I've been waging war on TV Chefs, and so far, we've discussed the ridiculous nature of the meals we're expected to cook courtesy of these lofty folk, and how unrealistic it all is for the average family.
In Part One, I related a case history of a young family I've been working with, and how we slashed their grocery budget and upped their nutrition significantly, with just a few simple tweaks of their menu and shopping list. They're not eating any differently, they're just tackling it in a new way.
In Part Two, we started a basic menu plan, which takes into consideration not just what you want to eat, but what day of the week to eat it according to your family's schedule, and how to allow time to have much of it partially prepared the day before. We also looked at doing a pre-shopping stocktake of the refrigerator and pantry, and how to use leftovers efficiently.
Following that post, I went ahead and did this myself, as I do each week. Or mostly I do. We all have an off week here and there, but I hate it because it always means my food bill doubles!
In my efforts, I discovered that we had 2 large pieces of fish left out of a one kilo bag, that would easily feed three of us, a stray gluten free bread roll that became my daughters afternoon tea, some apples that had gone soft, which became Apple Jelly and Apple Puree` for baking, and a sad looking orange which became a melt and mix refrigerator slice with orange frosting. Nothing gets wasted here!
So now I add those items in to my menu plan or tick off things like one of the fish meals, as I already have one meal of fish. I then look at each meal on my plan, and write the corresponding ingredients on to my list. I remember to check things like flour, baking powder, sugar, spray oil and other cooking ingredients too, to ensure I have everything I need on hand to whip up a few yummies.
So having investigated the depths of the refrigerator, freezer, crisper and pantry, I whittled the shopping list down to this....
Note 1: that my list is divided into Fruit & Veg, Dry, Chilled and Meat. There is no section for convenience, treat, or junk food. Treats and convenience foods are made by me. Junk food in our house, means buying the salsa instead of making it! Your budget friendly shopping list should consist of essentials, not treats. If there's money left over after buying essentials, wouldn't you rather put that towards a great Christmas, or a holiday? Just $20-$30 a week set aside can help you achieve that. I'd rather put $30 towards a holiday, than a bunch of preservative laden food out of boxes and packets.
That said, I also have a policy of adding a little fun into the family menu, so within your essentials list, you should ideally have the capacity to make, or bake, a few treats. Our 'treat menu' this week includes the citrus slice I mentioned earlier, jelly parfaits, home made Greek yoghurt, home made Greek style rice puddings, crepes with poached fruit, hamburgers, fish and hand cut thick chips, and 'pizza' using flat field mushrooms as the base instead of dough. Plenty there, without having to buy a single thing out of a box or packet!
Note 2: that in addition to listing bananas, strawberries and blueberries, which are practically staples in our household, I have also listed separately '20 fruit'. There are three of us and we each eat at least 2 serves of fruit each per day, which is 6 a day or 42 pieces of fruit a week. That's our snacks for the most part, so whilst 42, or even 20 pieces of fruit sounds a lot, it isn't. That is supplemented with Corn Thins served with thin slivers of cheese and topped with salsa (one jar lasts us a month as we use it as a topper, not a dip), or rice crackers and hommus which I make weekly. I bake or make a slice or other sweet treat twice weekly and we have fun things like delicious muffins for breakfast and wraps or tacos or burgers for dinner. That's the extent of our 'junk' food. I know I keep coming back to that, but eliminating prepackaged stuff from our menu, shopping lists, and diet really is the key to success.
Note 3: also that in the 'meat' section of the list, I have listed chicken necks (for the dog as I make his food too), two types of fish, superior cuts of meat, and the 'convenience' of premade burger patties. That's my one concession to premade this week, as we had my son and his wife and their daughters here last night for dinner after a busy weekend, and I'd rather spend time with my darlings than chop onion and herbs for burger patties. Fresh formed burger patties from the supermarket made sense this week. That's where menu planning around your schedule really helps to simplify things.
Now back when I was a single Mum, I'd write my list, and then I'd write the price of each item next to it, in whole numbers. So Bananas, I'd allow $3, and write 3 next to it. Strawberries, I'd allow $4, and write 4. Then that would be my guide to how much I was about to spend. I'd tally that up, and if the total was greater than my available dollars for that week, I'd start culling things. The fruit would be exchanged for something less expensive, so apples in season over Lady Finger bananas (which we love), seasonal mandarins instead of blueberries, and so on. We'd still have the fruit, but we'd just have the less luxurious ones. You don't ditch fruit for Muesli Bars or Potato Chips for example. You replace same with same.
