real food & real life on a real budget
I’ve mentioned before that I saw a little documentary last February that completely changed the way I view food and the types of dishes that end up on my table. But then last week, I told you that I served corndogs at our birthday carnival, so I know you see how devout I am on that whole foods, homemade granola, grass-fed bandwagon everyone is jumping on. Truth be told, the marriage of real food and real life is a struggle I am always dealing with.
So last Saturday, I went to an awesome free-of-charge, mingling and nibbling shindig / cooking demonstration with Once a Month Mom. When I heard she was coming to Atlanta, I wanted to come, and when I heard that she chose a location right around the corner from me, I knew I definitely couldn’t pass it up. I learned so much more that I thought I would, and I had a great time chatting with fellow moms and a few Atlanta mommy bloggers. I unexpectedly ran in to an old friend (Hi, Beck!) and marveled over new kitchen equipment with the coolest suburban homesteader I know.
The evening was an interesting pairing because Tricia at Once a Month Mom is all about showing even the busiest among us that it is possible to have dinner at home without slaving away for hours every night or stressing about it. On Saturday, she made us some pumpernickel bread dip, a delicious veggie pizza, and chicken & broccoli casserole, and it was so cool to meet her after stealing her recipes and trolling her site for months. So Tricia did half of the demonstration and then the other half was given by Sue Becker, the owner of the bread making and kitchen supply specialty store where the event was held. Can I describe that woman for you? She has nine children. She homeschools them all. She owns her own business. She somehow still has the energy to make dinner every night.
Stop there. Pour me one of what she’s having and make it a double.
While the whole idea behind freezer cooking is convenience and quick homemade food for your family, the Bread Beckers’ approach sort of seems the opposite. Sue made us a mexican dish that was cooked in a pressure cooker, shredded, wrapped in homemade tortillas, and topped with homemade yogurt-cheese and freshly-made pico de gallo. And I should add that she milled the flour herself before making the dough for the tortillas.
So of course when I got home, I tell my husband that I won Tupperware (true story! yay!) and I got a whole bag of free little goodies and coupons and oh yeah, by the way I need to buy a pressure cooker and a yogurt-cheese making contraption and I think I want to start grinding my own flour and baking all of our bread.
Because apparently laboring naturally and using cloth diapers and breastfeeding my son a good bit longer than most American women do and acquiring my own butcher and purging my pantry of packaged soups and seasonings didn’t make me weird enough, so now I have to take it further.
Grinding your own flour has all sorts of crazy benefits that I hope to explore and write about in the future if $250 ever falls in my lap for a grain mill, but here’s my real dilemma: how do you find time and find a balance for all of this?
I want my family to be healthy. I want my food to taste good. I want to make food choices that are good for the environment. I want to live on a frugal budget. But in spite of all of this, I also want to have a life that occasionally doesn’t revolve around my kitchen.
Staying at home with my son, I have a lot more time to think about this stuff than I used to, but it still seems like my days fill up with laundry, cleaning, playdates, etc. etc. This week has included a trip to Harry’s for most of my shopping, a trip to the butcher for this week’s meat, and also a trip back to said breadmaking superstore for a loaf of freshly-milled wheat bread and some additive-free seasoning. This probably sounds like a painful and time-consuming list of a million places, but all of those are within minutes from my house, and a simple drop-by for certain listed ingredients. It’s really just about planning and knowing where to go for the best prices on certain things. I usually hit up Trader Joe’s every couple of weeks as well for certain things they might be cheaper on.
If I’m being truthful, I admit that making dinner is my favorite part of the day, and I sometimes feel like spending significant time in the kitchen. But other times, I don’t feel like slaving away at the stove or I find it hard to do any prep work or cooking at all with an incredibly fast and curious little toddler. And also, I really love Chick Fil-A.
So what’s a girl to do?
Make the best choices I can muster at any given moment and not beat myself up about the rest is the conclusion I have come to. I’ve managed to follow a few simple rules and make some easy choices that have had a big payoff in my opinion:
- Don’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t easily pronounce. (This is so much harder than you’d think.)
- Don’t cook with packaged seasonings or canned soup, etc.
- Eat something green everyday.
- Buy grass-fed beef, no-hormone chicken, organic milk, and farm eggs.
I’ve been surprised at how incredibly affordable this has been. When I first made the pledge to only shop at Harry’s and buy additive-free, real food, I thought it would require so much more money, but I was wrong. This week I spent right at $100 on groceries, which is
a little more a lot more than usual because Scott is home this week and requested steak. On that money, I managed to purchase breakfast and lunch for everyday and here’s our dinner plan this week:
- Monday – Martha Stewart’s “Easy Paella” (minus the shrimp so Jude could eat as well)
- Tuesday – Mushroom and Kale Saute over Polenta Rounds
- Wednesday – Cabbage Rolls (and I made TWO OTHERS and froze them for later this fall or winter)
- Thursday – Steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole
- Friday – I’m not gonna lie. I have my eye on an Indian restaurant that I have a coupon for and want to try.
- Saturday – crockpot night with football game and company coming over
- Sunday – Chicken Marsala from my massive freezer cooking day.
In the effort of full disclosure, I received one dozen farm-fresh eggs, one large head of broccoli, and one large cabbage from my grandparents’ garden, but everything else I purchased for $100. We are eating like kings with steak on the menu and a night out, and I expect to do it all for less than $130. So when people say it’s so much easier or cheaper to eat out with a small family or that you can’t eat well and eat healthy on a budget, I can’t agree. My experience has not been that way at all, and with a little planning, real life, real food, and a real budget can actually coexist. There are usually one or two weeks a month when I “go shopping” in my pantry and freezer before I go to the store, and if I use those ingredients in my meal plan that week, I can get out of the grocery store for $50 for a whole week of organic, healthy, real food.
With this $100 this week, I also managed to bake 3 dozen muffins, a large loaf of cinnamon bread, and a dozen pancakes to freeze it all for future breakfasts, but I hope to write more on those recipes soon. Realize also that I made 3 meals of cabbage rolls and froze two, so it’s really more than a week of food! Thanks to Once a Month Mom, I’ve discovered freezer cooking and the joy of freezer breakfasts. It’s saving us money and saving us from additives and preservatives as well. There have been many times when I haven’t felt like cooking or I feel blah about meal planning that week, and I look to my freezer instead of the grocery store freezer or instead of the restaurant menu.
So I don’t really know where I am going with all of this except to say that it takes some planning but it’s possible. And also to say that yes, sometimes I go to Chick Fil-A and I even serve corndogs at my son’s birthday party, but I’m okay with that. One step at a time. Real food is a real long journey.