Granola Grocery Shopping On A Budget

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a tight-wad.  Sometimes I look back on things and think, “Wow, was it really important that I saved that $15 and opted out of lunch with my friends?” Or something to that effect.  Anyway, there is of course a healthy balance, but I am pretty frugal.  So naturally I don’t like to spend a lot at the grocery store.  It’s no secret that eating healthy costs a bit more than it otherwise would.  It used to make me so mad as a college student that my options for spending a dollar on lunch were either one orange, or a couple tacos at taco bell.  It’s a major issue that has a long way to go before it gets better, and unfortunately we just have to kind of swallow the cost.  When I got on this health kick, I had to decide what I thought was most important.  Did an extra $20 mean that much more to me that I would give up our current and future health?  In my case, no.  And you have to weigh the cost yourself.  I’m not here to talk anyone into anything, or to judge, or scold.  I am merely offering what has worked for ME, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  You have to do what works for YOU and your unique situation.  When you are ready, you will know.

Anyway, I am not sure what others spend per week, but my plan has changed over the past few months.  When we lived in NY we spent about $80 per week, but we only had 2 adults (and The Mr. ate on the company a lot), a toddler, and a nursing baby.  But NOW, I feel like I live with three teenage boys.  We eat a LOT of food.  I mean, a LOT.  Sometimes I will go to the store, and by the next night I feel like all the food in our house is gone.  Our current food budget hovers between $350 and $400 for a family of 4.  Honestly, I don’t know if that is good, bad, or average, but that’s what we spend.  It gives me enough room to buy mostly whole ingredients, lots of organic, and tons of produce, and not feel guilty about it.  There are times when I pay more, if we have company, parties, special occasions, etc. I’m still trying to adjust the budget and the process I use, but so far, these are my philosophies.

+ Eat in Season:  In the past I would flip through cookbooks trying to decide what sounded good to me, and then make a list and go shopping.  After shopping at farmers markets and Bountiful Baskets this year, I discovered that produce in season tastes significantly better than off-season…and it’s cheaper!

+ Shop the sales:  Before making a menu, I look at the grocery store circulars or online to see what specials they are running, and then try to look up recipes that have those as the main ingredients.  This is a big time money saver.

+ Go vegetarian:  We try to eat meat only once a week or less.  So far, it’s been working great.  The hardest part is finding menu ideas, but once you get going it gets easier.  This week we’ve had 5 dinners all with vegetables as the main course.  I’m learning so much about foods I’ve never even touched in the past, and discovering a whole new world of flavor.

+ Shop the Perimeter:  Not only are the healthier foods in the perimeter grocery stores, but it saves money too.  Produce, Grains, Dairy, etc. – It’s mostly food in its natural form.  I do venture into the middle to get some things like peanut butter or maple syrup, but for the most part, the processed stuff I loved in the past I am learning to make from scratch.

+ Use What is In the House:  There is nothing I hate more than throwing food away.  Not only do I feel bad about wasting it, the cheapskate in me is crying that it wasted my money.  At least once a day I am looking through the fridge and the pantry seeing what is about to go bad.  Once a week or so we have a random last-minute dinner that was made from something about to spoil.  Tonight it was breakfast burritos with veggies, because my peppers and potatoes and tomatoes were all about to bite the dust.  I’ve found that if I always have a few items on hand, I can whip up several last-minute things (see below).  I also take an inventory before shopping, in case I have something I need to use up, and then try to incorporate that into a menu that week.

+  Keep several items on hand:  I usually try to keep the following items in the house for last-minute meals.

  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • limes and lemons
  • a variety grains
  • rice
  • tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • pasta
  • coconut milk
  • a large variety of spices and herbs
  • oils and butter
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • frozen veggies

Most basic recipes won’t ask for more than that, and if they do, you can usually find a way to manipulate it.

Only plan 4 meals:  This is my best kept secret.  We always have leftovers, and we eat it the next night.  Even eating this way, one of my planned meals usually ends up spilling over to the next week, because I didn’t end up making it.

+ Rice and Beans go a ridiculously long way:  I make rice and beans once a week as a rule.  It goes a long way, and we usually have leftovers for the next 2-3 days.

That’s pretty much it.  I try not to go back to the store the rest of the week, and in the event that I ran out of food or had one of those crazy hectic days (anyone?) I use my list of emergency meals:

  • pancakes or waffles
  • burritos (you can always put something into a burrito).
  • spaghetti
  • grilled cheese
  • stir fry (from frozen veggies)

That’s it for my tips in frugal healthy grocery shopping.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful weekend!



Milk: The Controversy

Oh my heavens…where to turn to for correct information these days?  Present a nutrition issue, and you can find legitimate research that supports BOTH sides.  It’s difficult, especially as a mom, who is solely responsible for what my children put in their mouths.  I don’t want to do them any harm, and I want to give them what is best for their growing bodies.

