At our house, we have really been thriving. It is SUCH a gift! I credit our careful eating with how happy and healthy we are, and how kind we are to each other. We have lived both the grouchy, tired "before" and the cheerful, energetic "after," as both of us have experienced how we feel with gluten and sugar in our systems. We are also ethically committed to buying local, fair trade and organic whenever possible. So, how to reconcile this with being on a budget?
First, let me mention that my family is privileged to live in a region with a rich local food economy. Our small town contains three grocery stores that carry extensive organic foods. Since we have spent time in places where decent fresh vegetables cannot be found, organic or not, we count our blessings. Your path may be different.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we DO spend real money on food. We believe it is worth it. If you want to compete with me for the lesser monthly food bill, I forfeit, you win! What our family does have in a greater degree than many is happiness. We spend no money on prescriptions or therapy to make this happen.
So, in no particular order, here is how I strategize on my food purchases:
-Purchase good-quality Cod Liver Oil. This is presently the only supplement I take. We prefer Garden of Life Olde World Icelandic CLO. We are nearly always able to get it on sale for $12.99, and a bottle lasts a couple months at least. This ensures we meet our basic needs for vitamins A&D, which are so very important for immunity and prevention of countless maladies. Cod Liver Oil is also very good for mental health. The flavor, Lemon-Mint, is pretty good.
-Buy good-quality meat on sale and freeze immediately. I prefer to buy organic chicken drumsticks, grassfed full-fat ground beef, grassfed stew beef, ground dark meat chicken and pork sirloin chops as these are economical and convenient for me to prepare in the crock pot. While only the chicken is organic, the other meats are GMO free and exposed to pasture. I choose to freeze ground meat in meatball shapes so that I may easily remove only what I need from the freezer. I accomplish the same thing by individually freezing other cuts of meat on cookie sheets before placing them in tupperware for long term freezer storage. Not only is this convenient, it virtually eliminates food spoilage and wasted meat.
-Also to prevent food waste, only buy fish if you are going to use it all that day.
-Except in the case of delicate foods like berries, wash produce and store it cheerfully in the fridge as soon as you get home with it. This helps prevent it from languishing in the fridge on the many nights when you will have time to prep or cook veggies, but not both.
-Buy extra large and medium organic eggs, never large. These sizes are substantially less expensive.
-Grow herbs outside if you can. We have fresh lavendar, rosemary, oregano, thyme, lemon balm and fennel year-round. In the summer, we grow basil. We use the lemon balm and fennel for tea. Wowser, herbs are pricey in the store, and the small amount you get is usually embalmed in plastic, actually too much for any recipe, and soon lost in the back of the fridge.
-Add value to your foods at home whenever you are able. Sprouting your own seed & flours, souring and baking your own bread products and pickling your own vegetables takes nothing but time...and not very much of that is active time. In exchange for efforts, you will have incredibly delicious, health-promoting, gourmet foods to eat. The quality will exceed that of of what you can buy, and the price will be much lower. For example, in my coop, coconut yogurt is about $4-12 a pint, depending on how many additives are included. The yogurt I make costs about $3 a pint, and is more delicious than the options commercially available. Likewise, at my coop, fermented veggies are $8 a pint. At home, probably a quarter of that. Same story for kefir and kombucha. The truth is, if I had to buy these foods premade, I would go without, as they are too expensive for us.
-Roast a chicken every week. Make a rich meal of the legs, freeze sliced chicken breast for lunches, save the drippings as a healthy cooking fat, and make chicken broth. A meal that includes broth is immensely affordable and satisfying, and it is respectful of the chickens we eat to use the carcas in this way. Broth is great for your skin, mood and joints.
-Make your own body care products. Just as in food, it seems you need to pay more the less manufacturers put in! All natural deodorants, toothpaste, shampoos, and lotions add up really fast. I have found most of the recipes we use in the book Natural Beauty At Home, by Janice Cox. Many are also available online. They don't take much time and are fun to make as a family. The one thing we do not make ourselves is soap; instead we buy very economical Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bars (they aren't fancy, however they last forever if you allow them to dry between uses).
-Buy spices, tea, olive oil, cider vinegar and anything else you can in bulk. Try to aim for a store with fast turnover for the best quality. Refrigerated nuts and seed sections are a plus.
-Make dehydrated, flavored sprouted sunflower seeds! These are a great snack for in lunch boxes and are delicious on top of salads. Sunflower seeds are $2.61 per pound at our coop. Sunflower seeds may also be ground into a meal to use in pesto and baked goods instead of pine nuts and almond meal, respectively.
-Skip the premade foods. Dairy-free cheese and butter spreads, chips, crackers, cereals and cookies tend to have inferior ingredients to what you would make at home. Damaged fats, unpronounceables, preservatives and genetically modified ingredients are hard to avoid even in expensive processed foods. Plus, they are not as fresh as what you make yourself. Yay for not having to eat stale crackers. :)
-Eat so well at home, you don't want to go out. Make a sweet ritual of mealtime. Set the table nicely, write a menu (and have a family member read it at the start of the meal), and elevate meals by choosing just the right serving dish for each item. Establish a workable routine and list of favorite meals, however try to extend yourself to include some variety. At our house, I recently implemented a weekly International Foods night. No matter how amazing your usual recipes are, mixing it up is important.
-Be willing to spend money where it really makes a difference. We spend $10 on cheese and $15 on 2lbs of washed, organic, local lettuce mix every week. This has freed up our lunch-making time a little to create the amazing barcode free lifestyle we have come to adore, while providing important nourishment.
-If you are in a major pinch and need a meal replacement or something to bring to a potluck on a dime, smoked fish is often the same price as fresh. We love the Fish Brothers brand of smoked, no-sugar added salmon and albacore. Other great, off-the-shelf protein-rich munchies are GMO-free rotiserie chicken if available, and carrageenan-free deli-style sliced turkey meat. We only buy these under duress, such as during a move, or in the case of the smoked salmon as a very special treat for anniversaries or birthdays.
-Speaking of potlucks, if you have a little more time to spare, a pot of sprouted rice, sprouted beans and diced tomatoes will feed a crowd well at a small investment of time and money.
-Crock pots are our friends! They make speedy dinners possible, for those nights when I get home at six and have rehearsal at seven (these could be expensive nights, if we ate out). They are also energy-sparing for both the cook and the utilities.
-Enjoy your food. Make merry. Eat like a peasant. Every night, we enjoy a four course meal: salad, simple soup, a small loaf of sourdough bread or a crockpot of whole grains, and a little meat. By a "little meat," I really mean a small portion! One chicken drumstick per person is enough if it follows such amazing previous courses.
Wow, that was a long post! Many ideas might seem obvious, and others need to be spelled out a bit more in future posts. I hope this will be a good collection of thoughts to get you started. What are your favorite ways to create frugal feasts?