"What’s wrong, honey? Do you have to puke?" "Okay – [ blarf! ]"

So – whoops, tee-hee! We are temporarily broke. Dry. Out of money. When I say “out” I mean “out”. This means no groceries or gas or espresso for us until Thursday (Wednesday, if we want to celebrate early with a check to Top Food & Drug). Hey, it happens. It hadn’t happened in a while, so, things were going well as far as I was concerned. And it wasn’t even Christmas or anything, which we spent a very modest amount on (by that I mean, I spent less than one hundred dollars). It just… happened. Again. Today I took some random stuff out of the freezer and heated it. Tomorrow I’ll get my 5 lb. bag of whole wheat flour from my mom’s kitchen and make some pizza without cheese or something.

Our daughter is unexpectedly taking one for the team today, though. She has literally not had a thing to eat except a few ounces of milk this morning. She got sick this afternoon and has been spending her time hot, vomit-y (once), weak, and sleeping. Amazingly she checked herself into the nurse’s station at school and slept a while, then returned to class (rather than calling home for me). When I picked her up she was very hot, weak, and a special shade of milky-green. She’s been home with me ever since, and I’ve been taking care of her which mainly consists of bathing, cuddling, and petting her. Poor child.

But thanks, Sophie, for not taking up any of our precious, precious resources. Just a few more days, honey.

on what 60% of my days are like

Most everyone I know bitches about expenses or claims they “can’t afford” this or that – often baldly and in the face of evidence otherwise. Some I know look at other people’s seemingly more extravagent choices and vociferously point out just how easy said others must have it because, you know, they themselves are just struggling to make it. Recently a friend with a family transport easily twice as expensive as mine readily pointed out that others in her peer group have vehicles newer, better, more status-y. And I feel confident those she speaks of with the high-dollar brand new SUVs can wave their arms at “proof” they themselves don’t have it as easy as so-and-so, or that their car is their only extravagance on an otherwise “tight budget” (actually, I know a few of those moms myself). All of which leaves me and my assy Astrovan that’s half paid off and feeling a bit threadbare wondering if there’s anyone I can relate to at all besides my own husband.

Twice every month when it gets toward the end of the pay period our finances get tight. For me this means a lot of creative thinking about groceries. It means time at home baking bread and going for walks with the children instead of taking the kids to errands where I send something off in the mail, or go buy lightbulbs for the house. It means not going to the HDA function my mother bought me a ticket for tonight, as I’d originally planned to – because I don’t have something appropriate to wear. I mean I have one evening dress that almost fits, but no shoes, no hose, no nice coat, and not even a bra that doesn’t show and show with popped elastic in the band at that (my mom gifted the auction a heretofore unknown Elton Bennett painting, given to my grandparents on their marriage. The painting is kind of a big deal and she anticipates being interviewed so she has been buying up makeup and getting her hair done and dry cleaning her dress and in short gussying up for the event – I call her preparations “going to Whore Island”). This morning I tried to make it happen. I walked into an apparel boutique and saw lots of beautiful things. Then I thought, “I can’t get any of these and know where my food budget is going to come from for the next week.” I left; I wrote my mom a (not-covered) check for the ticket price and asked her to take my father if he’d go (he won’t)*.

Twice a month things get tight. It means when I’m supposed to run off 50 copies of a letter for my child’s preschool (I’m the board secretary) I find myself not able to buy the envelopes, do the printing and postage, and get reimbursed later, whenever. Oh, I guess I could do that – except my larder has no cooking oil, we are out of milk, behind on preschool tuition, late on at least one car payment, can barely make rent, haven’t even touched the debt we owe my parents for their rescue of our family car, and Ralph has needed a haircut for months (yes, I’ve offered him a DIMY). I hope that last sentence at least can illuminate why I’d walk into a clothes shop and just know I couldn’t do it.

