I have no idea what it's like to have children who "eat like birds".
My children eat more like a ravenous pack of wolves! And they are home all day, and for every meal.
So, next to our house payment, our grocery bill is our biggest expense. (Technically it is our biggest expense because we overpay our house note each month.) We include paper products, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, and general use household items in this part of the budget, including occasional clothing items, just FYI. We call it our Food and Needs Fund.
Since our wolves eat so much, we really try to ensure that the majority of what they consume daily is real, wholsome food. Raising healthy eaters is one of the best investments we feel we can make as parents, not only to spare them the health and weight challenges that we have as adults, but also because it is so hard to break bad habits later, and we want their brains and bodies to have the best possible start we can give them! So as a family, we are willing to take some cuts in order to purchase higher quality food. We drink mostly water. Rarely buy juice, beef, or all-in-one type prepared foods.
Another example: We have significantly reduced our milk consumption in order to be able to purchase organic milk. We actually have a milk ration here. But I'm much happier knowing that which we do consume is better for us. I still wish I could have easy access to raw milk products, but that is simply not a reality right now, so this is the next best.
We spend a large portion of our food budget on fruits and vegetables. This facilities the Family Food Rule: every meal must contain at least one fruit or veggie. At least once a week we even try to have a completely meatless dinner.
We try to have a few fresh items, apples, salad, and bananas, always on hand. The majority of our produce however we purchase frozen, or canned in 100% juice if possible. (I have a major gripe that the retailers I frequent often only have the small cans of fruit packed in juice. That means that we frequently need 2-3 cans minimum for a meal or snack. I would LOVE to find huge cans of juice packed fruit to stock up on and save money in the long run! Gonna have to hit Google again.)
Anyway, this summer I made it a goal of mine to stock up and freeze during the berry sales. And we did get some good sales, but not as many as I had hoped. But I do have almost two gallons of blueberries, a gallon of raspberries, and four or five quarts of strawberries!
In my attempts to make my job a little easier and reduce our grocery bill even more, I'm instituting what I hope will become perhaps a weekend tradition, at least until I don't have a pack of wolves anymore. And Victor is my comrade in arms.
Our mission is to cook, over the weekend, enough whole meals or major parts of meals to get us through the week with much more ease and a lot less time in food prep. Also, anytime I am making a soup, stew, sauce, beans, or filling, that I double or triple the recipe and freeze the remainders.
This weekend I made a huge batch of beans, divided, and froze them. With ease any morning, I can take the container from the freezer, microwave it just enough to loosen the contents, then drop it in the slow cooker. I can add veggies for soup. A package of pre-browned frozen ground meat and seasonings for chili. Or simply cook and serve with cornbread or rice.
I also browned and divided three pounds of ground meat and made, and then froze spaghetti sauce and taco filling. Both of these can easily be stove warmed or microwaved while the rest of the meal is prepped. This reduces major time and clean up!
We recently invested in a roughly 17x11x4 inch roasting pan. Victor is head over heels in love with this pan! He can cook 3 cups dry rice, 5 lbs frozen veggies, 16 drumsticks, and 4 chicken quarters in less than two hours, with room to spare!! That's two complete dinners plus the filling for a casserole!! He calls it ManCooking...I call it cooking for a pack of ravenous wolves! Seriously though, I love how happy he is to help with the cooking! And...complete awsome bonus, the biggest pan for the best price just so happened to be an orange Rachael Ray pan to match my set!! Win! Win! Win! Like a dozen wins!
(My orange pans were an anniversary present from Victor a few years ago, that I had been wanting for a couple years before that, and I truly enjoy cooking more with them! They are bright and gorgeous, and make what ever I cook look fabulous! I could certainly get along with out them, but I really enjoy having them!)
Getting back on track with my pack. Another tidbit about my kiddos, they like warm meals. They are ok making their own sandwiches, but they prefer tuna over pb&j, and egg salad even better. This is neither practical nor economical to execute more than once or twice a week however. So I need to have meals that are 1.) Cheap 2.) Less likely to elicit unhappy groans, and 3.) Kid freindly to prepare.
Enter homemade self-serve packages. This idea occurred to me while watching Grace easily warm up some pasta in the microwave last week. I realized that I can make bulk meals and then freeze them in individual servings. The kids can select one, run the bag under water to loosen the contents, cut the end off, place in a bowl, and microwave. Voila! No junk food, minimal mess, and completely kid doable!
(I know the debate surrounding microwaves. I can't fight that battle right now. I have bigger fish to fry. Please don't judge.)
Eventually I would like to make choices which include tuna (or any) casserole, healthier mac-n-cheese, rice-n-meatballs, rice-n-beans, plus burritos, mini pizzas, and soups. At some point we may seriously need to consider getting a bigger freezer! :)
This week, I made oatmeal. My family loves, loves, loves oatmeal. Which is fantastic, because it's one of those really healthy foods that also happens to still be wonderfully cheap! So I made a huge pot, let it cool enough to handle, then filled a gallon size bag. I snipped off the corner and used it like a pastry bag to fill smaller plastic bags. Some I left plain, and some I added frozen blueberries to. It filled ten bags, at a little over a cup each, which is technically probably two servings, but remember, my kids are wolves.
The other half we ate for lunch and dinner, which showed me that I need to make even more next time, because, ten bags just aren't going to last very long! But I'm not complaining, I love hearing my kids beside themselves with giddy excitement over homemade oatmeal, split-pea soup, or meatloaf! Yeah, take THAT Big Food!
Happy start of Autumn everyone!