Monday, May 30, 2011


Tonight as we cleaned up after dinner the conversation took an interesting turn. We have started "Meatless Mondays" in our house (a concept that I was surprised to see my husband embrace so easily.) and we were noting that our meal tonight was just as good as any meal with meat. Brian has often said that he feels a 'proper' meal consists of meat, a starch & a vegetable. Something he no doubt grew up with (I did too) as his sister shared with me that she also prepares dinner with those three components. Tonight our dinner was prepared with a very different formula. And possibly, we noted, a cheaper formula. So I started to look into it.
The average American (I couldn't find Canadian stats) in our income range spends $338 on groceries per week. And another $245 on eating out. We don't spend nearly that much. I would say on average we spend $170 on groceries (not including diapers or formula). I estimate we spend $60 eating out (mostly on coffees). When we discussed this spending Brian immediately proposed "Foodless Mondays" but for now "Meatless Monday" will suffice. On this budget it would mean our average meal (when we eat 3 per day) is $8.09. With such a tight budget going "Meatless" is looking more appealing. Here's how our meal tonight breaks down (Some things were on sale. And I did my best to estimate portions & round up.):
Red Pepper Soup
Can of crushed tomatoes $1.50
Red Bell Pepper $0.50
Cream $0.75
Basil $0.25
Vegetable Broth $0.25
Onion $1.00
(That's $4.25 for four adult servings)

Quinoa $1.50
Avocado $1.50
Canned Mandarins in Water $1.00 (At Dollarama. Not kidding).
Lentils $0.70
Canola Oil $0.60
Apple Cider Vinegar $0.25
Craisins $0.45 (I buy them bulk at Costco as they are a Ross Family favourite.)
Pine Nuts $2.00 (Also bought bulk.)
Cucumber $1.00
(That's $8.75 for four adult servings)

So. That's $13.00 for tonight's meal (which will also be eaten tomorrow at lunch along with other items.) That's nearly $5.00 over our allotted budget. Adding meat to that equation would increase the cost substantially Adding meat to that equation would increase the cost substantially But it's do-able when you consider that most mornings for breakfast we eat yogurt, toast or cereal.

So here's what I am wondering. Are we doing the most we can to make the best of our limited budget? Besides cutting out meat once a week (which was initially done for reasons other than cost), are there other things we can do without compromising the quality of food we eat. Should we be making our own bread? Should we be buying more or less in bulk? I already prepare meals based on what is available in my home (The other night I tried a new Southwestern Sweet Potato Soup based on the fact that I had two potatoes about to grow sprouts!). I refuse to buy more processed food, but I can see why those on a shoestring budget do. I was appalled to recently read that nearly 25% of people haven't used a fresh ingredient in the past WEEK. Even with Brian's "3 part" meal formula there is still a vegetable on the plate! And I don't claim to never used processed food. Miles eats Kraft Dinner EVERY SINGLE Wednesday after gymnastics. We also use cheese slices, fruit snacks & peanut butter to name a few. But is there something I am missing? Is there something I could be doing that I am not? Something that could be as revolutionary to our budget (and health) as "Meatless Monday"?


Jennifer DeWolfe said...

Wow that soup looks awesome!

I totally hear you on the budget thing. I don't do it weekly but monthly instead and we budget $600/mth for groceries (not eating out) and let me tell you that is difficult! One month I added it all up (mind you this was before I was being cuatious about spending) and my monthly bill was $1100! And there's only two of us! Man eating sensible is rediculous! I can see why we have weight issues cause to buy the frozen dinners and pre-package foods are definitely way cheaper than buy fresh!

