Category Archives: On Eating

Kansas Farmers’ Market

My mom picking out her potatoes.

Ever wonder about the prices at different Farmers’ Markets? No? Just me?

I wish I’d thought of this before we left Ohio, but I really was too crazy with the move to think about going to the Farmer’s Market the first weekend it started (the last weekend in May). Oh, and the friends we stayed with for almost two weeks before we left get a “Happy Box” every week (a version of a CSA) so there was no need to shop for extra produce.

The kids and I are now staying with family in my hometown of McPherson, Kansas for a couple of weeks before we continue on to California. I wish I could say that this Farmer’s Market was the one I went to as a child, but I can’t: not because it wasn’t there; but because we didn’t go. It’s rather small as Farmers’ Markets go, but McPherson is a small town. And we also got there rather late this morning, so the pickings were slim.

(As an aside, the lady selling my mom her potatoes is the wife of one of my high school English teachers.) (and my cross country coach.) (Gotta love small towns.)

The low-down:

  • Potatoes: $1.25/lb. (red/white/gold)
  • Eggs: $2.00/dozen (I can tell you I paid $2.50/dozen in Ohio and was glad to do so.)
  • Broccoli: $1/head (see photo for size) (and remember we were there late in the morning)
  • Sugar Peas (Slightly Heat Blemished [sic]) (love that): $1/bag (see photo)
  • Homemade Noodles: $1.75/half pound; $3/lb.

 I’m hoping to get to this Market at least one more time before we get back on the road; I’m curious what new produce they will have.

How do the prices compare to the Markets in your neck of the woods? (Do you visit Farmers’ Markets?) (Do you have one??)

 

Does Your Spouse Stay on a Budget When He Travels for Work?

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband is TDY right now, which is military-speak for a business trip. I don’t envy him being in West Texas in August! Although it hasn’t exactly been roses and rainbows up here in Ohio, either. Blech.

Military Per Diem: Excuse to Spend? Or Opportunity to Save?

When John goes TDY he typically receives some kind of per diem, depending on the place and the purpose of the trip. He was rather surprised to learn that he was going to get, like, $35/day per diem for this TDY. After all, he’s attending a class on a base with a chow hall. But within 24 hours of arriving, John figured out that a lot of wining and dining is expected as part of this course: networking and all that. There goes the per diem — and then some, if you’re not careful. Right away he started thinking about how much mandatory fun he could get away with skipping out on. One other guy in the class was like-minded, so he wasn’t the only one doing the math.

But it didn’t take long for others to notice, as he wrote in an email just a couple of days after his class started:

“Ok, so today already I ducked a lunch engagement AND another dinner.  And someone asked me if I was poor.  I just said no, but some simple math told me eating at fancy restaurants twice a day for $25-30 a pop was far in excess of the $35 or so they were giving us per day.”

Knowing him, he’s paraphrasing what he actually told the guy (I’m assuming it was a guy). But these aren’t fast food restaurants these people are going to here, and they’re not sitting down and ordering off the appetizer menu and sipping ice water, either. Just the booze alone for some of these guys eats up their per diem, I’m sure. And while I’m all for going out and enjoying yourself now and then, and I totally get the professional-social networking thing…  Every Day?

Easy Come, Easy Go

His situation reminded me of a friend of mine whose (military) husband always over-spends his per diem and makes no apologies about it. He goes TDY often, and she actually factors in more spending in the budget when he’s away then when he’s home. “He’s eating steak and ordering out a few beers almost every night.” That adds up. But he feels like he works hard and so he deserves it. This is not uncommon.

There is the bit about how it costs money for them to eat when they’re in their own home, too. There is that. So it’s not like going over your per diem should break the bank, assuming you’re spending less on groceries while you’re spouse is away. But I’m just trying to keep things simple here.

John’s about half-way through his TDY now and I just ran some numbers. So far, he has spend roughly $377.13 on food. (This is not an exact calculation as I am going by his debit transactions, and all of these may not have been for food.) That averages out to about $27 a day. So he’s managed to do pretty well. Some of this was for start-up, too: he got a few grocery items to keep in his room for a few easy meals, so those dollars will of course stretch further. (Farther? I have never understood that rule.)

Of course it’s nice to “make money” when your husband goes TDY. And some manage to do that every time. But I know so many who don’t. Sometimes it’s mindless, and sometimes it’s more purposeful. I’m going to go out and enjoy myself and not worry about the cost.

How about you and yours? I know there’s a lot of military peeps out there. Does your spouse watch his spending while he’s TDY? Or is he “on vacation”? Those who aren’t military but your  spouses (or you) travel a lot for their job: is it all reimbursed? Or do business trips really wear on the budget?

