Why I Don’t Make Broth in the Crock Pot

I’ll get right to the point.

I think it’s a fabulous idea to make homemade bone broth in the crock pot. But that doesn’t work for me and here’s why:

My crock pot only makes 3 quarts of broth at one time.

(It’s a 6-quart crock pot, but after the bones are strained out, the amount of broth only ends up being about 3 quarts.)

Instead of a crock pot, I make broth in my big stock pot, which makes almost 2 gallons at one time! (The same is true for applesauce. It absolutely doesn’t save me time to make a crock pot full of applesauce when I can make many quarts in my stock pot in much less time.)

broth in stock pot

My food prep mantra: Go big or go home.
Except that the food prep happens when I already am home. So…
Go big or go bigger.

Indeed, my stock pot makes almost three times the amount of broth (or applesauce) at one time compared to my crock pot. Since broth simmers slowly for several hours no matter what I cook it in, efficiency tells me to always use my stock pot.

In addition to this, I typically make two huge batches of broth in one day to make the most of my chicken or beef bones. I make one batch of broth when I’m cooking a couple of chickens. Then I strain the broth to put into jars, pull the chicken off the bones, and throw the bones back into the pot to make a second batch. In both batches, I throw several pounds of onions, carrots, and leeks. I get almost four gallons of broth in a day when I do this! (Read the following links for specifics on  how I make Chicken Broth and Beef Broth.)

This process gives us enough broth for soups and other recipes for about two weeks. It is awesome.

A Side Note: I Make Orange Chicken or Beef Broth

Let’s talk for a moment about all those veggies I cook into the broth. They get ridiculously mushy after cooking for so many hours, so I just blend them up and stir them back into the broth for added nourishment. You know what this means, don’t you? This means that my broth always turns a beautiful orange color.

How to Make Chicken Broth

A word to the wise:

If you follow this example of cooking and blending carrots/onions/leeks/celery/spinach into your broth, turning it a beautiful orange color – I suggest that you inform your family about the contents of the pretty orange liquid you’ve placed in jars in the fridge. Otherwise they might say, “Can I have some orange juice?” and you might absentmindedly say, “Sure” before you realize you don’t actually have any orange juice. And then your kid will take a big swig of chicken broth and almost puke.

Hypothetically.

It could happen I think.

I have no idea why my youngest won’t touch orange juice anymore.

Back to talking about the Stock Pot Broth Making Method

Now in a few years when all these strapping teenage sons of mine have left the nest (sniff) and I no longer need pounds and gallons and cases of food like I do now, might I go back to using my crock pot to make broth again?

I haven’t decided. I like efficiency. Broth freezes just fine, so I may always use the stock pot for broth-making to avoid having to make the mess as frequently.

And the truth is, I’m not even sure I remember how to make less than 16 quarts of something at once. We may enjoy a lot of leftovers (or company) until I can figure that out.

In the meantime,

This is why I don’t make broth in the crock pot.

Why I Don't Make Broth in my Crock Pot

How do you make your broth?

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Felicite purple (1)

My February Grocery Spending Totals (Did I Come in Under Budget?!)

Remember how I promised to document all my grocery spending during the month of February to share with you?

I did it! I saved all my receipts. I took all the pictures. I realized how much work it was to take all the pictures and type out all of this information.

(I’m trying to decide if I’m going to keep documenting my purchases every month as some have requested. It is a serious amount of work. Leave a comment to weigh in with how much you want to see this regularly!)

Two weeks ago I posted what I’d bought and how much I’d spent through Feb. 8. (I was up to $524 at that point already!) See the breakdown of my early Feb. grocery trips here.

groceries feb171

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Now I’ll show you what I bought and spent throughout the rest of February…

Yay me, I got to go to Lincoln again (twice in one month is rare, but hooray for cool grocery stores in the big city!).

My first stop in Lincoln is always Fresh Thyme Market. I had the most fun this shopping trip as so many of our favorites were either BOGO items or deeply discounted! All their organic produce was 25% off, so I filled my cart.

While shopping, I decided to take each of my boys a “special treat.” Why? Because it’s fun and food is my love language. See the shopping lists below to see what I took home for each of them. (Come to think of it, I didn’t get anything for Asa, who is away at college, but any time he comes home to eat I go out of my way to make his favorites, so we’re good.)

NOTE: I’ve gotten lazy so instead of setting all the food out on the table at home to take a picture before we put it all away (which takes several extra steps and a lot of extra time), I’ve started taking pictures of my full carts. I know it’s harder to see all the food, but… :)

groceries feb178

Fresh Thyme Market (2-15-17)

2 packages orange cranberry buns (BOGO) $3.99
2 packages chocolate pretzels $5.00
4 packages coffee (BOGO) $15.98
Havarti jalapeno cheese (surprise for Justus) $3.99
8 pounds organic butter (BOGO) $23.96
2 packages wheat tortillas $4.98
4 Brown Cow yogurt (BOGO) $1.98
1 pound kiwi $2.99
.82 pounds asparagus $2.45
2.74 pounds bartlett pears $2.66
3.39 pounds gala apples $3.29
1 pint grape tomatoes $0.88
3.44 pounds mini sweet peppers $6.85
3.27 pounds organic bananas $1.86
3.44 pounds organic braeburn apples $2.55
2.19 pounds organic broccoli $2.45
1 organic cucumber $0.66
5 organic avocados $3.70
Organic rainbow carrots $2.24
2 red bell peppers $1.76
2.64 pounds red grapes $2.56
6 pounds strawberries $9.00
1.05 pounds nectarines $1.86

Total $101.65

Next, I went to Aldi. Since I’d been there just two weeks prior, I didn’t need as much. But of course I got another case of salsa since we go through it so much. (Total jars of salsa purchased in February: twenty-eight. #lifewithteenageboys)

groceries feb 179

Aldi (2-15-17)

