Wednesday, July 09, 2008

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.

-Cloth diapering.
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


  1. I am quite as frugal as you but I also have been cutting back on meat and pre-packaged products. My husband laughs at the big blocks of cheese I bring home but I like shredding my own cheese plus saving money. I have also been trying to cut down on the meat usage as well. We have had homemade tomato basil soup and broccoli cheese soup for dinner this week with no complaints from my usually carnivorous husband.

  2. Laurel,

    I would love to hear some of the ways you are cooking your veggies. I grew up in a house where veggies always came from a can. Sad, I know, but true. Right now I have a plethora of yellow squash from my grand-mother-in-law and I can't take anymore steamed squash! What do you do to change things up a bit?

    So, here's my request for a post from you: list the veggies you're eating and different ways you cook them. I'm especially interested because our boys are the same ages and I'd love to build a love for veggies at a young age for them. If you're not up for a post on this, then an email to me would be great! :) Please, please?

    Also, congrats on the potty training, L! Nathan is not too far behind - if I would be more consistent with it, I know he'd be doing better.

    Thanks, Laurel! As always, you are who I want to be when I grow up! :)

    Send some hugs & kisses to those sweet little boys for me! Miss you guys!

  3. Anonymous3:00 PM

    I too try to feed my family loads of fresh fruits and veggies. I don't buy boxed items, with the exception of Annie's cheddar bunnies, and very little dairy. I'd love to hear some of the yummies meals that you've been preparing.

  4. I too would enjoy hearing more on how you cook and with what. I have started taking an inventory of all I have before making my grocery list because if I don't I end up buying multiples of what I already have. Therefore wasting money. I definitely need to be more industrious in chopping and freezing foods. I never thought about freezing grapes...longterm? Also, will you place a picture of your flannel wipes...Thanks Laurel!

  5. Please share some of your vegetarian recipes! I am a great meat lover but all of the vegetarian meals you mentioned sounded phenomenal. Your summer sounds so lovely!
    Becky xxx

  6. We have made similar discoveries in our food purchasing, as well. It is so nice to live this way! :) I actually just wrote a bit about this on my blog. (I also made flannel baby wipes, too!)

    Michele :)

  7. Anonymous9:24 AM

    How would you adjust if you lived in a place where produce is expensive? (It is here in the desert.) For example, some sale prices from today's grocery ad:

    cucumbers ... 79-cents each
    bell peppers ... 79-cents each
    red onions ... 89-cents/lb
    peaches ... $1.89/lb
    strawberries ... $2.99/lb
    tomatoes (vine) ... $2.99/lb

    And our local farmers' market is 'trendy and spendy,' with spinach running $2 for a QUARTER POUND.

    I am adjusting somewhat by buying more frozen fruits and veg. But no one prefers the taste or texture.


  8. Here via Merediths...but I wanted to comment and say three cheers for good food!

    I'm a foodie. I'm a food snob in some ways I guess you could say. But I'm also frugal. And I get mad and red in the face when I start hearing people say "oh but we can't afford real food!" :)

    In this day of frugal living, so many people are subsisting off hamburger helper and boxed junk.

    Right now our family favorites are roasted asparagus, creamed corn, roasted potatoes, fried much farmers market bounty!!!!

  9. I came over here from Like Merchant Ships and she was oh, so right! What an inspiring post - and great, great lessons and examples. Thank you for sharing this! I've bookmarked your blog and this post especially has gone in my "homekeeping" file.

    So glad to have "met" you through your blog.

    Best Wishes,

  10. Anonymous11:29 AM

    I was raised in a household that had seasonal income only it was winter not summer. We used to fill the freezer and can the garden produce in summer. Mom would order her bulk good then too:honey, wheat kernals, oil. We knew that clothes and school supplies had to last until spring. Mom would keep a list of things to get when the business picked up again.She tried to save ahead for things that would land during this time but couldn't always do it. We always had the basics but really apreciated any extras we got when business was good.

  11. What an inspiration you are. Thank you for posting. I was directed here by Like Merchant Ships. I'll be back for more good ideas.

  12. Yes! Yes! Yes! I loved reading this post and we do many of the things you shared and it's funny because I just used up my last disposable diaper (we have a stash when we drive to visit my parents) and did not buy more and hope I won't 'need' to.

    I do make chicken pot pie from scratch meaning I make my own 'cream of' soup and use my own broth etc...

    I am working on cooking/baking more from scratch. The next on my list is home made tortillas. We eat a lot of tortillas! My children usually have pb&j on tortillas instead of bread.

    We have been blessed with produce from my Dad's fresh and organic food!!!

    I'm glad I found your blog!

    Have a great weekend,

  13. Here via Like Merchant Ships. Nice post. I'd be interested in your recipes too. I am a bit hamstrung in eating more frugally as my husband won't. eat. beans. Sigh. Or lentils. So we eat lots of rice, potatoes and corn tortillas (I'm gluten intolerant), which are cheap but not as nutritious as beans. So if you've got some good meat-free ideas that don't involve lentils or beans, I would LOVE to see them, please!

  14. Great reading and excellent suggestions and thoughts, Laurel! I'm catching up on my blog reading now that vacation is over, and, wow, you've been busy! :-) Lots of good reading for me...

    Susan L

  15. You know, I have found that often here, the pre-shredded cheese is cheaper than the blocks. Just something to check out as it is fun to save money and time!
    We eat very simply in the summer too, but since I do not have a huge garden spot, end up buying a bunch of produce from a produce market that is cheap and putting it up to save for the winter. It helps alot! We don't eat totally vegetarian as when I did that and a low milk diet, I ended up with a broken foot and bones that were pre-Osteo and would not heal and I was 21, so not good. So, we eat a low meat diet, which means we use a 1/2 lb-1 lb of meat in our meal for 6 of us with lots of veggies etc. We eat meatless at least twice a week though as I really do not like meat much, which is why I was eating vegetarian in the first place.

    As to the person that her husband does not like beans, sometimes they only like one type of bean and how it is fixed matters. My dad was like that.
    But a meatless dish that is good without beans is a baked potato bar with salad, we will also do a roasted garlic potato and carrot dish that is great!
    A big salad with cheese and lots of vegetables is very filling, especially if you serve it with a hearty whole grain bread.
    Potato soup, broccoli soup, etc are also meatless favorites around here.

    By the way, I agree people can drink too much milk, but it is also good if you do not drink alot of milk, to calculate exactly how much calcium you are really getting as somedays you may come up short and since I learned the hard way of what it does to your bones if you are built like me, maybe those days you want to take a good calcium supplement.

  16. I just discovered your blog, and I knew as soon as I read your wonderful blog title and subtitle that I would love your writing - and indeed, I do! I feel so blessed to have discovered your blog, especially this incredibly helpful post... We strive daily to reduce costs, both for practical and philosophical reasons, and your tips are a wonderful resource! Thank you!

  17. Hi Laurel - I am new to your blog. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. Very inspiring! :)

  18. Great post - I read it when Meredith originally linked to it, but than couldn't remember where to find you again!

    I was wondering how you bought in bulk with Mrs. Meyers. I get great coupons and see good sales for &th generation all the time at Kroger, but I would love to learn how to save with Mrs. Meyers. While I do make a lot of my own cleaners, I am addicted to some of the wonderful scents of Mrs. Meyers!


  19. I just discovered Quinoa -it's high in protein and yummy. A great alternative to meat based meals! (And Costco sells it in bulk)