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Help -costing too much, I think - long

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
I have gotten myself to the point of organization where I have been planning meals for the past month. (something I did all the time pre-child)

The downside is it seems to be costing us way, way too much money. For example, the ingredient cost for yesterday's dinner was $24 and that did not include meat or the extras such as olive oil, spices (already had those items in my cupboard)

Just curious. how much do you all spend on average to feed your family? There are three of us, one of which is a toddler, and my husband is a huge eater.

We almost never have leftovers because of his enormous appetite. Example - I can make a pound of pasta with veggies and sausage and it serves us for one meal. I have tried putting out a reasonable amount for the meal and immediately placing the "leftovers" into the fridge but no luck. I joke that he has a tapeworm.

I am spending at least $150 per week (probably another $20 at the butcher) at the grocery store and I buy absolutely no junk or prepared food - no cookies, no cereal, no soda, no snacks, etc. No co-ops in the area and the farmer's markets are in the process of closing down.

The bulk of my money seems to be going toward veggies and fruits. In my $24 dollar example, at least $10 was for cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers.

We have little freezer space (just our side by side fridge/freezer) and my husband wants to get an upright freezer. I fought the idea because I viewed it as one more thing for me to manage but now I am revisting the idea so I can take advantage of sale shopping.

I am thinking of setting the per diem first, say at $15 or $20 max then working back from there. Does that sound reasonable?
post #2 of 23
since you say you don't buy anything fancy and can't resort to cheaper places to get fresh produce, I don't know what to tell you... I wouldn't leave out produce, but maybe you can make cheaper meals with rice, beans, pasta several times a week? that way you could still have a salad for lunch or fruit for snacks but don't need some more veggies for dinner? Or do stews and soups which are pretty cheap, too. Do you have the feeling that it costs too much because you feel the money is needed elsewhere or do you just feel bad for having a huge grocery budget? It isn't necessarily a bad thing if you have the money to spend it on food. oh, can you buy local/seasonal veggies and fruit and not exotic ones so often? carrots are dirt cheap, for example, and there's many creative ways to eat them.
post #3 of 23
My DH is a big eater too. We never have leftovers which is frustrating. We spend about $125/week on food... but I buy our fruit and veggies at a produce store which is really reasonable. (One of the benefits of living in NYC.)

You might try and see if you can find a better source for your fruits and veggies. Around us, a lot of the produce/seafood stores are owned by Chinese families. I also know that I find things cheaper at the Middle Eastern specialty stores. Perhaps one of those may work for your family??

You could also see if there is a Seventh Day Adventist run store near by. I used to go to one in Central Florida which was an excellent source for produce and health foods of all sorts.

Another option would be to see if you save any money buy buying stuff more in bulk at a Sam's or Costco like place.
post #4 of 23
We buy produce at an Asian market as well. Ours is South Korean. They have great stuff at great prices.

I try to buy seasonally. No asparagus in January for us. We don't eat alot of lettuce in the summer, just spring and fall. Lots of carrots, potatoes, greens. If I find a good deal on produce, I buy a ton and freeze it. I blanched 9 lbs of brocolli earlier this spring, and it froze beautifully. I freeze bell peppers in the summer, as well.

Other than that, when I plan menus, I plan a week at a time. I try to balance cheaper meals with more expensive ones. So, if we're having grilled chicken with a salad and 2 other vegetables one night, then the next night might be a stew with plenty of potatoes and carrots nad celery.

Oh, and I talked my dh into being interested in gardening. We are suburban dwellers, so we don't have alot of space, but we have peppers, mustard, lettuce, and chard in our fall garden. Every little bit helps.
post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 
The problem is that we have no budget for groceries, I just buy what ever we need/want for the week. Our family income allows me to do this but I would like (and need) to be saving more money.

I was thinking about this over the weekend and I am going to keep track of our entire food expenditures for the first two weeks in November and set a budget from there.

