no longer need to buy cream of anything 🙂
Poppa is a most wonderful cook, in fact he taught me to cook when I met him but he is not good at saving money in the kitchen. If I purchase 2 pounds of ground beef, he will use the entire package in one meal. I prefer to divide it into two 1 pound pieces or a 1 and 1/2 pound and a half pound portions because that half pound can be added to something. I can add it to a bean soup or put it in a casserole and I am stretching my dollar and my family’s stomach is not going to be any more or less full for that half pound of ground beef but it is going to help my budget immensly.
4. Don’t waste anything.
I cannot say this enough. Food should never go in the garbage. That which nourishes us should never go to waste. So much food goes in the garbage in this country. It is really a tragedy that anyone in this country should ever know hunger when there are millions of pounds of food going to the landfill.
Eat your leftovers. I find that I am tired by the end of dinner and sometimes I do not have the motivation to put the leftover food away so what I did was assign it to a child. It’s something very easy that they can do. I put the Pyrex where they can reach it and put them in charge of saving the food. They are the savers of the food!! Sounds super hero-ish doesn’t it? If the food gets put away, it will be available to eat the next day when we are hungry. I can incorporate it into another meal or save it for leftovers night.
Whenever I am chopping veggies, I save whatever I trim off. I never throw it away. If it’s a vegetable that does not have a strong taste like cabbage or broccoli, I add it to the bucket in my freezer. Whenever I am making chicken or any meat for that matter, I want to be very respectful of that animal and use every part that I can. I keep all the bones and any little bits of meat and add them to the bucket also. Once a week I have enough to make soup or at least broth. Add pasta, rice or a grain to the broth or use it in another recipe. You are saving money and not wasting food. Of course, the leftovers can go to the chickens who love it and turn it into eggs but our chickens only get our table leftovers as in whatever someone left on their plate. As for the tops of the carrots, the little piece from the end of the celery and the outer peel of the onion that usually gets thrown away, they get put to good use in my broth. Broth is also very healing for the gut.
Many years ago, when I first started cooking for my family, I got a book called The Tightwad Gazzette. I learned so many ways to save on food from this book that I ended up getting the next two volumes. Some of the tips in the book are extreme but it really gets your creative juices going and gets you in the mindset of using money. She also has a muffin recipe or more of a formula for mixing liquids and grains to make great muffins using the leftovers from the end of the cereal box, or the oatmeal that no one ate, leftover bits of fruit. I do something like this but I could probably be more hardcore about it. Yeah, that apple that Matthew took two bites out of may end up in our next batch of muffins.
5. Shop in the bulk section.
Besides having control over how much you buy, you are also not buying things in wasteful wrapping and packaging. This is one of our biggest ways to save money. I like to buy real salt. I can get good salt pretty cheap at Whole Foods. In the bulk section they have a barrel full of salt, it is pink or beige, not white and it tastes so good. It is usually about $2 a pound or something like that.
I take my bulk food bags with me so I don’t have to bring home that little bag to throw away. On my shopping day, I look over my pantry shelves and if any of my jars are empty, I write it down and buy more of whatever ran out. I can buy a pound or two and if I have extra money, I can stock up on those oats that happened to be on sale. The best part is you are not tied into buying any specific amount and if your budget is so tight one week and you only need one cup of oats, you can buy ONE cup of oats instead of a whole box.
6. Shop local and in season
Right now there is not much local food as the ground is covered in snow but I have heard that there may be one farmers market still open. The rest of them will reopen in the spring and I hope to be their best customer. I also hope to eat really local from our back yard again soon. For produce, right now I shop Meiers or Trader Joes. I cannot afford Whole Foods produce unless it is one of the items they discount heavily to get you in the door. If I am already there, I will stock up.
7. Save you saving
If you already know your weekly budget and you somehow manage to spend less that what you were supposed to, put that money aside. That is the money you will have to invest if you find a really good deal somewhere. You can buy enough strawberries (when they hit rock bottom prices) to stock the freezer for months or make jam for the year but if you don’t have the extra to invest you will have to pass on a deal that could have saved you money over the year. This is how I save without coupons. I do not have time to deal with coupons and either way, most coupons are for either processed food in a box or organic food, also in a box. I don’t buy food in boxes if I can help it.