If the meat tally was blowing the budget and we couldn't cull in other areas, then I'd select less expensive cuts of meat or use meat replacements that were still nutritionally sound, but less expensive. There was many a time we'd have Baked Bean and Bacon Shepherds Pie instead of the traditional meat based one, and frankly my sons enjoyed that more sometimes. Teenaged boys are notorious bottomless pits...lol! Chicken Wings, marinated in all manner of mixes are a great, tasty and economical replacement for Roast Chicken or Chicken fillets. Our favourite marinade is a mixture of Plum Jam, Chilli Sauce and Soy Sauce. Yum.
Eggs, a great source of protein and always cheap or free if you can keep your own chickens, and can be served as Frittata, Quiche in a filo pastry shell or Souffle Omelettes. Vegetable Lasagna or Vegetable Filo parcels, were other great options for us, back then, and meals that we still love. Reducing your meat intake doesn't have to mean boring meals.
I could always eventually make the budget fit the list, although sometimes it was a very different list by the end!
I've always shopped in different stores if it meant getting a significant saving too. Not in that insane, 'run around the neighbourhood buying the specials, because that's counter productive for the most part. But surprisingly, I can often buy laundry powder, toothpaste and soap, for a better price at the pharmacy than at the supermarket. Likewise for basic painkillers and cough medicines. The generic brands at the pharmacy are exactly the same as the name brands, and can be significantly less expensive. This goes for the discount '$2' stores too. A tube of toothpaste that costs $5 in the supermarket, might be $2 there because it has different packaging. Even IKEA, if you have one near you, has some great prices on strange things that you wouldn't go to IKEA for usually, like salmon fillets, cordial, good coffee, kitchen storage containers and bags, and condiments. A quarterly trip to IKEA, can be well worthwhile in that respect. as long as you are not tempted by the millions of other things that you see at IKEA...lol!
So think laterally and keep your eyes peeled for the bargains. Get to know the regular price of the things that are on your list consistently, so you know a real bargain when you see one.
My shopping list, listed above, was all sourced at Aldi and Coles (just for four items not available at Aldi) this week, and my total spend was $185 at Aldi and another $12 at Coles. So a grand total of $197 for a family of three plus a dog. And we're eating well, even luxuriously. In that shop too, I bought sufficient Aldi Barramundi and Salmon to last us for three weeks. That converts to just $66 per person in our household for a superior (but not TV chef or restaurant worthy perhaps) family friendly menu for all meals and all snacks and a few treats. Granted, we are talking food content of the shopping list and not cleaning products or other household items, but I stockpile these or make my own, and we'll get to that in the coming weeks. This truly was my shopping list for this week.
So really, we're not talking about the sort of frugality where the goal is to feed a family of six for $500 a month. I don't do that these days as my circumstances are different than they were 20+ years ago, but I certainly have in the past. If you're looking for that, there are plenty of bloggers out there who do write about that sort of planning, and do it very well, but it's not my area of interest at this stage of my life. I'm simply advocating a sensible, healthy, down to earth approach, where you eat well, enjoy treats that are home made and/or healthy, that suits your budget. If you allow $70 per person per week, and follow my guidelines, no matter the size of your family, I bet you'll spend less than you currently do.
Here's my fridge, cleaned out, and ready to be stocked with all of our lovely fresh food. Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting, did a great post on refrigerator organisation recently too. She has a great series on Organisation, and one on Pantries and Preparedness that is worth a read. Her ideas are always awesome.
And here's my vege crisper below. We always buy heaps of veg and fruit so it's always absolutely full when I unpack on shopping day. This is what's left after last weeks shopping and meal prep. More than half of what remains all on the right hand side, will be used in the next 24 hours, including the herbs, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, carrots and some of the onions, so then it will be really empty. If you are menu planning and doing your meal prep properly, your fridge really should look very bare by the time shopping day arrives. A bare refrigerator is a win, not a lose!
I grow our herbs, and my son grows a lot as well, so we never buy herbs any more. This is a great strategy, because that alone, saves us around $60-$100 a month. I grow Thyme, Green Spring Onion, Oregano, and Mint. He grows Coriander (Cilantro), Basil, Purple Basil, Lemongrass, Purple Garlic, Red and Brown Onions (still tiny, but going well!), and Parsley. So between us, we have heaps. The ones in the ziplock bags are from him. Because they're fresh out of his garden, they last at least two weeks this way. Gosh knows how long the 'fresh' herbs in Coles have been sitting there because they're soggy and horrible after a couple of days! I can highly recommend growing just a couple of basic herbs to make meals more tempting and aromatic.
