While our income has been decreasing and our children’s appetites are increasing, food prices are increasing. Some things have doubled and even tripled in price in the last few years. The 50 pound bag of popcorn that we buy in bulk went from $17 a bag in June of 2012 to $29 a bag in July of 2012. The less-expensive cuts of beef (chuck roast, ground beef, and London Broil) have increased from $1.79 a pound to $2.99 (and usually $3.49) a pound on sale. Potatoes went from 10 cents a pound in season in November 2012 to 30 cents a pound in November 2013.
Not everyone has an increasing income to keep up with the rising cost of living. While we’re already feeding our family of 9 for $3.33 a day, I can’t just spend more on the same things because the prices have gone up. It’s time for some changes.
Here’s what I intend to do to keep food in our bellies:
Food waste happens a lot more than any of us would like. I want to be more diligent about using what I have purchased and grown. To help ensure that I make better use of the resources I have, I plan to do the following:
1. Clean the refrigerator more often. This will help me to make sure I don’t miss something I’ve moved to the back.
2. Be more diligent about using food that is about to go bad in our meals.
3. Be quicker to can items that need to be canned, even if it means staying up late to get them done
4. Chopping small amounts of vegetables before they can go bad and putting them in a bag in the freezer to use in soup. This means if I have a couple of carrots that need to be used before I can eat them, they’ll be stuck in a bag for a soup later on.
5. Drying and putting away herbs from the garden to use later. In the past I have mostly used the herbs from my garden as fresh herbs. I want to be better about drying and storing them.
6. Incorporate more rice-based meals into our menus
1. Continue not to purchase the items on my list of food items that I don’t buy
2. Stick to my price points for food, even when it means doing without items that have risen above those price points
3. Focus on meats that are under $1 a pound when buying meat, with most purchases being under $0.88 a pound. (Fortunately I have a freezer full of hams and turkeys purchased under $1 a pound during the holidays. This will be the bulk of our meat for the year).
4. Continue to stock up with large purchases on items when amazing in-season prices come along (like the 152 pounds of oranges and 80 pounds of onions that I bought for .20 a pound in December).
5. Eat more salads from the garden while lettuce is in season. I expect we’ll have salad as a first course every day at dinner for 3-4 months, starting in late January. We may have some soup and salad lunches with homemade bread as well.
Grow more in my garden:
In 2013, I ripped out our front yard, brought in new dirt, and planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. The walkway to the house is lined with parsley, basil, and lettuce.
I added 6 semi-dwarf fruit trees in the front yard. Two will need to be kept smaller for the space that they are in, and 3 will be trimmed as a hedge, but they can still get quite large. I planted a lime, 3 Meyer lemons, an apricot (that blooms and ripens 3 weeks earlier than the apricot in my backyard, which will mean fresh apricots twice), and an Early Elberta peach.
On my back patio, I planted 2 oranges in pots and a pomegranate in a pot. (I moved another pomegranate in my garden to another pot on the patio last week).
I’m also growing more of what works well for my area–and gives me a great return on my money. Lettuce, Swiss chard, and green onions do really well for me, and they are also a great way for me to save money.
Just a few years ago, looseleaf lettuce was $0.79 and $0.99 a head on sale where I live. Now a sale price is $1.49 a head, and a more regular price is $2.49 a head.
I can purchase 400 lettuce seeds for $2.95. That’s a much better deal! As an additional bonus, each head can be harvested 2-3 times, by either harvesting outer leaves and allowing it to continue to grow, or cutting the leaves off at the base and allowing it to regrow. When lettuce is in season, we can have a salad every night as a first course. With some homemade dressing, it’s a great way to keep our meal costs down.
Swiss chard grows year-round here. It’s not-only packed full of vitamins, it’s a cut and come again plant, like lettuce–but I can harvest it even more times! I grow the Fordhook Giant variety, and the leaves can grow 16 to 24 inches in length. We’ll steam it, chop it in soups, blend it in soups, and every once in a while, toss it in salads.
Green onions grow year-round in my garden, and they self-seed every year. I haven’t bought green onions in 7 years. Like lettuce and Swiss chard, I trim the side leaves of the plants, and they continue to regrow. In the late spring they go to seed, and pretty soon I have new green onions growing. I will be making an effort to collect seeds as well to plant additional onions in the garden this year.
Zucchini and green beans are difficult to grow here, as they won’t flower much in our heat, but in many places, these are two other plants that will produce food in abundance for a family. I grow a bush variety of zucchini to save space, and I found last year that a mid-summer planting will allow me a plant that flowers when it cools below 90º in October, so I plant some then to allow us to have some for our family.
In short, I plan to:
1. Grow more of what works well and grows abundantly where I live; for me, this is more lettuce, more Swiss chard, and more green onions
2. Expand the garden by growing in pots and planting food in the front yard
3. Grow heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of food so that I can collect seeds to use in the future, reducing my need to purchase seeds
4. Use my garden space more efficiently; this includes lots of vertical growing
5. Be more diligent in planting and maintaining a fall garden; this includes covering all fall lettuces with mason jars before the first frost, so that I can harvest earlier and better protect the plants
6. Grow more herbs to keep me from needing to purchase them at the store
What new things are you doing this year to keep your grocery budget low?