I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining what my reality is. I don’t think of the Hogaclan as “poor” because we still have freedom in our lives. We have made deliberate choices and they are hard ones. I read a phrase the other day in the paper: “kid poor”. The author of the letter meant that all the money in the family went to the kids – their care and feeding, mostly. When I read that I knew it was true for Ralph and I. For instance, and largest in our way of thinking, we have an entire lack of a second income. This is not because I don’t want to work or couldn’t find work. This is because of what we want in our family life. We spend our money on the children. We put our kids in a co-op preschool because we wanted a good experience for them and believe in these programs for the betterment of our community. Ralph and I may be out of clothes (he has two pair of boxers and yes, they are washed carefully and regularly) but our children always have coats and raincoats and good shoes because we make it a priority. Food. Food is a huge issue for us. We may have $10 to last through the weekend but $4.39 will be spent on a gallon of organic milk. Every night our table is laden with good food and we sit down together. My children have known nothing but the best, warmest, most loving family life (with a little yelling and whacking from their mom when times get too stressful for her). They thrive and their strength and joy proves the righteousness of our lives even when I sometimes wonder why I’m the only person I know without a credit card or a down payment for a house.

Our family life is rich in so many ways. It’s just money isn’t one of those ways and doesn’t look to be any time soon.

* ETA – he did!

holding out ’till payday

This next week’s menu:

1.25 lb. Tully’s coffee (French Roast)
14 oz. firm tofu
6 oz. shredded parmesan
2 6 oz. yogurt (peach and strawberry)
1 lb. mozzarella
5 lb. cheddar cheese
3 16 oz. boxes gemelli pasta
gallon organic milk
10 lb. all-purpose flour
3 14.5 oz. cans petite dice tomatoes
3 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 can black olives
1 14 oz. can la lechera sweetened condensed milk
48 oz. canola oil
1 bottle Annie’s Goddess dressing
3 pack Scotch Brite sponges
Total: $72

Jay’s fruit stand:
18 oz. washed spinach
9 oz. basil (washed, local organic)
1 bunch celery
head broccoli
2 lbs. jalapenos
2 ripe avacados
9 oz. white mushrooms
3 lemons
1 large english cucumber (local, organic)
Total: $16

The Marketplace (bulk food, health store)
4 lbs sushi rice
2 lb. extra-thick rolled oats
3 lb. dried garbanzo beans
4 lb. dried black beans (organic)
2 lb. raisins, flame grape
10 sheets roasted seaweed
Total: $20

Farmer’s Market
1 dozen farm eggs
1 loaf farmhouse potato bread
Total: $5

Grand Total: $113

lift the couch cushion – maybe there’s some Cheetos under there.

Today’s featured recipe: Asparagus Gruyere Tart. Um, this could NOT be easier and is very full-fat and tasty (kids eat up asparagus when it’s got cheese and olive oil applied!)

When I think about the fact that on Tuesday I planned our entire week’s meals out, shopped for the food (stopping at three grocery stores) – cooked for my family and entertained my brother – I feel a sense of accomplishment. In the interest of total transparency I’m posting our entire menu, grocery list and dollar amounts. Keep in mind we have company for dinner at least twice a week.

So here is this week’s menu:

On to the grocery list. Bought at Jay’s Fruit Stand in Aberdeen:
1 bunch kale
3 lbs. jalapeños
3 lbs. rhubarb
1 english cucumber
5 lbs. yukon gold potatoes
1 bunch romaine
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
12 oz. cherry tomatoes
2 bunches asparagus
3 lbs. granny smith apples
1 lb. carrots
2 lb. zucchini
2 lemons

Total: $22. Yeah, I know. I shit you not.

Then, on to Top Food to purchase the remainder of the week’s fare. When I can, I stop at Jay’s first. They have great produce deals but sometimes the produce is a little iffy. Keep in mind there have NEVER BEEN BUGS like I encountered frequently at the PT Food Co-op. I said it once and I’ll say it again: dirty, filthy neo-hippies. Bug-free may be – nevertheless, at Jay’s I once purchased two pounds of carrots there that were… so unbelievably gnarled and woodier than I thought carrots possible.

