Author Topic: FOOD  (Read 7801 times)

mandydean

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FOOD
« on: September 23, 2013, 01:30:15 PM »
I'm tackling the part of my budget where I feel like we've been waffling for years- food. We like to eat healthy food (for us that means real fresh ingredients, lots of produce and quality meat when it's on sale - organic only if it's cost effective, and we'd love to cut back on gluten but don't have any real problems with it). We go back and forth between "we're spending too much on food, let's cut back the budget" and suddenly "we're eating too much junk, it's worth it to just spend more and eat well." We are a family of 4 who is active. I can cook all our meals at home and send hubby's to work for his mini fridge.

Well, after stumbling across this blog a few months ago and reading about MMM's grocery budget, I feel like there's some good middle ground that I'm missing out on. I can't say for sure what we spend on just food, since I include a lot of household supplies, the occasional diapers, etc in our budget for that. But I feel like there's a lot of room for improvement.

I'm looking for the following advice:

1. Is there a simple way to calculate the cost-per-meal and calories-per-meal? I feel like trying to do all this math for each thing I am used to preparing is crazy-intense. I'm not bad at math, but I figuring out the cost-per-amount of each ingredient, even if I'm just estimating, is really hard to do. Is this something that starts to come naturally at some point? I don't want to gloss over it - after thinking about how many calories are in things like cooking oils, I feel like we're probably cooking a lot more calories into a meal than we need to.

2. Please share some of your go-to meal ideas and healthy snack ideas - especially kid-friendly and quick-fix stuff. My son isn't too picky but won't eat carrot sticks ALL the time. :-) I'd also LOVE healthy things that freeze well. Freezing has done a lot to save us time and money (since we can portion larger recipes down to EXACTLY what we eat, instead of winding up with too many leftovers or something), but most of the freezer recipes I find are light on the vegetables.

Thanks so much!

oldtoyota

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2013, 01:40:32 PM »
Hi there--

There's a recent thread here about GF foods. If you search for "gluten," it'll probably show up.

I asked a similar question a bit ago, and someone told me about BudgetBytes.com. Great website with meals calculated by price.

Have fun and good luck!

matchewed

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2013, 01:53:13 PM »
Another vote for budgetbytes. Great breakdowns and she also really enjoys freezable foods.

bogart

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2013, 02:08:10 PM »
For veggies, I use a lot of frozen ones.  Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beans all pop out of the bag still frozen (in whatever quantity you want) and with a dollop of oil or butter + salt/pepper to taste (or play around with your choice of seasonings) defrost/warm to "reasonably tasty" (not "superbly delicious") within a few minutes in the microwave.  I'm also a fan of chopped spinach with balsamic vinegar, but my kid's not (since you asked for kid-friendly!).  Frozen chopped spinach cooked into a frozen (or not) dish such as chicken + rice goes over OK with my kid.  You can sprinkle diced almonds (or other nuts) in for a flavor variation (and some protein).

Roasting up a big pan of root veggies (come combination of potatoes, beets, carrots, onions and maybe some fennel) on a weekend does me pretty well for a week's worth of meals at which the veggies get presented not at every single meal but included with several.  If you roast the veggies in separate pans, you can mix them in different combinations for different meals.

Kristin

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2013, 02:08:44 PM »
I go through the same stages of feeling like we spend too much on food, and then feel guilty when we cut back and don't eat well.
We are a family of 2, which makes it a little easier to be flexible, but I have found a couple things that work for me.

1.  We live off of homemade soup and it freezes well. Soup is super cheap and a healthy option.  I always keep onions, carrots and celery in the house.  I typically make a pot on Sundays and clean out whatever root veggies and dark leafy greens that are leftover from the week and that is dinner for 2-3 nights the following week.  Find a good chicken soup recipe you like and you can easily substitute veggie ingredients for whatever you have leftover such as beans, potatoes, kale, wild rice, etc.

2.  The other thing I try to do is buy all of our staple non-perishable items (canned veggies and stocks, cereal, pasta, coffee, nuts, dried fruit) only when they are on sale and stock up.  I typically only buy these items at our local grocery chain store because when they are on sale, the price is pretty good.
I also have the good fortune of having a Whole Foods close to my office.  I know it can be pricey, but organic produce, meat and dairy products are important to me, and I typically go twice a week a week and only buy what's on sale.  For example, they always have seasonal veggies and fruit available at a good price, and that is what I plan menus around each week.  There is always at least one brand of yogurt on sale and that is what I buy for snacks, and whatever meat they have on sale.  At least I know it is all good quality food and typically produced in the USA.