There can be a lot of pressure out there, to wine and dine and schmooze and act like it’s nothing to drop $50 on a meal and a few drinks. That guy who asked John if he was poor? Oh, I’m sure he said it in a joking way, but just his asking says so much about the judgment he was making… about John, perhaps. But I’m thinking even more about how her perceives others would view him if he were to make the same choice.

***

Addendum: Thank you guys so much for your comments and input on the previous post. I plan to respond to you each individually. Alas, it is very late, and a pile of laundry is not going to fold itself and is threatening to fall on top of this laptop as I type. I will be getting back to you all shortly. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. I sorely appreciate it.

Who ever said electronics couldn’t be healthy for kids?

Peter is a picky eater, always has been. His mainstays are peanut butter and honey tortillas (yes, you read that right), bananas, and applesauce. The quintessential white diet. He has and does eat other foods, but tortillas are what he begs for. Even if we are offering him something that he has eaten before, he’ll whine and cry and carry on like we’re trying to poison him. “I just want a tortilla!”

Peter's mainstays: Tortillas with peanut butter and honey. (The nutella is a treat on road trips.)

And yes, I’ve tried sneaking other things into his tortillas. Even the smallest of small dabs of refried beans hidden in the melted cheese, which he does like. He finds it. Then accuses me of poisoning him. Not in those exact words, but you’d think I’d tried to get him to eat cyanide by the way he carries on.

We’ve tried saying taking it or leave it, you’re not getting anything else. He’ll leave it and go hungry.

Or he’ll bide his time and sneak something else once we finally turn our back.  He’s a main reason we put a lock on our pantry door. (He figured out a long time ago how to unlock it, but it was nice while it lasted.)

My first two children both came out of the womb eating like champs. We have pictures of Conner at five eating a steamed head of broccoli like it was an ice cream cone. Olivia pops grape tomatoes in her mouth like candy. I knew Peter’s picky eating wasn’t due to his environment. When we got his diagnosis of apraxia, it all seemed to make sense: textures; sensory integration; temperature sensitivity. This wasn’t just about food. I learned about resistant eaters, and as bad as Peter’s eating seemed to me, I realized that it was nothing compared to what some parents experience with their special needs children. (Ever hear of Food Therapy?) I picked my battles and simply encouraged foods that (somewhat) made up a whole diet, colorless as they were.

Over time, the lines have blurred somewhat between what is really difficult for Peter to eat — he doesn’t like ice cream, for instance, “Too cold!” — and what he simply doesn’t want to eat. But old habits die hard, and I’ve grown accustomed to accommodating Peter’s eating preferences. I do encourage him to try new things; I will often entice him to just eat one bite by letting him have what he’d really like to eat afterward. No matter that he’d even admit that he liked what I made him try: he’d had his one bite and he was done.

Cue John’s Recent Return from Deployment.

Something must have snapped — I guess those months away gave John fresh eyes when he came home and witnessed Peter’s eating habits anew. John declared No More and with a Take No Prisoners attitude decided that Peter was going to start eating Good Food, or else.

It was a huge, huge milestone when John got Peter to eat a cheeseburger. A half a cheeseburger, mind you. But still. And this was no tasteless fast food, but a plump, juicy cheeseburger seasoned just-so, fresh off the grill.

At least, it was fresh off the grill when we ate. It took Peter two hours to eat his.

But he ate it! This happened before our recent road trip to Kansas. While traveling, we quickly slid back into our usual eating habits. I chose to fight no battles with Peter regarding food (hey, I was on vacation, too) but I also wasn’t always around to make sure that he was at least getting a somewhat well-rounded diet with his preferred white-food choices. By the end of the trip, it was apparent that his health was starting to suffer.  John finally spent an evening (while the rest of us were at my cousin’s wedding reception) forcing Peter to eat two baby carrots. They had left the reception early because Peter was pale, exhausted, complaining of a tummy ache, refusing to eat a single morsel from the buffet, and begging relentlessly to just have some wedding cake. And John was still annoyed with him for sneaking and eating an entire bag of cheese earlier in the day. It took two hours, many tears, and cries begging “I just want to go to bed!” but he ate it.

In the past, I have often given him the option of eating what I gave him for dinner or just going to bed, figuring that the experts must be right when they say that a kid will never starve himself. I’m not so sure they’re right with this one. He’s a stubborn fellow — manipulative and sneaky, too. John has decided to play a firm hand with him, and for that I am thankful. I’m not sure I have the stomach for it. No pun intended.