At Top Food I knew I’d be facing a large bill – we were out of household sundries (toilet paper, laundry soap, etc) and I was going to get coffee and a rare “processed” item – my beloved Annie’s dressing. Dear Lord. P.S. next installment of “grocery opus” shall include a lecture on condiments. I bought:

1 can petite dice tomatoes
1 can vegetarian refried beans
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can medium black olives
1 can baby corn
1 1/2 qt. canola oil
tostada shells
1 bottle Annie’s Goddess Dressing
1 1/2 lb. Tully’s coffee
dozen eggs, Wilcox brown
1 lb. whole milk plain yogurt
2 lb. organic butter (one to use, one to freeze – they were on sale)
1 qt. organic half & half
1/2 gal. wilcox organic milk
24 oz. sour cream
1/2 lb. gruyère
6 pack Red Hook ESB
1 package Pepperidge Farm puff pastry
Spic N Span (for the bathtub, itself told me this was the correct product)
new scrub brush (“Quickie!”TM)
Dawn dish soap
24 roll toilet paper
12 lbs. laundry soap
300 ct. Q-tips

Total: $114. Not too bad.

Now we’re on to the not-so-necessary purchase pleasures. Namely, cosmetics and soaps. I stopped at our “naturals / health food” store in Aberdeen – The Marketplace – and picked up these items:

2 bath soaps
16 oz. Dr. Bronner’s castille soap (tea tree)
1 lb. coconut oil
carton chocolate rice milk (chosen by the kids, natch)
fruit enzyme cleanser
calendula skin renewal lotion

Total: $45. Keep in mind – this was fully 25% of my grocery bill. It gives pause to frequenting these sort of stores. And using soap. But you really do have to do that, if you want to be accepted by society.

Sophie has informed me she is now “full vegetarian” – no more bacon for her. This is impressive given she is a creature who often has no way to provide her own food needs. Today at Los Arcos restaurant during lunch I briefly considered getting the fresh-halibut fish tacos. “Mom, fish is meat!” she accusingly sounded. I couldn’t really argue of course. I had a cheese enchilada, rice, and beans.

beans are my friends, and i say this without sarcasm

We have a unique situation this week as I had thought Ralph was getting paid on the 6th – and it turns out it’s the 10th. Four more days of scraping by and not paying bills when I said I would (tee hee!). This actually coincides nicely with the offset time period I was planning our weekly menu. Without further ado, here is our attempt to be vegetarian, economical, tasty, and easy:

(You may notice my life consists of a few meals a week of Mexican food. Fuck you.)

And for this, the grocery list (all purchased yesterday):

1 head cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
1 lb. jalapenos
1 lb. carrots
1 large bunch broccoli
1 head garlic
1 lemmon
2 serrano chiles
1 bunch green onions
2 lb. green grapes
2 cans medium olives
1 can kidney beans, 16 oz.
1 can navy beans, 16 oz.
5 lb peanut butter (no sugar added)
3 cans vegetable broth, 14 oz.
1 can green chile enchilada sauce, 19 oz.
1 large can chunky organic tomato sauce (1 lb. 12 oz)
1 lb. bag tortilla chips
1 dozen eggs, brown organic
14 oz. firm tofu
5 oz. shredded parmesan cheese
2 lb monterey jack cheese
1 lb. rigatoni pasta
1 pint sour cream
50 corn tortillas (2 lb. 14 oz.)
1/2 lb nutritional yeast, large flake
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/3 lb. white figs, dried
2 lbs. great northern beans, dried
2 lbs. pinto beans, dried organic

The total for everything was $67. Sixty-seven dollars for quality groceries for a week! Now, I will be buying a few odds and ends – I think milk and eggs perhaps. I’ll make sure to post the full weekly total when I have it.

Tonight for our company I made the No Mas Carne Enchiladas, chile relleno, and Hogaboom Trademark Roasted Jalapeños.

