(that's Grandma's beloved Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook on the right)
As grocery prices soar in my area, I have been thinking about how my shopping strategy has changed over the last several years. I still use some of my tried and true methods (tweaking them a little bit), but I have also rethought and changed others. A year ago I was a die hard coupon-er. I had my coupon binder with me at all times. I would spend a couple hours a week clipping and sorting coupons. I scoured grocery adds for match ups, religiously. If there was a fabulous deal I would scrounge for extra coupons, and buy a bazillion items (maybe not a bazillion, but close). I bought tons of cereal, granola bars, fruit snacks, pudding cups, yogurt, anything I could get cheap or free. Several months later half of those items were still on the shelve uneaten, and rapidly approaching their expiration date ( crunchy fruit snacks and soggy granola bars, anyone?). I was getting great deals, but most of what I bought was highly processed, sugar laden, and not uber healthy, but cheap!
Then at Christmas time Dear Daughter's gall bladder went kabloohey. We live in a small enough city that I knew the doctor, physicians assistant, and several nurses working in the Emergency Room the day I took her in for medical care. During the numerous hours spent at the hospital during her diagnosis and surgery (28 in all. I didn't ever leave the hospital.) I had the opportunity to visit with my medical friends. They mentioned that during the week previous to Dear Daughters hospital stay until New Year's Day six adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 had their gall bladders removed. Most attributed the rise in gall bladder surgery to the high fat, highly processed diet that most Americans (especially teenagers) eat. That disturbed me a little bit (okay, A LOT!). I felt enormous guilt that I was somewhat responsible for the demise of her gall bladder ( I wasn't really. The pathology report informed us that her gall bladder had a structural abnormality, and would have died eventually).
I did some long hard thinking about our families diet, and started making some changes. Of course, all of my changes still had to fit into my grocery budget (which has taken a hit, as we are trying to pay off debt incurred over 2010). Increasing food prices have also made it a little harder to keep healthy eating on a budget. It has been challenging sometimes, but I do LOVE a challenge. Here are my new and improved shopping methods for eating a healthier diet, and still stay within budget:
- I still clip coupons, but only for basic staples and non food items. I do still match sales to coupons for food basics: cheese, butter, dairy, cereal (less sugary varieties), pasta, meat, and produce, and non food items things like razors, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, laundry soap, lotions, and toothpaste.
- I participate in Bountiful Baskets, which is a produce co op. For a weekly contribution ($16.50) I receive two small laundry baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Because the co op purchases produce in large quantities from local farms and orchards, they get wholesale prices. Bountiful Baskets is a non for profit, so they pass the savings unto the participants. If Bountiful Basket doesn't deliver in your area, check out local co op or farmer's markets in your area.
- In the summer I grow a garden, eat out of it, and can or freeze the extra. I also glean the neighbors fruit trees or buy fruit from local orchards to can and make jam and jellies. If space is limited you can still grow a few veggies in five gallon buckets or pots.
- Read the grocery sales ads every week. Take advantage of loss leader items by stocking up to get you by until the next sale.
- Read the labels! I have really started looking at what is added into the food we buy. The less ingredients in the list the better it is going to be for you.
- Buy non perishable staples in bulk. My local grocery store has a great bulk foods section. Whole wheat pasta, dried beans, dried peas, dried fruit, oatmeal, rice, nuts, and spices are all available. I store them in recycled plastic containers or glass jars in my pantry.
- Stock up on perishable items on sale. Cheese (grated), butter, milk, and meat all freeze beautifully. Sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs (unless you scramble them and use them for cooking) do not freeze well, but will last at least a month if refrigerated properly. I plan my meals around these items.
- Make your own convenience items. This way I can control the ingredients, and making them yourself is much, much cheaper. The internet is loaded with sites for making your own mixes. Double a batch of waffles, french toast, or pancakes and freeze them for later. Doubling a batch of soup or casserole and freeze half for later. Pudding, applesauce,or canned fruit placed into small reusable containers for lunches is far cheaper than their prepackaged counterparts.
- Be you own bakery. I try to have a baking day each week, or if I am uber busy and a baked item is on the menu I double the batch. Home baked products freeze well, because they are not loaded with preservatives. I sometimes individually package muffins, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and quick breads before I freeze them, so they are easy to throw into lunch boxes in the morning.
- If you don't own one, invest in a good basic cookbook (investment purchase) and use it. May I be so bold as to recommend; The Taste Of Home Cook Book or The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Both have step by step instructions for basic cooking skills. Cooking magazines are also a great resource, and many can be checked out of the library, or split the subscription cost with a friend and share (Cook's Illustrated, The Taste of Home, and Taste of Home Healthy Cooking are several favorites).
- Take stock of what's on hand and plan a menu (always include leftover night). I have found that this one little step makes it easier to avoid eating out. I also don't waste nearly as much food, because it has been incorporated into the week's menus.
- Use meat as a condiment, and use other sources of cheaper and healthier protein. Cheese, eggs, yogurt, lentils, dried beans and peas, are great sources of protein.
- Increase your fruit and veggie intake. Five a day keeps the doctor away! If you have some non veggie eaters in your house, hide the veggies in the food you cook. Mash cooked cauliflower right along the potatoes for mashed potatoes, Shred carrots and zucchini into muffins and quick bread. I have added cooked leftover carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and celery into spaghetti sauce. I puree the sauce and veggies in the food processor before I heat it up. What they don't know; won't kill them!
I would love to hear from you, Dear Bloggy Friends, How do you check your grocery budget in check and still eat healthy?