As I mentioned in my introductory post of this series, simple living really means different things to different people. This definitely applies to food! On the one hand, we all have to eat. On the other, there are a vast array of choices involved in obtaining, storing, and preparing our food.
When it comes to providing food for my family, I have a few basic criteria. It has to be nutritious, inexpensive, easy to store, and not too difficult. Everything we eat does not fit all of these criteria, but I've gotten pretty good at balancing them so that most of the food fits most of the time.
Because our family lives on one income, we don't have unlimited amounts of money to spend on food. The upside of this is that I have more time to cook from scratch, because I am home during the day. This is one way we keep the costs down. It is much cheaper to buy flour than a loaf of bread, and a whole chicken to roast than prepared chicken dinners. This also helps to keep the food more nutritious, as we are not buying things that are loaded with additives and preservatives to extend their shelf life. I also know exactly what is going into the food, and am not surprised when I read the label.
However, there are those days that we're out all day and need something to cook that's quick! That's when the box of spaghetti with a jar of sauce can save us from a trip to McDonald's or the local pizza place. Not that we never frequent those places, but we try to save them for special occasions, or true "emergencies."
I'm going to say a little about storing up food, here. I know that there are families who stockpile enough food for a year or more. I also have friends who shop much less frequently than I do, and that works for them. I usually shop once a week, and I usually use the basic grocery store that is in our town. My reasons for this are that I don't have room to store a lot of extra food, I don't have a lot of time to go travelling from store to store to get the best deals, and I like to take advantage of sales, which change weekly.
The first thing I do when deciding what to buy, is to make a menu. I've found that this helps me to keep costs down and provide a better variety of meals. I usually do this after the weekly sale paper comes out, so that I can include those items on my list. I figure out what we will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week, adding items to my grocery list as I go along. I use a blank monthly calendar to write the menu on, so that I can also see the things I've had for the past few weeks. At this time, I also check for any leftovers we have that need to be used up. In fact, I usually schedule a few "leftover" lunches or dinners, to force me to clean out that fridge! Another advantage to making the menu is that I don't have to think each day what to do about dinner. I try to think ahead when I write the menu, planning quick things on days we will be out, and putting longer tasks like baking bread or making stock on those days that I plan to be home.
My preference when buying food is to buy basic ingredients that can be used for a variety of things. If I have flour, I can make bread, pizza crust, biscuits, tortillas, muffins, cake, pie, cookies, etc. In fact, the pizza crust recipe can be used for pizza, breadsticks, or stromboli. A whole chicken can be roasted one day, and the leftovers used for sandwiches, quesadillas, a casserole, and soup. Oatmeal can be breakfast, or used to make granola, bread, or meatloaf. Bags of frozen vegetables can be used a little at a time as side dishes or soup ingredients.
I've learned a few tricks for using up those dreaded leftovers. The first is courtesy of my Mom - basically take all of the bits of things that might go together, heat them up together and call them "Conglomeration." I think my kids think this is a real dish. If I have bits of meat, I can put them on pizzas, wrap them up in strombolis, quesadillas, tacos, empanadas or burritos, or throw them into a casserole or soup. I use leftover spaghetti sauce for pizza sauce, and dried-out bread for croutons. A great way to use up tiny bits of leftovers, is to start a "freezer soup." I have a Rubbermaid container that I keep in the freezer. When there are only a couple tablespoons of something left over, whether it's cooked veggies, meat, spaghetti sauce, pasta, or chopped fresh veggies like onions or broccoli stalks, I throw it all in this container with any water it was cooked with. When the container is full, I empty it into a pot with some water or broth, and cook it up. You never know what you'll get, but it's always good!
Something we just started a couple years ago was raising chickens. It is definitely more work than picking up eggs at the store, but I like knowing that the chickens are taken care of, and that we will have something to eat even if we can't get to the store! Anyway, the chickens are fun! We've also been able to exchange the eggs at the local milk farm for fresh milk. I try to garden, though I wouldn't say it's a money-saving effort at this point. We also like to pick wild raspberries when they're in season, and can or freeze them for the winter.
I've been learning to can foods, and have so far done jams, cooked dried beans, chicken stock, applesauce, pumpkin, and rhubarb. I like that the food can be preserved without relying on electricity (i.e. a freezer) to keep it good. In fact, I just read a blog post on how to can ground meat which I am going to have to try! I have to say, the beans have been really great. I think it's cheaper than buying cans of beans, plus they have a lot less salt in them. They're already cooked, so they're ready for soup, quesadillas, or salads right out of the jar. I try to keep a couple varieties on hand all the time.
How About You?
So these are some of the things I do to simply provide good food for my family. I would love to hear your ideas, too, so please leave a response in the comments section so we can all learn from each other!
Other Posts in this Series:
Living Simply...For Me
Simple Homeschool...For Me