3 pounds yellow onions $0.79
4 pints blueberries $6.76
Valentine Danimals Smoothies (marked down after Vday – surprise for Malachi) $0.99
Pecan/Vanilla Granola (surprise for Elias) $2.99
2 packages organic cheese slices $5.98
2 packages brown sugar $2.58
2 packages uncured hotdogs $3.98
3 boxes fruit squeezes (for Asa to have in the dorm) $5.68
12 jars organic salsa $22.68

Total: $52.43

Just a few days later, we were out of fresh greens and cheese (staples at our house!). Plus we’d already eaten all those strawberries. I made a list and ran to our local Walmart.

groceries feb179

Walmart (2-20-17)

1 pound organic mixed greens $5.98
1 pound organic spinach $5.98
8 pounds marble jack cheese $27.88
1/2 gallon half-and-half $3.98
2 quarts heavy whipping cream $8.28
52 ounces frozen corn $3.96
4 pounds strawberries (price-matched) $5.96
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti $1.00 (looking forward to trying this brand to see if we like it since it’s such a good price!)

Total $63.02

I ordered several staple items online from Vitacost. Many of you have taken advantage of the “Get $10 off your first order of $30 or more!” so I had referral credit (thank you!) and got most of this with very little money out of pocket.

groceries feb1710

Vitacost (2-22-17)

32-ounces organic lemon juice
3 cans organic pizza sauce
2 32-ounce jugs organic maple syrup
32-ounces organic lime juice
33.8 ounce bottle organic olive oil
6 15-ounce cans organic baked beans

Total after credit: $5.42

I hit Wal-mart one last time on February 26. There were some GREAT price-matching options (strawberries for $0.98!). Plus I needed to pick up a few items to take with us this weekend when we head out of town for our annual homeschool basketball tournament. (We’ll eat out with the team sometimes too; but three meals a day for three days would be a little hard on our stomachs and budget.)

groceries feb1711

Wal-Mart (2-26-17)

6 bags Great Value “Fritos” $11.04
2 quarts cream $8.28
Colby Jack individually wrapped cheese (for bball tournament weekend) $2.88
2 packages Hormel Naturals lunch meat (for bball tournament) $11.52
1 loaf 100% whole wheat bread (for bball tournament) $1.68
3 boxes of crackers (for bball tournament) $8.88
LaCroix sparkling water (Mom’s treat!) $3.18
Sour Cream $3.94
48-ounces cashews (to make individual bags for the bball players on our team) $28.02
3 pounds mandarins (price-match!) $2.49
1 pound asparagus (price-match!) $1.47
4 avocados (price-match!) $2.00
3 pints organic grape tomatoes (price-match!) $2.94
8 pounds strawberries (price-match!) $7.84

Total: $96.16

Last but not least, we bought 5 dozen eggs from a local friend with chickens (I feel like we got more eggs earlier in the month that I forgot to document??). We also got one gallon of milk each week from a local farm, a total of four gallons this month.

Milk: $20
Eggs: $12.50 (plus whatever I forgot earlier this month)

Oh! I had a migraine last week and took advantage of a 50% off Pizza Hut coupon. I got four large pizzas for $30 with tax – a splurge, but not a bad price for 4 large pizzas!

Did we come in under budget?

Here’s a break-down of how much we’ve budgeted for our family of six (ages 43, 43, 19, 17, 15, and 12). Here’s a peek at the rest of the groceries I bought in February.

Grand total I spent for food in February: $905.59

That is a lot of money, but it is also a lot of good food! I am thankful.

How did your grocery budget hold up in February?

That Time I Stopped Buying Groceries to “Eat What We Had” In an Attempt to Save Money

If you look at my stash of food, you might decide, “This woman is crazy.”

groceries feb 172

You’d be right, of course. I mean, who buys 24 packs of cream cheese at once? Why do I need 36 pounds of pasta, seeing as I do not own an Italian restaurant? And what is up with the three cases of salsa? The 50 pound bag of oats? An entire shelf full of cocoa powder?

Dude. Never question a woman’s supply of chocolate. This is a necessity, much like water and air.

groceries april 221
Some might think I have a food hoarding problem. Some may be concerned that I have an unhealthy fear of running out of food. But the truth is:

My family eats a lot.

Also? Cooking is one of my very favorite things. It’s also a big part of my writing career – experimenting and coming up with recipes to share here. So basically, I like having my very own grocery store out in my storage room. When I get a new recipe idea, I almost always have the ingredients on hand that I need to work with. And I’ve almost always purchased them on sale in bulk. That’s how I roll. I find a good deal on an ingredient I use regularly, I stock up, I always have it on hand, and I have rarely paid full price.

groceries Lincoln

Which leads me to the time recently I decided, “Hey. I spend a lot of money on food every month. I have a lot of food already (ridiculous understatement). I wonder how long I can go without buying groceries. I bet I’d save a few bucks if I stayed away from the store. I should try it.”

This resolution lasted for two entire weeks. That’s how long I stayed out of the store. Then I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to go shopping.

groceries feb178

What happened when I stopped buying groceries

Had we run out of food? Goodness, no. But suddenly I found we were down to frozen meat, several jars of homemade applesauce, and a pitiful can of olives, the brand of which I will never buy again.

I exaggerate. You can be sure we still had bags of rice and wheat and oats. I most definitely had a decent stash of butter in my freezer. But as nice of an idea it was that I use up what I have before I shop again, I learned very quickly that this doesn’t work for me at this season in my life.

