In our society, we’re all so afraid to talk about money. Money seems like a dirty word in “civilized” society. My grandfather often accused me of needing to go to charm school, so in drawing on my crass roots, let me put it all out there. My grocery budget for my family of three is $350 a month (less in the summer when my garden is producing). That buys me local meat, milk, eggs (if my new chickens ever start laying, I won’t have to buy them anymore!), produce, and some grains. The rest of our dietary needs are met by items from my garden, a standard grocery store, warehouse store or bulk purchasing club.
Walking through a traditional grocery store, it is simple to see how people can easily drop a large amount of money on groceries. There are so many items to choose from, and advertisers work hard to fight for your hard-earned dollars. My approach to cooking and food shopping confuses the heck out of food processors, but it serves the needs and stomachs of my family. So how do we do it? Read on to find out! Before we get too deep in the “art” of food shopping, please understand I am not telling you how to eat. The food my family enjoys may look very different from your family’s, but ideas can be applied to any situation.
Buy Ingredients, Not Food
Huh? Aren’t ingredients also food? Well, yes and no. By purchasing components of a meal instead of a meal in a box, I’m spreading out my dollars amongst many food groups. Parts of a recipe can be used in multiple dishes, thereby maximizing my food dollars. Let me give you an example: I can buy a complete chicken meal at a fast food restaurant for about $25. That meal will feed my family for one dinner, and possibly lunch the next day. It will save me time by allowing me to pick up dinner through my car window.
On the flip side, I can wait patiently for my favorite local grocery store to have their twice annual organic free-range whole chicken buy one get one sale and fill my freezer to bursting. Digging some potatoes from my summer garden, I can make homemade “jo jo” fries to roast in the oven while I’m roasting the chicken. Veggies could be picked from the garden, or a simple and delicious salad could be made out of the spinach I purchased at the grocery store.
Using the leftovers for next day’s lunch, my husband and I can save money by not getting take out at work. The leftovers are then put to work to create other meals, which brings us to the next concept of putting your scraps to work for you.
Eat Your Garbage
My family consumes a lot of fresh veggies throughout the year. Rather that tossing the veg scraps like carrot peels or celery tops in the garbage or compost, I put them in big freezer-proof Ziplocs and store them in the freezer. After picking the roasted chicken clean of meat, the carcass and a big bag of vegetable scraps gets put in my crockpot to make a nutritious and nourishing stock. I cover the meat and veggies with water, add 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar and spices like parsley, peppercorns, thyme, sage, and bay leaves, and I let my slow cooker convert the “trash” in to a stock that will flavor many future dishes. From my 7 quart slow cooker, I usually get between 3-4 quarts of stock that I then can in my pressure canner.
Invest in the Best When You Can
I try my hardest to purchase organic produce from the dirty dozen list (things like apples, strawberries, peaches, etc.), but don’t stress about a non-organic label for items on the clean 15 list (onion, avocado, asparagus, etc.). Additionally, I frequent local farmers and produce sellers, and I talk to them about how food is grown. If a small farm grows their fruit and veg using safe and organic practices, but can’t afford the organic certification, they can still have my food dollars! My top priorities for food: 1) local and organic if possible, 2) local 3) organic for dirty dozen, 4) non-organic for clean 15.
By being thoughtful about your meal planning, looking at “scraps” in a whole new light, and focusing on healthy priorities, your grocery budget and stretch further than you ever thought before!
Sarah C writes about doing more with less, gardening, wholesome from-scratch food, and DIY, with silliness and snark at www.beingfrugalbychoice.blogspot.com