Monday, July 9, 2012

Saving Money While Feeding the Masses

I have begun to notice a curious phenomenon when I finish with checking out at the grocery store. My cart is ... perhaps... getting bigger or something because I have spent the same amount of money but the cart is not as full as it was a year (or two?) ago. This is only confusing until I stop to think it through. It is then with a big sigh that I begin to push the cart to the car and load it all up. Food prices have indeed gotten higher. As a result, we've had to make some adjustments to keep our food-buying in check while accommodating the growing appetites of three boys (and BOY-OH-BOY can they eat!) I thought it might be helpful to some folks though to see what we buy to feed the five (and the grown-ups too!) and what we make with those groceries to get by.

For the record, we are not a family to suffer silently so I make sure our food is filling, mostly nutritious and will last a week. I spend an average of $200 a week and there are some "junky/snacky" things in there for the biggest of the big (Jeff.) So here is the pie chart on what we buy and how healthy it is (or is not.)

So, some things to note...
The Percentages

  • From this, we can see that I sent a LOT of our percentage to summer camp with Maestro. When you're vegetarian, it can be a little tough to find good food for your main meals so I sent a few MREs with him and a couple of cup-o-noodle type soups and plenty of protein-heavy snacks as well as granola that doesn't have raisins. 
  • On the healthy snack/dairy front, we have $10 worth of Greek yogurt cups that we like a lot around here (Chobani brand). I am willing to "splurge" on these because of the super-high 15 grams of protein per 6 oz. of yogurt. A healthy snack if ever there was one!
  • The "healthy snack" stuff included things like cereal because it's not really necessary for us to eat cereal and the like, but it is one of the healthier things that we can eat. 
  • The bulk of our spending is tied between "fruits and veggies" and "other meal items" (including most proteins), which is as it should be.
So what recipes will we make with these items? Well... (in no particular order) we'll have:

  • Black bean stir fry (feeding an extra 3 people that night) and watermelon
  • Mexican Pie
  • Frittatas (an egg dish)
  • Mango chicken and rice
  • Stir fry peppers with polenta (already in the pantry)
  • "a" noodle dish with Lime-Clementine Pie for dessert
  • Breakfasts include egg sandwiches, oatmeal, cereal and grits
  • Home made bread will be made at least twice somewhere in there
To save money, we've begun making many of our "bread" items from scratch at home - this is both healthier and more cost-efective. We rarely (as you can see) eat boxed mixes. There is nothing inherently wrong with boxed mixes, but they tend to have additives that I'm working on keeping away from, I don't like the way they taste as much and I like that I'm giving my kids foods that taste good enough to encourage them away from fast food. Well, that's my goal, at least. 

The Grocery Break-out
I also don't buy a LOT of fruit unless it's in season. Regardless of season I do buy one piece of fresh fruit per person each week - apples, bananas, pears, etc. and then I also usually have a recipe that uses fruit or dried fruit to round out the week. Fruit takes up a lot of room and tends to be expensive much of the year. 

Snack items tend to include things like yogurt, apples, granola, pretzels, cheese sticks, peanut butter, dried veggies (or frozen veggies, depending on the child's penchant for wasabi peas!) Things that will be more likely to fill them up for more than five minutes.

I buy only 2 half-gallons of milk a week. When it's gone, it's gone, whether for glasses of milk, in cereal, etc. I do buy one extra half-gallon if I know I'll be using it for baking and I also keep powdered milk on hand for baking needs so the kids don't lose out.

As I've cut back on how much cereal we buy I've increased how many eggs I allow.

Cereal I'm pretty particular about. It used to be that the "rule" was "no chocolate, no marshmallows." Then I increased that to "no High Fructose Corn Syrup". Now it has to be all those AND in the clearance section and marked way down. It's just too expensive to justify for the amount they have to eat to fill their bellies. I never buy more than two boxes of cereal in a week - my kids go through those two boxes in about two days. For special occasions, we do break all the rules and get the little tiny individual boxes with marshmallows, chocolate, the whole nine yards.

Other weeks we spend more than $200, or somewhat less than that, but the average, no matter how hard I try, remains at $200 weekly. The list above was $209, including the gov't-mandated "surcharge" that all groceries incur at a military commissary - it offsets the fact that the commissary doesn't charge an overage or taxes, and I took out an extra $3 to give to the bagger for a tip because they don't receive wages at all otherwise.

So, what do you think of my efforts to save at the till? Any tips on saving more? 
Okay, besides coupons. I'm SO not ready for heavy-duty stockpiling that "good" couponing requires! Those people impress me, but I'm not there yet.

Be sure to head over to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways to see what's on the Frugally Sustainable menu this week!

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