Why I can’t avoid grocery shopping longer than two weeks

1. In only two weeks, my stock pile shrunk rapidly.

No, of course we didn’t go through 24 packages of cream cheese in two weeks. But I was amazed at how quickly my supply of food started to vanish and I began to feel uneasy about running out of essentials. Part of this is because we eat a lot. Actually, all of this is because we eat a lot. What can I say?

2. I stock up when the price is right.

If I use up what I’ve bought on sale, then I’ll have to pay full price when I need it again. Wham, bam, no thank you, ma’am. It works much better and saves us a significant amount money if I continue to stock up on needed items when the price is right – before I wait until my stock pile has run out.

3. The fresh produce only lasts so long.

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season is one of the main reasons I need to go to the store every week. After I’d avoided going to the store for longer than normal, we were down to two carrots and a few pears in the crisper drawer. I still had some frozen veggies too, but man shall not live on green beans alone.

4. I don’t have time to run to the store every time I run out of something important.

Having a nice supply of all the basics on hand not only saves me money, it saves me time. Running to the store for one or two items here and there is really a time waster for me. I can’t even tell you how nice it is to simply “shop” in my pantry and freezers when I need to make something at the last minute.

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There truly is something to be said about eating up the odds and ends that get shoved to the back of the freezer before they gets wasted. That’s the best part of committing to staying out of the store for as long as possible – it really challenges a person to make do with what she has.

But as for me and my household, I’m going to need to shop regularly and keep a good stockpile of the basics at all times. It helps keep my grocery budget under control and I think we all know I need as much help with that as I can get.

How about you? Have you found that it works well to take some time to avoid the store and instead work on eating up what you have on hand? What saves you the most money?

The Time I Got Attacked About Mashed Potatoes

It’s funny what people will say on social media. I find it especially humorous when I say a brief statement, link to a post, then people react to my words without clicking over to actually read the post.

Here’s what I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago:

facebook-mashed-potatoes

My intent with this Facebook post was to share some ways to cut back on our time in the kitchen. To share some easy recipes to make kitchen life easier for busy families. Everyone wants to hear about this, right?

But before I knew it, people were commenting, “What’s so hard about making mashed potatoes?!” and “Sounds like someone is too lazy to do their dishes!”

Lazy. Yes, that’s definitely it.

For the record, I didn’t actually feel attacked about my mashed potatoes. The comments were barely negative and most people shared nice comments. People like to share their opinions, and sure, sometimes their words can seem to come out a little harshly. I’ve grown a thicker skin through the years. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but mashed potatoes? Naw.

One thing I learned is this: Some people truly don’t find it difficult to make mashed potatoes regularly. I think this is fantastic. Bring on the gravy.

As for me? The thought of making mashed potatoes often, during this season in my life, truly does cause me stress.

Through the years, I’ve pared back and pared back and pared back on my kitchen duties. My family eats more food than ever, and at the same time, I have less time than ever to devote to cooking and cleaning.

Making mashed potatoes truly is easy – I get that. But for me, right now, they are hard. They create more dirty dishes than I’m willing to add to my already overflowing sink. They make extra steps in putting together a meal – and seeing as we are stepping all over ourselves trying to keep up with life – they are steps I’m not able to take right now. I guess we could say that with everything else I’m juggling right now, I’m not able to also juggle a pot full of potatoes. (Go ahead though. Try and picture it.)

I can do a simple main dish along with salad and steamed veggies. That’s it, and I love it. This is easy, doable, and nourishing and doesn’t require the boiling and the mashing nor any effort on my part to keep the mixer from spraying potatoes all over my cabinets and floor. (Clean cooking is not my gift.)

Someday maybe I’ll get back on the mashed potato train. Or not. I kind of like this new “keep the meals simple and good” lifestyle. This is what Simple Meals is made of. This is why so many of us love it. (Here’s a shameless plug to say, “You should totally join Simple Meals if you haven’t already. Do that here. I’ll give you $10 off.)

I’ll save the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. I’ll stick with baking potatoes because they are easier and less messy and more versatile.

7 Ways to Use Baked Potatoes

 

How about you? Have you given up on mashed potatoes like I have, or are you a mashed potato champion?

How I Killed Two Birds With… a Chicken?

Remember how my 3-year old used to call the “kitchen” a “chicken?” What in the world – that kid turned 17 this week. He doesn’t get his words mixed up much anymore, though at times he makes up his own words (I have no idea where he gets that). I find him to be more endearing than ever. Rest assured, he’s got the kitchen-chicken thing figured out by now.

justus31

As you all know, I enjoy the occasional opportunity to focus on chicken. (See also: God is Bigger Than a Free Range Chicken and How to Fend Off Mean Roosters.) So here I am finally with a new post about poultry.

I didn’t actually kill the two birds I’m writing about today, as the dearly beloved had already found themselves beheaded and plucked and stashed safely in the back of my freezer. The point of this post is actually to share how cooking a couple chickens to make broth ended up saving me a significant amount of time and made about six full meals for my family. Thus, I feel like I killed two birds with one stone; but what I actually did was knock out a lot of pending work with the effort I put into cooking two birds.

You see now where I got the title for this article. It’s easy to see that being clever is what I do second best after securing my family’s need for sustenance. So back to the chickens…

chicken week 1

I had two smallish birds in the freezer, so I pulled them both out and put them directly into a large pot of hot water with a bunch of vegetables. (Note: I’ve found that there is no need to thaw the chickens before making the broth. It’s all part of keeping life simple, being efficient, and killing two birds with one…well. You get it.)

The chickens and veggies and water all worked their magic for several hours on my stove until they turned into the liquid gold I’d been hoping to create. At this point I pulled all the chicken off the bones. Then I blended the mushy vegetables until they were smooth, and stirred them right back into the broth that had been created. I then tossed all the chicken bones right back into the pot with a fresh batch of water and vegetables to make another round of broth. (We call this getting the most out of your chicken bones, or rather, killing more, or perhaps fewer, birds with two birds. Try to keep up.)