I wish there were more ethnic markets in the area, the only ones of any size are at least a 45 minute drive away. I am going to make a point of visiting next time we go to my mom's.
post #6 of 23
My dh eats a lot for dinner too.
Things that help us stretch food:

If dinner isn't ready when dh gets home, he usually snacks a little before he eats. His most common snack is chips & salsa, which is fairly cheap. After filling up on that, he is more likely to eat a more reasonable portion.

Bake bread of some kind. It's super cheap to make yourself, and it's really filling. If your dh eats half a loaf of bread at dinner, he will get full a lot faster.

Use less meat. Pasta is cheap, so if a pound of pasta only lasts one meal, that's fine. Just use less of the produce and meat so dh fills up on the pasta. Same with rice or potatoes. If you planned for the sausage and veggies to last 2 nights, only put in half the sausage and veggies with the pound of pasta (and lots of bread) and then use the second half of these ingredients the next night a different way.

See if you can find decent frozen or canned produce any cheaper.

Food is very important though--so if you can't find any way to go cheaper, then you may just have to find other areas to cut back in.
post #7 of 23
I'm not sure if you are already doing this, but can you check what produce is on sale at your grocery store and plan your weekly meals around that? Here we get a free paper delivered every Wed. that has the grocery ads. I used to do that and use coupons, but it became something that was hard to keep up with, so I quit.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
I like the baking bread idea. If there is anything DH loves more than meat, it is bread.
post #9 of 23
Originally Posted by Caneel View Post
I like the baking bread idea. If there is anything DH loves more than meat, it is bread.
Mine too. I always bake bread, and active work time is pretty quick. Alot of times if I don't know what to make for dinner I just make something quick and easy and bake a baguette with something to dip. We all tear of chunks and basically eat that for dinner. Bread is super cheap to make
post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 
Bread bakers - anyone good resources for a novice? I have no idea how to bake bread. While I enjoy cooking, I am not (to date) a baker of anything.

Hubs prefers "real" bread over my mother's breadmaker bread but that may have to do with her personal methods and recipes. He likes more of the Italian and French bread varieties.
post #11 of 23
There's a thread here about a great no-knead bread that was written about in the NY Times. I can't find the original thread, but here's the link to the article. Everybody raves about how easy it is


Here's a video that shows you how to do it:
post #12 of 23
Here's another recipe from the Hillbilly Housewife... requires kneading, though...

post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 
Good stuff - thank you. I printed both out to read tonight when I have time to relax. The kneading part doesn't bother me, I just have no experience so the process is foreign to me.

My young cousin in an amazing bread baker (he makes all sorts of veggie breads, cheese breads and stuff) and says it is so easy but he can't explain it to me, he needs to show me next time he visits.
post #14 of 23
Well, in your example where you used over $24 in ingredients for one meal, what was the meal? Looks like you had a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. Cucumber season is from May-August, not October, so they were probably too expensive. Tomatoes would be July/August, so they were probably too expensive. Spinach, cabbage, or cauliflower would probably be cheaper right now. At my store, acorn squash, fresh greens (like mustard greens) and yams are all on sale this week. So it's mustard greens with lunch today and roasted yams with dinner tonight!

In the pasta and sausage example, sausage is expensive. The kind we like (which is locally made) is pretty expensive and never goes on sale. We don't like the cheaper brands, though. So I will buy the more expensive one but not often. That would be like my one expensive meal for the month.

$20 for one week at the butcher? I spend like $20 a month for meat. But I've honestly never bought from the actual local butcher, only the supermarket. I don't know if butchers are outrageously expensive or what. But anyway, I do have a chest freezer and I do stock up on sale meats. Like the last time chickens were on sale half price, I bought 6. I just bought 14 lb of pork roast at 99c/lb. (I split it up before freezing, I'm not going to cook 14 lb of pork at one time.
post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 
I just got back from the butcher and the bill was $40 but it did include $15 worth of steaks that I don't buy on a regular basis and extra chick that I will freeze.

