Project: Food Budget: Getting Started (Again)

Project: Food Budget

Wow!
A lot has changed since the first time I did this project, which comes again courtesy of Emily Levenson.

First of all, of course, all the children are older! Flora is now a lanky 10-year-old who likes nothing more than drawing and reading. Kate is an energetic 8-year-old who wants to play Minecraft all day, narrating every move. And little M isn’t so little anymore; he’s an active, curious chatty 4-year-old, who wants to be outside pretty much all the time.

Dan is still my loving man, but even he’s made some major changes in the past four years that effect the food budget.

Secondly, the way we shop has changed radically. Market District/Giant Eagle is no longer my grocery store(s) of choice. We only head to Costco once every two months or so — I think this is due to the fact that I don’t have a baby in diapers any longer, thank heavens.

Thirdly, and sadly, we no longer belong to a CSA. This was the most difficult decision to make, and it does not reflect my feelings for Kretschmann’s Farm (whose quality organic produce remains most excellent) or my feelings about CSAs in general (they are a fantastic idea). But our food budget has changed considerably, and, frankly, we were not using all the produce we were getting. Despite my best intentions, a lot of produce was still going to waste.

Flora is still mostly vegetarian, but Kate and Michael are definitely omnivores. Dan, of course, is still an omnivore as well; but since the last time I did this project, he has joined a gym, started drinking protein shakes and smoothies, and has lost 40 pounds — and he’s still working to lose more fat and gain more muscle. I’m so proud of him, and I’m working hard to make sure he stays fit and motivated.

My own eating habits haven’t changed very much, but my shopping and cooking habits have changed.

Let’s start with *where*. I no longer shop primarily at the Big Bird. I discovered Aldi not too long ago, and that is where I shop for most of our staples. The quality is good; the prices are low; and it’s a fast trip. My only criticism is that they don’t stock much in the way of vegetarian goods — I would even be happy with tofu! — so I often have to make another stop.

I round out my Aldi’s trip by grocery shopping at Target. They carry a lot of vegetarian options; their prices are still lower than GE’s; I also pick up toiletries and the like; and I have a Target debit card, which gets me 5% off the total bill. I’ve also been trying to use the Target app Cartwheel to save more as well — it’s akin to clipping coupons, without the actual clipping.

I plan to make the Sewickley farmers market part of my monthly shopping as well. This is where I will get most of my produce while I can. By only buying what I know we will use over the course of a week, I will waste a lot less. Plus, I won’t end up with stuff like fennel, which I don’t like and don’t use, or tons of herbs that I usually manage to dry but never store.

My estimated budget on a weekly basis will be:

Aldi trip: $80-$100
Target: $50
Farmers Market: $25-$40

I cook at home A LOT. Through doing Project: Food Budget in 2011 I learned the value of menu planning. I have a go-to list of meals that come together very quickly during the week. The girls are starting to help me meal plan, which is fantastic. We almost never eat out anymore. And I don’t use as many meat substitutes as I used to. With Kate and Michael eating beef, chicken, and fish, I usually prepare beans or tofu for Flora and me. We still have the occasional meal with Morning Star nuggets or Boca burgers, but not nearly as often as we used to.

Oh, another improvement (IMO, anyway): I am baking a whole lot more. Like, almost weekly, if not twice a week. My family is very happy with this improvement, although Dan wants me to find a hiding place for the baked goods. He has terrible discipline when it comes to sweets. 🙂

Here are the other bloggers participating on this round. Can’t wait to see how everyone does!

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Rachel Olive Miller

How has your food budget changed in the past four years?

My Love Affair with Aldi’s

It started out innocently enough. I was coming out of Costco, thinking of the five other things I needed for the week’s menu. And I realized an Aldi’s was right there, and that I didn’t need anything obscure. I was pretty sure Aldi’s didn’t do obscure.

So I popped in. I didn’t even need a quarter for a cart. I grabbed flour, orange juice, and one or two other things.

I decided next time I needed a grocery run, I was going to try Aldi’s again. I went the Friday before we went to the woods and got a lot of snacks (chips, crackers, peanut butter wafers, and fruit snacks), trail mix, orange juice, almond milk, coffee, half and half, dish soap, plastic wear, and paper bowls. That run cost me about $40. I know it would’ve cost me more at Giant Eagle.

Last night, I ran to Aldi’s again. Because I hadn’t shopped over the weekend, the stuff I needed for lunches and dinners were in short supply. On this run, I discovered Aldi’s weakness: no vegetarian options. No tofu, no vegetarian baked beans, no meat substitutes (nuggets, soy crumbles).

This will be a problem if I continue to shop there.

