Feeding my family healthy, REAL food is a huge priority for me. When I compare organic prices to non-organic and fresh fruits and veggies to ramen and mac and cheese, I just assumed that eating healthy was more expensive, but you know what? My family is worth the investment. So I suck it up, pay the premium prices and move on. I have 4 kids (and one on the way) and a strapping husband and we all love to eat. Not to mention that my kids like to snack for sport. Seriously. I make breakfast and an hour later they are rummaging through the kitchen for a snack. Which drives me crazy.
In the last few months I have been doing a lot of learning and growing. One of the areas that I studied and really felt convicted to improve in was money management. My business has taken off and done great. I am successful and teaching other people to be successful, but we still hadn’t paid off our personal credit cards. I invested in a course called War on Debt and realized that it didn’t really matter how much I was making if I was still straddled with debt and couldn’t hang on to the money I made. So, I started making little changes. My husband and I developed a plan to pay off our credit cards and I started looking for fat to trim from our budget. The thing is, we already live pretty frugally. I don’t go shopping for “fun”. We live simply and don’t spend much money on “stuff”. We spend a lot at the grocery store, but I have always made excuses like, “that is just the cost of eating healthy”. Maybe. Maybe not.
After months of wrestling with this concept and telling myself it simply wasn’t possible, starting hearing myself from a different perspective. If someone ELSE told me something wasn’t possible and I couldn’t do it, how would I respond? You had better believe that would make me want to do it, just to PROVE that I COULD. So, I have taken it as a challenge. I am challenging myself to prove that I CAN feed my family of 6 on a budget and still make delicious, healthy meals. We CAN do healthy eating on a budget. This is a process for me, so I am going to share it with you as I go. To inspire you, that you can do it to. And to keep me accountable! I’m finally at the point where I can do this successfully and teach others how too! At this point, you can either keep reading, or go watch a video of my live class!
GOAL: cut my food budget down from $1000-$1200 a month to $480-$500 (about $20 per person per week).
Eat up what is in the pantry and fridge. How much food is actually in your pantry and fridge? If the apocalypse came, how long could you live on what you already have? Have you ever bought something at the store, only to discover later that you already had that item at home? I have. So my first goal was to eat up all the consumables we ALREADY had. This saved us quite a bit of money for about two weeks. I had to supplement a a little with fresh fruits and veggies butter and milk, but we had a lot of stuff in the fridge, freezer and pantry that we were able to make a lot of creative meals with. That was pretty satisfying.
Go shopping for the week and only spend $120 ($20 per person, per week). Previously I had been shopping at Costco, which I can get really good prices on bulk items, but if I am really honest, when I shop bulk I end up wasting at least some of the food or simply allow myself to be less intentional. That’s just me. For this experiment I am shopping at Aldi (a small discount chain owned by Trader Joes), which recently came out with a line of organic foods. I may also shop at a local little international store, because they sell spices, beans, rice and good quality meats, very cheap.
Now, I am going to be honest and up front. You will be more successful than me if you make or follow a meal plan for the week. You just will. Then every item is accounted for and you will know what you are making each day. My spontaneous, rule breaking self has a VERY hard time sticking with meal plans, so I just decided what the heck, I will just do this and see what happens. SO. I went to the store, with an outline and goal of getting enough meat and veggies for dinners throughout the week and not much else of a plan. So what did I buy? Well, next week I will save my receipt, so you will know exactly. But basically I stocked up on oatmeal and eggs for breakfasts. I had planned to get flour for sourdough pancakes too, but they only had bleached flour there, so I decided we would skip pancakes for the week. I bought dry beans and rice for side dishes. I bought 2 lbs of grass fed beef and 2 whole chickens (which happened to be on sale half price!!! SCORE). This is less meat than I would usually buy. But my plan was to roast the chickens and meticulously debone them and use the meat for at least 4 or 5 meals. I bought tons of veggies, focusing on the ones that were on sale. For instance avocados were 3 for a dollar, so I got 6 of those, which I usually would only get one or two. I got big bags of carrots, celery, broccoli, oranges and apples. I feel like I bought ALL the raw veggies. This normally wouldn’t be a good plan for me, because I would end up not using them all, letting some go to waste. But I had a PLAN.
Things I skipped that I would normally have bought: organic granola bars, gluten free crackers, organic apple sauce packs, other snack items my kids love. I bought hardly ANYTHING processed or packaged, which made me realize that I had been buying more of those than I thought. I did get string cheese and some rice cakes for our wednesday’s we go to the homeschool co-op and the kids are required to pack their own lunches (this saves my sanity). But no other snack foods. Like I said, I had a plan.
Food prep at home. This was a KEY part for me. Once home, I popped in some great audio (I work SO much better if listening to a podcast, audio book or something to keep my mind busy) and prepped ALL of my veggies. I chopped them up either bite size or finger food size depending on which ones they were and put them in containers or baggies in the fridge. Why does this matter? Two things. When my kids want snacks, I can point them to the veggies and say HAVE AT ‘EM! Are they excited about this… not really. BUT if they are hungry enough, they eat them. They actually went to town on the cucumbers and ate them all the first day (note to self, more cucumbers next time). I am also trying to train them to eat more at mealtimes instead of picking at their foods and waiting for a snack later and this is helping. Second, when I go to make a meal, if veggies are cut up and ready to use, I am WAY more likely to throw them into whatever I am making. Soups, scrambled eggs, rice, casseroles, salad, whatever. This bulks up the meal, makes it more filling and give us so much more nutrition.
The next thing was roasting the chickens. I did this for dinner. I roasted both at once. I follow this recipe, because it is pretty simple and I can adjust to whatever veggies I have on hand. I gave the kids the drumsticks and wings for dinner (along with salad, the cooked veggies that were under the chicken and some quinoa and cheese) and the rest of the meat is for deboning and chopping up and putting in baggies or containers. We used to eat a chicken for one meal, but I plan to make these two chickens stretch for 5 meals! How? Once deboned and chopped I can toss them into whatever I am making just like the the chopped veggies. Soups, salads, rice, casseroles, quiche, whatever.
Last step in food prep is making stock from the chicken bones. This allows me to get every last bit a nutrition from the whole chickens and then I have broth/stock to make soup and to cook rice, beans and other meals with throughout the rest of the week. Bone stock is VERY nutritious and so flavorful. It makes everything taste better.
I also chose one project a day to turn a nutritious pantry item into easy, quickly usable food. For instance, I soaked some chickpeas on Monday and by Wednesday they were ready to cook and make hummus. I soaked white beans on Tuesday and by Thursday they were ready to cook and put in chicken chili. One easy project a day kept us supplied with ready to eat and make foods all week long.
Getting the family on board. Maybe this step should have come earlier. But at dinner that first evening I told the kids my grand plan. I want them to feel like they are part of the process. They are excited that mommy and daddy almost have the credit cards all paid off (we will actually meet that goal in TWO WEEKS) and then we are saving up for something amazing for our family (which I will share with you here on the blog soon). So, I explained that instead of trail mix and granola bars, cheese and healthy cookies for snacks, we would be eating chopped veggies, but that I would be making yummy meals. I got them on my side and they are excited to help work towards our common family goal. My husband is excited that I am attempting to cut our grocery bill in half and that we are SO CLOSE to being out of credit card debt.
This is new to me. I am nervous and a little scared. It might not work. But what if it DOES??? I will journal our healthy meals on a budget for the next month, so you can see what it looks like in practice. I will share everything with you, so check back each week and if you have suggestions, comments or practical ideas, PLEASE let me know!!!
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DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and the statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA. Any products or techniques mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. I am just a mom who shares what works for me!