Cue Vigil.

So we had cheeseburgers again last night. And John laid down the law: no substitutions.

I wish I’d gotten a picture of Peter just sitting there, not eating his food: the sullen look on his face is priceless. But I’m choosing to expend as little energy (and attention) as possible on these battles. We all ate our food, I cleared the table and wiped it down around him, then John set hisself down and commenced a vigil.

It’s not very fun, these vigils. And they’re a huge time sucker. But they’re necessary because the minute you turn your back Peter is off and running, which is why it’s so difficult to force him to eat while we’re traveling and visiting friends and family. In fact, during last night’s vigil he made one escape when John left the room for a minute, calling over his shoulder for me to mind that Peter didn’t leave the table. I turned my back to do some dishes and Peter was gone. We found him up in his room, trying to put himself to bed.

Oh, we are mean and cruel parents, we are. We made Peter come back down and sit at the table, telling him he’d be there for as long as it took, but he was going to eat that cheeseburger. Oh, the humanities. I just want to go to bed. I’m so ti-i-i-i-red! Laying his head down on the table and wailing and carrying on like the poor, abused, downtrodden prisoner that he was.

Cue Portal.

John was not to be deterred, and he brought his laptop to the table to help pass the time.

Now, Peter loves electronics in general: computer games; Wii; gameboy; his big brother’s DSi (much to big brother’s consternation). Electronics in moderation are not a bad thing, in my view. But we definitely have to limit them with this fellow. With all of our kids, in fact.

One game he loves to play above all else is Portal, a game John discovered while he was deployed. He took advantage of a free download one weekend, introduced it to Olivia and Peter, and they were hooked.

To me, their liking a game like Portal is very improbable. To quote the website’s description:

“Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuvering objects, and themselves, through space.”

Huh, what?

It’s actually quite intellectually challenging, and from my understanding (I’ve never played myself) involves quite a bit of physics. Not my bag, baby. This is a game they only play with daddy, on daddy’s laptop. I didn’t even realize until writing this that the game normally costs $19.95 to download, so kudos to John for getting it free.

So John sits down with his laptop, and we’re telling Peter that as soon as he eats his cheeseburger, he can play Portal. But not to dawdle, or it will be bedtime.

I sort of half-joked to John, “Maybe you and Olivia should just start playing right there in front of him. You know, on the opposite side of the table so he couldn’t see the screen.” Ha-ha, wouldn’t that just be too cruel? John thought so at first, then apparently changed his mind because next time I turn around there they are, setting it up and Olivia is sooo excited, because she thought she’d have to wait until Peter was done with his dinner.

Well, this was just too much for Peter.

“I want to play!”

“Then eat your dinner!”

He slumped back down in his chair, but his eyes flickered onto his cheeseburger for the briefest of moments.

Minutes passed. Peter would slowly start to sneak his way around the table so he could watch. He always got sent back — sometimes not until I happened by and noticed, so engrossed were John and Olivia in their playing. (What is it with men and their ability to tune everything out around them in the name of electronics? If only I had that ability, this blog could go up to the next level, I tell you that.) And then, and then, and then… What’s this I see?

He’s eating! And he likes it! But of course he does! Because he’s had a cheeseburger before!

(If you look very, very closely, you can see a bit of a piece of sauteed squash on his plate. That was just me being hopeful. Eating that wasn’t part of The Deal.) (Truthfully, simply allowing it to stay on his plate is improvement for him.)

Later when it was time to get ready for bed, Peter came by me and I held out my hand for him to give me five. He ran up and gave me a hug instead. He was so happy! And not acting tired at all!

What Does This Have to Do With “Budgets”?

Nothing, yet everything, really.

It takes more energy to deal with picky eaters who don’t simply eat what you put on their plate on a regular basis. It takes more resources to supply picky eaters with food you know they’ll eat — though I must admit that this aspect can actually be money-saving. (It’s almost like having one less mouth to feed when that mouth doesn’t eat much meat.) (And very, very little fresh produce.) It can be difficult to get picky eaters the nutrients that their bodies need, and their health can suffer, making them more prone to cold and exhaustion and every virus that comes their way.

Having a picky eater in the family affects everyone around them: It can have a negative impact on the family dinner experience when someone is always complaining about their food, or trying to get up from the table. The benefits of a family eating together can get swallowed up by the energy consumed by dealing with one person. It’s difficult to go out to eat when you know one person will protest if one or two particular items aren’t offered on a menu. Never mind trying different ethnic restaurants and having different culinary experiences as a family.

Peter is only five. Peter is already five.

