Organic and Thrifty

Baby Step #3: Saving Money by Menu Planning

Last week I got so busy that I didn’t make a menu plan for the week— I had to wing it! I felt very lost, but since I’m a creature of routine, I pretty much stuck with my regular breakfast routine and made use of what was in season from the garden and the CSA. This week I’m sort of combining Menu Plan Monday with a longer editorial, continuing my not-to-be abandoned series on the Baby Steps to Transitioning to Real Foods (If you missed the others, check out #1 and #2).  Hang with me, it’s rather long, but the menu plan is at the end.

One thing I really worked on last week was tightening our food budget even more. Being Organic and Thrifty as I am, I still had room for improvement. I will devote an upcoming post to share my entire, line-by-line food expenses if anyone was interested. What I’m really interested in tracking is what we’re really eating vs. what I’m buying. I think I’m pretty good at not wasting food, but sometimes I’m not so good at rationing.

For example, I often buy in bulk, so it’s really easy to replenish when something runs out. Sometimes that means we eat too much of something (like our yummy nitrate-free bacon) in a week and we end up buying more, thus spending more than necessary. Menu planning is a really crucial component to saving food money. If you know what you’ll be eating, then you’ll buy what you’ll eat. But menu-planning needs to be balanced by looking at priorities and keeping in mind the costs of those “luxery” foods when planning.

I’ll expound. I am always railing about eating grassfed meat, pastured eggs, and lots of good quality animals fats in addition to organic veggies. I am always insisting that this can be done frugally as long as we see the former as a “condiment” to the latter. The veggies take center stage; cooked, of course, in good fats and bone broth to make them more absorbable by the body. Rounded out with great superfoods like Fermented Cod Liver Oil and topped with homemade condiments made from lacto-fermented veggies, you can have a complete, nutrient-packed meal for less than $2.00 per person per meal. Way less, in terms of breakfast and lunch usually.

One critical component to eating this way and saving money, however, is to ration. This depends,of course, upon the size of your family (mine has 4; two adults and two children, 4 and 2, who combined eat about 1.5 adult servings. So keep that in mind.) I decided to map out exactly how many eggs we need per week, how many of our good nitrate-free hot dogs, and some of those other higher-ticket foods.  By keeping myself restricted to a certain number (it’s two dozen eggs, by the way, and 1 pack of hot dogs per week), I can stretch these out, and save gas and time by not having to keep going to the store for extra items later in the week!

Speaking of eggs, here’s another way to save. I buy grassfed eggs for $4.00 per dozen (I know, it’s a lot. But I talk in this post about why I’m actually getting more for my money!) because I want to trust that they are safe to eat raw (pasture-raised eggs are far less likely to have salmonella like caged, confined factory hens would) for smoothies or the “eggs with soft yolk” my kids beg for.  I use about 1 dozen eggs a week for the purpose of eating raw or undercooked.  The other dozen is devoted to baking (and since we’re grain-free, eggs are our main levening agent).  BUT if you really want to trim costs, you could compromise by buying supermarket eggs for baking purposes and save several dollars a week.

For now, I’m opting for 2 dozen pastured eggs, because I figure that the superior nutrient quality of the eggs is worth the extra cost, and when I bake with nutrient-dense ingredients, that means we eat less and therefore stretch longer. (For example, my grain-free pancakes make about 14-16 pancakes per batch. We can only eat 2 at the most per person because they are so dense and filling. That means that one recipe makes 2 breakfasts for us!)

Other ways to ration include having a couple of days a week of meatless meals, which fits in well with my religious tradition (Orthodox Christian– we fast 2 days per week and for longer periods throughout the year, such as the first 15 days of August!)  Due to our family dietary restrictions, we won’t eliminate meat,eggs, or dairy entirely from our menu (so please don’t be scandalized by our menu, we fast from LOTS of other things).

As for meat, I am looking to choose thrifty and organic cuts of meat. One favorite is Trader Joe’s Organic, Free Range Drumsticks.  One package feeds our family one meal for less than $2.50, plus the bones can be used to make chicken stock.  A whole chicken is also a great value, as it provides enough meat for several meals, plus a carcass for broth.  Trader Joe’s has great whole chickens as well. I have decided to make two meals per month using the drumsticks, and 2 meals a month with a roasted chicken in the crock pot.

I could go on and on with examples, but suffice to say, rationing is very helpful for me the avoid impulse purchases at the grocery store and to better streamline my menu plannng process.

So if you would like to do the same, I suggest:

1) Write down all the things you buy on a regular basis; these are your “fixed” purchases, for lack of a better term. Write them all down, by category, such as “Meats”, “Dairy”, “Pantry”, etc.  For example, we include Cod Liver Oil, Coconut Oil, 1/2 a beef purchased twice per year, 1/2 a lamb purchased once a year, goat milk purchased once a month, etc. in our “fixed costs”. Produce falls under variable costs because it’s seasonal. If there are regular frozen veggies or fruit you buy, by all means make them fixed.

2) Take the time to price all of these products. Write the price down next to the item.

3) Determine how long it takes you to use the item. This can be difficult, but if needed, you can take a few months to start writing down the date you purchased an item on the item, so when you run out you’ll realize how long you had it.  After gauging how often you use an item, you’ll be able to better ration and budget for it.

4) Determine the monthly, weekly, and yearly cost for the item.  This can be found by dividing the price of the item by the number of weeks it takes to use the item.  This is your price per week.  Multiply by four and you have your monthly cost, and multiply the weekly cost by 52 and you have your yearly. It helps if you do this all on a spreadsheet!

5) Once you add up all of your fixed costs you can give yourself an additional “variable” weekly budget that will allow you to buy fresh, seasonal produce on sale, or a special cut of meat that’s not in your “fixed” plan.

No matter how it turns out for you, this process is bound to enlighten you to what you’re actually buying and what you’re actually eating.  You will likely feel less stressed about what’s for dinner each day, and you’ll feel at peace that you are not wasting food and using what you have.  If it sounds like you’re running your kitchen like a restaurant, it’s because the process is very similar! In order for restaurants to maximize profits, they must streamline what they buy with what they sell.  Waste is not an option, which is why “daily specials” are often just the leftovers from a previous day worked into a lovely soup or salad.

So with all that said, here’s what we’ve got this week:

herb omlette with collards, roasted bell peppers, shredded zucchini, fresh peaches w/ cinnamon
L:grilled summer squash, leftover chile verde, lettuce salad
D: grilled salmon and grilled asparagus, salad

B: green smoothies and coconut flour biscuits w/ blueberries
L: hot dogs, raw cheese, saurkraut, salad
D: zucchini pasta with marinara, green beans, salad

B: almond-raisin “granola” with homemade yogurt
L:miso soup and smoked sardines w/ avocado and salsa
D: crock-pot palak paneer (modify recipe to use fresh spinach, no tofu, sub. with homemade paneer) over shredded cabbage

B: BALT (BLT w/ avocado) roll-ups
L:deviled eggs, carrots, salad greens
D: Roasted Chicken (Crock pot) with Potatoes, grilled summer squash, sauteed chard

B: grain-free pancakes
L: leftovers
D: scallops with veggie saute

B: yogurt, leftover pancakes
L: hot dogs, picnic fare

For more inspiring menus, with perhaps more options for those with not so restricted diets, visit The Happy Housewife!

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