Hope this helps!

Kristin


mandydean

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2013, 02:49:31 PM »
Thanks everyone! Digging through the budgetbytes site - some great ideas! Also love the soup idea - I don't think about soup often (didn't have it much growing up), but everyone in the family loves it. Also will try roasting lots of veggies ahead of time. Never think of re-using our side dishes. Keep the ideas coming ;-)

m8547

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2013, 08:09:52 PM »
Your body needs calories, so trying to decrease them by cutting back on cooking oil will mean you need more of other kinds of food. Cooking oil isn't necessarily unhealthy as long as you don't consume an excessive amount of it. I slather oil on everything I cook in the frying pan, but I'm wary of recipes (baked goods) that call for 1 cup of it.  The idea that fat is bad for you is inaccurate and outdated. Some kinds of fat are bad for you, and if you have a disproportionately high amount of fat compared to other nutrients that's bad, but otherwise your body needs fat in the diet (body fat is important too).

Calories come from either fat, protein, or carbs (or alcohol). You only need so much protein in a day (75-100g = 300-400 calories at 4 calories per gram), so the rest need to come from carbs (4 cal/g) and fat (9 cal/g).

See here:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/29/killing-your-1000-grocery-bill/

To estimate the calories in a recipe, figure out what ingredients you commonly use, then figure out calories per standard amount and price per standard amount for those. You only need to count calories for things that are high in calories, and the little things like leafy vegetables are negligible. If you are doing price you need to count everything. Eventually you'll figure out where your calories are coming from.

There are so many variables that it's hard to create an ideal diet. That's part of the reason why the diet food industry is so successful. They have teams of people who design recipes to package and sell to you. One of my goals is to eventually put more work into designing "ideal" meals that have balanced nutrients and that still taste good.

Without putting much effort into it, sometimes it's fun to come up with silly balanced meals such as: 1lb carrots fried in 2T oil, and a few bites of chicken (the proportions are approximate). This provides over 400 calories with balanced macronutrients , 50% of your daily fiber, and 1500% of the daily value of vitamin A

ichangedmyname

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2013, 08:17:15 PM »
Food is really where we spend the most as well. Reading the blog post helped a bit. Right now my goal is to use up the stuff we already have in the house and buy as less as possible just to enhance a dish.
Yesterday my husband made burger steaks with mushroom gravy and every single thing we used in that meal we found in our freezer and pantry. I'm pretty good with looking at we currently have and using that up but I am not the only cook in the house.
Thanks for that site, I found some recipes I would love to try there.

cats

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2013, 10:36:27 PM »
For non-perishable staples, we do a combination of costco and stocking up as much as possible when a really good sale comes up.  I don't keep a formal price book, but I have the Costco prices of pretty much all of our "core" items memorized, so it's easy to then scan the local grocery circulars each week and see if they are offering a Costco-beating price.

We have actually found frozen vegetables to be relatively expensive, so I just keep a few bags around for "emergencies" but mostly skip them otherwise.  If you haven't already, I'd advise you to figure out which produce items in your have variable prices (i.e., tend to periodically go on sale, or have a season when they are especially cheap), and which items have relatively invariable prices (never/rarely go on sale, no real discernible seasonality).  In our area "invariable" items are mainly onions, garlic, kale, spinach, cabbage, carrots, parsley/cilantro, mushrooms.  Variable items are broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, winter squash, tomatoes, most fruit.  For the invariable items, I buy the more expensive stuff (mushrooms!!) sparingly, but use the cheaper stuff (onions, cabbage, carrots) pretty regularly and will often use it to "fill out" a dish that also has expensive vegetables (for example, we love to make a big mess of sauteed peppers and zucchini in the cast iron skillet.  Adding an onion lowers the cost of the dish and tastes pretty good too).  For the variable items, I keep an eye out for sales or wait until they are in season, then use with abandon. 

I don't really figure out exact cost per meal, instead I just try to gravitate towards using more of the cheaper ingredients within a certain nutritional profile/category.  E.g. beans are cheaper than eggs/milk are cheaper than chicken is cheaper than beef. So we eat a lot of legumes (black bean soup, mmmm), a fair number of eggs, occasional chicken, and very occasionally beef.  I do periodically calculate our average cost per meal per person and try to keep that average pretty close to $1.50, which I know is higher than the $1/person that MMM has sometimes cited, but is still pretty good compared to typical household spending.

