EATING WELL IN LEAN TIMESSummer is always an economically lean time for our family. My husband is a food salesman, and due to various social (and this year, economic) factors, his paycheck always takes a nosedive during the summer months. While I am very thankful for the bounty that we usually experience, I admit that I do enjoy the awareness that living in lean times brings. Every gift, every prayer that is answered brings a heightened sense of thankfulness. It is wonderful to see God's faithfulness even more clearly. Not that we are more or less blessed when times are "hard", but we are more aware, I suppose.
Also, I really relish the challenge of feeding my family well on a tight budget. Now, I need to offer a disclaimer here. I understand that the economic hardship that we experience during the summer is very relative to the way that many people live all the time. In our leanest times, we live more lavishly than a large percentage of the world. I am very thankful for the bounty we have, even during the summer. We never go without any thing we need, or most of what we want. We still have cable, DSL, air conditioning, newer cars, a home, regular date night, and good food on the table. We live a life of abundance. I do not mean to minimize the true suffering that others experience on a daily basis.
This summer, we have eaten the healthiest we ever have. Lots of fruits and vegetables. We are eating a high-vegetarian diet, when we are at home. I am amazed at how little I am spending on food. The food budget is not an area that I am willing to cut into...I am committed to feeding our family healthy, fresh, delicious foods. But, without much effort, our food budget has continued to shrink, largely because of the time of year and where we live. Here in south GA, we have a long growing season, and fresh, local fruits and vegetables are quite inexpensive.
I haven't stepped foot in a grocery store or produce stand in two weeks. In the last five weeks, I have spent a mere $120 on food, for our family of five (with three always hungry boys!). The money I have spent at the store has been almost exclusively for cheese, butter, eggs, and the occasional gallon of milk. I thought I would share the things that have worked for me this summer in regards to our food. Maybe you will share what has worked for your family? With food costs continuing to rise, I know that many of us are looking for ways to feed our families well, on a budget.
My two year old is potty trained and my one year old is in cloth diapers. For awhile, i was using cloth during the day, and disposable at night or when out of the house. I think this was harder...when I had the choice, I always wanted to use disposable. Using 100% cloth is much easier, mentally. And a lot cheaper.
My daddy works with farmers, and will often share the extra produce they give him. A watermelon this week, fresh corn last week.
It is a rare Sunday that someone doesn't bring the excess of their garden to church to share. Tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, corn, etc.
My parent's blueberry bushes have kept us loaded with as many fresh blueberries as we can eat. Often, blueberries will comprise whole meals. We never tire of them.
A friend returned my casserole dish, full of green beans from their garden.
Last week, my friend Melissa dropped by and surprised me with a fresh loaf of homemade bread, as well as an assortment of just-made jams and relish.
It has been fun to plan our menus around these unexpected gifts.
-An eye to the future.
Over the last few months, I had started to look ahead and prepare for the summer. When I would make a lasagne, or other freezable dinner, I would make two, or three, and stick the others in the freezer.
When I received an abundance of onions (another gift!), I chopped eight or nine and put them in the freezer. The same with bell peppers and corn.
Last summer, we (mom and I) canned green beans and tomatoes.
This spring, we picked strawberries and filled the freezer. When bananas and grapes were on sale, I bought them in large quantities and froze them.
-No prepackaged foods.
With the exception of the occasional box of Cheerios, or some popsicles, I am not buying prepackaged foods. I am cooking from scratch, which is helpful in a number of ways. It really helps with the mindless eating, since the junk isn't there to grab. It is much cheaper. There is a lot less waste, from excess packaging. And, it is a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon with the kids, inside, making something yummy.
-Cooking Simpler Foods.
I couldn't tell you the last time I have made a casserole, or anything that calls for a cream-of-whatever soup. Eating simple, honest food with the least preparation possible, not only is a lot less expensive, but much healthier too. Corn on the cob, green beans sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, big salads, etc. are yummy and filling.
-Eating less meat.
In the last few months, 75% of our meals have become vegetarian. I don't think it is wrong to eat meat. My husband and father (and brothers) are all hunters. I have gone hunting. But, I am finding that it is often unnecessary. I have learned that I can cook delicious, filling, nutritious meals that even the meat lovers in my family love, that have no meat in them. My feeling is, if we can eat just as well without meat, why wouldn't we? I don't see a reason to kill an animal for food, if we can do just as well not to. When we go out to eat, I do often order seafood, which I enjoy, or eat vegetarian. At home, I usually don't cook meat, but my husband will occasionally bring some home and grill it. We do have a good amount of deer meat in our freezer, which I use from time to time. I no longer buy meat, which greatly reduces our food costs.
-Buying foods in the simplest form possible.
When I buy cheese, I buy block cheese and grate it myself. When I buy beans, I buy them dry, not canned. I buy regular rice, not boil in the bag, instant, etc. Cocoa for brownies, instead of chocolate bars. No single serve anything, or precooked, or shredded, or what have you.
-Cleaning and paper products.
Laundry detergent I either make, or buy the simplest, cheapest kind available. Other cleaners I either make, or buy in bulk (I have enough Mrs. Meyers and Seventh Generation to last me ten years!), or when it is at the Discount Food store. I don't buy paper towels or napkins. I use wet wipes very judiciously, often using the flannel wipes I made last fall. Toilet paper I bought in bulk at the discount food store.
Here is another woman's thoughts on eating well on a budget.
This summer has been absolutely delightful. These last few months have been one of the best seasons of my life, to date. We have enjoyed wonderful trips and days with our family and friends. We have had a simple summer, with long days spent together. We have enjoyed good, simple foods. Our needs have been provided for. We have read, and played, and cooked, and played in the sprinkler, and laughed with friends. Once again, I am reminded that it really is the simplest things in life that bring the most pleasure.
*Creative Commons image from Snap® on flickr.com