Thursday, February 3, 2011

$100 A Week Food Budget--5 Foods I Refuse to Give Up

One hundred dollars for a food budget could be a lot for some people and not nearly enough for others. When I ran this figure by people at my fitness center, one friend rolled her eyes and said, "We could never do that. We eat meat." Another woman said she never spent close to $100 because she shopped sales and clipped coupons. A number of people claimed they spent well under $100, but never officially kept tract. Some people wanted to know if eating out counted on a food budget. But what really shocked me was most people don't have a clue how much they really spend on food every week. Last year for example, I spent an average of $120 to $160 a week at the farmers' market (less in winter, more in summer). And in 2008, we ate only food from farmers' markets and my average food expense was $80.00 a week in the winter andbetween $160 to $180 a week spring through fall (without going to restaurants or eating meat).

Can two people who love fresh local foods live on a hundred-dollar-a-week food budget year-round?

The first week I was up for the challenge for this new food budget, born from necessity, and
"The Soup Project," was born. Writing menus and buying lower priced local organic market vegetables like cabbage seemed so easy, I decided to continue this plan but not like one of those year-long Julie and Julia type projects where I'm trying to lure a book publisher's interest, this is real life. Some people live on fixed or smaller incomes and world food prices aren't expected to decline anytime soon, and even Marc Kurlansky in a recent interview talked about how much of the locally produced organic food isn't really affordable to those who live lower on the economic ladder.

The second week of my so-called budget as I spooned the last of my Jasmine Pearl tea into my tea strainer, I thought about many other high-end foods I've come to love, most from shopping at farmers' markets. I didn't want to give up my favorite tea or any other favorite foods of summer, but what's a foodie supposed to do when six pints of organic blueberries can put a huge dent in the weekly budget plan. I could see my food budget crumbing even before berry season arrives if I don't change my ways. I suddenly felt like the clueless obese dieter who doesn't get that she can't eat the apple pie ala mode anymore, or can she?

I wrote a list of all the foods that could seriously eat up my food budget.

Here are 5 high-end foods I simply can't live without:

1. North Star Cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm explode with deep complex flavors with every bite. I look forward to these cherries every summer and buy enough to dehydrate for gifts and to have a special Valentine's Day dessert. It's almost time to bring out these luscious gems.
2. Rent's Due Ranch blueberries make me feel like I'm in heaven when I eat them, and though I've tried many, many varieties, I always go back to Rent's Due Ranch. I don't know how they do it at Rent's Due Ranch (maybe it's that big compost pile ), but I'd rather forego a new pair of running shoes for the chance to fill my freezer with these treasures.

3. Grouse Mountain Farm walnuts are so amazing they crack by just rolling them under your hand. Each half breaks evenly and the shells remind me of Thumbelina, a tiny fairy who slept in a walnut shell. I've never seen these unique walnuts anywhere else in Oregon or Washington markets. Though a box of these will last me all winter, and unless I stock up on staples (beans and grains) and cut back on fresh foods, purchasing a box of walnuts could seriously put me over my food budget.
4. Massa Organics Almond Butter--is one of the sweetest things in life. I couldn't believe it when I found this almond butter at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in 2008. I've blogged about it before and I've just got to say that when someone says "Why don't you just grind your own almonds at Fred Meyer," there's no point explaining the lure of "the best" flavors.
5. Good crusty artisan bread is not the same as baking your own bread. I don't know how many people say "Can't you just bake your own bread." Not like this. I hate to admit it but bread is my favorite comfort food, and Tall Grass Bakery in Seattle is one of my favorites. The Bread Farm in Skagit County is also great but my most memorable bread experience was on Granville Island where I got a 100 Mile Loaf for $8, a price that doesn't easily fit into a budget plan.

What's a local food lover to do? I hatched a plan just this morning. Over a decade ago I took a class at Discover U called Get What You Want With the Money You Already Have by Carole Keeffe. She designed a "Dream Box" where you save for things you want the old-fashioned way by pumping coins into the box. I have two of Dream Boxes and when I checked inside one, I found a significant amount of change already saved. I'm on the road to blueberries and walnuts. Now all I need is to get out my calculator and see how much I need to save for the summer treasures I love.
Why not make your own "Dream Box," and start saving for the things that give you joy. What's the number one food that you can't live without?

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