Over the years I've made feeding my family one of my top environmental priorities. Feeding children seems to connect with my deepest maternal instincts. Choosing organic, locally grown, and unprocessed whenever possible reduces our family's fossil fuel consumption, minimizes chemicals going into the land and water and supports sustainable farming practices. This choice has made groceries our biggest household expense after mortgage.
I've justified it knowing that I was paying the "true cost of food", not passing the cost to other taxpayers or asking migrant workers to work for nothing so I can eat cheap or asking my grandkids to pay to clean up the world we trashed for them. I've justified it by knowing that for $6, I not only know that the milk I drink is better for the earth, but is also healthier (and tastier) for my kids, puts more money in Wisconsin farmer's pockets, is healthier and kinder to the cows, reduces the trend toward antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and helps preserve the Wisconsin landscape of family farms. Looking at it that way, $6 is a deal! Certainly anyone who has tried to feed their family from a backyard garden knows that we significantly underpay for the food we eat given the labor that goes into food production. Factor in processing and packaging and shipping and it seems impossible that you could buy a box of Cheerios for a few bucks (I heard recently that the farmer that grows the wheat gets 10c).
Given all that, I should be content, even proud of the $900 we are now spending each month to feed a family of 5. In fact, I will admit that when fuel and food prices started rising, I did at first feel smug, thinking to myself "now people know what food/fuel is supposed to cost" and hoped that this would drive society changes (which it has a bit). However the last few times I've gone through the check out line, I have felt nauseous with anxiety. It seems like the tab for my weekly trips keeps going up and up, all during the gardening season when it should be lower than at other times of the year. Like most other American families right now, we need to make some drastic changes to our family budget.
Here are a few tips that I've used over the years to keep my food costs low. I am desperately looking for more tips from others as I just can't seem changing over to food filled with preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and pesticides after all that I know.
1. Eat low on the food chain. Less or no meat/animal products is cheaper, and better for the earth. Whole grains and legumes are cheap and healthy.
2. Join a buying c0-op. I have done this for years and it does save and is fun way to network with others about healthy food resources. This also allows you to buy in bulk which saves money.
3. buy in bulk. Less packaging=less cost and better for the earth. Pick and Save and Good Harvest have bulk food options. Pick and Save also gives a 10% discount if you buy a case of something.
4. meal plan and head to the store with a list. Oh, and you have to stick to it which means the kids should stay at home!
5. eat leftovers. This is usually our Fri night meal. Anything that didn't get eaten for a lunch goes before the weekend shopping trip. I am thinking that maybe cooking less quantity so there are fewer leftovers might be better. Having a salad or sandwich for lunch would be cheaper and healthier than the leftover turkey picata from the night before.
6. grow it yourself. Not sure if this is cheaper for me, but it technically should be.
7. shop on the outside aisles of the grocery store (most of the junk is in the middle)
8. buy up bumper crops from the farmer's market and freeze. I did this with tomatoes last year and made pizza and spaghetti sauce all winter.
9. Cook and bake. Why pay for someone else to do what you can yourself (well, except on nights where there is soccer or track practice).
10. Eliminate non-essentials like soda, junk food, alcohol etc.
11. eat less. OK, this is probably where the problem is for our family.
So what else am I missing? Don't tell me my only choice is Sam's Club or Walmart. I want to believe that I can keep keep my values and pay my bills. I am especially looking for cookbooks or websites that have family friendly recipes that are healthy, simple and inexpensive. I have lots of great cookbooks but most are too involved for the average busy weeknight and involve yummy expensive ingredients like pine nuts and capers. Most of the simple cookbooks I've seen involve lots of processed food. I'd be especially interested in vegetarian options that kids would love (I have lots of great ethnic recipes that I love, but the strong spices etc don't always appeal to my kids). If you have been reading and not commenting, this is your chance. I know you are likely also trying to cut costs and may have found things that work for you that I haven't tried.