Monday, August 23, 2010

How Low Can I Go?

We're finding it necessary to make further cuts in our already-cut budget. Necessity is the mother of...well, creativity, at least.

The question of where to make further cuts led to re-examining our weekly food budget. Hmmm. I'm a very frugal shopper of relativity healthful foods..."relatively" referring to the fact that I still don't have a good source for local grassfed beef or pastured chicken/eggs, so we still buy those frozen at the big box store. But amazingly, a look at our cart at the checkout line is (to me) remarkable...not a single pre-fab box of anything, usually. The cart usually contains fresh fruits, a few boxes of organic spinach, fresh veggies, a bag or two of frozen berries and maybe an occasional frozen bag of green beans or mixed veggies. Sometimes we restock on olive oil or almonds/nuts. Some weeks maybe eggs, maybe orange juice or a 100% juice item (cranberry/grape for smoothies). And one or two packages of meat. There's nary a processed item that makes it home, give or take a week I might buy a loaf of wheat bread. Yes, I know the bottled juice is processed, but it has no added sugar, and by processed I mean food that can't remember where it came from. I scan everything for additives, preservatives and other chemicals and those with them seldom, if ever, make it into the cart.

There are a few exceptions, but exceptions these days are seldom the rule.

Even so, now I have the challenge of seeing if I can go lower with our grocery spending...and just when I'd hit my stride of being pretty sure of myself with what I buy and what meals come of it. Hmmm.

My biggest challenge is two-fold: how to keep the greens and fresh veggies/fruits IN the meals and keep the starch percentages OUT of the meals. In years past, economizing meals meant stretching them with mostly carbohydrates...rice, noodles/pasta, breads, dumplings, breading or bread crumbs added to meals (think meatloaf, meatballs, homemade chicken nuggets, etc, and potatoes.) Even though I have a huge bulk container of basmati rice available for OCCASIONAL meals, one of my goals for this year has been to wean us to lower-glycemic-index foods since Jack and I both need to have better blood sugar readings and need to lose weight.

The carbs that stay in are the naturally-occurring ones in fruits and vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes...but we limit the potato sort to a single portion and have them only IF there are greens and other colored veggies in the meal (keeps the ol' blood sugar happier that way). Recent additions to the carb list are more...GREENS...yep there are carbs in there, but the sort that function better for us...and beans, nuts, seeds. Nuts and seeds, when purchased, seem to be quite expensive, but beans aren't, so they are making appearances more frequently at the table here. We've also experimented a little with quinoa, and I'm slowly trying other whole grains and grain-like seeds...have yet to try teff, millet, buckwheat. I do put some barley in stews now and then.

IF I HAD A GARDEN, THIS WOULD ALL BE CHEAPER. Yes, we knew that at the beginning of the summer. Still working on what to do about that in relation to our short and long-term plans etc etc. But the reality for the here and now is...cut back.

SO...

Can I cut my grocery bill in half?

I just finished reading Ayn Rand's book We the Living, which takes place in Russia just about the time it became the Soviet Union. It was written realistically, and one of the things that struck me was how difficult simply getting and preparing daily meals was for the average household. Since the author includes a lot of detail in her writing, I noted that throughout the book, the average meal compiled from ration stamps included cooked millet, storebought bread, linseed oil as a cheap cooking oil or sunflower seed oil or lard (when available) as a more expensive cooking oil. Sometimes beets, onions, or cabbage if and when available. To munch on...sunflower seeds. And...that was pretty much it for the common proletariat unless you had special communist party membership privileges (blah blah blah). What were the rarities? Eggs, considered a rarity. Fruits and fruit juices. Fresh vegetables. Meat of any sort. Milk, butter...not a single mention anywhere in the book. So a single meal could be beet soup. Or a piece of bread with fried onions on it. Or millet, boiled.

It makes me feel VERY positive about what I can do with what's in my pantry, freezer, and such as I try to concoct something economical-to-the-bone. It reminds me of how little food it takes to fuel these sacred bodies of ours, as long as the fuel is good fuel. It challenges me to be satisfied with adequate portions, not double ones. It makes me celebrate the choices I DO have rather than concentrate on the fact I have to be selective about them.

So my challenge is not to cook unlimited quantities of empty starches to "fill" us...it's to orchestrate a collection of great meals, even if simple ones, that celebrate seasonal bounty, plain and delicious nutrition, and to play with the spice rack further.

That's my challenge to myself. I'm spoiled. I don't intend to give up my mentality of loving a wealth of selection, but DO intend to solve this with some creativity in ways that never make me begin assuming I'm throwing my hands up and returning to a processed poverty-type of mindset.

SO...

the challenge commences. Time for my mind to get back into that kitchen and enjoy being the mad scientist...heh heh ;-)

(And to plot a garden for the OTHER growing seasons...???)

7 comments:

Donna said...

As we prepare for Cliff to retire next year, we're looking at where we can cut costs on everything. It's a challenge.

Michelle said...

You've got to be in the 99.9th percentile already for both healthy and frugal shopping; I wish I could afford to ship you some things! At least your husband is on board; my husband prefers the stuff that is not good for him (he has very high triglycerides). If he would eat them, I'd use a lot more legumes in meals. They are cheap, full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and water-soluble fiber - and can be seasoned in so many different ways!