He’s still young, but I can totally see how this can go on forever if we let it. I heard two separate stories during our recent trip about kids people know who are in their teens and are still very, very picky eaters. Can you imagine how this is affecting their health? Their social lives? Their opportunities to grow as individuals and experience new things?

We still have a long, long road ahead of us with Peter and eating. He may have to eat a cheeseburger 20, 30 more times before he does so willingly. I’m just so glad that I’m not in this by myself: I regularly get tastes (no pun intended) of what it’s like to be a single parent (albeit with income) for months at a time, and I simply know I would not have the energy to fight this battle consistently on my own.

John will be gone again for the month of August. I don’t know how much I’ll stand ground while he’s gone; I’ll play that by ear. I just know that, years from now, when Peter’s eating sushi and squash and slurping smoothies (and not complaining they’re “too cold!”) I want everyone to know, this didn’t just happen. We didn’t “get lucky”. We had to work on this for a long, long time. And it was really, really hard.

Small Moves

Peter got his tortilla for dinner tonight, along with a banana. I was making dinner, but John and Conner were still going to be out for awhile. He was hungry again later so I offered him some of our dinner we were eating late. He wailed and declined. I let him. Did he go to bed hungry? Possibly. Starving? Not at all. Would Portal have worked? I’ve no idea: we didn’t try it tonight. John was busy working on fixing our modem router problem ($140 later, problem solved. *sigh*) and didn’t have time. Who knows? It may not work the next time at all. We can only hope. Small moves, people.

It’s (unofficially) Summer!

Popsicles, white skin, and (free!) water parks. It must be the start of Summer!

(I actually took this picture last summer — I forgot to take my camera with me today!)

We may not be out of school here yet in body, but we sure are in spirit. It was difficult bidding a good night to a beautiful evening outdoors, but the alarm clock will ring in the morning.

Whether your summer has unofficially begun or not…

  • What is a favorite *Free* summer activity for your family?
  • What is a favorite inexpensive snack you have on stand-by for your kids (or yourself!) during the summer months?

Please, do tell! We can all gain some new ideas in the comments — perhaps your favorite will become a new activity or appetizer for someone else!

Three Meals (and One Caveman Snack) from One Whole Chicken

So tomorrow always comes sooner than you think.

Loving the comments and tips and input on cooking whole chickens in the last post! I know I learned some things! Admittedly, that’s not saying much… Ahem.

What do y’all make with the chicken from your whole chicken?

But before we talk chicken, let’s talk chicken stock. I turned around and immediately tried a new (to me) recipe using the five cups of chicken stock that my whole chicken produced.

Black Eyed Peas ~ Crockpot Recipe

  • 1 pound dried black eyed peas
  • 1 pound sausage link
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

(The original recipe for this came from “A Year of Slow Cooking”)

  • Soak your beans overnight. Drain and pick out the undesirables (broken, discolored beans) in the morning.
  • Use a 5 to 6 quart crockpot. This will serve about 8 people.
  • Dice the veggies, and dump them into your crockpot with the pre-soaked beans. Add sliced sausage. Pour in broth, and stir in Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  • Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for about 6.
  • Before serving, use a stick blender to smash up about 1 cup of beans. If you don’t have a stick blender, scoop out 1 cup of beans, blend them in a traditional blender, and add back to the soup. Don’t blend too much—just enough to get the broth thicker and creamy-looking.

The original recipe also called for Kosher salt, which I didn’t have, so I just used regular; and for spicy sausage; as well as Tabasco sauce for taste at the end. I also used one cup of water with the five cups of chicken stock to bring the total to six cups called for in the recipe.

The kids really liked this. Well, except for Peter, the 5yo. But if he had his way he’d eat peanut butter tortillas for every meal (yes, tortillas), so he doesn’t really count.

This was a lot of food. We ate this for two meals — the photo above was actually from the second go-around — and there’s still a large bowl’s worth leftover. It’s also really good with crusty bread.

I would definitely call this a do-over, except that next time I think I’ll just stick with the five cups of chicken stock and not bother to add that extra cup of water. I would have liked just a little thicker consistency, I think.

I could have used a little more pizazz myself, though the flavor was definitely yummy. Perhaps if I’d used spicy sausage as the original recipe called for, or dashed on some Tabasco sauce at the end, which I could have done just to my bowl, but I didn’t think of it.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

  • 1 can (equivalent) chicken
  • 1 can (equivalent) mixed veggies (I used frozen corn and peas)
  • 1 can cream of chicken or mushroom soup
  • 1 c. Bisquick
  • 1 c. water

Mix first three ingredients. Pour into greased baking dish. Mix Bisquick with water and pour over first mixture. Bake at 400 degrees  45-50 min.

