During this time last year our family of four was gearing up for our “100 Days of Real Food on a Budget” pledge. But once the pledge ended (in January 2011) I stopped sticking to our strict food budget of $125/week, and I often wonder how I even managed to do it. Just the other day I was reading some of my old budget blog posts, and on one shopping excursion I somehow left my favorite grocery store (Earth Fare) after only spending $67. If you want to know what I spent at Earth Fare earlier this week….well, just add about $100 – yikes! It is amazing how much more you spend when you don’t have a specific budget in place to help you keep it cheap. The scary thing is though, I sort of was “trying” not to spend a lot the other day. Now my effort didn’t go beyond a conscious thought in my head, but I should know by now that just thinking about being on a budget never really works. :) As some of you know, my husband and I were fortunate enough to go on a very adventurous – and expensive! – trip to Asia earlier this month. So, for us, there is no better time than now to get back on the food budget bandwagon. I won’t be doing another official budget “pledge,” but since I’ve already proved this could be done I don’t really have any good excuses to convince my husband to let me off the hook (darn!). So for all of us – me included – here are some budget tips that I could never be reminded of enough. And if you have any advice I left out please share in the comments below…
100 Days on a Budget
I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that our budget pledge is over! But what I didn’t expect was the guilt I would feel when I finally could (and did) spend a little extra money last week. And not only was it guilt about spending more money, but also about the possibility of us not finishing all the food I’d bought before it passed its prime. That was certainly one of the nice things about being on a tight budget. I could never afford to buy more than we could eat, and this past week brought back memories of how much spoiled food we’d end up throwing away in our pre-budget days. Before I dive into the things I splurged on at the store let me finish up our last budget week. As I previously mentioned we had $15 left and instead of buying more groceries with that money we decided to put it towards a nice family brunch out at a new local restaurant. I am just thrilled each time I hear of a new restaurant opening up in Charlotte that serves local food! It is about time our city hopped on this bandwagon. And since each and every time we buy food we are essentially “voting with our dollars” I want to do everything I can to support these restaurants. Although I will say…local doesn’t necessarily mean “whole grain” or “no sugar”, which are also two very important rules to us, but hey – I guess I can’t always have it all! So we went downtown to eat at Halcyon, which is connected to Charlotte’s new Mint Museum of Art. I was thrilled they were offering a brunch menu because breakfast food is by far the easiest thing to order for my girls when […]
I honestly can’t believe it. For 100 days our family of four (pictured) survived on real, fresh, whole, organic, local, non-processed food for less money than we would have if we were on food stamps. At times, I truly doubted that this could be done. For only $125/week we repeatedly enjoyed fresh local milk (which was delivered directly to our house) and food from both the local farmers’ market as well as (what some would consider to be) an upscale health food store, Earth Fare. It’s not to say that there weren’t some (okay, maybe lots of) sacrifices, but we somehow found our way in the “tight” budget world and more than survived. As a reminder, and especially for those that are new here, check out the ten reasons why we cut out highly processed food in the first place (no matter the cost). And I would also love to remind everyone about some of the benefits we’ve personally experienced since changing our diets at the beginning of 2010…
Our final week is coming to a close so this could very well be my last little bullet point list of all my groceries! I plan to keep blogging though…I am just not quite sure what the frequency will be yet. Speaking of, if you have any topic ideas that you would love to hear about please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’ve already gotten some great ideas from the Facebook fans, which is quickly turning into a growing list of things that I plan to tackle once this is over. Anyway, as I previously mentioned I did most of my shopping for this week on Tuesday when we were on our way home from the airport. Not only were we fresh off the plane (it was just me alone with my 3-year-old and 6-year-old by the way…my husband was on a separate business trip), but I was also trying to squeeze in a quick trip to Earth Fare AND the bread store before taking my daughters to their weekly gymnastics class. This was all before we even made it home to drop off our luggage. A case of an overplanned mom? Absolutely. It was very much one of those days.
I can’t believe it. This is my last full week of only having $125 to spend on groceries! And just to clarify, we will absolutely still be on a budget when all of this is over. I will probably just give myself a slight increase…maybe around $150 a week. And I do think the extra $25 will make a big difference. Plus I won’t be “charging” myself for items out of our freezer that were purchased pre-budget, and I will no longer be reporting out on every single food item that I buy…so overall I am looking forward to feeling a lot less pressure! And I do hope 100 days was a long enough period of time for people to realize that this absolutely can be done. Anyway, back to our final week, although I should probably wrap up last week first. As I previously mentioned I pretty much spent our entire food budget last week at Earth Fare prior to a big snowstorm that hit Charlotte. And with those groceries we managed to stick to our original dinner plan, which included the pictured chicken nuggets and baked purple sweet potato fries with homemade honey mustard…yum. My total spend last week came to $124.09 and this is how it was divided up…
So here we are with only 13 days left of our real food on a budget project. I haven’t stopped shopping at Earth Fare (which some people think is expensive), and I most definitely have not stopped ordering our unbelievably fresh and delicious local ($30 a week) milk either. And I can’t help but notice…has this project failed in any way shape or form? Here we are successfully buying organic, local, whole grain, non-processed foods for a family of four on less money than we would get if on food stamps. Granted we have some wonderful resources at our disposal like plenty of places to shop for food, some decent cooking skills, and plenty of kitchen tools. And I will be the first to admit that I’ve been frustrated (and broke) at times, and we’ve had to cut down on our meat consumption as well as our “desserts” (which were just about cut out all together). The point though is that we’ve not overspent even by a penny and we’ve not starved ourselves and we’ve by no means had to compromise by eating highly processed cheap crap to stay within budget. It may be too soon to celebrate, but I can’t help but wonder how many people doubted that this could even be done??? So on that note…here’s what I’ve been doing with our $125 this week. Our area of North Carolina got hit with a pretty big snowstorm early Monday morning so I actually went out and spent almost my entire weekly budget on groceries the night before the storm.