My brother teases me on the phone tonight (we totally have matching Swatch phones!) that my enchiladas (which I accidentally called “vegan” because, well, they are) aren’t any good. First off, I had Ralph drive him over a plateful to prove that little monstrerd wrong. Secondly, there are two types of veg*n food in life: the kind that leave you barely full, vaguely pissy, and longing for real food – and the kind that is delicious and does not leave you ruminating on what’s lacking in the meal but rather energized by the goodness of the fare. So help me God, I don’t believe I make that first type and I willingly accept the daily challenge to make the second. Even Brother Ass himself reluctantly agreed my food is not bland hippie fare and has variety – although he then went on to say I will soon be making Assy Veggie Loaf. I didn’t think I’d say this past the early nineties, but Whatever.

"Okay, Ryan, you told Toby that Creed has a distinct old man smell?"

Today I bought a pound each of sunflower seeds and cranberry beans, two pounds of Thompson midget (dwarf? miniature? I can’t remember) raisins, two pounds of mung beans, two pounds of extra-thick rolled oats, four figs (at Sophie’s request), and four pieces of organic black licorice.

The total came to $5.54 for this food.

I am learning things daily now that I don’t cook meat. For instance – did you know that when you get those big sprouts on your salad or on top of your noodle bowl – the whitish yellow ones – they are usually mung bean sprouts? Did you know these beans are grown predominantly in China and in the states, Oklahoma (another punch to the groin of any 100-mile diet ambition)? Did you know even though I now have mung beans I will never make daal, because it’s tasteless ass?

My children are accompanying me on learning new ways to buy, store, and prepare food. Today I was pleased Sophie recognized the figs she likes: fully 1/2 of the bulk food available at The Marketplace are things I have never tried! Some things I have and found worthless (carob, bee pollen, any kind of “natural” refined-sugar substitute), many others I am slowly learning the skills to prepare. But as I more earnestly throw myself into preparing delicious, nutritious, environmentally-friendly and economical food I really hope my children don’t view these foods – as I did and sometimes do – as tasteless “health” staples that lack flavor and texture (P.S. extra big “fuck you” to carob, I am not interested in losing my bigotry there). I like the idea my children really will know what these foods are, even if they don’t care for some of them. Fuck you carob. Again.

I am determined not to go overboard and invest in any fancy-assed veggie accoutrement and yes, that includes not even buying large, inexpensive glass jars to hippie-display my beans and grains in (by the way, beans really are beautiful – I can see the temptation). Right now anyway we have a hierarchy of what’s needed for our food and sundry. Our kitchen is lacking in general dishes, especially plates: we have a grand total of seven. Payday on Monday and Ralph has (sort of) given me permission to buy a few place settings. Whee!

"You’ve got 15 minutes to shove pie down your hole then it’s camper time!"

So, I’ve decided to go vegetarian. Sort of. And no, I don’t mean “except for bacon”.

It’s been a long time coming. I don’t want to bore you with my reasons but my decision was precipitated by watching Fast Food Nation the other night and it’s my simple truth that eating meat – as it’s produced by most methods in this country – is just fucking vile. Vile for us, the animals, the planet, everyone involved except maybe those who make good, good money in the industry.

Now, here comes my “sort of” – if I can find meat that is raised healthily and killed “humane”ly (yes, there really are better and worse ways for these animals to die) – I will gladly purchase this meat and cook it, with my blessings. Since I don’t know what we have here – even at the lovely Michael’s Meats in Aberdeen – I am cooking vegetarian until I can buy into a pig or whatever! This is basically a COUNTDOWN TO BACON, but meanwhile I’m going to be pretty damn busy planning food for my family.

Because this makes my already challenging cooking-from-scratch-for-four (plus guests) difficulties a little more… tricky. Here’s how I was raised: you assemble dinner by cooking a meat, a “starch”, a vegetable. Sure, I cook vegetarian fare now and again but it’s a lark, a money-saver, not something I do daily. When I cooked vegetarian food more often it was still “assembled” around soy, usually tofu. And I don’t want to tofu-out our asses as I’ve seen many a vegan / vegetarian do; studies are finding out nor should we rely extensively on processed “meat”-like products to live a vegetarian lifestyle.