When all was said and done, I had three gallons of rich chicken broth, which, if I do it right, will make 5-6 meals for my family or to share with others as the needs arise. In addition, I had a 9×13 dish full of cooked chicken to use in those meals or in others.

chicken week 3

I guess we could say I killed more than 2 birds with my birds, seeing as I had more than 2 meal options available to me after my broth making efforts.

A couple days later I cooked rice directly in some of the broth (to give it great nourishment and flavor!) and stirred together a big dish of Cheesy Chicken and Rice. I used the remaining cooked chicken to make a pot of Shredded BBQ Chicken (which is seriously as easy as dumping bbq sauce into the cooked chicken and stirring it – let’s not make life hard).

potato_soup

With the rest of the broth, I will make batches of Potato Soup, Chicken Soup with a Kick, and 20-Minute Taco Soup.

So cook yourself a couple of chickens to make broth, then use the broth and chicken to make a handful of other great dishes for your family. You, too, can kill a lot of work with a couple of birds and have a whole lot of meals to enjoy with your family.

At this point I’m wondering why I don’t have an entire category on my site dedicated entirely to Chicken. (See also: On Thursday I Killed the Chicken and Chickens and Cowboys.)

cowboys

This was taken six years ago when Malachi was only six
and I was still in my 30’s. What in the world?

What are your favorite dishes to make with broth and chicken?

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41hoursale_1 (2)

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How I Much I’ve Spent on Groceries So Far in February (and What I Bought)

I promised I’d share all my grocery purchases with you in February, so here goes! Now you can see everything I buy that fills up my great big grocery budget. Don’t forget who I’m feeding though. We sure do love us a lot of good food.

family-sillysm

The month started off with a big (expensive) bang because I had appointments in Lincoln on Feb. 1. So I hit my favorite city stores and stocked up since I don’t go there very often.

I went to Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market, both of which are such fun places to shop! (My hometown only has one kind-of-pricey-in-my-opinion local store and a Super Walmart.)

Two things about my Aldi trip this time around:

  1. There are four items I love buying there, so I always get at least an entire case of each every time I’m there since I don’t get to go to Aldi very often. You’ll see in the pic below that I bought a case of organic salsa, a case of organic black beans, a case of organic spaghetti sauce…and you can’t see it but I also bought a case of cream cheese.
  2. Our church was hosting a big youth rally that weekend, and we had signed up to house 13 teenage boys Friday and Saturday nights. I know from experience to have a LOT of food on hand for snacks (even though they eat their main meals at the church building on Saturday). I bought six take-and-bake pizzas for the weekend (for only $5 each!), a case of juice (a fun splurge), a few boxes of granola bars, plus some tortillas and shredded cheese so I could make a big breakfast burrito bar for all the teens Sunday morning before church. Sooooo, if you see items in the picture that shock you (junkie pizzas and store-bought white tortillas?? what??) that’s why. :)

groceries feb 172

As you can see from the pictures, I combined my Aldi purchases with my Fresh Thyme Market purchases. I bought a lot of produce at Fresh Thyme Market, and their coffee was on sale, so I stocked up. (Jamaican Blue Mountain – my favorite from FTM).)

groceries feb171

Here’s the itemized breakdown of my shopping trip:

Aldi, Feb. 1

12 cans organic black beans $9.48
24 packages cream cheese $30.96
12 jars organic pasta sauce $23.88
Snacks for youth rally (granola bars/crackers) $5.36
Juice bottles for youth rally $9.99
2 packages tortillas for youth rally $3.38
6 pizzas for youth rally $30.94
16 jars organic salsa $30.24
2 jars banana peppers $2.98
3 boxes applesauce pouches (for Asa to keep in the dorm for a quick snack) $5.67

Total: 152.88

Fresh Thyme Market, Feb. 1

6 packages coffee $29.94
1 package pepper jack cheese (to surprise Justus) $3.33
6 packages shredded cheese for youth rally breakfast burritos (BOGO deal) $8.97
8 pounds butter $20.00
Case of sparkling water (my fizzy treat!) $3.99
2 pounds strawberries $5.00
5 pounds carrots $2.99
1 pound baby carrots for youth rally $1.50
1.64 pounds Broccoli $1.62
5 pounds Gala Apples for our family and for the youth rally $5.26
4 avocados $2.00
2 pints organic grape tomatoes $3.00
2 red peppers $1.98
2.49 pound red grapes for our family and for the youth rally $2.47
5.82 pounds bananas for our family and for the youth rally $3.43

Total: $95.48

A note on why I spend extra and compromise on nutrition by buying processed food when we host a houseful of teenage boys during the youth rally:

  • Last year during youth rally weekend, I got eight hours of sleep – total – during the entire weekend. I know I have to be very careful about what I take on so I don’t overdo and wear myself out.
  • We go through a high volume of food, and I don’t have time/energy to make everything homemade. (Roll out and cook enough tortillas to feed 13 teenage boys breakfast burritos on a Sunday morning? I don’t think so.)
  • They don’t care if it’s homemade. They eat it as fast as we can crank it out.
  • We have relationships with most of these boys because of our time spent with them at church camp each summer. If I’m distracted with intense cooking, I miss out on more important relationship-building time with them.