It was slightly embarrassing, but I had to return the only unopened grocery item I had on hand to be able to “afford” a main ingredient for our dinner on Friday. Sure, you could say it was poor planning on my part, but regardless I desperately needed a butternut squash and only had two bucks left. So after a little brainstorming session with myself I came up with a plan to get more money. And I was thrilled to see that one of the more expensive items ($5.99 bag of brown rice) that I purchased from Earth Fare earlier in the week was still unopened! After I made the return I was armed with a whopping $8 and change, which allowed me to get the few things I needed. So I bought the squash and some cilantro for the recipe, a few bananas, and a very small amount of rolled oats (which we were out of and I often need to make oatmeal for my daughters). I went home and in no time at all made the pictured squash peanut soup (topped with cilantro) along with some biscuits, and it turned out so delicious! The best part was that the soup was super easy to make (my favorite kind of recipe…yummy AND easy!) although our kids did not like it one bit. This shocked us because we were all but licking our bowls, but I plan to post and share this recipe soon anyway because of how much we adults loved it.
Long ago I had a goal to try at least one new recipe a week. I did okay with this for a while, but then I quickly fell off the wagon shortly after we cut processed food. I of course still try a lot of new recipes, but there have been plenty of weeks where it seems like too much effort to select and make something new. It is just so easy to stick to a simple rotation of dinners that you know your kids will eat. Our typical rotation goes something like this… quesadillas (or anything that resembles a quesadilla and gets wrapped up in a tortilla with cheese!), quiche, some sort of pasta dish, pizza, and any kind of breakfast for dinner. I made a few 2011 New Year’s resolutions and once again I am going to try to go back to one (totally) new recipe a week! So I started off with a bang this week by making a vegetable that we hadn’t eaten in so long that my girls didn’t even know what it was…asparagus. I’ve mentioned before how important I think a child’s “first impression” is of a new food so the pressure was on for me to make some super appealing asparagus. After a little brainstorming session with our Facebook fans (thank you!) I was torn between all of the great ideas. So I ended up making asparagus 3-ways, and it actually turned out to be the perfect way to introduce something new to our kids.
I don’t know if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I just sort of realized that it is tradition (for good luck) to eat Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day. I heard a friend mention it last year and then a few months ago our 5-year-old got a library book about this very topic (don’t you love it when your kids’ books teach you something!). So anyway, after reading this book my daughter was adamant about us eating black-eyed peas this year, and even though I am not a bean fan there is something to be said for tradition. So I granted her wish by buying some fresh local beans from Earth Fare and then turning them over to my husband to cook. Our New Year’s Day meal ended up being a little hodgepodge, but regardless, it was very much enjoyed by most everyone. Our picky 3-year-old
It’s been a little bit of a challenge to track our real food budget over the Christmas holiday…especially since we hosted this year. I tell you what, I already felt like our real food diet caused me to cook and clean and run our dishwasher all of the time, but hosting family for the holidays took things to a whole new level. I of course had some extra helpers, but I also probably took on more cooking than I should have over the last week. I am feeling a little burnt out to say the least! Regardless of how many dirty dishes we went through, the food highlight this holiday season was definitely the local lamb loin that we had on Christmas Day (I wish I had a picture!). We’d never cooked lamb before so we were a little concerned about how it would turn out, but my husband (who can cook by the way) made a rare appearance at our stove and managed to exceed all of our expectations. His simple preparation consisted of cooking the meat in a cast iron skillet with some olive oil, garlic, red wine, & rosemary…and it was delicious. Even our 3-year-old, who hardly even eats meat, was digging in. I was beyond shocked by her response (but of course pleased!). The lamb, among other things, of course came out of a separate entertaining budget, but prior to the arrival of our guests last week I attempted to stick to our regular $125 a week budget.
I already find it challenging to keep my children’s intake of sweets to a minimum on a regular basis, but during the month of December? It is almost downright impossible to keep things under control. A month or two ago we decided that the best balance for us would be to (of course) stick to eating real food as much as possible, but to also allow ourselves one “treat” of our choice over the weekend. The last thing I want is for my daughters to start raiding the pantries at their friends’ houses after not getting any junk food at home! Plus, most things in moderation are okay. Now, it is no secret that I have a sweet tooth myself and (not that anybody’s asked) all I’ve wanted for my “special weekend treat” is one darn donut! And have I gotten to take my girls out to Krispy Kreme to watch the donuts being made and enjoy eating them together hot off the conveyer belt? No, because it unfortunately has not yet been up to me what the weekend treat will be. The school or birthday party or other social gathering always seems to be making that decision for us. You see if my girls are invited to a birthday party, the cake (or parfait or whatever it is) automatically becomes their special treat for the weekend. And since some sort of social event seems to be going on almost every week I eventually stopped holding out for that donut, but unfortunately already put my eye on a new prize…Christmas cookies.