Monday, November 17, 2014

Real Food on a Budget: Five Things I've Learned

I don't know why everyone seems to think that real food costs more.  Seems to me when you do the math, potatoes are a whole lot cheaper per pound than potato chips or even frozen french fries!  And real potatoes have endless possibilities: potato soup, mashed potatoes, hash browns, baked potatoes, french fries, etc, etc.

But with grocery costs rising, getting the biggest bang for our buck is more important than ever now!  Here are five things I've learned about feeding a larger than normal family on a budget.

1.  Ditch the breakfast cereal!

When Jayme was little, she and I enjoyed a bowl of cold cereal EVERY morning.  For years that is all we ate for breakfast, unless it was a special occasion or something.  With eight of us now eating, we'd go through a box of cereal every morning.  And the ingredients in most of the cereal we enjoyed weren't too appetizing when I started reading labels.

What to do instead?

Cook breakfast. From scratch, not a mix.  Pancakes, waffles and bagels can all be made ahead and frozen for busy mornings.  Oatmeal and scrambled eggs are really quick to cook up, and some dishes, like Dutch Baby pancakes are super easy to put together and then they bake in the oven with no attention needed while I attend to other things.

Yogurt and granola or smoothies are also quick and easy to pack on the go.  Same with muffins.  You get the idea--make some things from scratch and see what your family enjoys.  Go from one success to the next until you have ditched the cereal completely (or save it for special occasions!)

Dutch Pancakes--an easy breakfast option!

2. Buy in bulk when you can, but pay attention to unit price

It amazes me how often the smaller bag of frozen vegetables will actually be cheaper per ounce than the large ones.  Pay attention to that number when you are shopping, and use it to guide you to get the best buy.  Bulk is not always cheaper.  

But, bulk flour, popcorn, sugar, etc. are almost always WAY cheaper. That money saved adds up! 

3.  Make snacks

Pudding, popcorn, cookies, muffins, and other snacks are easily made at home.  They often use more wholesome ingredients when cooked from scratch (I know I don't keep crazy chemicals in my kitchen to add flavor to my food!).  They are also cheaper than buying pre-made snack-sized portions.  

You can pop a big batch of popcorn and package little bags of it yourself to send in lunches instead of chips. 

A big kettle full of pudding can be divided into individual containers and topped with fresh berries.  

Crackers are even easy to make.  Think about all the things your family snacks on, and try to pick one at a time to make instead of purchase.  Then keep going.  We've eliminated almost all snacky foods from our grocery budget by doing this one at a time. Now we just buy more of the ingredients for those snacks, and the savings have been incredible! 

 4. Grow/Produce what you can

We had a garden this year.  It was WAY more productive than any garden I've ever had before, but I learned I still have a lot to learn about growing food.  But, we harvested some lovely cabbage, carrots and celery! Our apple tree was very productive, and we got some plums as well.  Those are my favorites--they don't need weeded or watered once they are established, and they still produce lots of food!  We're hoping to put in four more fruit trees and start grapes this next year.

Meat and milk are other items we have the space and desire to produce on the farm.  I understand that not everyone can do this!  But, grow what you can and put up extra for later.

5. Be creative with substitutions!

We butchered a cow last year.  We won't have another one ready to butcher until next fall.  That means our beef supply is really dwindling.  Instead of purchasing another beef, or just buying some from the store, we've decided to be content with the meat we do have.  We were blessed with a deer, so between the venison, pork, chicken and eventually rabbit, we don't NEED beef.  We may want it, but we certainly don't NEED it.  So we're cooking a variety of meat this year.  We still have some beef that will be saved for special occasions, but it won't be our staple meat this winter like it was last year.

It's the same with butter.  Butter prices are super high right now, but palm shortening, olive oil and coconut oil are remaining fairly steady (at least for now!) That means we're making cookies with coconut oil, cooking popcorn in olive oil and topping with coconut oil with just a wee bit of butter, and using palm shortening for banana bread and the likes.  We're saving the butter for when it counts, like for smearing on bread.  That way we still are using healthy fats, but not spending as much. Google has been great for finding substitution ideas!

Samurai and Ninja are yearlings this fall, and will be ready to butcher NEXT year.

Be thankful for the food you have, and don't let it go to waste!  Come up with a plan for cooking and use up leftovers.

What tips do you have to share?

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