Last night we had spaghetti squash with butter, home-canned tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, roasted garbanzo beans, and a simple cucumber salad. I was thrilled, and I mean thrilled, to see my children eat this meal happily (and not trouble about the fact there has been no meat in this house for a few days), but it’s not unexpected either; I’ve been cooking lots of vegetables and cooking from scratch ever since they were born. My husband supports my choice as well. And damn, anyone in my family is free to go pursue their meat-laden dreams somewhere else if they’d like to.

For now: making a list – which I shall soon post here – of this week’s menu and grocery list. P.S. I do not have the grocery money for this yet! Wish me luck.

Loaves and Fishes. Except not Fishes.

Grocery Opus, Week 2: The topic of discussion is bread.

In recent years there have been some times in our life where our family eats nearly a loaf a day. This is usually due to the following two factors: 1. a lack of planned snacks or lunches, and 2. a proclivity towards toast for morning breakfasts (my husband’s doing mostly).

Knowing this, as I embarked on my once-a-week plan I could not quite bring myself to buy several loaves for the week. A side note: it is comforting knowing that should I choose to do so, I could put loaves in the freezer. Bread doesn’t last forever in a freezer, but under a week is perfect. Simply put the loaf in as-is (no additional wrapping), and take it out for an overnight thaw. This includes dinner rolls, hamburger buns – anything at all bread-like. This is also a great idea for appetizers or snack breads (my bruschetta could use a stored loaf, either whole or pre-cut) in case you ask company over for the next day.

The first and second weeks I followed through on the once-a-week plan, I simply bought one loaf of bread. I thought – well, I thought I would run out of this bread and bake more. As it turned out, with the substitution of other items for snacks (veggie sticks and hummous, tuna noodle casserole, biscuits with hard-boiled eggs) we did not in fact eat as much bread. This helps bolster a point: some things we think we need (and therefore buy in quantity), are actually only self-perpetuating habits (this is also my theory as to why bulk-Costco shopping does not in fact save a great deal of money; or at least, that the savings are countermanded by the increased consumptive rate the buying often fosters).

The last couple weeks I have bought one loaf of bread and have only baked two batches of biscuits to supplement. Given we have discovered bread is not a daily need, it makes it all the more likely we will be encouraged to make bread from scratch. And at $3 – $4 a loaf, losing out on a couple loves a week from the grocery bill is a bonus.

Here is Week #2’s shopping list:

1 head red leaf lettuce
1 head romaine lettuce
1 lb. fresh green beans
1 bunch celery
1 small head cabbage
5 lbs. clementines
2 lbs. carrots
4 oz. sprouts
2 cucumbers
large jar pickles
tostada shells
1 1/2 lb. pistachios
2 pounds vine tomatoes
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast
2 lbs. extra-lean hamburger meat, all natural
1 can each tomato sauce, petite diced, and tomato paste
2 cans coconut milk
2 cans baby corn
1 can medium olives
2 lbs. angel hair pasta (buy one get one free)
2 lbs. raisins
5 lbs. all-purpose flour
baking powder
salt and pepper shakers
1 lb. frozen peas
2 lbs. oven fries, frozen
1 bag potato chips
1 pound butter
18 eggs
2 lbs. extra sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. shaved parmesan
1/2 pound swiss cheese
1/2 pound deli ham, all-natural
1 gallon organic milk
1 quart half and half
1 package sourdough hoagies
4 hamburger buns, 100% whole wheat
12 pack Red Hook beer
Glad Press-N-Seal wrap
3 bars coconut castille soap

The total came to $154.

because, you know, you all GIVE a shit about what we eat.

I am feeling duty-bound to report occasionally following up my grocery opus from the other day (thanks to those four people who actually trudged their way through that one, by the way!). So far we are well-fed, our fridge is tidy, and I have bought nothing – not even a cup of coffee or one roll – from a store since Sunday.