Enter milk.  Did you know someone has written a book called “Milk: The Deadly Poison”? I haven’t read it and am not sure I will, but I think his main point it that milk from the grocery stores is filled with growth hormones and antibiotics and cancer-causing agents (already knew that).  I’ve heard/read/seen a bajillion things about milk, but I am not totally ready to cut it out.  Every other year or so The Mr. goes on this milk fast phase, where he buys almond or rice milk.  He normally has a runny nose, and has to clear his throat often.  One day off that cow’s milk and his runny nose is GONE.  I KNOW it causes mucus buildup, but I need to learn more.  We have seriously cut back on how much milk we have these days, mostly because we don’t really have cereal anymore, and to be honest, we don’t miss it much.  It’s just hard to get over things I have always heard – like milk is high in calcium or good for your bones, and that your small children should be getting 3 servings a day.  I know there are many other food sources much higher in calcium, and I’ve read several articles supporting both sides.  Sigh.  It is frustrating to say the least.  There’s been a big controversy in the Autism field also because some mothers swear by cutting out wheat and dairy (because of the protein casein) in their children’s diets, and see significant improvements.  I still have so much to learn, and I know I am constantly saying that.  But here is what I think:

After making The Mr. watch Food, Inc. with me last week we kind of just sat in silence for a few minutes.  When you see those cows and chickens and the way they are “grown” and “harvested” it makes you think twice about what you are picking up in the grocery store.  It for sure made me re-commit to buying only grass-fed meat to skip all the hormones and antibiotics injected into it, but it also made me think about milk again.

Remember how I made a rule to only make drastic changes every 2 months so as not to overwhelm our family/my OCD self?  The change for this month is making the switch to Organic Milk.  I bought some this week and took a sip and almost fell over at the difference in taste.  It was like whipping cream.  Insane.

Possible Future Steps I need to learn more about: 

+ Drinking “raw” milk, as in unpasteurized (this is a HUGE trend right now).  My neighbor once bought a gallon of raw milk and she had to sign a waiver saying she wouldn’t sue if she got sick.  Makes you a little nervous to do it, right?  But people swear by it.  Our farmer friend grew up drinking it too, as many farmers probably do, and he seems pretty healthy.  I mean, he’s alive…

+ After drinking organic for a while, finding local organic milk.  I’ve been looking, but it’s tough to find things out in a new area.  There are lots of farms, but not so many organic farms, and the organic farms I have found don’t have cattle.  Gotta keep looking.

+ Cutting milk out completely, and then dairy (no!!! the ice cream! The cheese!).  This makes me nervous at this point, again, because of what I have always been taught.  Yet lots of holistic health people are moving in this direction so it makes me think there is value in it.

I have a great deal of respect for this lady, and I spend a lot of time on her website.  She has been doing this for 20 years, and I am just getting started, so she knows a lot more than me.  Here are two articles about milk.  Take the time to read them if you are interested.  It makes you think… #1,  #2

Have a great weekend~

The Great Debate

Organic vs. Non-organic.  It’s the million dollar question.  Non-organic produce is prettier and bigger and doesn’t have bugs in it. BUT it’s been sprayed with poison.  Organic produce is usually more expensive, smaller, uglier, and often has little worms or bugs, but no toxins.  The scary thing for me is that we don’t know what kind of damage pesticides are doing to us. Are they causing cancers or other physical and mental ailments?  We just don’t know…  There are lots of differing opinions out there and it is an evolving issue in that pesticide regulations and FDA regulations keep changing and we keep finding out more.  I’m reading Dr. Weil’s book right now (on my sidebar) and he is all about whole foods, so I was curious to see what he said.

On page 58: “What about pesticide residues? Should [we] be worried? In a word, yes.”  He goes on to explain about the heavy chemicals and poisons that are sprayed on crops and that we still don’t know the long term effects of them.  Although washing produce, even with soap or special pesticide removers (don’t waste your money) gets a little bit off the outside, many chemicals are sprayed on fruits and veggies during germination so it gets into the roots and into the flesh of the produce.  In this case there is no amount of peeling or washing that can get it out.

The good news is that many fruits and veggies are considered “clean”  in that the pesticides can’t get through the thick skins, or they are not sprayed while growing.  You might have heard of the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen.”

Here they are:

Dirty Dozen (as in try to get these organic if you can)

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Imported Grapes (U.S. grown is ok)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatos
  • Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Clean Fifteen (limited exposure to pesticides)

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onions

The summer is so amazing because of all the local farmers markets and fresh produce stands.  Local produce really does taste so much better. There is an organic farm just a mile from my house and their peaches are like candy.  I seriously couldn’t get enough and neither could my kids.  Grocery stores get lots of their produce from California or Florida or a million miles away, so they pick it before it’s ripe so it doesn’t spoil during the truck ride.

Here is a regular tomato from the grocery store:

And one from my garden (no spray):

Look how RED it is. I can guarantee you it was 10 times tastier.  And better for us.

Bottom line: Do what you can.  At least try to steer clear of the dirty dozen. Buy local or grow your own when possible.  Don’t stress about the rest.

The end.