I have been examining every food purchase since I originally posted this thread in anticipation of my upcoming, 2 week written record. A few things have become apparent:

1 - I plan the menu first, then shop, which causes be to become a slave to the ingredients. I realize now that planning based on price would definately make a difference in expenses. The $24 no-meat (which was a pasta dish with a cucumber/lettuce side salad) example included at least $8 worth of different cheeses

2 - We eat too much, way too much. Last night I made lasagna and less than 1/3 of an 9 x 13 pan remains. That is two adults and a small piece for the toddler. disgusting.

3 - Husband totally doesn't care how much I spend on food and when so far to say "don't even think about trying to feed me (insert your own version of cheapbad-childhood-memories-food). I don't work this hard blah, blah, blah...." There are underlying issues associated with his upbringing that come into play here.

So my goal is to do better with cost without upsetting the whole enjoyable mealtime vibe. Anyway, I am actually looking forward to the next two weeks and cost tracking.
post #16 of 23
I can kind of relate to your DH, Caneel. I don't have major portion issues, but I have weird entitlement issues with food. I grew up in a house where my dad insisted on steak three times a week, and my mother never made a single meal without first consulting with my father. Which meant I generally hated every meal we ever ate at home. I know that sound terrible, but I'm a reluctant meat eater - so being faced with plates of steaks week after week was disgusting and horrible to me. It led to a lot of secretive eating and shame.

So, now that I'm an adult - I find myself feeling like every dinner (not necessarily breakfast or lunch) should be something I REALLY ENJOY. But, since I'm kind of picky - due to only being exposed to a few foods growing up - there are only a handful of meals that I actually enjoy. I also am not very well-versed in foods that aren't comfort foods - like, I have no idea how to prepare beans. I can bake amazing lasagna, or roll out a pastry for homemade chicken pot pie. I bake very well, and can easily exist on pans of homemade cinnamon rolls for days. But it's not healthy or normal. Simple foods do not entice me and I feel like I'm missing out.

Anyway, I just see some of myself in your hubby, but I also see some of myself in you - I hate looking at our food bills, too. They're huge. We eat out far too often. I need to lose weight, because while I don't always eat a lot - I eat highly caloric foods. When I look at what is on sale at the grocery store, I'm like - mustard greens? What are those? Yams? I don't know how to roast them. (Are those the same as sweet potatoes?) I honestly don't know. It's kind of sad. Butternut squash looks pretty.... and I hear it tastes good... but I don't know how to prepare it either.

I guess I should grow up a little and read about how to do some of these things.
post #17 of 23
Thread Starter 
I appreciate your sharing Blueberrysprout, it does provide insight into his thinking as he had similar experiences growing up.

If you are making pot pie (yum) from scratch, you can certainly cook squash! I wish I had the time and energy for pot pie (the noddle type)
post #18 of 23
It sounds like you aren't in a hugely necessary hurry to get your spending under control...so I'll make suggestions that you can follow for the next year.

First, I would look at your yard. Do you have space to grow some of your own things? not only fun, but if you grow organically, quite healthy and actually empowering, too...there's definately something to be said for picking your own cukes, bringing them in, and slicing them up for your salad immediately! On our regular quarter acre lot, on top of the "required" landscaping, we have a dwarf cherry tree (it's a sweet-sour so we can eat out of hand AND bake with/preserve it), four apples and two pear trees, strawberries(enough to eat every day AND put some up for the long cold winter, when they'd be five bucks a bag frozen!), black and raspberries, gooseberries, and blueberries. We also have a veggie garden along the south side of the house, where I garden intensively. This year, I grew: two types of beans, four types of tomato, two types of cukes, three kinds of spinach, chard, lettuce, leeks, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, many types of herbs both medicinal and edible, onions and garlic, runner beans, nasturtium, two pumpkins and three melons. It takes some work, but it's soooo nice to have that right around the corner from my front door. and during the growing season, I have to spend a LOT less on my produce. THEN we also belong to a farm co-op. For $520, we got 23 weeks of growing season. In each week, I averaged 12 shopping bags full of produce. Organically and locally grown.

