Although my husband and I have a very limited income, the number of people living in our household has doubled. Our college student son comes home on weekends and now our daughter and her two children have moved into our home. Feeding so many people is a challenge, but we've been quite creative in doing so. Our food bill has actually decreased. This is how we've started reducing food costs:
We put in a large garden this year and made sure we preserved almost all of it, instead of letting some of it go to waste. Our thinking was that if we didn't put it up, we'd have to buy it later on. Our two freezers are full and we've almost run out of space in the basement to store the canned goods. This year we canned pickled beets, cucumber pickles, green beans, sauerkraut, kimchee, tomato sauce, and tomato hot sauce. We froze corn, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, kale, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, and apples.
We've searched out sources of bulk foods and bought them as close to the supply source as possible to get the lowest prices. I had to take a trip to Michigan this past fall, right in the middle of harvest season. I came home with my vehicle loaded with hundreds of pounds of different types of dry beans (much of it was shared with other people) purchased at 40 cents a pound. I also had 40 pounds of soy flour and 40 pounds of soy grits bought at 40 cents a pound, a 50-pound sack of beet sugar bought for around 47 cents a pound, and 200 pounds of potatoes (we shared these also) bought for $20 (10 cents a pound). As soon as the crop is ready, I'm going to buy 100 pounds of soy beans from a local farmer for market price (probably around $20), which I will use to make soy milk, tofu, and as a protein extender in our diet.
The local fruit market will sell us bulk quantities of produce for up to half off the regular price. I didn't know they would do this until I asked. I've bought bushels of apples, onions, and sweet potatoes.
My sister-in-law put out a bigger garden than ours and had more pumpkins and winter squash than she could use. It was free for the taking and I happily cooked and froze it, putting up over 40 quarts of pumpkin and squash puree.
When shopping at stores, I use a price book to track prices. I buy basic foods only and avoid anything processed.
I bought a 50-pound sack of white whole-wheat flour, which I've stored in a cold place, and now make almost all of our bread, using my KitchenAidŽ stand mixer. I haven't made a bad loaf of bread yet, and my family no longer prefers store bought bread.
I watch for good sales on meat and cheese and buy in bulk. I divide up the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze it. Controlling meat portions is one way to control the cost of a meal. If each person gets only one serving of meat, then he is much more likely to eat more of the other foods available at the meal. I try to serve protein extenders at every meal to compensate for the smaller servings of meat. Protein extenders include beans, eggs, cheese, whole grains, and breads that are partially made with soy flour. Also, if a particular meal ends up being "meat-heavy," it may be followed the next day with a meal that has very little or no meat.
I cook from scratch and our meals are simpler in nature now. We eat what we have on hand from the pantry and the freezer. I try very hard to be creative with recipes and the use of spices so that food boredom doesn't set in. Having the abundance of food available makes it much easier to have well-rounded meals. For instance, we might have a supper meal of pinto beans, mashed potatoes, mustard greens, sausage and sauerkraut, which gives a good balance of fiber, protein, (complex) carbohydrates, and green super-food vegetables. We make a dessert on Sundays, avoiding sugar the rest of the week.
We no longer throw away so much food. In the past, I rarely kept leftovers, but now I save them and creatively use them in other meals. For instance, I'll make a pot of pinto beans for one meal and then save the leftovers. Two days later, I'll mash them up with some salsa and cheese for refried beans and serve them with homemade flour tortillas to make burritos. I also keep a better watch on food in the refrigerator to ensure we cook it up before it goes bad.
Doing the above has saved us a lot of money, while allowing us to eat better and healthier than before. I don't think we're spending much more time cooking either. Cooking from scratch is easy, and since most of our stored food has already been cooked (canning/freezing), it doesn't take long to prepare a meal.
"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com
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