Food Money Thoughts

I grew up eating prime beef and deluxe food and my husband is a food snob. Without being careful, we can (and have) spent $700 a month on food, markets & restaurants. (This was a few years back.)

I started changing things. First we stopped eating out. That saved us about $300 a month. Cutting the other $400 a month down has been much harder. But okay, we can now eat on $200 a month, and sometimes do. But I’m looking for additional ways to cut that yet again.

I have a copy of  Practical Suggestions for Mother & Housewife by Marion Mills Miller, which contains  an interesting notion. (I’m having problems finding the exact quote, sorry!) It’s that since people are buying so many ready made goods these days, that “two can live as cheaply as one” is no longer valid. The “modern times” she’s talking about about are c. 1910. Her point was that when a woman spun the thread, wove it and made the shirt, it was true, but not with a ready made life because you’re at the mercy of the merchant. If that was true more than 100 years ago, it’s certainly true now!

I saw the probable rise in food prices a few years back. (Much of the world uses 2 -3 times as much of their income for food as we do in the U.S., before adding any other considerations: storms, scarcity, population growth, etc.) I started thinking about it. What would I feed us in the worst case, if 60% of our income was required to feed us?

In the U.S., the average household uses 6% of their income for food. This may seem trivial. But if you take that 6% and it becomes 18%, or at worst, 60% it’s not trivial. Anyway, I decided it was time to get serious.

This year, as we’ve had one financial disaster after the other, I’ve been even more motivated. Here’s what I’ve done:

  • I took a lot of the garden produce & froze it.
  • I’ve been regularly USING my storm supplies, where they were my “back up” before.
  • We’re baking all our own bread where before we wouldn’t do so consistently.

I’ve also been putting small batches of food aside,  to help even out the bumps:

  • I froze asparagus in the spring in a large aluminum casserole pan like for a TV dinner.
  • I made pickles of the end of the veggie garden  – 3 pints in the fridge.
  • We ate 2 of the 3 pumpkins. The 3rd will be cooked/pulped and put in the freezer.
  • I used up the last of the apples as apple chips & apple cider.

What I need to do:

  • I have market carrots to freeze: they’re cheap, organic, and we just ate the last of the home grown.
  • I’ll caramelize some more onions. I usually don’t do this in advance, but I keep finding bargain onions, and I can freeze it.

When I buy more mushrooms, I’ll make duxelles and freeze that too. The mushrooms don’t do as well as the onions do frozen, but mushrooms are in season this month and therefore cheap. When you make mushroom soup, it doesn’t matter!

The problem with all of this is that the freezer is STUFFED! It’s November! It’s turkey time! I want enough room in my freezer for at least one turkey (preferably 2?) — for Easter and/or ? And I don’t have enough room for what we already have, so we’ve been eating out of the freezer a lot!

One technique I’ve been using cautiously is to buy bigger pieces of meat and cut them up. It seems to me that meat goes through three or four phases: roast, large chunk, small chunk, broth/bits. If you buy the large pieces you can use the meat and keep cutting it down.

Yesterday, I had a package with two “steaks” in it. One was cooked as pot roast. [Boy, that was one tough “steak”!]  The bone, scraps, and what was left were simmered for broth.

This morning I took off the fat, then partially thawed and diced the other “steak.” The left over meat/veggies from the pot roast were diced and added. We had beef vegetable soup for dinner. There’s probably enough for tomorrow’s lunch too.

The unused bone and scraps will be simmered this evening for more broth which will be added to whatever soup is left tonight. One package of steaks = pot roast, soup, and broth, at least 3 meals, more likely 4 for 2 people or 8 entrees. Not bad, and I got the meat on sale of course! It isn’t pot-au-feu, but it’s as close as I’m likely to get.

Merle Ellis’ book, Cutting Up in the Kitchen, talks about how to buy one piece of meat and cut it up to use for 2 or more meals. There’s also some info. about this idea in the Better Homes and Gardens’ Good Food on a Budget cook book.

In years past, I would have cooked the 2 steaks as steak, that’s it. When it became obvious the meat was tough, I would have given it to the dog or thrown it out. Not any more!

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