The initial purpose of this blog was not just to discuss food, but to discuss economical food. It must still taste good, and be healthy. I haven't done enough of this.
It has been brought to my attention by friends in several places (US) that in their area, it is cheaper to buy junk food than healthy food. That is just about the worst thing that can happen to you. Obviously it can happen anywhere if there are transportation issues and the only food shopping available within walking distance is processed, packaged, etc. I must make more effort to understand this problem when handing out advice.
For now I want to get you lot involved in creating a thinktank for money-saving ideas. We all have different situations, and a variety of ideas is more useful than just one experience. So I urge anyone reading this to write their own blog on the topic, and link to it in the comments below. Please give the reader an idea of your situation, here's mine....
We are a family of 5, me aged 50, and men aged 53, 20, 18, and 16. Two of the men do heavy manual work, mostly outdoors and require more calories than the average person. One is partially active with me here on the farm, and one is still growing. So I cook hearty meals, and keep my own portions down to allow for that.
We are on a fairly tight budget, of around $600 a month, some of our meat, eggs, and vegetables are our own produce, but I take that into account when talking figures (it's not free, animals need feed, and butcher's fees etc. can put meat prices per pound almost at supermarket rates). The main advantage economically is salad and herbs in season, and of course there is the quality factor. It is not possible, this far north, to be self-sufficient unless you adopt a very strange diet. More on that later.
We have plenty of storage space, some a little unorthodox (potatoes under the bed), but we do not have the common problem of not being able to buy in bulk. We also have several freezers. So we have a tremendous advantage there. AND we have a truck. That's a huge advantage.
I believe (not certain) that food prices in the area we shop, are some of the lowest in Canada. That helps too.
I still think my biggest advantage is my ability and willingness to cook the majority of our food from scratch. In this house ketchup counts as processed food. (I did make it myself once, it was horrible).
There are several other points that make it possible for me to spend less money.
1. We are not picky eaters. I can put almost anything on the table and it will be devoured.
2. Nobody has any special dietary needs.
3. My family accept any restrictions I place. They don't complain about lack of certain items. They're all happy for their main drink to be water.
So, co-operation is a huge aspect.
I'd like to examine several key areas that I think are important:
1. I think it goes without saying they we eat out very rarely, once a month or less. Nobody buys lunch out unless it's from their own personal money, i.e. not from the housekeeping budget.
2. We buy hardly any snack foods. Snacks here are restricted to fruit, crackers, cheese, yoghurt, and grazing leftovers. Snacking is not encouraged. I lead by example.
3. The main family treat (when it's on sale) is ice cream. I feel this at least has some food value. Chips, likewise are an occasional treat and not a food group.
4. We try very hard not to waste food. Leftovers can be your lunch, or can be included in another meal, such as soup or stew. If it is beyond human use an animal can eat it. If all else fails we compost it. Zero food goes in the garbage. I am offended by food in garbage, anywhere, at any time.
5. We only have dessert about once a month. There is always a selection of fruit in the house if people want it. When we have dessert it's usually a special occasion, but it's still something home-made and nutritious.
6. We shop infrequently. There is some meal planning, with room for change. But it's better to shop less often, and pick up fresh foods in between, than to shop little and often, unless of course you are lucky enough to have a market nearby (as in farmer's market).
Obviously, as I said earlier, every family is different and what works for me might not work for you, but these are tried and tested ways I keep my food bills down.
A typical day then...
Breakfast is usually toast-and-something. Eggs, cheese, peanut butter, or occasionally the boys like jam. We have a variety such as bagels, English muffins, home-made bread, and store-bought multi-grain bread, to stop it getting samey. We look for bargains. We tend only to have bigger breakfasts at the weekend, with bacon or sausages. The boys also eat oatmeal. If the price is good I will pick up the more substantial boxed cereals such as Mini Wheats.
Lunch is usually sandwiches or leftovers. Everyone is responsible for their own (we did this even when the children were very young). If you pack your own lunch, in theory you will eat it - no complaints, no waste. It's not a big deal really. I will buy lunch meats if they are on sale, but I won't pay full price for them. Currently the local supermarket is doing cheap bulk packs of ham, roast beef, roast turkey, and salami so I am picking a few up, but our standard selection is cheese, tuna, salmon, egg, and leftovers from meats we cook ourselves. There is always salad items in the fridge to add to these. There is nothing wrong with a cheese sandwich.
Dinner is a hot meal, with meat most days. The basis of my cooking is the potato, and I use it whenever possible. I am not personally keen on rice but as I can buy it cheaply in sacks, I do use it. Pasta less often, although I buy that in bulk too. I aim to put a minimum of 3 vegetables into dinner, one way and another, although one of those is usually onion. I try to have something green in every dinner, even if it's only a bit of pepper, or zucchini in a tomato sauce. I'll do a side salad if nothing cooked works. In summer we have salad every day. I cook a wide variety of dishes, from all around the world to keep things varied. We try not to eat the same meat two days running, aim for fish at least once a week, and red meat twice a week, with the exception that if there's lamb in the freezer, it takes priority.
OK, open to questions, and don't forget to do yours.