So I was on Twitter again tonight. (Surprise surprise). On the latest ChooseFI podcast, Brad and Jonathan were discussing their frugal grocery budget of $2 per person per meal. This seemed astronomically high to me, as a follower of The Prudent Homemaker, Money Saving Mom, and Fish Mama (who feed their families for as low as $0.14/pp/meal!) This comment led to a lengthy conversation with The Fioneers about grocery budgets. First of all, let me say that I love The Fioneers. They are writing great stuff. Check out their series about slowing down!! But until recently they were spending $6.50 per person per meal and were wondering how we fed our family so cheaply. (They are also gluten free). There’s nothing like Twitter discussion to cause me to upend my blogging schedule and binge-write a post. So buckle your seat belt kiddos- here’s a detailed look at how we feed our family healthy foods on a budget!
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We make everything from scratch
First of all, let me dispel the myth that it’s cheap to eat refined carbs dumped out of boxes. Eating packaged foods is really expensive. Just as someone dumped this insensitive Tweet in my feed, we were
- Making our own vegetable stock from the tops and bottoms of vegetables we’d otherwise compost
- Baking our own gluten free muffins
- Baking our own gluten free bread
- Soaking dried beans so we could cook them tomorrow and incorporate them in recipes throughout the week.
As I type this, it’s 6:30 AM and we’re already making our own marinara sauce for spaghetti we’re having for lunch.
Breakfast is homemade yogurt with honey.
It’s also way cheaper. The most expensive things in our grocery budget are potato chips and alcohol. (Both things that I drew a line in a sand and wouldn’t give up). I don’t know why people think that cheap food isn’t healthy. I find that raw vegetables like dried beans and lentils are super cheap and a great source of protein.
We buy in bulk to eat gluten free for less
There are some foods that are a stable of our diet. With use Pamela’s GF bread mix. If you buy it in the grocery store, it’s quite expensive to make a loaf of bread. We buy it in a 25lb bulk bag from Amazon. The 25lbs of bread mix lasts us 6 month and assures we’re getting the bread at the absolute lowest price we can.
That’s the only mix we use. The rest of our baked goods are made from gluten free flours, which we also buy in bulk. We recently purchased 50 lbs of gluten free rolled oats for less than $1.50 per pound after shipping was accounted for. The absolute cheapest I’ve ever found them for in a store was $2.00 and they can be well above $4.00 per pound if you buy them at a normal grocery store.
We get in-season produce & grow our own
We try to grow our own food in raised beds. But we live in the city and our neighbor has a black walnut tree. Tomatoes won’t grow. We can get some kale and beans. That’s about it.
Mrs. Fig’s family has a giant garden and are generous in sharing produce with us. We easily get 100 lbs of squash a year from them that we store throughout the winter and at least 50 lbs of sweet potatoes. We also get plenty of tomatoes, which we can, either as tomatoes, or spaghetti sauce.
In addition we sign up for community supported agriculture “CSA”. In a CSA, you give a farm a certain amount of money in the spring, and you get a box of vegetables weekly throughout the growing season. I really like the CSA model for the following reasons
- We’re supporting local farmers
- If the farm has a good year, you get more vegetables, if they’re struggling you get less
- It’s good for the environment because the food isn’t shipped around
- In general, we’re so disconnected from our food. CSAs make us know our farmer
We “put-up” food to eat gluten free for less
We get a lot of in season produce from our families and from the CSA. More than we can eat. So we use a pressure-canner to put food up for the winter. Canning food is one of Mrs. Fig’s favorite hobbies. I always think that she missed her chance to be a pioneer woman (no not that Pioneer Woman).
We also make quite a bit of stock and preserve it. I can’t think of the last time I’ve bought a canned soup or broth. Most people we know can’t be bothered to make their own stock, so our families will save chicken carcasses, beef bones, and other random bones they create and we’ll turn them into stock later.
Maybe this will change now that we’ve decided to become vegetarian? IDK- it seems like we’re saving bones from going into the garbage and using them to make new food. It’s not like we had an animal slaughtered just for our consumption. So bone broth- TBD in our future. But getting bones from other people is definitely a way to save money on broth!
We really enjoy our food lifestyle
To an outsider our lifestyle may seem “extreme”. Probably because any difference in eating habits seems extreme. We don’t feel like we’re missing out on any food. And we’re never hungry. This seems normal to us.
But is it normal? I checked the USDA’s numbers on the cost of food. For a family of our size, they thriftiest plan they list suggests we’d need to spend $882 per month on food. A “liberal” meal plan would cost $1,420 per month!!! We spend about $600 per month on food in an average month. Well below what the USDA thinks we can live on. And if we wanted to spend $1,400 on food in a month, we’d need to completely change our lifestyle. We’d have to buy a whole bunch of chips and booze and TV dinners or something. It’s not who we are.
So this is an overview post of our grocery budget. Should we go into more detail? Or should we photograph each shopping trip for an entire month or photograph our meals for a week?
Let me know what would be entertaining to read in the comments!!!