When I went over to I’m an Organizing Junkie the other morning to link my first Menu Plan Monday post, I noted the Eat from the Pantry Challenge going on at Money Saving Mom. I thought, “Hmmm… This is what I have been trying to do for a while to help cut our family grocery bills, but I have fallen out of habit a bit. So, this must be my cue to get back on track!” Message taken. So, before heading out the door yesterday to grocery shop at the Good Health Natural Food Store, our favorite almost -local health food store, I decided to rewrite my grocery list to include just what we need for this week’s menu plan – and nothing more!
You see, the Good Health store is just far enough a drive away from our home that I often feel justified in adding some extras that I know they carry, which we like, but do not need right away. Plus, I always leave some blanks on my list to accommodate things that may be on sale that look appetizing. Of course, these items quickly bring our grocery bill beyond what I have budgeted, which I excuse with the defense, “It was a good buy and we will eat it.” Wants vs. Needs: The eternal struggle for a budget-minded family!
So, my goal for the shopping trip became: Limit the register tally to $50-$75 by turning away from the temptation of buying “little extras”. And, my goals for the entire month’s challenge:
1. Take stock of what we have in our cupboards, fridge, freezer, extra freezer and pantry. Use up a good portion of what is there and donate/give away what I know we will not happily use. (We have some canned goods that have just been sitting and sitting – stuff none of us are too thrilled to open up and use. Others, we know, would be more than happy to have them!)
2. Plan menus that incorporate the foods we have on hand, using newly bought grocery store items to fill in holes and replenish, rather than to supply the majority of ingredients for our month’s meals.
3. Return to our former weekly grocery and household items limit of $50-$75 a week. (Discipline has waned lately and our grocery bills have crept up to around $100 most weeks. With restraint, $50-$75, which may still seem like a lot to some more frugal folks, seems to suffice for our almost-exclusively organic eating family of four.)
4. Use the grocery savings we trim off our actual spending during this challenge to increase tithes and put towards put-off home repair and homeschooling expenses.
And, of course, be grateful for the plenty we have (and have been overlooking) when so many in the world are truly hungry.
So, now, with these goals laid out, I have already knocked off my Good Health store goal – ringing in at just over $72, which bordered my upper limit only due to the fact that we were out of a high-ticket item, olive oil.
I have also courageously pushed through Goal #1. Yes, I braved the frightening task of searching the recesses of our cupboards, fridge, freezers and pantry and was expectedly overwhelmed by just how much was in them! (See the lengthy list at the bottom of the post where I bare it all…) In fact, in addition to the stock I actually listed for the rest of our month’s menu planning, I gathered two bags of canned and shelf-stable items I know we won’t eat anytime soon and already posted them on Freecycle, with pick up pending. (I encourage others to do the same. Weed the we’re-not-going-to-eat-these-anytime-soon foods from your storage areas to post or donate to your local pantry. Undoubtedly, your least preferred items are someone else’s favorites. Likewise, your plenty can be another family’s just-enough. Share your blessings!)
While taking stock of our food storage areas, I also realized just how lazy I have gotten about meal planning. Between appeasing the kids’ picky appetites, trying to balance a busy schedule and – I admit – lacking dedication to true frugality in menu planning, I have been ignoring the plethora of food we have already in the house. Instead, I have slipped into stocking up on things that are more palatable to the kids, quicker to prepare or simply easier to grab from the grocery store than to recover from the recesses of our cupboards, pantry and freezers. No longer! Inspired by the Eating from the Pantry Challenge, I am re-dedicating myself to better stewardship. I will focus on our stock list for menu ingredients (not on my shopping list!) In doing so, not only will I trim our spending this month, but, I believe, I will also better honor the gifts and graces God has granted me. And, what is better than that? For He — not what is in my favorite carb-lover’s aisle at the grocery store — is the true Bread of Life!