Last night, I spent $64.86 at Aldi’s (including three bags of candy to hand out at Halloween), and then ran to GE for another six items that added up to $20.

My Aldi’s shopping list would’ve added up to $101.33 at Giant Eagle (plus the $20 I did spend there last night). I determined this by filling a cart online because I was curious to see if I was really saving money. Line by line, I saved between $1 and $2.50 per item. This is even with several of the GE items on sale.

That’s not insignificant.

There are other things I like about Aldi’s. It forces me to use my canvas bags (no free bags at Aldi’s). I mean to use my canvas bags more, anyway. I don’t mind bagging, at all. I don’t mind putting my cart back myself. The Aldi’s I’ve shopped is very small. Four or five aisles of products — that’s it. Because the options are limited, no decision fatigue sets in. A shopping trip at Aldi’s takes me 20-30 minutes, tops. I can’t even walk from one end of the Market District to the other in 30 minutes. Aldi’s has organic options for most products.

This clearly will need further analysis going forward. I don’t know if this affair will last.

Aldi's Store Sign

image source, and another take on Aldi’s shopping

Project: Food Budget, Week 24

Food Budget Piggybank

This weekend, I want to cook ALL THE THINGS. But I am going to focus on the following and construct my menu from there.

I have a CSA pickup tonight, but that’s probably just going to be greenhouse mesculen greens and apples.

I also have a major Costco trip to undertake on Sunday. With a budget (for food) of $151.66. I’m probably going to blow it there and then for the rest of the month. Lunchtime snacks are kind of killing me.

Tip o’ the Week:
When I shop at Costco for things to pack in my children’s lunch boxes, I don’t buy the big boxes of individual packaged snacks. I buy a large bag (or two) of the favored snack (which varies from kettle corn, to Cheezits, to chips of some sort). I use baggies and some other types of (non-disposible) containers to pack them. It’s much more cost effective that way.

Another cost-conscious tip: Buy the big bags of shredded cheese. I buy the bulk shredded cheddar and shredded mozzerella. Then I split the package into three freezer-size storage bags, freeze two and use one. For some reason we go through cheese like crazy in this house.

Mmm. Cheese.

This coming weekend, I plan to make:
Vegetarian chili
Lentil Meat(less)balls (new web site for recipes! I must stop!)
Pizza dough and homemade sauce (Saturday night dinner, with salad)
Coconut Tofu Rice
Granola and/or Chewy Granola Bars

Those will all be incorporated into next week’s menu in some combination. I also have a bunch of potatoes I have to use. Maybe I can convince my children to eat baked “French fries”.

Go see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me
* Eat Whole Be Vital
* Four Happy Violets
* Naturally {Un}refined
* Pgh Dad
* yogabeautylife
* What da Health?
* Twice the Twinsanity

Project: Food Budget, Week 17

Food Budget Piggybank

Actual $ spent this week:

Grocery: $320
Costco: $156
CSA: $34 (beef was sold out! Hope to get on the order next time.)
Eating out: $62

As simple as that, we were under budget overall, by $62. We ended up spending less at the grocery store because of planning, planning, planning, list making, and making menus. Of course, conversely, we ended up spending more at Costco because we put off shopping there (for weeks), and kept running out of our Costco staples. By the time I went last night, the list had gone from “bread, chocolate milk for lunches” to about 20 items.

It seems simplistic, but sometimes we run on auto-pilot when it comes to eating and feeding. I know as a busy, work-outside-the-home mom, this is particularly true. For a few months, I am sure I was shopping off the same list, throwing together the same meals, and wasting a bunch of food, especially produce — which is a particular shame, because I get some damn tasty produce from my CSA — and, as a result, stressing about feeding my family.

Joining this project has made me aware, again, of the importance of menu planning and using the food in my kitchen. I’ve become mindful of my shopping list again, mindful about what I want to teach my children about eating healthy food and liking it. I feel very fortunate to have kids who will try everything, and like almost anything (cabbage being the current exception to the rule!).

Let’s see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me
* Eat Whole Be Vital
* Four Happy Violets
* Naturally {Un}refined
* Pgh Dad
* yogabeautylife
* Charmingly Modern
* NaMAMAste

Project: Food Budget Week 14

Food Budget Piggybank

I cooked a ton for New Year’s Day — and I loved it. We went a little over the grocery budget, $254.21 versus $200. I made butternut squash and apple soup, extra creamy mashed potatoes, Tofurkey kielbasa with sauerkraut (from my CSA — SO GOOD I HAVE TO SHOUT!), and cookies. Eating out, Dan spent $49.25. He’s got to get back on plan.