In terms of whether or not you are cooking "more calories than you need to" into a meal: Are you/your family overweight or gaining weight?  If you're at a good weight for your size and maintaining it, you aren't cooking with too many calories.  If you do want to lose weight or think you are experiencing diet-related health problems, you may not need to cut back on oil specifically.  Like someone posted upthread, fat is not necessarily bad, so you may just need to trim back on portion sizes. 

We also do a lot of freezing, mostly of soups/casseroles/stews. Some favorites:

-Black bean soup
-Tomato soup
-White bean & garlic soup
-Tom Ka (coconut based, so yummy but maybe a little spicy for kids, though you could certainly tone it down)
-any kind of curry (for a kid, maybe something like this "starter curry").
-Butternut squash/pumpkin soup
-tomato-lentil casserole

We'll usually defrost and then serve with a side salad or some kind of easy vegetable dish (steam/saute, etc.).  Another vegetable dish that we are LOVING lately is cauliflower "rice" (grated/finely chopped cauliflower, cooked and seasoned).  It is pretty easy and I think might be reasonably kid-friendly--it doesn't *really* taste like rice but it doesn't really scream "VEGETABLE" either.  For snacks, we do mostly do raw fruit and vegetables and nuts, with hummus or nut butter for dipping.  Very fast and easy!

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2013, 11:10:06 AM »
For a quick veggie, we cook frozen veggies. They're $1/bag or less, cook in 4 minutes, and can be fresher than the fresh produce because they were frozen soon after being picked.

Another go-to in my freezer is meatballs. I bake a few batches of turkey meatballs that have zucchinis in them, and freeze them. It's a quick, 10-minute prep, dinner -- boil pasta (usually the pasta with veggies it, you can score it for less than $1 if you have a coupon and buy during a sale), defrost the meatballs and heat up jarred tomato sauce. Sometimes some broccoli goes in there too, but we already have the hidden veggies in the meatballs and pasta ;)

MsGuided

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2013, 01:09:19 AM »
I am currently emptying my garage freezer.  We've had it for 7 years.  It's helped some, with being able to stock up on some items when they are at deep discounts, but I haven't stocked it strategically.  I also realize it is an energy sucker during the summer when the garage gets bloody hot.  So, I've been slowly using the contents and not buying any frozen/freezable items for quite a while now.  My goal is to have it clear by the time we leave for vacation tomorrow.  I'm tentatively planning to be more organized and aware of what's in there and set it up in our basement once it's finished.

GuitarStv

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2013, 06:36:08 AM »
Big cuts of meat are a great way to save money.

Buy turkey after Christmas/Thanksgiving when they go on sale, cook 'em up and freeze most of it in little meal sized baggies.  Large hams seem to randomly go on sale a few times a year for very cheap.  Huge cuts of beef taste awesome when you slow cook them into a stew or roast (also, many of the cheaper cuts taste great after being slow cooked).

RootofGood

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2013, 07:47:20 AM »
We love to cook, and freezing delicious meals is a great way to eat healthy and avoid the "I don't got nothing to eat in the fridge, OMG let's go out to eat" budget buster. 

In my freezer right now:
Chili Verde - a green pork chili with braised pork loin, tomatillos, poblano peppers, and beans (among other things)
What I call Argentinian Pasta Sauce (we had something similar while there) - Stewed pork loin, carrots, onions, and sausage in a tomato based sauce
Masaman curry dish (potatoes, pork, carrots, celery, onions, peas and a little coconut milk)
Guacamole - made fresh from avocados on sale at $0.50. Frozen in ice cube size portions so I can defrost 1-2 for a solo meal
Roasted chili pepper and garlic salsa - ice cube sized portions for single servings
tons of meat bought on sale or clearance - ground beef and pork, sausages, chicken thighs, breasts, london broil, pork chops, ribs, pork loin
Taco meat and Empanada/tamale filling - I usually keep 2-3 kinds of taco meat frozen so I can nuke a chunk and make quick tacos.  Or if I want to make empanadas or tamales, I have the beef and the pork fillings already made (they also double as taco meat). 
Marinated pork strips (raw) - thaw out, toss in oven at 475, pop rice in rice cooker - voila instameal
Soup - scrap turkey bones and ham bones with a little meat, drip poached egg, and a bunch of vegs (mirepoix IIRC)
5-6 small bags (~0.75 lb) of pre-sliced "stir-fry" meat - chicken and pork.  Frozen flat so it can thaw quickly or I can dump the whole frozen slab into a quick soup, curry or pasta sauce

This sounds mega odd to some, but I don't believe in deep freezers.  Waste of electricity and space, and would probably mean food gets freezerburnt and goes to waste.  I keep all of the above (and an icemaker) in a standard el cheapo fridge/freezer combo (something like 21 cu ft IIRC).  The white kind that was $400 from Lowe's. 

