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Food is expensive. Challenge accepted!! (Note: blog post may be NSFV - not safe for vegetarians :o(

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

First of all, no I am NOT procrastinating. Sometimes I start a thread reply and it turns into a blog post - and as I LIKE my fellow SparkPeople, I do occasionally take my book-length posts over here!

There has been a lot of talk about budgets and the rising cost of food lately. There's always talk of how to find time to make nutritious meals in the busy world where fast food is, well, FASTer than home cooking. True, this is all true. Food costs are skyrocketing and my family is on a CRAZY strict budget. I juggle three jobs so time is very limited on top of the limited funds.

And yet, I am absolutely not feeling this particular pinch. Okay, I actually got a pressure cooker for Christmas so I could save money by not having to resort to canned beans when pinched for time. Even I'm making adjustments.

But essentially, nothing has changed around here. Sure, my stomach drops out at the sight of $6 cauliflower and $7 lettuce. I reeeeeeeeally miss tomatoes. But we have great hothouse peppers and cukes here, and even fresh basil. Turnips, potatoes, yams and other roots are still cheap. Plus it's citrus season! Woohoo!! I put up a couple bushels of tomatoes in jars last fall, I got a half of a quarter of beef in the freezer (it was expensive, but sooo worth it to support a local guy and eat a cow I actually met) plus, potatoes are still $2.49 for 10 pounds so we're laughing!

When it comes to food and cooking, trust me, I can ALWAYS find the bright side!

I got a free freezer a few years ago and tried freezer meals a few times but I can't get my family to eat them :o( They're spoiled and like everything fresh. Sheesh! I do use it to store a good amount of veg from the garden, fruit when it's cheap and other items as the go on sale or when my buddy has fresh chickens or pork.

Anyhoo, good meals and time management is something I feel like I've got down pretty well. I'd love to share my tips ;o)

I make a menu for the week and stick to it like glue. It's based on what I've already got in the fridge/pantry/freezer, what's on sale this week and a standard rotation:
One soup night,
one chicken night,
one veggie night,
one pasta,
one Asian (family preference; our definition is extremely broad) and
one red meat or fish. Could be grilled salmon, could be chuckwagon chili, could be pork chops... wide open here.
Seventh day is whatever we're craving that week.

Example - this week:
Monday - fresh pasta (hubby made it!!) with marinara, meatballs, asparagus and salad
Tuesday - (I work the evening so I have to leave dinner) a Big Lentil soup with garlic toast and fruit smoothie
Wednesday - (also working evening) "Hippy Chow" - quinoa and rice, shredded carrots, beets, kale, possibly cashews, cucumber, maybe some beans, leftover asparagus, and shredded cabbage, peanut sauce and sesame sauce. I prep the components ahead, put it on a platter and the kids make their own bowlfull, pop it in the microwave and shazam! It will also be my 'lunch' for two or three days.
Thursday - home all day, still have one nice chicken in the freezer - roast chicken, potatoes and whatever veg I have kicking around that day. I'm thinking roast brussels sprouts, beets and chard.
Friday - Asian night - last week we had a lot of curries. This week it's hot & sour soup and frozen spring rolls (I made a big batch and froze half the last time we made them) It will have tofu, green onions, dried mushrooms, baby corn, bamboo, peas... I have some chow mein noodles in the freezer I might toss in.
Saturday - I work a night after a night so I'm thinking a roast beef I can make stew with on Sunday and sandwiches on Monday!
Sunday will likely be perogies or potatoes and cabbage with a bit of bacon and either a saurkraut salad or the rest of our sprouts.

Every week we have a family planning meeting. I make every person pick a meal that they want that week. If one kid is obsessed with picking pizza every week then I make pita pizza or pizza frittata or deconstructed pizza slow-cooker soup. You have to put up with experimental food at my house sometimes. Everybody gets one meal they love no matter what, even if it's something that others aren't fond of - like DS and I love seafood but nobody else does. DH and DD are lentil-soup-every-week people while DS and I aren't. Tough cookies. One night it's salmon. Suck it up. Thank goodness nobody ever asks for liver. This week I requested the pasta, DH the Hippy Chow, DD the chicken and DS the hot & sour soup. The rest was just a game of fill-in-the-blanks.

I've had to really stretch my culinary wings with this 'everybody picks' philosophy. I make rolled sushi sometimes. I have vegan caviar in my freezer. I've made purple sticky rice and tried cooking chayote. It gets a little crazy at my house. But it's worth it when everyone looks forward to getting together at the table every night. How many families get to say that these days?

And by the way, my grocery bill, with juice, milk and lunch extra stuff, is about $100 this week. For a family of four. Yep. I'm all that!!

The key elements to my system are:
- planning: I don't make my meal choices on what I feel like today. I'm a grown up. I make choices based on nutritional balance and economic reality.
- shopping: I get what I can at the local market and supplement with what's on sale at the other local stores. I try to buy in season and I like to support my local farmer. I also like avocados and pineapple. *sigh*
- honouring my family: I like these crazy kids. I feel like they have a lot of important skills to pick up before I boot them out of my house. Cooking is really high on the list.
- health: It shouldn't be last on the list, I know. But in a way it is. I mean, the other decisions are in support of our health. I avoid lots of "foods" (that's what we call stuff like prepared lasagne, frozen dinners or canned 'salads' for goodness sake) that are high in
fat and sodium but low on nutrition. But not just for the sake of avoiding them. We just like better food and are willing to do what it takes to get it on the table.

Easy for me to say; I have a great kitchen and a family of culinary adventurists. I'm also lucky to live in a place where I have access to these ingredients - not as well as I did when I lived in a bigger city, but certainly better than my fellow Canadians in more northern communities. I'm sure there are families that have it WAY more together than we do. But this is one part of my life I feel good about. Like, I got this!

I hope there are some useful tips in here and not just a bunch of blowhard bragging. Happy cooking everyone. I wish you all joy in your kitchens, in your tummy and at your table, no matter where it is or who gathers there.
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