This article from yesterday’s Washington Times:
Love it, hate it or laugh at it – at least it’s inexpensive.
Sales of Spam – that much maligned meat – are rising as consumers are turning more to lunch meats and other lower-cost foods to extend their already stretched food budgets.
What was once cheeky, silly and the subject of a musical (as Monty Python mocked the meat in a can), is now back on the table as people turn to the once-snubbed meat as costs rise, analysts say.
Oh, no. No no no no. This is unacceptable. I’ve been working on my list for my “reuse” post (taking longer than I originally thought, we reuse a lot of stuff) but I am shelving that for the moment because I was so horrified by this article.
I know that gasoline prices are up and food prices are up. Times are hard and getting harder. Maybe an “economic downturn”, maybe a full-blown recession. RECESSION DOES NOT MEAN REGRESSION. Please do not think that you need to return to the boxed mac-and-cheese diet of your college years. You can eat healthy foods on a budget. You can.
We are a family of five and we live off one income. We have done so for over a decade. Our food budget has always been tight. But we have good, nutritious food on our table. I am not willing to compromise the healthy habits we have been building. Spam is not the answer. Neither are Ramen noodles or pre-packaged lunchmeats, also mentioned in the article.
How do we feed our families healthy meals on an ever shrinking food budget?
Here are some ideas:
- Today, buy some seeds for mixed salad greens and plant them. One packet of seeds will take you through the summer and early fall, at least; you can easily grow them in a pot or window box, and you will be harvesting them in a few short weeks. Because salad greens do not need to root deeply, you don’t need to buy deep pots or a huge amount of soil. I would recommend planting some today, and some in a week. Plant more as necessary to ensure a steady supply. Burpee sells organic Mesclun seeds for $3.65; at my grocery store non-organic salad greens, that have been sitting in a plastic bag for who-knows-how-long, sell on sale for $2.50. Over time, that is a huge savings for a minimum of work. Kids will enjoy the planting and harvesting process, and they are so much more likely to eat something they grew; not to mention, freshly-picked greens are delicate and tasty. You can stretch out your meats considerably by having a big salad with bits of chicken or beef on top.
- Plant tomatoes, bush beans, and herbs if you have room. Plant more if you can, but these are the things I’ve had the most luck with. Tomatoes and bush green beans are heavy producers and I’ve had great success growing them in pots. Your meals will be much more special cooked with fresh rosemary, parsley, oregano, or basil. Cheap pasta becomes a gourmet meal with homemade sauce.
- Visit a farmer’s market, or sign up for a produce delivery service such as Door-to-Door Organics. This will seem expensive at first (Door-to-Door’s least expensive box is $26), but bear with me. The produce will probably cost a bit more through these channels than you pay at the grocery store. However, because you paid a premium for them, you will be oh so much more careful to actually eat every last bit, so that you are not wasting money. Planning your meals around how to use up a huge head of spinach will have a dramatic effect on the nutritional content of your dinners. The quality and flavor of fresh produce is consistently superior as well. And, again, getting kids involved will make them more likely to eat their vegetables. My kids love finding something unfamiliar in the produce box or at the market and figuring out how to prepare it.
- Buy locally and in season. Eat whatever is in season liberally, while the costs are down. By the time they go out of season, you will be ready to move on to something new anyway.
- Try to get your daily requirements. If you are making a concentrated effort to get in all those fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc, you will not be hungry later for expensive and bad-for-you snack foods. I am not kidding on this one. Calculate your own food group requirements and then track what you eat for one week. (If you’re trying to lose weight, track your energy expenditure at the same time.) This is a mind-blowing exercise and it will change your eating habits forever.
- Eat less meat.
- Try new grains. There are lots of different rices, and they all have distinctive tastes, far better than your bland processed white Minute Rice. Give quinoa a try. Or couscous.
- Learn to cook and cook in bulk. Homemade is almost always cheaper than storebought and far more nutritious and satisfying. Meats are much cheaper when you opt for the “family pack” ; cook it all up in one go and freeze the excess. Then, later on down the road when you are pressed for time, you have meals already frozen, eliminating the temptation to get take-out. Teach your kids how to cook at the same time, so they can help you out and learn a valuable and fulfilling skill at the same time.
- Learn to bake and bake in bulk. Cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen. Cakes are easy and universally appealing. Bread baked at home, with some peanut butter and apples, can be a very satisfying meal. All of these can be put into lunches instead of expensive storebought treats, and you have much more control over sugar intake.
- Crock-Pot. The inexpensive cut of meat’s best friend.
- Pack your lunches with your leftovers.
- Don’t buy individually wrapped anything.
- Drink more water. In reusable containers. Water is good for you and free.
- Sit at the table when you eat. Another good way to cut down on snacking. Ever mindlessly put away a bag of chips while watching Lost? Yeah, me too.
- Don’t buy foods you know are not good for you. Why is this so hard? We know chips and sodas are not good for us, and they are expensive, but we buy them anyway, as a treat. The only way to counteract this is to know that this is not really a treat. We will pay for it later. We will gain weight, clog our arteries, rot our teeth, and teach our kids poor eating habits. The easiest way I’ve found to avoid these impulse buys, is to make a list before you leave for the store and ruthlessly ignore everything that is not on that list.
- Spend less on non-food grocery store items. Cut up some old towels or Tshirts for rags instead of using paper towels, and cut up sheets to use as handkerchiefs and napkins. (Alternately, find these items at yard sales.) Clean with baking soda and vinegar, bought in bulk. Reuse plastic tub packaging instead of buying Ziploc bags. And when non-grocery items go on sale, stock up big time. Toilet paper is not going to go bad.
- Plan your meals. The biggest waste of money is buying more food than you need, and having it spoil or go stale. I shop twice a week; I check the freezer and the fridge, see what I can cook for the next three days, and where I need to fill in some gaps. Then I check my store circulars to see what’s on sale, and buy only what I need for the next three days. ( I will make exceptions if something is spectacularly on sale, and stock up on that item.)
- Shop by yourself. It makes it much less likely things not on the list will sneak into your basket. (In my house, the kids are used to the “Is it on the list?” rule- my husband is the one trying to talk me into “bonus” purchases.) Keep at mind that stores put child-centric products at child eye level for a reason. It is really not their fault. They are being targeted and used, in the hopes that your resolve will crack and you will give in and buy Dora the Explorer cereal.
- If you are not buying organic milk, buy milk at drugstores and gas stations. I don’t know why they’re cheaper there, but they are.
- And finally, shop mindfully and with a calculator. Be aware that grocery stores are designed to make off with your money, and they are counting on you wanting to be done as soon as possible. Pay attention. The most expensive, least healthy products are the most visible and easiest to reach. The “sale” items are not necessarily the cheapest. Don’t always assume you’re getting the best deal. Compare.
I know I will take some flak for not mentioning couponing. For the most part, though, I find that coupons in the paper are for things I no longer buy- expensive chemical laden cleansers; tissues, napkins, and paper towels; sugary cereals; Gogurt; pricey beauty products; premade chicken nuggets, ready-to-bake cookies, things of that sort. Also, store brand is often cheaper than these items, even with the coupon.
I think that others will point out that while I may be saving money, I am investing a fair amount of time. To me, that is an acceptable trade-off. I don’t mind giving up a few hours of my Sunday to do a big cooking spree, or taking the time to compare grocery circulars and prices. I consider it to be a literal investment; a financial investment, in investment in our health, and an investment in my children.
This post was pretty slap-dash; I was incensed by that Spam article.
What did I forget? How are you saving money on food?