Sunday, February 6, 2011

$100 A Week--Make a List and Choose Your Food Carefully

Last month I learned that hunded dollars a week spent at the market doesn't cover everything, and I recently explored alternative shopping options--discount and outlets, big box, chain, and natural food grocery stores.

Yesterday I saw a number of people outside the local Grocery Outlet picking through the 2-for-a-dollar shopping carts outside the store. For a second I imagined they were homeless people picking through garbage cans, but I think street people could find more nutritious foods in a well-chosen garbage can than the 2-for-a-dollar offerings outside this discount store. One cart was loaded with single-serving noodle dinners where you just add water (one woman eagerly tossed about twenty cartons in her cart); the other cart contained ice berg lettuce with brown spots on the heads. I'd never seen ice berg lettuce that noticably old and it's no surprise there were more people stuffing the noodle dinners into their carts.

Choose your food carefully on a food budget because unhealthy foods aren't really a bargain. I often wonder about the tightwad coupon clippers you see on TV who claim to feed their family of 4 for $350, including household items like toilet paper. What's for dinner at their house?

Food budget rule number one: food should be nutritious have some guarantee of safety (ie not in danger of being recalled like this.)

So far, I've found that having a set amount of money to spend is enlightening and more like a puzzle. The majority of my economic pie is devoted to fresh food, and one of the first things on my list is eggs--the real thing from a farmer I know. Sure they cost more (about twice the price as organic from a natural foods store) but I don't feel as though I'm playing Russian Roulette because of all the egg recalls and problems with conventional eggs. And besides I like to help support local farmers, and buying eggs is one example.
I have a fairly well-stocked pantry with dried fruits, spices, herbs, beans and grains and a freezer that still has last summer's fruit.

Here is what a eighty dollars of my food budget looks like translated into food for two for the week:

Farmers' Market (all certified organic except bread and mushrooms):
Arugula raab
Carrots (4)
Potatoes (5)
Golden Beet (1)
Parsnip (1)
Crusty artisan bread from Preston Bakery
Apples (4)
Whole wheat/Triticale Flour (4 pounds, my market splurge of the week)
Natural Foods Store
Romaine lettuce (organic)
Cilantro (organic)
Celery (organic)
1 Garnet yam (organic)
1 Grapefruit (organic)
7 Bananas (organic)
Corn tortillas (organic)
Chipotle Field Roast (vegan grain-based sausage)
Bay leaves
Cheese (Appel brand)
Old-fashioned oats (3 pounds, organic)
Cost Co
Coffee (organic, 3 pounds)
Grocery Outlet
Onions (3 pounds, nonorganic)

After buying all this I have $19.00 in bills remaining plus a significant amount of change to feed one of the "dream boxes" from my last post. When shopping with a set amount, one important thing I learned is this:

Never spend everything in your food envelope in one place on the first day of the week.
Anything might come up later, like oh I forgot apples or potatoes. We're so lucky living in this place where real high-quality food is within walking distance, sometimes just outside your door like this blogger.

Okay, my inner food snob won't go away anytime soon, but I trust the quality of organic foods more than the large-scale conventional growers, and I like to support my farming neighbors, so that part won't change. I just need to find a way to make it all work, spending on a lower-scale. Check out these organic potatoes from Olson Farms--never a black spot in the middle and the slightly sweet flavor screams more with every bite.
When I got the apples from Jersey Boyz, Winne asked, "What are you making?" That's another thing about a food budget--most food is made at home, including dessert like this amazing Raw Apple Cake.
Tune in tomorrow and check out the menus that generated my shopping list, get the best black bean chili recipe plus an opportunity to fit dining out into a $100 food budget.

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