Moving on beyond the weekend (in which I got a total of 12 hours of sleep – a big improvement over last year!)…

A few days later, Matt had to run to Wal-Mart so while he was there he picked up containers of organic spinach and organic mixed greens. We try to keep these on hand at all times so we can eat salads every day.

groceries feb 173

Walmart, Feb. 6

16-ounces Organic mixed greens $5.98
5-ounces Organic baby spinach $3.46

Total: $9.44

Once each month, we order from Azure Standard, a great food co-op based out of Oregon. Pick-up day was Tuesday, and here’s what we got:

azure order feb17

Azure, Feb. 7

5 pounds organic carrots $4.00
3 pounds organic onions $3.25
10 pounds organic frozen green beans $21.90
10 pounds organic frozen peas $22.25
50 pounds organic golden potatoes $45.00
5 pounds dry roasted peanuts $13.15

$109.55 + $9.31 shipping -$25 credit

Total: $93.86

Wednesday we were almost out of fresh fruit, so I made a list of items I could price-match, and headed to Walmart.

Note: I also needed a few ingredients to complete meals I was making to take to a family who just had a new baby and to take to our local rescue mission.

groceries feb 174

Walmart, Feb 8

3 jars pizza sauce (for the mission meal) $3.42
1/2 gallon half-n-half $3.98
1.91 pounds bananas $1.05
1.65 pounds broccoli (for the mission meal) $2.87
14 ounces Hormel Naturals smoked turkey (to pack sandwiches for our basketball games over the weekend) $5.76
2 cans natural olives $4.52
Sour cream $3.94
2 pounds hamburger meat (to make burritos for the new parents) $4.16
16 pack tortillas (to make burritos for the new parents) $4.58
7.65 pounds of red grapes (pricematched at $0.97/pound – some for the mission, some for our family) $7.43
3 pounds strawberries (pricematched at $1.79 each) $5.37
2 pints blueberries (pricematched at $2.00 each) $4.00
6 ounces raspberries (pricematched) $2.00
Grape tomatoes (pricematched) $0.97
6 pounds clementines (pricematched at $2.49/package) $4.98
2.97 pounds gala apples (pricematched at $0.88/pound) $2.61
3 pounds bartlett pears (pricematched at $0.97/pound) $2.91

Total: $64.55

If I’ve done my math correctly (don’t hold your breath), so far this month we’ve spent $416.21 + $108 average for our bulk meat we buy once per year = $524.21.

Price-matching saves us a great deal of money since locally my best option is to shop Walmart. (I’d heard a rumor that price-matching was going away, but a friend who works at Wal-mart told me that nope, it’s still alive and kicking!) Do you price, or do you live close to stores with good sale prices?

I have to go back to Lincoln for another appointment this week, so I’ll get to go to Fresh Thyme Market and Aldi again. It’s rare for me to make it there twice in one month!

One would think after looking at the pictures of all the food I bought during the first 8 days of the month that we’d have enough to last us a while. Yep, one would think. :)

Watch for another post later in February sharing an update of our spending. Can I stay within budget? Maybe even come under budget a little? This all remains to be seen. :)

How’s your grocery budget coming along so far this month?

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Quick reminder: The awesome MELT Massage discount offer ends Feb. 14. This is a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for you and your honey to enjoy together forever. LOVE IT!! Get the details here.

The Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

Raise your hands, wives, if you can recall a day you spent extra time on your hair, makeup, and outfit so you could impress your husband – only to have him not even notice. Now leave your hands raised if you can recall another day you pulled your hair into a 5-second messy bun, never changed out of your mis-matched sweats from yesterday, and forgot makeup existed – only to have your husband give you a second appreciative glance, grin, and say, “Well hey there, Cutie.”

Rest assured, he appreciated the nice hair, great outfit, and perfect makeup day too. Perhaps he was just too distracted or busy at the time to say so. Let us all be thankful he loves us on our “prettiest” days and even (especially) on the days we’re singing “oh where is my hairbrush?”

What does all this have to do with saving time while cooking healthy food? Everything. It very much relates in every way.

The Surprising Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

See, one day recently, I was having an “I can’t keep up, what even is a kitchen, I don’t feel very well, we have got to get this assignment done” kind of a day. I don’t even have to tell you what my hair looked like (and I recommend you save yourself the embarrassment of trying to conjure up an image). More importantly, dinner prep kept getting pushed farther down the to-do list.

I finally found two minutes (and a bit of energy) at lunchtime to put some frozen chicken into the crockpot, dump on some bbq sauce, and crank it to the “hi” setting. At least we’d have some meat ready before the boys left for drum lessons and basketball practice, thought I.

The chicken cooked itself all afternoon. Just before dinnertime later that night, I stir-fried some carrots and broccoli with a bit of olive oil, garlic, and salt. I grabbed a jar of applesauce from the pantry and declared it a meal, such as it was. My hair though. There was nothing that could be done.

Would you believe? My husband walked into the kitchen after putting in a 10-hour work day, saw the food I had “prepared” and not having any idea of the ridiculously short amount of time I’d spent cooking said, “Wow! This looks fantastic! What a great meal! Thank you!!”

saucy chicken3

Not that he isn’t equally appreciative when I have taken the time to roll out homemade noodles or have produced a fresh loaf of bread. But his gratitude reminded me of this:

  • A meal doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.
  • Sometimes the healthiest meals are the very simplest.

The busier I have become through the years, the simpler our meals have needed to be. I’ve noticed that the simpler our meals have become, the healthier they are.

Isn’t that unexpected?

And here people still think cooking healthy food takes all kinds of extra time.

Take it from the girl who took five minutes to cram frozen chicken into a crock pot, and then threw out a few veggies just before meal time. Learn from the mom who has learned to make a complete meal of Parmesan Broiled Fish with veggies in record time (10 minutes, start to finish, thanks for asking).

I believe the simpler we keep our meals, the healthier they can be. Stop making healthy food complicated. Focus on the basics (meat, veggies, fruit). Save the special, longer-to-make meals, for special occasions.