I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t exactly the healthiest recipe. Can of soup? Bisquick? (Would it help if I told you I got the Bisquick for free?) If anyone can offer an easy Chicken Pot Pie recipe using single ingredients, I’m all ears.

The kids gobble this up. Even Peter. (After much coaxing.) They even got to it before I could take a picture. We did have leftovers, but not much.

Chicken Tetrazzini

  • 1 box noodles
  • 1 c. (or more) cooked chicken
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 3 T Butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1/4 ~ 1/2 c. milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

Boil noodles. Melt butter on low heat and saute garlic, zucchini and carrot.


(The photo was taken after I had sauteed the first ingredients, then added the chicken.)

After a few minutes, add soup, sour cream, milk, cheese and chicken.  Stir over low heat. Add cooked noodles to mixture. Toss and serve! (Another great recipe originally from The Happy Housewife.)

This makes a lot of food! I opted for angel hair pasta in ours. Crusty bread also goes well with this, along with a green salad.

Of course, Peter had to pick out “all the gross stuff”. Sigh.

Which I then promptly picked up and put on my plate. I do love me some sauteed zucchini.

I would have gotten yet another meal out of this chicken, to be sure, had one teenager not preempted both of the chicken-filled recipes above by helping himself to a plate full of meat. For a snack.

He doesn’t exactly like to pose for the camera.

So I turned around and was all like, “What are you, a caveman? Is that how you’re going to eat it?” Meaning, without utensils.

So Conner got up and got himself some dip.

I suppose it’s better than a plateful of frozen chicken nuggets…

Now, please, do tell: What are some of your favorite, tried-and-true chicken recipes? How far can you stretch a whole chicken?

I’ve got another whole chicken in my refrigerator, ready and willing for another round of meals. Conner has requested Chicken Teriyaki. I googled for some recipes, but the choices were rather overwhelming. Can anyone recommend a great (simple) recipe for Chicken Teriyaki? I’m thinking stir fry, even though I don’t have a wok. (That’s not terribly vital, is it?)

Conner will thank you. He might even pose for a picture. With or without a plate full of chicken.

How I Finally Prepared My First Whole Chicken. (Which means you can do it, too.)

I never cooked up a whole chicken myself until recently.

“Hi, I’m Jolyn.”

(Hi, Jolyn!)

“I’m 38-years-old, and I just cooked my first whole chicken.”

This is dedicated to all of you 37 and younger. Please, don’t wait as long as I did to prepare something so fundamental to healthy, frugal meals.

And if you’re older than I am and you’ve still never cooked up a whole chicken? Well, then, God bless you. You need me, don’t you?

Really, I should say you need The Happy Housewife. Her site’s where I read up on my original instructions for slow cooking up a whole chicken. She’s one of my favorite frugal bloggers ever, bless her little homeschooling mom of seven fellow Dave Ramsey fan and military spouse heart. What an amazing motivator.

Anyhoo. If you’ve kind of thought it’d be a good idea to cook up a whole chicken but you’ve never gotten around to actually doing it, I’m here to tell you it’s worth trying.  Because, really. You can’t beat the price.  Subtracting 50 cents for a coupon I had brought the price of this one to $3.90. And I used it in three different meals! (Plus a big teenage snack.)  (I’ll explain tomorrow.)

First, I stuck the chicken in the crockpot and dumped on some seasonings.

(Don’t forget to take out the packet of… stuff from the inner cavity.) (I don’t want to even think about what all that is; I just threw mine out.) (Any ideas on what to do with it? I mean, it’s stuck in there for a reason, right? Somebody must use it for something…)

I didn’t measure; just threw on some poultry seasoning I had on hand which contained thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper and nutmeg.

I also minced up a couple of cloves of garlic. Every household needs a garlic press. The more meals I cook from scratch, the fewer meals I meet that couldn’t stand to have a little garlic thrown in them somewhere.

Cover and cook on low overnight, or for at least eight hours. You don’t need to add any water or anything. Enjoy waking up to a kitchen that smells like a yummy organic (and faintly garlicky) restaurant.

Of course, you can serve the chicken and eat it as is, like those rotisserie chickens you buy at the store. (Only, it’s not rotisserie.) I opted to tear all the meat off the bones to use later in different dishes. I just let the chicken set in the crockpot to cool first so I didn’t burn my fingers.

But it doesn’t end there!

Don’t just throw away the bones and skin that you discard. Put them back into the crockpot along with the juices the chicken cooked in and add five cups of water. Set the crockpot back to low and cook overnight again. Or all day. Whichever works. Now your house is really going to smell good.