I understand you said you don't have co-ops available to you. So, please, next year, FREQUENT the farmer's market! Find out what is currently in season and try to plan your menu with that. THEN. Here's the fun part! When there is something in season that you can put up (either by blanching and freezing or canning), get extra, and put it up!!! So with tomaotes, they're gonna be much cheaper, and taste a MILLION times better from the farm market than they will from the Kroger at the corner. Get a bushel or two. Try canning AND freezing them (time to get that upright freezer!!). You can can crushed and seeded tomatoes, sauce, paste, soup, salsa. You can freeze them whole and use them in recipes like soups and stews in the winter. Yup, a bit of work when the season hits...but heck, well worth it in flavor, quality, and COST when the dead of winter comes and you want a tomato product! I just found out recently that eggplant can be roasted, scooped out, and frozen, all ready and set for dip, stew, whatever you want to use it for...and again, getting it from the farm market means it will probably be less, and will definately be fresher when you process it! Right now, things that you can STILL get at that farm market that's closing down? Onions, potatoes, squash, and roots, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabega. All of those things store well in a cool dark place, and will last months. You could probably also get storing apples. Chard. Kale. (you can freeze the chard and kale, they don't keep well in the basement!)

All those things you can buy in quantity from the market for less, put in your basement or another cool/dark place and use it when you need it.

Beans can be blanched and frozen when they're in bumper crop season, as can peas and corn. I make apples into apple butter and sauce and can them. I get concord grapes from a dear friend's mother's farm, juice them, and make them into grape jelly. YUM! Same with berries that we can get at the market for a lower cost than the grocery store...we eat OURS fresh or freeze them, then I make jams and preserves with the ones from the farm market. Wonderful to bring back the taste of summer in the dark days of winter!

As far as meat goes...have you thought about going in on a quarter of a cow with somebody? I'd contact your local 4-H club (betcha there's one somewhere near-by) and find out who has eggs and chickens for sale. They'll be TRUE free range birds,and the products will be less than at the grocery store. I get several birds at once, half as roasters the other half processed into pieces, and freeze them. I share a quarter cow with a friend, and then get a half hog (this year we're movin' on up to a full hog!), as well. It's processed into the cuts we use most often, and BOY do we save money on the cost of that meat buying in bulk. And it ROCKS, because I don't HAVE to go to the butcher. I walk out to the freezer to make my meal plans! and, because I am careful about from whom I buy, I also appreciate that the meat I buy is free range, so healthier for me and my family, which I would pay a HUGE premium for at the grocery store.

I hope some of that helps. I know that planning helps us save money simply because it keeps us from going out to eat or getting carry out or convenience foods...but since we eat locally and use as much as we can from the bounties when they are in season, we save a TON more money!

We know from studies, too, that people who eat a first course of a soup with clear broth eat less of the actual main course. It's visually filling, so they feel as if they've had more to eat than they have. So something like vegetable soup, or chicken rice/noodle, beef barley, whatever. It's a good way to get in extra veggies, and get more out of your main course buck!

Good luck.
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 
Update - I told dh as soon as he gets the basement cleared out, we can get an upright freezer. He is positively giddy about ordering a quarter (or half) a cow (which is quite common in our area and something we did when first married) We got away from it because it became one more thing for me to manage but now that I am better at planning, it will work out much better.

I am so excited about the 4H suggestion (very active clubs in our area) but one question, will they do the butchering and portioning? I can certainly freeze pieces but don't really want to be hacking away at bones to seperate breast, legs, etc. (I know how to do it but don't want to)
post #20 of 23
the family I get my chickens through do the processing for us(or have it done, whatever)...though I know that some only sell them whole, and others will send it OUT for processing, if you pay extra (usually about a dollar a bird around here)
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