Just think. We might even find more time in our day to change into a cute sweater before dinner.

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Psst! If you join Simple Meals, you’ll have more time to change out of your mis-matched sweats. We promise.

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Real Food Compromises I Make So We Can Stay Within Budget (and ways I will never compromise)

Pardon me while I eat my organic raw greens with free range chicken IN BETWEEN SIPS OF PEPSI.

That was me just a few years ago. Cute, huh? Makes no sense, right? Those were the days I had a small panic attack anytime someone offered my kids a non-organic apple. No! That will poison them!! It MUST be organic! Regular beef from the store is horrid and so is all milk that comes out of a jug! Oooh, are those Nacho Cheese Doritos? Don’t mind if I do.

Suffice it to say that in the early years of my real food journey, as I was learning about nutrition and food sources, the good, the bad, and the ugly – I turned a little bit crazy. I over-freaked out about all the food issues in America and had nightmares about evil pesticides coming to life and grabbing us by the throats. But all the while, I had an awful time giving up Pepsi, Doritos, and basically anything that started with a de and ended with a ssert. Oh yes. I loved my sugar.

chocolate_cake

So first things first: If you’re new (or not so new) to eating real food and struggling to trade in all of the “bad stuff” for all of the “good stuff” all at the same time, RELAX. You’ll settle in to what’s best for your family. Your body and taste buds will adjust. Your cravings will change. God will help you.

It took years for me, but I don’t even want Pepsi or sugary foods now. And (shhh), sometimes my kids walk into the room and find me snacking on raw spinach leaves. You don’t even have to tell me how weird the spinach thing is. I already know, because it is obvious, and because my kids have been happy to tell me. (But I also still like a Dorito or three now and then, because when you refuse to read the ingredient list, the disodium guanylate can’t hurt you.)

So now that I’m about 11 years into our Real Food Journey, let me share with you some of the food patterns I’ve settled into. Some of these decisions have been made because I took a big chill pill and realized that when all is said and done, God is bigger than a free range chicken.

I’ve also had to make some choices based on our ever growing food budget needs. With four male teenage athletes in our home, along with a hard working, athletic husband – we buy a huge cart full of groceries every week. If I bought organic everything, free range everything, the very best of everything everything – I would spend $3,000-$4,000 a month on groceries (not an exaggeration). I think my food budget is already high enough, thank you very much.

Real Food Compromises I Make So We Can Stay Within Budget

Real Food Compromises I Make So We Can Stay Within Budget

1. Not everything I buy is organic.

I used to be much more diligent about this – especially when it came to the “Dirty Dozen” list. But as our kids got bigger and began eating huge quantities of food, the cost of buying organic food exclusively became impossible. When it came to fruits and vegetables, I noticed that since I couldn’t afford all organic produce, I stopped buying much produce at all!

So let’s see…should we stop eating many fruits and vegetables because I couldn’t buy them all organically, or choose to buy the “regular” ones so we would still be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables?

Through prayer, I found much peace in buying regular produce and feeding us a wide variety of fresh produce consistently. (This applies to our dairy products too. We have a great source for organic, raw milk, but not for sour cream, butter, and cream cheese.)

When foods are available at reasonable prices I can afford, I most definitely buy organic. But my bigger goal is to fill us with many nourishing fruits and vegetables every day, even if they haven’t been grown in a way I feel is best. God is bigger, but my budget is not. So God wins.

groceries 411

2. Sugar is sugar, so why pay more?

When making treats, I still prefer to use organic sucanat. But I’ve stopped using it exclusively because it costs so much more than regular ol’ brown sugar. At the end of the day, our bodies don’t care what kind of sugar we’re feeding it – it wreaks the same kind of havoc. So that’s another compromise I have made, which you can read details about here.

I do still avoid high fructose corn syrup, which means we use Real Maple Syrup on our pancakes and waffles and to sweeten a few treats (like smoothies). I’ve personally found that Liquid Stevia is my favorite sweetener, though my kids aren’t huge fans. :)

sucanat

3. The cheese may not be raw. But at least it’s cheese.

I really like raw, organic cheese that hasn’t been turned freakishly orange with food dye. But wow do we go through a lot of cheese at our house. Therefore, to save money, I’ve gone back to buying regular Colby jack cheese blocks at the store. You can read more about this here.

cheese

4. I buy pork products at the store.

I have had a huge dilemma over this through the years. Pork is not the healthiest meat choice – I know this. I used to avoid it altogether. Then I started buying a little from a farmer who had healthier, but kind of expensive, pork options. Then, because I’ve found that starting our day with a high protein breakfast really is best for my family of teenage boy athletes (and their non-athletic mom who really feels much better when she eats a lot of protein and fat) – I started adding in more bacon and ham.

It tastes so ridiculously good.

We eat more beef and chicken than pork, but I’ve stopped worrying about avoiding pork altogether, and I typically buy the regular ol’ piggies from the store. I usually stock up when there’s a good price-match option, so this helps save our budget. Then I save time by cooking it up ahead of time for fast breakfasts.

oven-bacon3

Real Food Compromises I Just Can’t Make, Even if it Saves Money

1. I will never buy margarine.

I don’t even like to type the word. At our house, it’s real butter all the way. I don’t care that it costs more. I trust real butter because it is made from cream and salt – and those are real food ingredients our bodies can use for nourishment. Marga-blech is made in a factory from chemicals our bodies don’t recognize and can’t utilize for nutrition. This makes my stomach churn. Butter for the win.

butter

2. I make unattractive faces when I think about Jif and Skippy.

Peanut butter “spreads,” as they are labeled, contain FULLY hydrogenated oils and a bunch of added sugar. When I learned this, our family transitioned to buying Natural Peanut Butter, though admittedly, we didn’t love it. (Plus I found that stirring it every time we needed it was a big pain in the neck – and messy too.)