Strain out the bones and and other stuff and you’ve got some chicken stock made from scratch. I followed Happy’s lead and poured mine into some empty (32 oz.) yogurt containers.

Set the containers in the fridge for a few hours to allow the fat to rise to the top. It’ll look something like this.Scrape off that fat, and you’ve got chicken stock. This was about five-cups worth.

You can use it right away, or freeze it. These went right into a new (to me) recipe I wanted to try. I used the meat for three two time-tested meals, and one caveman snack. I’ll share the details on those tomorrow.

What’s your favorite way to prepare a whole chicken?

Please, those of you who didn’t wait until you were 38 to prepare your first whole chicken! Share your tips, favorite seasonings, etc, in the comments below. I and your fellow readers will thank you.

How Often Do You Find Yourself Going Through the Drive-Thru?

How much of your budget goes toward eating out? (How many of you have no idea?) How much of that is not for enjoyment, but for apparent convenience?

I’m not against eating out, not by any stretch. But I do think it is one area in our lives that, over the years, has saved us financially. Simply because we’ve never done very much of it.

So little, in fact, that when I asked my kids today what they’d like for lunch, fast food didn’t even get mentioned. I actually suggested it.*Gasp*

We were just leaving church, sitting in that long line of cars all queuing up to leave via the “out” lane; I was desperately wishing I could cheat and turn around and go out the “in” lane that was so empty just begging to be utilized but oh how tacky that would be to break the rules at church, I mean come on?

So our next stop was to be wally-mart to get something my 14yo needed for a school project as well as some much-needed drugs for me from the pharmacy (because surprise, surprise Dr. Doubter it is Strep after all, eh?) and I was quite frankly not feeling too well nor at all in the mood to go home and make anything worth eating so I *gasp again* asked the kids if they wanted to eat out.

Did they ever!

Of course, the young ones wanted McDonald’s! A Happy Meal!

This being a special treat and all, we even went to Arby’s to accomodate Conner, who was not at all interested in a Happy Meal, or anything else from McDonald’s.

(Wow, Arby’s is expensive!)

In this land of convenience with a fast food restaurant on every corner and several in between, it wasn’t like we had to go out of our way.

Most of this came out of my “Blow Money” — and it was worth every penny. Sometimes you just can’t put a price on a little break for mom. It’s amazing sometimes, how little it takes to make the kids so happy.

I was talking to another mom recently at Olivia’s dance lesson, and as she looked at her daughter dancing she remarked that they really needed to stop eating out so much, but they were just so busy running here and there they just didn’t have time to do anything else.

I simply beg to differ. Does eating out really save you time? I can make a sandwich quicker than it takes to go through a drive through. Packing a simple lunch takes less effort than unbuckling kids and toting them in to wait in a fast food line.

Of course, we all gotta splurge a little, have a treat now and then (if that’s even what you consider fast food) — sometimes mom just doesn’t want to put forth the effort to think about making a meal.

But if you’re struggling with debt, and struggling with making a budget stick, and wondering why there’s more month left at the end of the money, I implore you: consider how often it is, exactly, that you’re stopping at that drive-thru. Try taking five minutes to make a PB&J, pack a little baggy of chips, and grab an apple. Your budget will thank you.

How Much Do You Spend on Groceries?

I’m really determined to work on lowering my grocery bill over this next year. It’s one huge area that can make or break a household budget. I don’t feel like I buy groceries needlessly: I do shop with a list; I meal plan; and I don’t buy my kids a lot of junk. I use coupons — though not obsessively.  But I’m definitely not one of those hardcore coupon moms who goes up to the register with a stack of coupons and sales flyers and pays only $48 for $248 worth of groceries.

What is a “Reasonable” Grocery Budget?

A cousin of mine posed a question on facebook recently, asking people what they thought a reasonable grocery budget was for a family of six. Lots of people chimed in with their typical grocery bills for their own families… I offered up that, for a family of five, I think spending $400 a month on groceries is doing quite well.

Apparently, we haven’t been doing very well around here.

You’d think, going by the title of this blog, that I would be all over my grocery budget. But in truth, grocery shopping is a part of running a household that I simply don’t like. Okay… So I hate it. There, I said it. My family needs to eat, therefore I shop.

I sort of had an idea of how much we spent? But I never actually looked at the total numbers. Until five minutes ago, that is. Ooch.

You know how excited I was because I did the Pantry Challenge last month and only spent $200 ($198 to be exact, thankyouverymuch) on groceries? Yea. What I didn’t realize is how very, very low that number really was. At least, compared to how much Mint.com tells me we spent on groceries last year.

