Written by: Jill Krantz – Lakewinds Event & Community Relations Coordinator
Is it possible to feed your family, on a budget, with mostly organic and/or natural foods?
Even a large one like mine? Six kids, three of whom are teenage boys. . .
It requires some basic knowledge, simple planning, and a little extra time in the kitchen.
A meal plan is a busy parent’s best friend. You will save many hours AND many dollars by coming up with a basic weekly or monthly meal plan. If you have a plan, you won’t be tempted to pick up expensive (and usually unhealthy) convenience items at the store or drive-thru window. You’ll also save gas when you don’t have to “run out” to get something you need.
All you need is a calendar, a few sheets of paper, and a hungry family.
- At your next family dinner, when everyone is present, get input! Ask for everyone’s 5-10 favorite dinners. Think “entrée” because sides can always be filled in at later dates, depending on sales and seasons. Write down all the dinner ideas offered by your family, and after a few minutes, you’ll have a Master List of 20-30 main meals. Keep this list! Add to it when you try new recipes with success.
- From the Master List make your monthly or weekly meal plan. I do a week at a time. This is where you’ll need a calendar and another sheet of paper. Look at your schedule, determine when everyone will be home, when some will be home, and when all will be on the run. On the all-home nights, write in a meal and sides if you like. On the some-home nights, fill in leftovers or freezer staples. On the no-home nights, plan to have handy items to grab or make, or take on the go. POST THIS PLAN and try to stick to it.
- From the meal plan, make your shopping list.
- TIP: Keep track of inventory in your home – pantry, freezer, fridge. Plan some meals or at least sides with “use it up” items in mind.
Knowing this basic principle of nutrition will save money AND increase good health, including energy and weight management: “The more nutrient dense the food, the less of that actual food the body needs to consume.” A simple example? An apple or a bag of chips – which one is more filling, contains more fiber and vitamins, and has less fat and calories? Of course, the apple. A whole apple is convenient to take to school or work, and can be combined with protein like cheese or nut butter for a great snack or light meal. Filling up on a huge bag of chips makes no sense, or cents.
- Learn the co-op and where the savings are located. Take an unhurried trip to Lakewinds, armed with your master list and even your weekly shopping list.
- Start in produce and keep an eye on seasonal and local fruits and vegetables. These are the most nutrient dense foods on any given day. Seasonal means peak freshness. Local means short traveling distance. Even in winter, you can find squash and greens and hydroponic tomatoes grown locally. Very often these will be on sale at their peak. Stock up, use right away, or freeze. Buying strawberries in January is a lovely idea, but often not practical. Nearly any vegetable can be added to Lakewinds’ 32 Bean Soup Recipe (a great bulk bean purchase!) link to our recipe here
- Move to the dairy department and realize farm-fresh organic eggs are your best friend. They are local, they are organic, they are loaded with protein, they come in their own freshness package, and nearly everyone likes eggs in some form. Think outside the breakfast skillet – in addition to fried and scrambled eggs, try omelets or quiche or egg bake for lunch or dinner. Add some meat if you like, lots of fresh vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, onion, leeks, spinach, kale) and your favorite cheese. An extra egg or two added to your pancake or waffle recipe packs a protein punch, and who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner once in a while? ALL these egg dishes can be made ahead and frozen. Breakfast burrito on the go? Bingo!
- Meat is often the most expensive item in your basket. Here is where sales come in handy. Look for large packages of ground beef on sale – just last week I bought 6 pounds of ground beef, packaged in individual 1-pound packs, for $4.99 per pound. For all natural ground beef, that’s a great price! I’m ready for tacos and spaghetti sauce and casseroles . . . Remember, too, that whole chickens and roasts are an economical way to put protein on the table. Less waste, and often will stretch to 2-3 meals (more on that later).
- Bulk is a budget-conscious person’s favorite aisle. Grains, dried beans, sweeteners, rice, snacks, coffee, herbs, spices, granola, nuts, seeds and dried fruit are ALL there and by their very nature are the best deals in the co-op. Less packaging. Buy what you need. Stock up when on sale and store at home for months. My favorites? Dried beans, rice, and herbs and spices. At this writing, organic dried pinto beans from Lakewinds’ bulk department are $2.29 per pound. For a large family, I buy two pounds, soak in water overnight, then cook the next day. From this quantity, I have 3 meals worth of beans – a big pot of chili, a crock pot of barbecue beans (with or without ground meat, sausage, hot dogs, etc.), and refried beans for burritos or enchiladas. There’s no better value!
Yes, you actually have to cook the food . . . I know. But there are some great ways to stretch dollars AND food to last over a few meals, a few days, a few paychecks!
- Those whole chickens and roasts? I never cook just one. Roasting two chickens, or putting two roasts in a crockpot or pan, is no more work than one. When you’ve finished dinner, save the bones and skin and any collected juices. These can go in a bag in the freezer, and when you have a good supply, MAKE STOCK! Quarts of chicken, beef or vegetable stock in your freezer are the beginnings of healthy and inexpensive future meals of soups and stews.
- Roast chicken for dinner tonight, enchiladas for the freezer, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch. Two chickens easily become 3-4 meals including soup.
- If you have time and energy, learn to make your own granola and yogurt. All granola ingredients can be found in the bulk aisle, and yogurt is as simple as a few quarts of milk, some glass jars, and a crock pot. Lots of great recipes online.
- Bake your own bread! There are lots of blogs and recipes for “bread in 5 minutes a day” – look them up, keep a simple dough in your fridge, and use continually for bread, pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, and more.
- When fruit is a great price, stock up! Bananas on sale? Buy them up, peel, drop into freezer bags, and your smoothie future looks bright. Same with berries or mangos. Whatever is fresh, abundant, and a great price!
- I mentioned breakfast burritos and these can be great “to-go” foods at home. Eggs, bacon or sausage (on sale!), cheese, potatoes (always inexpensive) – scramble them up and season well, fill tortillas or wraps, wrap in plastic or foil, then drop into freezer bags. They can be quickly heated and taken in the car, or make a great late night snack for scavenging teens.
- Pickle. Yes, pickle. When vegetables are a great price, and I mean nearly any vegetable, think refrigerator pickles. You don’t need canning equipment, just some jars and lids, along with vinegar, sugar, salt, spices and your vegetables. Carrots, cauliflower, radishes, onions, asparagus, green beans, summer squash – there’s no end to the possibility. Making some jars of quick pickles means organic vegetables are able to last in your fridge for many weeks, even months. Again, lots of recipes online.