Most of the things I make, I make extra and pack leftovers for the wife, eat on it for a couple meals, and freeze the rest for a nice couple of meals later or when we are too busy/lazy to cook. 

I won't lie, there's probably 2 frozen $0.75 pizzas and a small box of pizza pockets in there.  I have kids and a wife that likes these things, but they have been in the freezer for a month or two since they aren't "go to" foods for us generally.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2013, 08:03:49 AM by RootofGood »

MsGuided

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2013, 10:32:32 AM »
I think your resistance to the stand alone freezer has good reason.  I haven't really experienced a lot of freezer burn, but, like I said, I have a lot of food in there that I don't even know what it is.  I think for one to make sense financially you'd have to have an extremely organized person who buys sale meat in bulk and keeps an inventory.  It sounds like you're doing a pretty bitchin' job of just that in your normal sized freezer.  I'm going to try doing this in our standard freezer and see if eliminating the other freezer makes sense.  Again, like you, I place a really high value on having delicious, home cooked food stashed in the freezer and can probably do just as good (or better) of a job with it w/o the extra energy sucking appliance.

BTW, your meals sounds awesome!
We love to cook, and freezing delicious meals is a great way to eat healthy and avoid the "I don't got nothing to eat in the fridge, OMG let's go out to eat" budget buster. 

In my freezer right now:
Chili Verde - a green pork chili with braised pork loin, tomatillos, poblano peppers, and beans (among other things)
What I call Argentinian Pasta Sauce (we had something similar while there) - Stewed pork loin, carrots, onions, and sausage in a tomato based sauce
Masaman curry dish (potatoes, pork, carrots, celery, onions, peas and a little coconut milk)
Guacamole - made fresh from avocados on sale at $0.50. Frozen in ice cube size portions so I can defrost 1-2 for a solo meal
Roasted chili pepper and garlic salsa - ice cube sized portions for single servings
tons of meat bought on sale or clearance - ground beef and pork, sausages, chicken thighs, breasts, london broil, pork chops, ribs, pork loin
Taco meat and Empanada/tamale filling - I usually keep 2-3 kinds of taco meat frozen so I can nuke a chunk and make quick tacos.  Or if I want to make empanadas or tamales, I have the beef and the pork fillings already made (they also double as taco meat). 
Marinated pork strips (raw) - thaw out, toss in oven at 475, pop rice in rice cooker - voila instameal
Soup - scrap turkey bones and ham bones with a little meat, drip poached egg, and a bunch of vegs (mirepoix IIRC)
5-6 small bags (~0.75 lb) of pre-sliced "stir-fry" meat - chicken and pork.  Frozen flat so it can thaw quickly or I can dump the whole frozen slab into a quick soup, curry or pasta sauce

This sounds mega odd to some, but I don't believe in deep freezers.  Waste of electricity and space, and would probably mean food gets freezerburnt and goes to waste.  I keep all of the above (and an icemaker) in a standard el cheapo fridge/freezer combo (something like 21 cu ft IIRC).  The white kind that was $400 from Lowe's. 

Most of the things I make, I make extra and pack leftovers for the wife, eat on it for a couple meals, and freeze the rest for a nice couple of meals later or when we are too busy/lazy to cook. 

I won't lie, there's probably 2 frozen $0.75 pizzas and a small box of pizza pockets in there.  I have kids and a wife that likes these things, but they have been in the freezer for a month or two since they aren't "go to" foods for us generally.

RootofGood

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2013, 02:11:00 PM »
I think your resistance to the stand alone freezer has good reason.  I haven't really experienced a lot of freezer burn, but, like I said, I have a lot of food in there that I don't even know what it is.  I think for one to make sense financially you'd have to have an extremely organized person who buys sale meat in bulk and keeps an inventory.  It sounds like you're doing a pretty bitchin' job of just that in your normal sized freezer.  I'm going to try doing this in our standard freezer and see if eliminating the other freezer makes sense.  Again, like you, I place a really high value on having delicious, home cooked food stashed in the freezer and can probably do just as good (or better) of a job with it w/o the extra energy sucking appliance.

BTW, your meals sounds awesome!

Yes, we love to eat.  Only problem is that cooking well at home makes restaurant dining much less enjoyable. 