I am devoting less time mentally (and yes, emotionally), physically, and financially to food, without sacrificing the quality of what we eat. Yet, I have to reorient myself in small ways. Today in my two-hour break between being home from playschool and leaving on a trip with a friend, I had to cook a lunch (broccoli from Sunday night’s dinner with homemade ceasar dressing, hardboiled egg, and cheese cubes), then rinse and soak beans for tonight. I also made up fresh biscuits, slathered mustard and stuffed with corned beef, and prepared carrot sticks (for Sophie and I on our trip). These food errands while juggling kids, doing dishes, washing and folding laundry, helping my children clean their room, serving lunch, cleaning up after lunch and putting my son to bed, and assimilating freshly-washed hand-me-downs into their closets while winnowing out the grow-out for other families. I ain’t saying it wasn’t fun; it was. But the food preparation and cleanup this entailed when I normally would have grabbed a sandwich from a deli (and while I was there, bought a Vietnamese coffee. and some spicy pepperoni. and…) required an adjustment.

There have been only a few hiccups in our meal plan. Tonight my husband does not succeed in cooking the beans for dinner long enough (I had left instructions but somehow he didn’t get it) so at 7 PM they still needed another hour and we were already late for dinnertime (read: kids were gnawing on the table legs and, occaisonally, each other). Normally we have canned refried beans so to graduate to dried-and-soaked ones is still new. However! I had one large can in the pantry (as he pointed out) so those were heated while the whole ones were cooked and preserved in the freezer for a dinner next week.

Tomorrow we have enough dinner to invite a friend; I do. She’s bringing fresh, delicious beer from our favorite brewery. For now: a cuddle with my daughter and Season 2 Disc 2 of NBC’s “The Office”.

prepare to grab at your chest, because I am going to bore the tits off you.

I’m going to warn you – this will be a long, laborious, boring entry to many. The truth is, though, a few people write me every week or two to praise my efforts and chronicles of being a housewife and to appreciate my writing. Some of them, yes, are even impressed with my career advances in housewifery! (these are the ones that don’t live near me where they can see the broken dryer in my driveway, the holes in my socks, and the state of my lawn!)

So anyway. I am responsible for (at least) four people’s every piece of nutritional intake, three meals a day plus desserts, snacks, and beverages. Every day, 7 days a week (minus a few of my husband’s would-be clandestine hot dogs at, yes, the Safeway gas station! Jesus.). It took me a while to figure out how phenomenal this responsibility is; but now I truly get it. This week I am offering up both my philosophy and a few practical approaches to feeding a family good food.

As a rule, I try to eschew the more typical views: that food is something incidental, something we deserve convenience with, and something that should only consume a miniscule amount of our financial resources (look it up: in most other parts of the world 70% is a more realistic figure). Neither do I believe food should be the obsessive enterprise in our life or that orgiastic pleasure should be achieved each dinner. I believe there is an art and a science to feeding a family in the way that works best for the family. I am seeking out methods that are economical and embrace both my talents and my personal values – nutritional, social, environmental, and ethical.

My personal pitfalls are not lack of skill nor tiring of the job. I love cooking from scratch and can’t remember the last time I opened up a can of soup nor bought ready-made frosting. My struggles usually deal with thinking too much on food and making my day in large part about mulling over recipes, securing the groceries, and making the time to cook. What I’d prefer is to feed the family well, to spend money on products we believe in without using the purchase as a “shopping spree”, and to spend less time thinking about food (what to make, when to make it, how much is left, etc).

A couple years ago I attempted to buy groceries for the week. I fell prey to two common problems with this approach. The first is this: if you don’t follow your plan to the letter, you often end with extra food (in raw form or leftovers), food you ultimately end up throwing out. The second potential difficulty is if you schedule meals you aren’t that excited about cooking or eating, you will not enjoy the experience and you will start to – you got it, think about food some more. Two other potential negative aspects of this approach to note: it elminates meal spontanaety to some extent, and the other partner, if you have one, may have difficulty stepping in and making the meal(s) you’d planned.

However, in the last couple years since I last tried weekly buying, I have learned a few tricks. So the last week and this I felt emboldened to try the method again.* Here is how I went about it.

