It's been a whole year since the Eat Well, Spend Less series began! This month, we're writing about the changes in our grocery budgets and eating habits through the past year.
For my family, the past year has been full of twists and turns! Discovering medical conditions of my husband (Joshua) that demanded attention, pregnancy and the birth of our 5th baby, 3 months of having my husband home from work (on medical leave), homeschooling 3 children, and all of the children growing and eating more and doing more as we try to balance frugal and simple and healthy and quick, the 2-year-old just pulled down a stack of puzzles! :)
Last year, my sanity stayed intact and life was frugally simplified by:
1. Having a chest freezer
I still can't believe the difference this has made! We've had our freezer for 14 months now and it has become key in helping our family to eat well on a budget. It has saved trips to the store, allowed us to gather gallons of berries in the summer (without making it all into sugary jam or pie filling!), and afforded the ability to stock up on fish at discount prices.
My "upgraded" kitchen shelves!
2. Bi-weekly grocery shopping
I am still a huge Costco fan! All my reasons for loving Costco hold true. I like their produce. I like their baking supplies and spices. I like their frozen veggies and fruits. I like their dairy prices. And I love only going to 1 store, twice a month! It saves time and I know we spend less when we don't shop weekly.
(We do occasionally go to other stores to buy certain items, like bulk foods. And now that Joshua's back to work, we'll be buying bananas at QFC just down the road for the weeks when we're not doing our "regular" grocery shopping.)
See also: Is Costco Frugal?
3. Foraging for food
Okay, so I've only foraged two things so far. But still! It's a start, especially for someone (like me) living in an urban area and not having daytime transportation (and needing to take 4 kids along on walks!).
Last summer we picked 12+ gallons of huge, plump, delicious blackberries and froze them! We've been making blackberry syrup and using them in smoothies. Considering the price of frozen fruit in the store, we're saving a lot by harvesting the berries that grow wild here in western Washington! :)
This Spring I've been gathering nettles. (More about that later this week!)
4. Making easy meals and snacks
Unless we're having guests, I mostly follow my "three things and it's dinner!" rule. I've focused more on simple meat main dishes (grilled or baked fish, chicken, or turkey) with a grain on the side (often brown rice) and a veggie on the side (often frozen veggies from Costco). We've eaten lots of beans for lunches and oatmeal for breakfasts.
Snacks are usually no-cook things like fresh fruit, cheese, veggie sticks with hummus, or nuts (smoked almonds are our favorite). Again -- Costco makes these things more affordable, I have the older boys help prep fruits or veggies (doing several days' worth at a time), and I feel good about the food and snack options I'm serving!
5. Eating at home
This one's essential for spending less and eating well. I don't always feel like cooking dinner, but I combat that by having super easy meal options available (freezer burritos or beef vegetable soup from the freezer have "saved the day" more than a handful of times!). I also happily enlist Joshua's help with meals on the weekends, when he has time to grill chicken or fish. And ultimately, being home a lot (like... all day every day!) allows me to cook more while still keeping life feeling "simple".
Our favorite restaurant copycat recipe are filed here!
Where we're headed now: Weight loss (me)
Last year, I felt like we ate pretty balanced and healthy meals, but I had really fallen off the "weight loss" bandwagon and onto the "weight gain" one long before getting pregnant again. I don't have any good excuses... the summer was cold and cloudy, I felt depressed, I didn't care enough, and I liked food way too much. ;) I pulled out of that cycle (with God's help and blessing!) in time to be pregnant and then spend 8 months eating enough and gaining appropriately. Baby Channah is beautiful and healthy as can be! And I've lost 20 of the 25 pounds I gained in pregnancy.
However, I still have 10 pounds to lose from pregnancy #4, and 10 to lose from #3, and if I got really ambitious (which I may not be), 10 pounds to lose from pregnancies #1 and #2! Yikes. So, I'm definitely going to be watching my food choices and even keeping track of my calories for quite a while if that's going to happen.
I would rather just eat and eat (and gain weight) than to count calories, but I find I must count calories to help me keep a healthy balance, lose weight slowly, make sure I'm eating enough, and "spending" my calories wisely.
I'd like to share more on this topic in another post soon, but until then, I've written about weight loss in the past:
Weighing in: Practicing moderation in eating
Weight loss: Motivation, habits, and counting calories
Healthy snacks, moderated
Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely
Where we're headed now: Healthy lunches (Joshua)
After 3 months off, I felt a little rusty when it came time to start packing lunches for Joshua again! Fortunately, he keeps his lunch requests simple for me and with some planning, it can all be made ahead and just thrown in the lunchbox in the morning.
Joshua's been eating oatmeal (made with lactose-free milk) in the morning before leaving for work. In his lunch I pack 2 bananas, a protein drink (made with milk and protein powder), and a container of cooked pinto beans with some hot sauce and 1/2 ounce of cheese sprinkled on top. He eats something at each of his breaks, and warms the beans in the microwave for lunch.
He comes home hungry! But my goal is to have dinner on the table when he gets home, so we can eat right away. :)
Check out what the other Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are sharing about their year:
Jessica at Life As Mom
Katie at GoodLife Eats
Carrie at Denver Bargains
Amy at Keeping the Kingdom First
Aimee at Simple Bites
Katie at Kitchen Stewardship
Shaina at Food for my Family
Mandi at Life...Your Way