Next I started making peanut butter like this, which is more amazing than ever. THEN, I discovered how to make this creamy, spreadable homemade peanut butter and we are all in love. My kids actually brag about this peanut butter to their friends.

peanut_butter

3. “Processed Cheese Food” shouldn’t have a shelf life.

I had a hard time giving up velveeta – and I won’t say I’ll never eat it again – but it’s kind of freakish, wouldn’t you say? I’ve noticed that the price keeps going up (over $6.00 for a block, really?) so it’s not like buying it actually saves money compared to making our own cheese sauce.

But who even cares about velveeta now that we can make this amazing Real Food “Velveeta” and Rotel Dip Recipe!

Real Food Velveeta and Rotel Dip

I’m probably forgetting a thing or two, but I would say those are the main compromises I make, as well as the biggest compromises I feel strongly about not making. Care to share what real food compromises you make to help you save money – and what you feel like you just can’t compromise on?

Ways Our Family Saves Money So We Can Afford Our High Grocery Bill (And a few ways we splurge)

Hi. I’m the mom with the really high, make you pass out, grocery bill. There are about zero things I can do about it, what with all my teenage boys in the house, so we’re continually thankful that God keeps providing.

(Actually, speaking of things I can do about it, I’m planning to document our grocery spending very specifically during the month of February to show you all the ins and outs of what I buy. I’m also going to challenge myself to see if, in fact, there are any other ways I can cut grocery costs. Stay tuned.)

Ways our family saves money so we can afford our high grocery bill

Today I decided to make a list of non-food ways we cut spending so we can make our monthly grocery budget bigger. I’d love to hear about some of the ways you save too! I’d also love to hear what some of your splurges are. (Every family has different events and items they consider priority or treats, right?)

Here are a few ways our family cuts back so we can buy the amount of food it takes to keep our family full and healthy.

Ways we save money so we can pay our high grocery bill

1. We make coffee at home.

Sound silly? What I mean is – we very rarely buy coffee and specialty drinks at a coffee shop. If I want to enjoy coffee with a friend, typically I invite her to my home to drink coffee at my table. (I can make a pretty mean cup of coffee, if I do say so myself.) At $3-$5 per cup for specialty coffees, and with 6 people in our household, going to a coffee shop for a treat is exactly that – a treat. It’s very rare and it’s a splurge. (If the boys want to meet friends at the coffee shop, they use their own money.)

Coffee Milkshake

2. We pack food when we travel.

We do eat out occasionally when we’re on the road, but even “cheap” fast food costs $40-$60 for our family. If it’s possible, we load up a cooler instead. When we do eat out, it’s with a purpose. (For instance, if several of the families on our basketball team are eating together after a game, we join them if we can. Relationships with these families = priceless.)

3. We have high deductible, low monthly premium healthcare coverage.

I can’t say enough good about this. Can you believe we pay only $135/month for healthcare coverage for our family of six?! It’s perfect for us since we typically go to natural doctors not covered by insurance. Saving hundreds every month on our monthly healthcare premium helps us afford groceries to keep us healthy. I am so thankful for this for so many reasons.

4. My husband’s truck is rusty.

What I mean is, we don’t have the nicest vehicles on the block. They run great, they do the job, and they are paid for. Our sons drive “grandpa cars” that they bought themselves after years of hard work and saving.

5. When we want a treat at home, we buy it at the store.

Say we want to enjoy a special family movie night or game night – something fun for the family and a break from cooking. Instead of going out to eat or getting take out, we’ll get something fun from the store. This is rare because even the $30 it costs to buy enough take-and-bake pizzas to fill us is a splurge, but at least it’s cheaper than the $60+ it costs to eat out. If we want ice cream, we’ll buy a container at the store for $3.50, which feeds us all, instead of paying that much per person at the ice cream shop.

6. Redbox all the way.

It’s got to be a really exciting, really great movie if we’re actually going to pay to see it in the theater. Sometimes the boys pay their own way if they want to see a movie with their friends. But usually, we all wait until a few weeks after a movie comes out, save at least $50 by getting the movie from Redbox for $1.50.

7. We don’t have cable.

Sometimes, we really, really wish we did (like when it’s time for the Olympics or the World Cup). But every time we check into the options and do the math, we just can’t justify the added expense every month. It’s worth a mention that we’re thankful for friends who are happy to have us join them in their living room for big games. ;)

8. Our kids don’t get a cell phone until they get their drivers license.

We’ve decided that our kids don’t really need a phone until they are driving. (They have had hand-me-down ipods before they’re 16 so they can text and keep up with their friends as long as there is wifi available.) That we’ve avoided adding our kids to our phone plan until they are 16 has saved a lot of money through the years. Though we do have a small heart attack each time we add a new driver to the household – adding him to our car insurance and cell phone bill. Yowza.

Ways we don’t hold back on spending money

As much as we spend frugally for most everything, there are a few ways we have found it’s not worth it to hold back.

1. Quality food

But we’ve been through all of this already.

groceries 411

2. Quality shoes

Nobody needs the $200 pairs. But neither have we found it worth it to compromise on good foot/ankle/back support when it comes to shoes, as our athletes will be running and jumping and cutting and sliding across the field or court. When the kids were younger, buying shoes at Walmart or Payless was just fine. But as the boys have gotten older, their athletic shoes have needed to be better. Cha-ching. I don’t really like to talk about it.

3. Giving

That comes off the top of our monthly budget, without compromise. I’d rather cut back on food spending and eat beans all day than give less than we feel God calling us to give. This is saying something because well, just think what it would be like at our house if we ate beans all day.

