One of our most popular forums on Mothering.com is called Frugality and Finances. The forum hosts literally hundreds of threads, such as “Torn between frugality and organics when grocery shopping,” and “When to apply for food assistance.” “If Groceries are a priority where do you cut back?”
When it comes to groceries, there are ways to be frugal without sacrificing quality. Food is one of the top items in our budgets and it’s easy to spend too much. As a new mom, I lived in the country and went grocery shopping only once a week, a habit I’ve continued to this day. I believe that shopping less frequently helps to save money.
I prepare for shopping by looking at what I have in the refrigerator and in the cupboards and making a brief list of these items. Then I sit down and write a list of five to seven main meal menus. I review my meals to make sure that the meals I’ve planned will not exceed my weekly budget. I sometimes take a calculator to the store to add up how much I sm spending and stay on budget. From these menus I make a list of items I need for the meals I’ve planned. I also add some items for breakfast and lunch but try to plan meals like soup, beans and chicken that can be used for lunch as well.
I make the list by looking through cookbooks or food magazines for ideas or thinking of dishes I’ve had at restaurants. Sometimes I use categories of meals to help inspire me: soup or stew, braise, stir fry, pasta, casserole, quiche or pie, beans, skillet, meal in a salad, hodgepodge. I try to use as many items I already have on hand as possible and to plan my meals according to the season. Planning menus for the week also helps me during each day because I know in the morning what I am having for dinner that night and this saves me from trying to figure that out at the end of the day when I’m tired.
I take the list to the store where I hope to go quickly through the aisle. I read somewhere that the more time you spend in the store, the more money you spend. I find that when I run into people I know in the store and stop to chat, I tend to lose focus and buy something impulsively. So, it’s important not to dawdle at the store, to get what’s on the list and get out. Easier said than done.
I try to be careful about venturing into the center aisles of the stores, where the more expensive packaged items are. I save money and eat better when I buy mostly from the outer aisles where the fresh produce, dairy and perishable foods are.
Buying things in their most natural state, that is their least processed state, is a good way to eat healthy and save money. And, it’s more healthy and less expensive to eat locally produced food. Interestingly enough, the definition of local varies. I understand that Whole Foods considers anything grown within 800 miles to be local. Our food co-op defines local as anything that is grown within 400 miles. I tend to think local is somewhere I can drive to and back in the same day. It makes sense that food will be fresher if it doesn’t spend a lot of time in a truck and be less expensive the closer your access is to the farmer.
I’m lucky to live in a town where we have one of the top 10 Farmer’s Markets in the country. This year I joined Beneficial Farms, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I pay a lump sum up front and get a weekly distribution of $25 each week until it runs out, then I pay another lump sum. I can pay whatever amount I can up front and stop at any time. My CSA is unusual in that it distributes produce from other farms along with its own farm products. This week I got cheese, fingerling potatoes, shallots, beets, frisee, and peaches
I also get vegetables and eggs from a friend and today I bought cucumbers, green and yellow squash, celery, scallions, kale, chard and eggplant for $23. Now with some stables of beans, seeds, rice, onions, potatoes, flour, tortillas, pasta, cheese, and yogurt on hand, I can make some good meals without spending too much money. If I have more to spend, I can add fish and meat or use it as a condiment rather than the center of the meal like in a soup or curry or in a side dish.
Tonight for dinner, I had brown rice topped with pan roasted sunflower seeds and chopped scallions; steamed zucchini, yellow squash, and tomato with butter; and a small portion of grilled fish in a sauce of soy, butter and lemon. Tofu would have been a good substitute for the fish. Plus a big bowl of peaches for dessert.
Here are some other tasty and money saving menu ideas:
Cheese and onion enchiladas with red chili sauce
Guacamole salad or sliced avocadoes
Tomato sauce with chopped zucchini, mushroom, onion, and basil.
Bibb lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette (see below)
Roast Chicken (or Stuffed Peppers)
Green Beans or veggie in season
Chicken Vegetable Soup (from leftover chicken and carcass) or
Hearty Vegetable Soup with parmesan rind and garlic broth
Biscuits (see below)
Stir-fry with seasonal vegetables, nuts, and tofu
Rice or rice noodles
Save money by making your own salad dressings, soups, beans, spaghetti sauce and biscuits. Make the soup and bean meals on the days you have the most time.
2/3 cup olive oil or oil of your choice
1/3 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and sliced finely
1/8 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Refrigerate and shake well before serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and position rack in center of oven.
Mix together in a large bowl:
2 cups flour*
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 TBL sugar or other dry sweetener ( if using wet sweetener, add with the buttermilk)
Cut 5 TBL cold, unsalted butter into bits and blend butter into the dry mixture with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add 1-cup well-shaken buttermilk and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms. Drop dough in 12 rounds on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
*Pamela’s Gluten Free Pancake and Baking mix can be substituted for the flour.