I am always humbled when I read mission journals and learn more about how little the majority of the world's peoples subsist on in terms of food. Not just little variety, but few calories, too.

Keep an eye on Craig's List and Freecycle. A friend just told me this weekend that they scored several buckets of free beans. In this area there are also gleaning opportunities; you might look into that as well.

You're in my thoughts and prayers!

fullfreezer said...

Even though it is the end of the summer, can't you still grow your own greens? I would imagine the growing season is quite long for you. We've grown little salad greens in a window box in the house, even here in Iowa in the winter. Some fresh, leafy greens would be an easy grow.
Keep your eye out at your library for the More with Less cookbook and Extending the Table. Both from the Mennonite Central Committee. They have fabulous frugal recipes- Extending the table with a worldbeat. Lots of tasty African recipes. Yum.
Good luck. And if you need some seeds for greens- let me know- I've probably got some left.
Judy

Paulette said...

I've been working on this myself Robbyn, and it is a challenge.

We have cut meat down to maybe once a week at most, but we've never been big meat eaters. This summer I am doing a lot of 'roasting' veggies. Last night dinner was a mixture of yellow squash and zucchini that I got at the farmer's market very inexpensively, with onions, roasted in the oven drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil, with sliced tomatoes on top sprinkled with a tiny bit of cheese. And beans...that was it. It was very filling, and delicious. One thing I think we tend to do in our culture is just eat too much, especially in the South. We're just bred to eat :-)

Bean are great, as are greens. Favorite meal...pinto beans, cornbread, turnip greens. Period.

Can you grow greens now? We're thinking of planting some now for Fall.

Robbyn said...

Donna, I'd love to know where you find the best places to cut and how...I love learning from others! Jack is eligible to retire in three years, so we're trying to get some things in place related to that, too.

Michelle, if you lived closer, we'd do a mean barter :) You got it right about the craigslist and freecycle...I already use those, and will utilize them more and more. In fact, unless we get a buyer for some of our properties (residential, undeveloped) soon, I'm listing one of them for barter for a vehicle in good working condition...hey, doesn't hurt to try! As far as sneaking the legumes into things, I used to get a stick blender and puree a lot of things my daughter thought she didn't like and thicken my soups with them...adds the ingredient but you can't really tell it :) Great ideas...I'll be looking for "cleanup" opportunities for folks around town who just don't want to pick their citrus trees.

Judy, thank you for the book recommendations...in fact I'll search for them in my library catalog right now! Yes, we'll have to get started with some greens. How we'll bust through this bermuda, I don't know, but I think we can manage it on a small scale...the fireants and snakes right now are out of hand, but what's got to happen has got to happen. Thanks for the seed offer...I'll look through ours...I suspect we have a good many waiting to be planted! :)

Paulette, yes, I'd better get on the Greens wagon. We're not near a good farmer's market but are near several mom and pop produce stores where I've been meaning to compare prices. As far as cornbread and pintos and greens, you're singing my song...ah, being a southern girl does have its advantages! I don't know if I'll ever be able to wean Jack down from his once a day meat consumption...he says he feels weak if he doesn't have it. Since a lot of him is muscle, I'll trust him on that and just make sure it's portioned out wisely. but yes, we could both do with reducing how much we eat.
-----------------------------
Thanks, guys for all your encouragement! :)

Robbyn said...

Donna, I'd love to know where you find the best places to cut and how...I love learning from others! Jack is eligible to retire in three years, so we're trying to get some things in place related to that, too.

Michelle, if you lived closer, we'd do a mean barter :) You got it right about the craigslist and freecycle...I already use those, and will utilize them more and more. In fact, unless we get a buyer for some of our properties (residential, undeveloped) soon, I'm listing one of them for barter for a vehicle in good working condition...hey, doesn't hurt to try! As far as sneaking the legumes into things, I used to get a stick blender and puree a lot of things my daughter thought she didn't like and thicken my soups with them...adds the ingredient but you can't really tell it :) Great ideas...I'll be looking for "cleanup" opportunities for folks around town who just don't want to pick their citrus trees.

Judy, thank you for the book recommendations...in fact I'll search for them in my library catalog right now! Yes, we'll have to get started with some greens. How we'll bust through this bermuda, I don't know, but I think we can manage it on a small scale...the fireants and snakes right now are out of hand, but what's got to happen has got to happen. Thanks for the seed offer...I'll look through ours...I suspect we have a good many waiting to be planted! :)

Paulette, yes, I'd better get on the Greens wagon. We're not near a good farmer's market but are near several mom and pop produce stores where I've been meaning to compare prices. As far as cornbread and pintos and greens, you're singing my song...ah, being a southern girl does have its advantages! I don't know if I'll ever be able to wean Jack down from his once a day meat consumption...he says he feels weak if he doesn't have it. Since a lot of him is muscle, I'll trust him on that and just make sure it's portioned out wisely. but yes, we could both do with reducing how much we eat.
-----------------------------
Thanks, guys for all your encouragement! :)

Wendy said...

Well, your winter is roughly equivalent, temperature-wise, to our spring, and there should be a lot of fun things (including spinach) that you should be able to grow ;). I look forward to hearing how you do.

Incidentally, I love reading books like the one you described. It's fascinating to see how other people deal with what we would term "deprivation", and to note that in many cases what we think of as extreme hardship is just living for them. Interesting.