I'm sure deep freezers work well for some, especially those that have gardens and have large quantities of perishable food for a limited time.  Or those that get whole pigs/cows/goats/deer and freeze most of the meat. 

Sure, our freezer gets full occasionally and it would be nice to be able to store more of something that we can acquire cheap or free.  But in reality, our family of five can only eat so much.  The internet says a cubic foot of freezer can store somewhere around 30-40 lbs of meat (makes sense, because 62.4 lbs of water fits in 1 cu ft, and meat has a lot of water and is roughly the same density as water). 

I just checked my upright fridge/freezer, and the freezer holds a hair over 5 cu ft.  That's 200 lb of meat if it were all meat.  Now I love me some meat.  But that is a lot of meat.  I give frozen meat 3-5 months before it gets freezerburn (I have heard 6 months to 1 year in a deep freeze).  I'm not sure we eat more than a pound or two each day, so 200 lbs would likely last us 5 months if we never bought any more fresh meat ever again during that time.  Problem is, meat is on sale somewhere all the time.  So why stockpile it when some store is willing to provide an endless just in time delivery of cheap meat?  And why would I want 5 month old borderline frozen meat when I can get fresh meat from the store? 

Then there is the cost of the freezer.  A couple hundred up front, and $25-50/yr to operate the thing.  Plus the floor space to situate the freezer.  No thanks! 

I also don't like the risk of a deep freezer.  Power goes out (hurricane, ice storm or flood anyone?) for a few days and your food is a gross germ soup of festering evil. 

ichangedmyname

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2013, 10:43:58 PM »
We have a small freezer in the basement and freezer with the fridge in the kitchen-- both are full to the brim it's ridiculous. There's probably meat in there that hasn't seen the outside of the freezer in years. I know for sure there's homemade tamales from pre-2011 hiding somewhere.

I really wanna go through all the food in the freezer but it's kinda hard when I'm the only one trying in the household. We waste so much money on food it's crazy. But I try to do my best sometimes though it's disheartening and tiring when you're the only one trying. /rant

rootofgod, love the meal ideas! Stealing them right now. and checking out your site.

RootofGood

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2013, 11:02:05 PM »
We have a small freezer in the basement and freezer with the fridge in the kitchen-- both are full to the brim it's ridiculous. There's probably meat in there that hasn't seen the outside of the freezer in years. I know for sure there's homemade tamales from pre-2011 hiding somewhere.

I really wanna go through all the food in the freezer but it's kinda hard when I'm the only one trying in the household. We waste so much money on food it's crazy. But I try to do my best sometimes though it's disheartening and tiring when you're the only one trying. /rant

rootofgod, love the meal ideas! Stealing them right now. and checking out your site.

Unfortunately I have no food related posts on my site, but I may rectify that oversight at some point! 

I know what you mean about the wasted food.  I'm kind of the freezer master, and it is nice to only have a domain of 4 to 5 cu ft to oversee and ensure nothing gets old and gross.  Sometimes it takes a little creativity to use up items that are nearing their end of life cycle in the freezer.

HappyHoya

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2013, 12:59:19 PM »
Since you mentioned that you want to cut back on gluten, I'll chime in that gluten-free doesn't need to cost more. My household has been eating gluten-free since I was diagnosed with an AI disease a few years ago, and we've cut our already below-average food budget in that time, partly because of our awareness once going GF. Sure, buying substitute GF processed food may cost more. I did once buy a $3.99 pack of four bagels because I really, really missed bagels and was excited to have found them. That was a few years into going GF, and it's been 2+ years since. This shows me that not only can I live without bagels if I needed to, but it wouldn't really want to break the budget, either, if I wanted to buy them twice a decade. I find that reading food labels just turned me off to processed food in general, and we eat more simply at home. Our GF staples include many varieties of rice and beans. Almost every culture has some version of rice and beans: red beans and rice in America, Dal Makhani from India, white beans with greens and polenta from Italy (okay so that last one isn't rice)...you see my point. We also do a lot of twice-baked potatoes (I put cottage cheese or shredded chicken into the filling for protein, along with lots of veggies- my husband actually prefers the type with cottage cheese because it actually melts and makes everything creamy). I always have yams in house and usually a few baked ones ready for when we want something sweet.  We are paying back debt now so your diet may not need to be as humble as the ideas I am suggesting. I just wanted to provide some specific examples. I'd be happy to share some recipes, if you're interested.

Elaine

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Re: FOOD
« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2013, 01:11:44 PM »
You've been waffling, eh??? I'm sorry everyone, I'll go now...