Now, onto Step Two…
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our Stock List
Fruits: apples (6), tangerines (small box), watermelon chunks (2 bags, frozen),banana chunks (2 bags, frozen), crushed pineapple (1 ¼ can), diced pineapple (1 can), peach slices (1 can), pineapple juice (1 can), dried ginger (partial bag), dried pineapple rings (partial bag), apple sauce (1/4 jar), raspberries (3/4 bag)
Carbs: brown and serve rolls (frozen), chocolate beet quick bread (1 mini loaf, frozen), tortillas wraps (one package, frozen), bulgur (1/4 bag), wheat berries (bag), Irish oats (1/2 container), vanilla rice milk (1 box), dried dates (1/2 cup), chocolate graham crackers (1 box), leftover oatmeal (2 jars), cranberry cookies (4)
Vegetables: avocados (2), alfalfa sprouts (partial container), fresh spinach (partial container), onions (2+ bags), various potatoes (1 brown bag), squash (1 small brown bag), garlic (1 small bag), pea pods (1 cup, frozen), peas (2 cans), corn (2 cans), carrots (2 cans), snow peas (9 cups, frozen), yellow beans (1 cup, frozen), peas (2 cups, frozen), carrot tops (3 cups, frozen), eggplant dice (1 cup, frozen), swiss chard (1 cup, frozen), green beans (1-2 cups, frozen), cherry tomatoes (1 cup, frozen), kale (1 cup, frozen), spinach (2 cups, plus 1.5 packages frozen), beet greens (2 cups, frozen), chopped cabbage (12 cups, frozen), chopped green peppers (1-2 cups, frozen), basil , parsley and other herbs (several large ziplocs, frozen), broccoli (1 package, plus one small ziploc, frozen), edamame (1 1.2 packages, frozen), tomatoes (2 cups, frozen), ground tomatoes (1 can), tomato sauce (1 small can), diced tomatoes (1 can), asparagus (1/4 package, frozen), mixed vegetables (1/2 package, frozen), zucchini slices (4 ½ bags, frozen), chopped radishes (small bag, frozen), mushrooms (a few at the bottom of a jar), olives (1/4 jar), leeks (3)
Prepared Dishes and Starters: ratatouille (1-2 cups, frozen), zucchini, tomato and garlic mix (1-2 cups, frozen), grilled zucchini mix ( 1 cup, frozen), soup stock (1 quart, frozen), broth (partial box), leftover pasta and vegetables (1 jar), spicy tomato sauce (1/4 jar)
Proteins: chopped walnuts (2 bags, frozen), chicken (1, frozen), shredded cheddar (1 package, frozen), shredded mozzarella (1 package, frozen), black bean soup mix (1 bag), split pea soup mix (1 bag), garbanzo beans (1 can), black beans (1 can), kidney beans (1 bag), southwestern black bean soup (1 can), tuna (9 cans), eggs (a dozen), mozarella (partial bag), feta (partial bag), peanut butter (1/2 jar), almond butter (1/8 jar), yogurt (1 ½ containers)
Condiments, Spreads, Etc.: balsamic vinegar (partial bottle), apple cider vinegar (partial bottle), brown rice vinegar (partial bottle), white wine vinegar (partial bottle), herbs and spices (various bottles), miso (partial container), butter (3 sticks), cider jelly (1/4 jar), frosting (1/4 container), butternut squash spread (1 jar), maple syrup ( just a tiny bit), mayonnaise (1 jar), India relish (partial jar), soy/tamari sauce (1 ½ bottles), tapioca (partial bag), agave (partial bottle), teas (various bags), yellow mustard (partial bottle), dijon mustard (partial bottle), ketchup (partial bottle), wine (partial bottle), limoncello (partial bottle), pickles (1/2 jar)
Baking Supplies: whole wheat flour (1/4 bag), pastry flour (1/4 bag), brown sugar (partial bag), confectioner sugar (partial bag), natural sugar (partial bag), buttermilk (partial canister), cocoa powder (partial canister), salt (partial canister), baking powder (partial bag), baking soda (partial bag), matzo meal (partial canister)