4. Good coffee

Look at me – beginning and ending my post by talking about coffee. While we rarely buy coffee at a shop, I really do love good quality coffee at home. Folgers just doesn’t cut it, bless its heart. I like buying coffee beans from a gal in Haiti to help support her work with boys on the street. Or I buy this one so yum.

Coming up next week: Specific food compromises I make so I can stay within budget (plus ways I will never compromise).

I’d love to hear ways you save and ways you splurge. Share your ideas and what works for your family!

How Much I Spend on Groceries for My Family Full of Teenage Boys (Brace Yourself)

Curious what I spend on groceries each month?

I decided it was time for me to write an updated post sharing details of our family’s average monthly food budget. It’s a lot bit different than it was when our kids were little. Our sons are now 19, 17, 15, and 12. (Matt and I are 43, but that’s entirely beside the point.)

This post is not for the faint of heart.

Can you handle the truth?

Please, take a seat.

How Much I Spend on Groceries for My Family Full of Teenage Boys

Maybe the numbers won’t astound you. Maybe you’ll see my budget and say, “Eh. Is that it?” Yes. That’s probably what you’ll say. I’m just sure of it.

Why am I sharing our grocery budget numbers? Because I’ve been seeing a lot of posts recently shared by women who feed their families for just $50 per week. I’m happy for them, and it’s all well and good that those women are able to feed their families for such a small amount. But you guys? That’s how much it costs to feed my family PER DAY.

Well, not quite. Just almost. I exaggerate. Only a tiny bit.

Good thing they’re worth it…

family1sm

Here’s the truth about my grocery budget: I could cut back here and there. I could feed us beans and rice more often. I could spend less each month by making a few changes in what I purchase. But I’m not going to do any of those things at this point, and here’s why…

  • My teenage boys would not get full if I fed us differently (they are athletes and they need food with substance)
  • I believe strongly that food is meant for nourishment (and that it should taste amazing)
  • I feel that it is very important to offer a high volume of fresh fruits and vegetables (I probably spend $100/week on produce alone)
  • We love sharing our food with others (and find that we often have extras around our table)
  • We prefer eating whole foods as much as possible, in balance (but sometimes I buy take-and-bake pizza because a girl’s gotta live a little)

groceries Lincoln

I wondered how our budget would change once our oldest went off to college a year and a half ago. Turns out, nothing changed. If anything, it increased (someone please hand me a tissue). I think it’s because our other boys keep getting bigger and eating more. It’s also because, even though Asa lives on campus and eats most of his meals at the cafeteria, we feed extra college kids when Asa brings his friends home (and I love it so much that I would feed the whole campus if he brought them to our table).

groceries 318

I buy food from about 7 different sources, so adding it all up and averaging it all out is a bit of a challenge. For instance, we recently bought a half beef and a whole lamb. We’re hoping that will last us an entire year, but I don’t have my hopes up. For the sake  of budgeting though, you’ll see when I crunch the numbers below that I’ve divided the total meat amount by 12 months.

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I go to Lincoln for a doctor appointment about once each month, so while there I hit Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market (my absolute favorite!). We have one local grocery store (not a chain, not great prices) and a Super Walmart that I hit in town each week (except for the week I go to Lincoln).

I order online at Amazon. I order from Azure Standard, our health food co-op. I order from Vitacost (though most of that is free credit, thanks to many of you!) I order from Tropical Traditions when they have free shipping mixed with great sales.

We get eggs, milk, and beef/lamb from local farmers.

So that’s about all I can babble about before I share the actual numbers. (Though raise your hand if you skipped all the blah-blah-blah and went right to the bottom of this post to see that part already. That’s right. I’m on to you.)

groceries 411

But one more thing.

This is not about comparing, feeling better than or less than or anything in between. We all have different budgets based on needs, family size, prices where we live, grocery store options, and on it goes.

And can I just say that I’m very thankful my boys don’t like drinking milk? I think it keeps us from the poor house that they don’t drink it and we only use one gallon each week for cooking.

One more thing (last one, I promise). Our family schools at home and works from home. Therefore all three meals every day for every person in our family (except our oldest son away at college) are eaten at home.

My Grocery Budget Break-Down Average for each Month

  • Local grocery stores = $150-200 per week x 3 weeks = $450-$600
  • Lincoln grocery stores (I go to Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market about once each month) = $250 total
  • Local farmer for milk = $20
  • Local farmers for eggs = $30 (we are spoiled with great egg prices!)
  • Azure Standard = average $150 per month
  • Amazon subscribe and save = average $100 per month
  • Local 100% grass fed meat purchased once each year (1/2 beef + whole lamb) = $1,300 per year = $108 per month

Grand total of what I spend on groceries each month:

$1,100-$1,250

If that isn’t enough to make a mama pass out.

And no. That doesn’t include our toilet paper.

This is why we rarely eat out. This is why we make so many foods from scratch. This is why we rarely go to the movie theater. This is why we drive older, so-so vehicles. This is why we don’t buy many pre-made processed foods.

And yes. This is what keeps us healthy.

That’s what it’s all about right?

A huge perk —> We have Christian Healthcare Ministries as our health insurance and we pay very little per month. (Read more about that here, because CHM is amazing.) Since our monthly premium is so very low, that helps us afford to pay more for quality groceries (and keep our athletic sons in good shoes – I can’t even).

I Challenge Myself

Couponing is no longer worth my time. But I do want to challenge myself in the coming months to see if there are any other ways I can come up with to save a little on our budget. I don’t have my hopes up. I won’t negotiate on quality. But stay tuned. I want to try to document my shopping trips with pictures and receipts to share with you. Interested?

Want to share your grocery budget numbers with us? We promise to keep it fun and encouraging! We’re all friends here.