(I wish I knew how to do fancy graphs. If anyone can direct me to a site they like where you can make pretty charts and graphs for free, please do.)

For clarification, I define “Groceries” not only as food, but also personal items, various household items such that you find at the grocery store, pet supplies, vitamins, etc.

Total Spent on Groceries in 2009: $6600

Here’s the Breakdown

January:

  • Groceries: $438
  • Fast Food: $15
  • Restaurants: $56
  • Coffee Shops: $6.87

February:

  • Groceries: $649
  • Fast Food: $5.74
  • Restaurants: $56
  • Coffee Shops: $12.00

March:

  • Groceries: $441
  • Fast Food: $8.92
  • Restaurants: $65
  • Coffee Shops: $0

April:

  • Groceries: $762
  • Fast Food: $50 (traveling!)
  • Restaurants: $58
  • Coffee Shops: $24.00

May:

  • Groceries: $461
  • Fast Food: $15
  • Restaurants: $98
  • Coffee Shops: $0

June:

  • Groceries: $584
  • Fast Food: $3.41
  • Restaurants: $20
  • Coffee Shops: $7.09

July:

  • Groceries: $515
  • Fast Food: $73 (traveling!)
  • Restaurants: $30
  • Coffee Shops: $14.00

August:

  • Groceries: $418
  • Fast Food: $62 (traveling!)
  • Restaurants: $33
  • Coffee Shops: $0

September:

  • Groceries: $721
  • Fast Food: $0
  • Restaurants: $0
  • Coffee Shops: $0

October:

  • Groceries: $412
  • Fast Food: $0
  • Restaurants: $0
  • Coffee Shops: $0

November:

  • Groceries: $643
  • Fast Food: $9.60
  • Restaurants: $30.00
  • Coffee Shops: $0

December:

  • Groceries: $556
  • Fast Food: $0
  • Restaurants: $16.00
  • Coffee Shops: $0

(I added the eating-out categories because I think that helps present the full picture of our family’s food bill. Those items are not included in the $6600 total above.)

Since I’ve started the cash envelope system, I have allotted myself $400 for groceries each month. This “shouldn’t” be a problem while The Hubs is away… I am wondering, though, if this is realistic over time. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how much time and energy I am prepared to invest in playing The Grocery Game. I will continue to meal plan and to use coupons — but I need to improve on combining coupons with sale items and stocking up accordingly if I’m really going to see some drastic improvement over time.  Hmmm… We shall see. Baby steps, people.

How Much Do YOU Spend?

So here’s the deal. I am very interested to get some perspectives on how much y’all spend on your groceries for your own family. If you’re not comfortable sharing the ugly numbers, comment anonymously! Please include not only how much you spend but also the following information (my answers are in bold):

  1. Where do you live? (This can be general.) In Ohio.
  2. How many are in your family? Five.
  3. How old are your kids? 14, 7 (today!) and 5.
  4. Do you buy organic? Not unless it’s a really good sale.
  5. Does your number include any eating out? No.

I think your answers here could be even more interesting than the comments from my post asking y’all how much your heating bill was.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t like grocery shopping. But I do like a challenge, and I am goal-oriented. Perhaps the challenge of trying to stay within the $400 inside that envelope each month will be what it takes to motivate me to drastically lower my grocery spending? We shall see…

How I Did On the Pantry Challenge! (and how much I spent on groceries this month.)

Toward the beginning of January, I joined a pantry challenge hosted by an amazing blogger who encouraged everyone to clean out their pantries and see how far you could stretch those grocery dollars for the month.

After my 14yo looked into our (crowded) pantry and declared, “There’s nothing to eat in here,” I decided drastic measures were necessary. Or at least, some measures.

I arbitrarily challenged myself to plan meals around the items we already have on-hand and to spend less than $200 on groceries for the entire month. “Groceries” to include personal items, toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet food and supplies…

I am very pleased to announce that I met my goal! Woo-hoo! With just a teeny-tiny setback when I forgot to take my cash to the store with me last week… (This was also the first month we started cash envelope spending.) But hey, technically I still spent under $200. The cash left in the envelope will be rolled into next month’s grocery budget, which I will be diving into in just a few short days…

(What? Can’t you tell a difference?)

Obviously, the pantry is still not empty. I actually made better progress in the freezer, percentage-wise: our meat supply is dwindling and the frozen veggies are almost gone…

The Hubs being gone, of course, also helps with the food bill. And I hope to continue this saving trend (much to my teenager’s chagrin) throughout the time he’s gone.