First, a few days ago I re-organized my pantry. This experience was actually pleasant for me as I discovered I really used most of the food in my house – there were no cans of this-or-that, no stale spices, no random baking ingredients, no processed pasta helpers or pudding mixes (incidentally, the intimate knowledge of and use of my own pantry is one of the tricks I learned over the last two years). It took me about thirty minutes to get my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer in good order; mostly, it was in good order because I use it a lot and have been slowly weaning myself from unneccesary items.

So now I knew what I had in my house. I knew exactly what kind of dried beans I had, how many cans of tomato sauce, and what the status was on the baking powder. I had an organized and uncluttered fridge and freezer (the freezer becomes important, as you will see). From there, it was very easy to come up with a week menu – considering first any perishable groceries needing to be consumed (in my case, four pounds of corned beef from a favorite market, a bag of baby spinach, an opened can of coconut milk), thinking on the pantry items (the cashews would make a good match with a savory Asian dish; my mom’s home-canned tuna should be considered), and consolidating ingredients for the week into more than one meal (for instance, my favorite red sauce recipe makes up enough for two dinners). I made a simple grid of six days and wrote out the dinner plan (no fine details).

Now, at this point I had to think of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and beverages (by this I mean alcoholic, and we limit ourselves to beer and wine). My goal is not to eat out or shop again until Saturday, when my husband and I have our date. In any case with this method you want to have some snack ideas so you don’t fall prey to ordering a pizza at 2:30 in the afternoon when your energy is shot and everyone’s crabby and dinner is a few hours away (or is this just me that does this?). Thinking of all this extra food in addition to dinners sounds terrifying but it’s really not. If you eat large family dinners, you probably eat leftovers the next day and mostly snack for lunch and have easy breakfasts. As long as you keep some staples in your house, you only need to think of fresh snack ideas you may enjoy over the week – items like fruit, lunch meat, maybe soup ingredients. List these breakfast, lunch, and snack ideas – the ones both in your pantry (for instance, cornbread or oatmeal cookies) and the ones you plan to buy – in another column next to your week’s dinners. Add any appropriate items to your shopping list.

Finally, you should think on any household sundries you may want to buy from your store – toothpaste, laundry soap, light bulbs, etc. Add these to your shopping list.

Now you have a menu and a shopping list (you can take both to the store). Here is my week’s menu:

Now, I am familiar enough with shopping that I write the list in the order the ingredients are laid out in the store. After I have the list, the family loads up for our shopping trip. Making the menu, the list, and buying the groceries took about one hour. Here was what we bought:

1 head red leaf lettuce
2 lbs. carrots
8 jalapenos
1 spaghetti squash
2 shittake mushrooms
4 granny smith apples
1 bunch celery
1 can tomato sauce
1 can petite dice tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
2 cans green beans
1 package spring roll wraps
1 lb. organic tofu, firm
1 package rotille pasta
1 large canister oatmeal
four-pack Guinness
4 Port Townsend Brewery beers
1 lb. coffee from Sunrise Coffee (local)
Large sour cream
2 lbs. butter
2 gallons milk
2 lbs. extra sharp cheese
1 jar peanut butter (no added ingredients)
1 package frozen steak fries
1 lb. ground pork (all natural)
1 lb. leanest ground beef (all natural)
1 loaf bread (whole wheat)
4 hamburger buns (100% whole wheat)
seasoning salt
tinfoil (100 ft reynold’s wrap)
12 roll toilet paper
package of 2 pastry brushes

The total was $127.

When I got home and before I put groceries away, I cleaned the fridge of anything from last week that wouldn’t be used. This only turned out to be about 1/2 cup of taco meat, two servings of peanut sauce, and some leftover hot cereal. Anything still edible (say, last night’s dinner) was already parsed into leftover servings and on the top shelf where my husband can retrieve it (by the way; he is instructed to take the leftovers to work and, if he doesn’t eat them, to dispose of them and bring back clean
dishes. I don’t care if he eats them or not, although he usually does – I just don’t want to be stacking up leftovers all week long
.) The groceries are then put away.