I figured out a couple of things that might help. First off I buy as much frozen fruit and veggies as possible. First off they are cheaper and I was told they are better for you and when you are just throwing things into recipes you don't notice the difference :) Next I buy bulk like you do and do a couple of cooking days when I make huge batches of things then freeze them in serving sizes. It sure make dinner prep a little easier. I think I have 10lbs of turkey meatballs in my freezer right now :) I like your meatless monday idea and might have to try it. We are doing something kind of similiar in that we now share our meat. This was a hard one for my hubby to accept at first but now he doesn't even notice. You see most steaks and chicken breasts are way bigger than they should be weighing in at almost 8 oz a piece. That's a fair size of meat! So now we share a steak or chicken breast instead of having one each. That has difinitely made a huge impact on the budget as well as our waistlines. Plus I think it's a little romantic to share ... except when he takes the bigger half :)

Tasha said...

Have you ever read or seen anything by Micheal Pollan? He said we are now spending less on food than we ever have in history (8-9%) and more on healthcare. When we spent more on food, we spent less on healthcare.

So looking at your recipe I can tell you are eating well--and you should never feel bad about spending money on good food, because the food becomes YOU. (Like when I was pregnant, I would think "I don't want my baby to be made of Doritos").

We don't eat meat very often (except in the summer, because we BBQ more) or when we do we usually really scale it back (like cassaroles with only 1 chicken breast in them).

One thing I do re:budget is try to get stuff in season and on sale. Asparagus can go from 2.99/lb to 5.99/lb depending on the season. I try to stock up on shelf stable stuff when it's on sale (peanut butter goes on sale almost half price a few times a year--like right now! Cereal goes on sale on rotations so I buy whats on sale and stock up on Cheerios when I can.) Things that I save a lot on when they are on sale--cheeses, canned items (beans, soup, fruit etc) apple juice , ww pasta, tea, yogurt, frozen fish, frozen veggies. Also little things like buying whole mushrooms instead of pre sliced ones(which are double the price)--but I am sure you do all of this stuff already, I'm just sharing.

(Also, when buying junk, only buy junk on sale. Regular prices on pop, chips, etc are obscene)

I need to figure out what good prices are on meat though--because we don't buy it as often I don't have a good feel for what's a good price on anything except chicken breasts.

Anonymous said...

I know a family that will only eat meat that they can buy straight from the farm. They swear it is cheaper and better tasting. They then bought a used ice chest and froze everything. It takes out the middle man (grocery store) and their add on to the price.

kaly said...

It definitely will cost us more to eat well and to make things from scratch, but it is also completely worth the extra bit of cash. (You could always cut back in other areas such as beauty products, hobby items {shocking,I know!}, entertainment, and eating out.)

My Mom is the QUEEN of budgeting, making from scratch, and budget shopping/eating. I've learned a few things from her:

1. Buy things on sale and in season as much as possible. Like Tasha does, we also buy things in bulk when they are on sale and store them in food storage. This saves a lot of money in the long-run on big ticket items like cereals, canned food, and baking basics (Flour, sugar, choc. chips, peanut butter, etc.)

2. Buy in bulk - especially meat. I always buy "Club" packs of chicken, ground beef/turkey, pork, and ham, then divide it up right away and put them in smaller portions in the freezer. Sometimes I will cook all the chicken in the oven first, then freeze the cooked portions for quick use in soups and enchiladas. For ham, I will either cut it in cubes (for soups) or slices (for pizzas) and freeze those portions.

3. Meal plan. This, I'm TERRIBLE at. But I think there is merit to it. My Mom usually does it this way: she chooses a category for each day of the week. For example: Monday meatless, Tuesday chicken, Wednesday fish, Thursday salad, Friday soup in the winter and fruit salad in the summer, Saturday ? and Sunday is usually pancakes or eggs and toast.
The theory is that if you are meal planning, you can scout for things on sale and plan your vegetables and main dishes accordingly.

Also, I LOVE making my own baby food when the time comes. I know the ingredients are fresh (and sometimes straight from the garden!) and it costs SO much less!

I think the problem is that our lives are so BUSY that the one thing that can get a place of less prominence and importance is meal preparation, thus the idea of "quick meals" and more processed food.

When you find a groove, tell us about it!

kaly said...

Another thing that is great to buy on sale, like Tasha mentioned, is cheese. You can always put it through your food processor grater (or grate it yourself) and freeze it for pizzas, fillings, lasagnas, soups, etc.