(Then when he gets back we can PAR-TAY!) (Just kidding.) (Sort of.)

My goal is to continue to plan meals around what we already have on-hand, and to restrict new items to the bare minimum of what we need each week and only stock up when I can match coupons with sale items or otherwise get a rock-bottom deal, a money-saving shopping method that I could certainly improve upon.

I do try to get a special something or two that my teenager can look forward to putting in his sack lunches… But even then, I’ve often “splurged” for something I have a coupon for.

This isn’t just about the dollars saved, however! I love the old adage, “Waste not, want not.” In our throwaway society, we have lost so many skills of how to make things stretch and get the optimum use out of our schtuff. I love the idea of finding a use for everything — not just the things in your pantry! and making do with what you have.

But I digress.

I originally wished estimated $1749.76 would go toward debt this month. That ain’t gonna happen. But leave no doubt about it, spending at least half of what we normally spend on groceries this month got us that much closer. Stay tuned for an update on the final figure.

***

To read how others did on their pantry challenge (and to find some interesting recipes) visit Money Saving Mom.

Y’all. Get to Know My $5 Friend. She’ll Save You Money.

I’ve mentioned my real-life friend Erin a lot lately, I know. She’s promoting her $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook, and it’s just so exciting I can’t keep quiet about it! I feel like a know an honest-to-goodness celebrity. What can I say? I love living vicariously.

But mainly, it wouldn’t be responsible of me not to talk about her, y’all, because she’s the real-deal. She’s super intelligent and organized, and her calling right now is to couple those gifts to help her family and yours to eat healthy meals on a very strict budget.

She personally feeds her family of four (plus baby) on an average $60/week. She shares her personal journey in learning how to do this in her cookbook. The first full three chapters are devoted to teaching strategic grocery shopping, couponing, and meal planning. I have never, ever, seen so much information of the like all gathered in one place. Truly.

The remaining eight chapters offer 200 recipes organized by category: pasta and pizza; chicken and turkey; beef; pork; fish and seafood; soups and stews; vegetarian; and homemade (breads, broths, salsas, dressings, etc.).  Each recipe is broken down by cost per ingredient, and frugal tips are included throughout. Some of my favorite examples…

  • Save and freeze the last bits of potato chips in a freezer-safe plastic container to use for potato chip-crusted chicken.
  • March is “frozen food” month. Frozen vegetables can be purchased for their lowest prices during the month of March, so stock up.
  • Fresh cranberries can be frozen whole and used for future meals. Look for them for just $1/pound around the Thanksgiving holiday. Grab an extra bag and toss it in the freezer to use in future meals.
  • If you plan to freeze chicken breasts in individual portions after buying a large family pack, consider adding the diced tomatoes and green chilies before freezing. As the chicken thaws, it will marinate in the sauce.

Erin kicked off her book signing tour last night at a local Dayton book store, and I took Olivia along with me to enjoy the experience.

Olivia loves Erin’s cookbook, by the way. Surprise, surprise.

“We should make every single one of these!”

At her signing, Erin addressed three core themes that are fundamental to saving money at the grocery store.

  1. Understanding marketing ploys (and avoiding them).
  2. Couponing, and the importance of matching coupons with circular sales.
  3. Stockpiling and meal planning.

If you’d like to see her in person, which I highly recommend,

Check out her tour schedule:

Columbus, OH

Friday, January 15th from 4:00 – 6:00 PM

Kroger Store

6417 Columbus Pike, Lewis Center, Ohio 43035

Indianapolis, IN

Monday, January 18th at 7-9 PM ***Rescheduled!

Barnes and Noble

14709 US Hwy 31 North, Carmel, IN 46032

Cincinnati, OH

Tuesday, February 2nd from 7-9 PM

Joesph-Beth Booksellers

2692 Madison Rd Cincinnati, OH 45208

Nashville, TN

Thursday, February 4th at 7:00 PM

Borders

2501 Westend, Nashville, TN 37203

DFW, TX Area

Saturday, February 13th at 2:00 PM

TCU Bookstore

2950 West Berry Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76109

Houston, TX

Monday, February 15th, Time TBD

Houston Library

500 McKinney, Houston, TX 77002

San Antonio, TX

Wednesday, February 17th at 7:00 PM

Borders at The Quarry.

255 E. Basse Rd., Ste. 350, San Antonio, TX 78209

Check back at her site for updates. Erin also continues to post daily tips and recipes at 5dollardinners.com.

And buy the book! It’s $10.19 at Amazon, a little more at your local bookstore.