8. Make your own snacks
It took me a long time but I finally perfected a chewy granola bar recipe a few years ago. My kids love it, I love it and it is easy to substitute ingredients and use whatever I have in the pantry. I try to make enough for the week or enough for any outing we may have that week so that if someone is hungry while we are out, we don’t have the temptation to drive thru. We eat a lot of apples and bananas because they seem to be the cheapest fruits I can buy. And then there is popcorn. This really deserves a category all its own. I don’t think I could get by without it. There are so many differing opinions on the safety of popcorn regarding gmos and the like but for me, I buy organic and that is the best I can do. I buy it in the bulk section (of course you knew that) for less than $2 a pound. A pound of popcorn kernels will make a huge amount of popcorn and it satisfies that need for salty and crunchy that we all get. I use this recipe and sometimes I also make it sweet and salty but melting butter in a pan, adding brown rice syrup and a pinch of baking soda. Mixa mixa and pour over your popcorn. You won’t forget me because it is so good and once again you are filling tummies until dinner for cheap and its not bad for you.
9. Have a baking day
We make bread and yogurt weekly. Well actually, I’d love to say that right now but *sigh* since we moved I have been unable to get into my old baking rhythm so this only happens a few time a month now. Don’t copy me there, get in the kitchen with your babies and bake. It’s so good to bake with momma, isn’t it? Kids love helping in the kitchen and you are teaching them valuable skills. I have such a hard time when I meet people with almost grown children who can’t do anything for themselves. Everyone has to know how to cook and I know us mommas want to do everything for our children but we don’t have to and we are not doing ourselves or them any favors by doing so. Teach them to bake and cook and when they leave your home someday they will know how to survive and thrive. The best part of once they know how to bake, you can give them the weekly task of baking the cookies or muffins and it is one less thing you have to buy or worry about and they will only get better and better at it.
While the bread is rising, you can start the yogurt or jam, it all contributes to the pantry. Make more bread dough than you need and freeze it. Another day when you are super busy, its as if you bought that ready made dough from the store only you didn’t spend a bunch of money. Bread dough can be used to make doughnuts, pretzels or pizza. Pizza is so cheap if you think creatively. Our favorite has sliced radishes on it but we love it with almost any sauteed veggies on it. I don’t usually use mozzarella cheese because cheese is expensive but I do love to put shaved parmessan on it which is really good. I buy our cheese in block form because 1. shredded cheese is creepy. How do they keep it from sticking and turning into a big cheese ball and 2. I get more cheese when I shred it myself. If you find local cheese, you may discover it is not as expensive as you thought.
10. Drink water
Don’t buy juice. Juice is just a bunch of sugar. It is usually pasteurized and there is really not much in it for your body health wise. Get your kids used to drinking water. Get yourself used to drinking water. It is not as hard as you may think. You can ween them off of juice by making lemonaid or limeaid (have you ever noticed how limes are always cheaper than lemons?) with whatever sweetener you like. Oh and before you squeeze that lemon or lime, save the zest (rind) because it has just as much flavor uses as the juice. We stopped buying juice when our 21 year old was about 10 and it was not hard to get used to. Juice is expensive and you can use that money to buy other things.
There is so much more that I want to share but I will leave you with my mommas recipe for drinkable oatmeal and this…
A very big thank you to all of your ladies from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for your emails, comments, suggestions and encouragement. You are all so amazingly smart and I am really grateful to have you here with me. I can’t wait to learn from you all. So many smart women will be sharing what they do with their own families and if we pick up just one little idea from each other, it is going to help us all so much.
Mami’s Avena Colada (Strained oatmeal)
2 c water
2 cinnamon sticks
a pinch of salt
1 c of oats
4 c milk
1/2 c sugar
Put the water to boil and add the cinnamon and salt. Allow it to boil for about five minutes to release the flavor or cinnamon. Remove the cinnamon sticks and throw in the compost 🙂 Add the oats and let it cook on medium low until the oats soften (about 5 more minutes). Pour the whole thing in the blender and liquify it. Pass through a sieve or cheesecloth catching the oat milk. You can save the oats for muffins 🙂
Put the oat milk back in the pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on medium until it starts to thicken. Mix often so that the milk does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Serve in mugs. Sometimes my family adds chocolate to this which is also really yummy. This recipe usually gets us sweating by the time we finish and we are stuffed. It is great to send for the hubbies in a thermos on a cold morning. This was and still is my favorite breakfast and no one makes it better than my momma.
Oh and if you are a Pinterest-aholic or afficionado, come back tomorrow for a new Saturday project I will be starting.