It was 3 years ago when I came home with 10 bottles of yellow mustard. In my mind I had scored big time because I had watched a few episodes of Extreme Couponing, and was determined to be as extreme as my couponing skills allowed. That haul also included several gallons of almond milk, an obscene amount of ketchup and cold cereal, loaves of bread, canned soups and a bunch of other stuff I won’t dare share. What had happened to the health nut that I once was? She was turned on by the glitter and gold of couponing and for a short time, allowed herself to be moved by “bargains” rather than healthy eating.
After that haul, I realized that couponing wasn’t really about saving money and feeding your family, but more so about fulfilling some strange addiction to shopping and hoarding. I dumped my coupon binder, stopped attending my monthly coupon meet up (yeah it was that serious), and got back on track with eating healthy. Prior to my couponing fall out, my family and I ate mostly organic fresh foods. Produce, seafood, nuts, grains and bread made up the bulk of our diet. Often time our refrigerator would be busting at the seams and our cupboards were bare. This was simply due to the amount of living foods we consumed. Once my pantry was bursting with dehydrated, preservative rich and sugary foods I knew that my growing fascination with couponing was going to drive my family’s health down the tubes.
Think about it. When is the last time you saw a coupon for fresh fish, leafy greens, bunches of apples, raw milk? Probably never. Exactly! The majority of coupons are available for the food products that aren’t conducive to keeping a healthy mind and body. They had to go!
Once I got back on track with shopping for good wholesome foods, I was quickly reminded how couponing was able to knock me off my path. Healthy eating was expensive! Woosaaah! We are a family of 7 (5 at that time) and our monthly grocery bill was often in the $1,000 range. Come on! Nah son! (inserts a bit of NYC lingo) There had to be a better way to continue feeding my family nutritionally rich foods while not breaking the bank, right?
It took some time and trial and error, but I have managed to develop a system that allows me to feed my family of 7 a mostly organic, nutritionally rich, live and natural diet without breaking the bank…for only $150 per week. Shut the front door! Your girl is doing the damn thang! There’s that NYC flowing out of me again!
Let me show you how I manage to do it. If you follow these steps, you too can do it.
Step 1: Scope out your local grocery stores, farmers markets and farms
Go check out all of the grocery stores and markets within a few miles of your home. This is what you want to look for:
-Who has an organic section (all don’t).
-Dow often they run in store sales.
-Do they offer a shoppers discount card?
-Do they have a bulk foods section?
-Ask the manager how often they receive deliveries of fresh produce.
-If you have a special diet (halal, kosher, gluten free, sugar free) does the store carry these items.
Scoping out the stores will help you determine which one will best fit your needs. From there you can determine what the best store is, and what day and time is best for you to go shopping. If you play your cards right you will only have to shop once per week to get everything you need to feed your family. You only need to do this step once unless you move or your store makes some significant changes. If you live in an area where local farms are easily accessible, drop by and speak to the farmers. Ask them if they sell directly to the public. If so, you have hit the jackpot! You can get farm fresh foods for pennies on the dollar. Grass fed beef, free range eggs and chicken, veggies, fruits, raw milk, the list just goes on and on. If you are totally awesome, you may be able to get all of your foods from local farmers and forego the grocery store all together!
Step 2: Set your budget
Your food budget should be a percentage of your weekly income. Depending on the size of your family you may need anywhere from 5-30%. If you don’t get paid weekly, break down your bi-weekly or monthly salary into weekly amounts and take a percentage of that to use only for food. So for example. If you wanted to use 10% of an $800/wk. salary, your weekly food budget would be $80. Now you want to break your weekly food budget down into categories. They are
-Bulk (mostly pantry items)
-Meat and Fish
-Fluids (juice, water, coffee, tea)
What’s not included in your weekly food budget are items such as vitamins and supplements, hygiene products, paper products…etc. This is strictly for food.
Step 3: Make your weekly meal plan
Meal planning is essential to staying on track with your food budget. Before you step foot in the grocery store you should have an itemized list of all the foods you will need to feed your family for the week ahead. This list should include all ingredients. We homeschool, so I plan 3 meals for every day and include snacks. If you want to maximize your food budget, planning all meals to be prepared at home will do just that. For those that work outside of the home, you can pack up whatever you need to take for lunch and eliminate the expense of buying lunch outside of the house. This will also help you to adhere special diets, if applicable. Each meal should have a vegetable, a starch, a protein and I like to also add a fruit. We want to keep our food intake balanced. Your family size will determine how many servings you need to allot for in each meal. I allot 2 serving for each of us and ½-1 serving for my babies. Most nights we don’t have leftovers. When we do, we eat it for the next day’s lunch.
Step 4: Make a grocery list and go shopping
If you have connected with a local farmer, get as much as you can from your list. Whatever remains make a separate list and match those items with sales at your local grocery store or market. Be sure to make note of what section your items are housed in at the store. It just makes shopping so much easier. Buy as many items in bulk as possible. Purchasing in bulk is less expensive than buying smaller amounts. For example. Buying a 3 pound tub of whole oats for $2.98 is a wise choice when a pack of eight 1oz instant oatmeal pouches cost $1.50. You are getting more bang for your buck by purchasing the oatmeal in bulk. In this case it’s also healthier as the oatmeal hasn’t been processed and loaded up with tons of sugar and artificial flavors. When you enter the grocery store, get all of your dry goods first and then get your produce of refrigerated items. This will help keep the perishable items fresher as you transport them home.
Step 5: Arrange your groceries at home
It is a wise investment to purchase plastic kitchen storage containers and large zip lock bags. When you bring your grocery haul home, don’t just begin putting them away. Remove things from its store packaging (unless it’s something that should stay in its original packaging) and place in plastic containers or zip lock bags. Things such as grains, veggies, nuts, meat, fish…etc. Label containers and plastic bags and store in proper place. Doing this helps you get a real time view of your food supply and will help when planning your next grocery store run. This method will also help children understand food consumption as it relates to meal preparation and budgeting. They can see everything!
Step 6: Eat on a Schedule
A large part of making your grocery haul last the full week, is by eating on a schedule. Too often we just eat whenever we want. Boredom, sadness, and excitement are just a few of the reasons we may seek food. How many times have you eaten when you weren’t really hungry? I know I’m guilty! We should eat to nourish our bodies and doing so over a period of time will improve your overall health. This doesn’t mean you can’t splurge every now and again but for the most part, you should stick to an eating schedule. We have 3 meals per day and 1 snack between lunch and dinner. Breakfast is at 8am, lunch at 12:30pm, and dinner at 7:30pm. Snack time is usually around 4pm. Be sure to drink lots of water with your meals and also throughout the day. Hunger is easy to confuse with thirst. Stay hydrated!
Well, there you have it. A fool proof method to feeding your family a mostly organic or all natural diet without breaking the bank. Yes, learning to do this weekly does take some time but in the long run you will appreciate the money you are saving, and enjoy seeing your family eat healthy, nutrient rich foods. Good luck! Be sure to comment and let me know if you’ve tried this method and how it works for your family. I’m off to prepare dinner for the tribe.