This week brings a CSA box full of goodies: $34; a birthday party for my soon-to-be 5-year-old (entertainment budget); and various and sundry running around. Looking ahead, I’ll probably have to send Dan to the grocery store at least once. I need to see what I have and plan a menu accordingly. I should be able to keep the total under $100, depending on the CSA box.

I’ll be posting a couple New Year’s Day recipes over the next couple of weeks, but for the meantime: Kate and I made chocolate chip cookies. Only instead of the usual recipe on the back of a package of Nestle Tollhouse chips, I made two minor substitutions: dark chocolate chips (instead of milk or semi-sweet) and dried cherries (instead of the optional cup of nuts). Now that’s a grown up chocolate chip cookie!

Happy New Year and let’s see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me
* Eat Whole Be Vital
* Four Happy Violets
* Naturally {Un}refined
* Pgh Dad
* yogabeautylife

Project Food Budget: Week 6

Food Budget Piggybank

Yee-haw. Due to the fact that we shopped very little in the past week (too busy!), we are way under budget!

Grocery actual = $25.93
Eating out actual = $41.00

Which is good, because I am blowing up the budget in the next few days.

It’s Flora’s 7th birthday tomorrow. I have a friend and her daughter coming in from out of town; my parents are coming Saturday; I am hosting dinner and then a sleep over (for the girls) on Saturday evening; and Sunday we are having people over for the Steelers game, plus cake and ice cream.

Tonight we are going out to eat. I have too much cleaning to catch up on to cook and clean tonight. The menu from Friday to Sunday looks like this:

Lentil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Gnocchi Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Rotisserie chicken
Quorn nuggets
Stovetop mac ‘n’ cheese (for the kids)
Salad
Peanut butter butterscotch Rice Krispie treats

Slow cooker ox roast sandwiches (courtesy of Nonna)
Crudite tray
Cheese and crackers
Santa Fe Soup with tortilla chips
Cake and ice cream

Add some staples to the party food, and I’m thinking we’re looking at around $250 in groceries. Plus another $100 in alcohol (just beer and wine).

And you know what? I am totally cool with that. It’s a party!

Budget:
Groceries = $250
Alcohol = $100 (2 cases of beer, 4 bottles of wine)
Formula = $25 (this should be our last formula purchase, *fingers crossed*; we didn’t buy any last week)
Eating out = $50

Let’s go see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Ignition Nutrition
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Because Hobbies Happen
* Primary Focus Health Coaching
* Chicken Tender
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Whole Living Gal
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy

++

In case you are looking for something to do this weekend, my friend Jen England (@JenEngland) is promoting the On the Spot event at Howlers on Friday Nov. 11, from 6-8:30 p.m. On the Spot is a non-profit that helps girls in foster care or financially unstable home situations get feminine hygiene products, as well as helping boys and girls get things like deodorant and shampoo. Middle and high school are hard enough without worrying about this stuff!

An an added bonus, On the Spot events are always fun! They will have their usual cookie table (potato chip cookies, baklava, sour gummy worm rice crispy treats, and more) as well as terrific auction items for the paper bag auction. Admission is a $10 donation or $5 and a box of pads. Howlers is at 4509 Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield, and more information about the project can be found here.

Project: Food Budget 2.0: Week 4

Food Budget Piggybank

I am off to a rocking start!

Of course it helps that I started with a fully stocked larder and refrigerator.

My first goal this week was to spend under $50, including meals out.
My second goal this week was to use stuff up.

We did well on both counts, though not perfect, as we went over by $12.91.

Snacks and drinks at Patrick’s Moon Township: $21.42
Grocery shopping: $29.24
Farmers market: $12.25, for apples, apple cider, a butternut squash, sweet peppers, four garlic bulbs
Total: $62.91

What I made in my kitchen: guacamole, lentil soup, applesauce and apple muffins, marinara sauce, beet and feta salad. We had a friend in from out of town, and although we talked about ordering a pizza on Saturday, when I looked in my refrigerator, I decided against it. Instead, we had veggie chili burritos, salad, and the aforementioned beet salad. Sunday we had lentil soup and grilled cheese for lunch.

This week I have to use two small eggplants, whatever is in my CSA box (pickup is Thursday evening), potatoes, a ton of carrots, butternut squash, the rest of that marinara sauce.

I had to throw out half a head of cauliflower. I tried really hard to get over the slug I discovered on it — it comes directly from a farm, after all — and I couldn’t do it.

Recipe ideas:
Carrot soup
Eggplant parmesan
Strawberry and banana muffins

Next week’s goals:
Grocery budget (not including formula): $125
Formula: $25
Costco food budget: $100

Let’s go see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Ignition Nutrition
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Because Hobbies Happen
* Primary Focus Health Coaching
* Chicken Tender
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Whole Living Gal
* Chandeleah