The freezer deserves a tangential mention here. My freezer is 40% full of whole grains and flours. Besides these items and ice cubes, I freeze in very small spurts of time – a few days for meat, a few days for bread. So the pork and hamburger I bought today will spend a couple days in the freezer and be taken out the day before I cook them. This is mostly psychological so I’m not seeing red meat in the fridge for a few days and worrying about it. We make bread in our home, but it is good to have some in the freezer if you anticipate running out and don’t want to do another store run (where you are guaranteed to come home $30 short for “just a loaf of bread”). I also buy butter when it’s on sale to freeze (we are a no-margarine zone) and I freeze items like homemade frosting that are often put up in large batches. It takes time to know what freezes well (and by “well” I mean effortlessly, with no double-wrapping bullshit). I am not a big Freezer Fanatic but I have learned to use it and keep on top of it.

Back to this week. These groceries and this amount of money (along with what I have in my pantry) will keep my husband in lunches at his work (mostly leftovers, as is his preference) and supply lunch, breakfast, and homemade non-processed foods for our week, as well as our liquor bill in its entirity. It also will (hopefully) afford me a significant less amount of time in THINKING and PLANNING food (because I did this today). All in all, I spent 1 1/2 – 2 focussed hours on this project and I won’t have to shop again this week.

That’s as clear as I feel like making it. If you should decide to try some of these ideas, here are a few more tips:

1. Make one of your primary goals to KNOW what food you have in your home and how much of it you have. Maybe this seems daunting; it used to be to me. Grab the courage to throw out things you don’t use, or use them up and don’t buy them again until you plan on using them. I also posit this sort of mental inventory is much easier for someone who is primarily a homemaker and not an earner. If you are tracking a full workday or share cooking and buying duties you will have to be more creative in making this happen.

2. Make your secondary goals to A. NOT throw out food, and B. Enjoy the food you eat. This also is tricky; often people going for the weekly shopping will at first try to be economical. A small grocery bill doesn’t make up for three days of whats-it “healthy” casseroles or many reheats of the same soup (individual family preferences vary here).

3. Consider shopping at one grocery store, if there is one you like to support (even if prices aren’t rock-bottom – remember, your time is worth something, not to mention your petrol!). Multiple trips to different stores mean you will likely tire of the exercise and increase the likelihood you will make impulsive buys.

4. On your weekly grocery trip, stick to the list. Even if you see lovely seasonal tupperware or a yummy tea – do NOT buy it. Tell yourself that if you really want this thing you will put it on the next list (next week). A little longing never hurt anyone – and impulsive shopping adds up.

5. Caveat to rule #4 – you can deviate a bit from your list (celery was on sale today). A bit. Now, PUT THE ITEM YOU BOUGHT ON YOUR LIST. Take it home and make mental (or written) inventory. You should have only bought one or two “extra” things.

6. Post a similar menu as the one above up on your fridge. This will release you from thinking about what to cook, it will remind you of what ingredients you have (esp. the perishable items), and enable others to help you cook if you feel burnout during your week.

7. Streamline what’s in your kitchen by learning to cook from scratch. Keep condiments down. A fridge full of condiments that don’t get used creates a cluttered fridge that you won’t really enjoy looking in. Just like your pantry and freezer, know and use what’s in the fridge.

And finally, a few evaluation tools at the end of the week:

1. How much did you enjoy what you ate?

2. Did you throw any food out?

3. What did you do with the time you would have spent at the grocery store or thinking of what to eat? Did you find yourself thinking of the meal plan or could you release that concern?

4. How much did you spend? What did this compare to previous weeks?

5. How happy were you with the leftovers? Were those eaten happily or did you make too much? Not enough?

6. What did your family think of your meals? Did your partner (if you have one) step in and help?

Finally – I encourage you to gauge your success not by what your grocery bill is per week. Grocery bills are useless to compare because each family has different members, different values in terms of food quality (local and fresh or not; organic or non; vegetarian or non, etc). However, this method will enable you to KNOW more about what you spend since you will have one ticket per week.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

* I chose a weekly frequency but you could buy for two weeks or more. I like the relative spontaneity a week plan affords me and I also don’t want to look at a packed fridge at the beginning of the food term. This method keeps my fridge rather svelte.