So once I've whittled my budget down to a manageable total, I plan my shopping expedition, ensuring that chilled goods will be exposed to the elements for as little time as humanly possible. If I'm going to the pharmacy and the discount store, I do that first, then finish the shopping at the supermarket and butcher. It can mean a satisfyingly quick trip to the supermarket that way!
That also means going to the appropriate shopping district, where there is a discount store, a pharmacy and the supermarket I want, all close together. That too, is part of the planning.
Here's my refrigerator, restocked after a shop.
As I've unpacked, I've checked my home made Greek Yoghurt, made last night, and decanted it into recycled tubs, seen above top shelf. You can also see the refrigerator pickles, top shelf left, made with the cukes that were a bit sad when I cleaned the refrigerator last week. I've left chicken breasts in the bottom of the refrigerator, for some to be poached and shredded, and some to be frozen tomorrow. And left space to refrigerate the melt and mix slice I was making. The soft fruit like peaches are refrigerated for later in the week, and bananas and strawberries, as most perishable, are eaten first. Make sure you plan for that too, to minimise spoilage.
Jelly is the most inexpensive and waistline friendly treat, and we make up jelly parfaits a couple of times a week. So that's part of my routine on shopping day. They're the immediately gratifying treat that the family likes to see when they know I've shopped. This is an inexpensive and easy idea, that gives them the grab and go satisfaction that you get with convenience food. Remember that this is a mental war as much as anything else! These pretty ones are strawberry jelly with blueberries in little pink IKEA depression-style glasses.
And as reward for all that hard work and effort, it's Cajun Pork Fillet for dinner, served with home made Apple Jelly made from those soft apples mentioned at the beginning of my post.
Here's my Apple Jelly and Apple Baking Puree` recipe. Don't be put off by the long instructions. It's actually really simple, a bit like making toffee.
Mimi's Apple Jelly
Your ingredients are:
Plus you also need:
Muslin or cheesecloth
Tall jug or large bowl
Small jar/s or container/s for the finished Apple Jelly
Food processor to make the puree` from the cooked apple (my little one was $15 in KMart)
Make a space in your refrigerator for the jug or bowl to sit. It's going to need to be in there for several hours or overnight.
Cut the apples into chunks, cores, seeds and all, leaving peels on for the pectin content.
Put it all in a saucepan, and cover them with water.
Bring them to the boil, cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew, and simmer until very soft. Don't squish them or your apple jelly will be cloudy.
Meanwhile, prepare your large square of muslin or cheesecloth (or clean unused Chux will do too), making sure it's large enough to hold the apples, and leave some length to tie the bundle to the wooden spoon. You're going to suspend the muslin square with the apples in it, inside the jug or bowl, to allow the apple juice to drain from them. Drape it over your fine sieve, and have the jug or bowl next to it.
Once very soft, strain the apples through the muslin inside the sieve , reserving what little liquid is left and putting it in the jug. Don't tip it down the sink like I once did!
Gather the muslin up by the corners. Secure it with an elastic band if you want, but I usually just tie it by the corners, to the handle of the spoon. Suspend the bundle of cooked apple inside the jug with the handle of the spoon across the top of your jug or bowl to hold it in place. Again, do not push or squish the apples in an attempt to extract more juice. Leave it there for at least 3-4 hours or overnight if you can.
Once drained, put the cooked apple through the food processor until smooth. Put into ziplock bags and freeze, and use this puree` in place of butter or oil in baking. Very healthy and very yummy. I generated about a cup and a half of baking puree this time.
Now put a saucer in the freezer to chill as you'll use this to test when your Apple Jelly is done.
Measure the strained liquid and put it in a saucepan. To each cup of liquid (or part thereof), add 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice. I only had about 3/4 cup of liquid from my five apples, so I added half a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice.
Simmer this like you would any jam, until it reduces slightly and a spoonful of the jelly put on the chilled saucer and left for a minute, wrinkles a bit when you push at it with your finger. Sort of like testing toffee in a glass of water, you're looking for 'wrinkle stage'...lol!
Pour the finished jelly into your waiting container/s.
I only got a single, full, tiny containers worth of Apple jelly from my batch this time...
...but that was still enough to put on crepes for dessert with whipped cream, and to serve with our pork fillet, seen above. I saw a similar sized jar of Pink Lady Apple Jelly in our local deli for $11.95, so don't tell me it wasn't worth it! Add to that the additional enjoyment we gained from our crepes and pork fillet, and the satisfaction from generating something so luscious from food that I would have once thrown in the bin, and it's worth that little bit of effort.
Sorry for the long post. I hope you've stuck with me!
On Thursday, we'll start prep together, and I'll share some of my secrets for having a menu plan that runs like clockwork all week long.