Thrifty Food Plan Week 1: Four Days Down, Three to go

How many things in your cupboard do you take for granted?  If you want to make tacos do you have all of the seasonings to add? Chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, etc? 

I know that I really rely on my variety of spices to make tasty meals.  I like having an assortment of different spices and seasonings especially when I’m making things like Stretchy Beans. One pot of beans can become three different meals just by changing the seasonings.

This week (and next) my family is having our second installment of my new series, Someone Else’s ShoesSomeone Elses’s Shoes is a reality series of sorts.  My purpose for this series is to experience different scenarios and how real food plays into those scenarios. My purpose IS NOT to prove if “I can do this, anyone can”.  I really hope to be able to offer ideas for people that may be struggling with how to fit real food into their lives.  That said, I don’t have all of the answers and rely on you to help out with suggestions in the comments.  The first installment was Working Full Time and Real Food. This installment is USDA Thrifty Food Plan.

$172 per week, family of 5, real food.

I’ve already done the bulk of the shopping for the week and, at that point,  had only $10.81 leftover. Yesterday I added a gallon of milk to get us through until the end of this week (ends Sunday night) which subtracts $7 (confession: I really picked up 3 gallons of milk because that is the amount I get with my shares. But I put two gallons at the very back of the top shelf with strict instructions that they are not available for use until Monday AM). 

I now have $3.81 left.  I have to admit, when I first started thinking about this scenario it sounded easy! $172 is a decent amount of money.  The USDA calls it their Thrifty Food Plan (they also have low-cost, moderate and liberal plans) but it is less per month than we averaged last year in real life, and that wasn’t just for food!

Starting with an empty kitchen has proven to need just about all of my budgeted amount.   Those spices that I usually take for granted did not fit in this week’s budget. I have salt and pepper to use. Plus dried mint leaves that I’ve used for flavor and tea.

We have been eating good but I do have to admit that I’m very mindful of the amount of food that we have.  I dedicated one shelf of the refrigerator to these purchases and part of another (for the milk).  Those are starting to look a little bare. I also have one shelf of my bakers rack just for the pantry goods for the week. Also getting on the bare side.

I do believe as time went on, this amount of money would allow for stocking up on essentials but it would take several weeks for that to happen.  I do expect to have a little more room in the budget next week but probably not enough to make much of a difference. As time went on, I’d also be able to add in higher quality ingredients.

Our meals have been simple (the norm for around here).  We started off the week with nothing. I didn’t even do any advance prep since we were gone for the day on Sunday.  On Monday, I enlisted Kiki and Lulu’s help (my girls ages 16 and 15 are home for the week on spring break) and we started a few ‘essentials’ for the week.

  • Kiki made 2 loaves of sourdough bread using this recipe out of whole wheat.
  • I made 2 quarts of yogurt following this recipe.
  • 1 quart of salsa and 2 quarts of kimchee which were ready to use on Thursday.
  • 1 gallon of water kefir has been made and was ready to drink on Wednesday.
  • 1 gallon of kombucha was also made. Unfortunately, kombucha takes anywhere from 5-30 days before it is ready depending on room temperature and how sweet you prefer your kombucha.  I usually brew for 7 days so it will be ready on Monday.

Our breakfasts have been fried eggs and oranges,  soaked oatmeal with Sucanat (unrefined sugar) and milk,  homemade sourdough muffins and yogurt and rice custard.

Our first night we had a grass fed roast beef for dinner with potatoes, carrots and onions all cooked together in the crock pot. 

Crock Pot Roast Beef With Potatoes, Carrots and Onions

The leftover roast became lunches mostly for Joe but also one day for the rest of us.  I also save the broth that the roast produced and am using that in our meals. 

As soon as the roast was done, I re-purposed the crock pot to cook the beef bone I had. It was one of the meaty kind which gave me more meat to add to our lunches.  I have a half gallon of beef stock so far and will get probably another gallon out of the beef bone. I saved my onion (both white and green) scraps to add to the broth and also cilantro stems. I’ve never saved cilantro stems before (only parsley) so we’ll see how the broth flavor ends up. I didn’t add the veggie scraps to the first broth batch since the bone was so meaty. 

Our night two dinner was liver and onions with mushrooms. I know that some people don’t care for liver (my girls don’t really care for it either) but it is so nutritious and at $2.50 per pound for grass fed it is a bargain.  We also had fried potatoes (that’s it for my potato supply),  broccoli that I had picked up on discount, and sauteed beet greens.  The beet greens were wonderful (continue reading for recipe). I cooked them in butter and then added a little bit of the broth left from cooking the roast. When they were soft and wonderful I squeezed on the juice from half of a lemon.  It didn’t make a large

Liver, Onions and Mushrooms with Fried Potatoes, Sauteed Beet Greens and Broccoli

amount but enough that we were all satisfied. 

Night three dinner was this spectacular Fasooli from Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS.  This is a family favorite that I’ve made several times.  This dish is the beginning of our Stretchy Beans for the week. We enjoyed our Fasooli with brown rice, butternut squash fries and a cold beet and cabbage salad of sorts. The cabbage in the salad was raw (think cole slaw). Raw cabbage can have a negative affect on the thyroid gland but we still enjoy it on occasion.  I lean toward thinking that if one has an otherwise healthy thyroid and enjoys a variety of vegetables cooked, raw and fermented along with good quality fats then maybe some of the negative effects are lessened.

Night four dinner was a taco style dinner.  We made sourdough tortillas and topped those with a bean and beef combination. Then each person added sour cream (made from real milk), shredded cheese, clabber cheese, shredded cabbage, sliced green onions and lacto-fermented salsa as desired.

Lunches for those of us at home have been salmon patties and carrot sticks,  open faced roast beef sandwiches,  a frittata made out of leftover fried potatoes and broccoli (both from night 2) and leftover fasooli.  Joe has been taking the roast beef for lunch along with any other leftovers or fresh veggies/fruit he feels like grabbing.

Snacks have been peanut butter and banana, orange julius,  peanut butter bread,  yogurt and banana, muffins,  a delicious fondue type thing for Lulu and me one day when no one else was around :-),

What’s left?

We have white beans for another night plus I am sprouting garbanzo beans to turn into a couple of things. 1/2 pound of hamburger.  A pound of salmon.  10 eggs. The bulb of the butternut squash, broccoli, lemons, onions, garlic, green onions, a few carrots, a full head of cabbage, half a bunch of cilantro, 6 oranges, 1 banana and 3 grapefruit. Just over a half gallon of milk, a quart plus a little more of yogurt and the entire batch of clabber cheese I made (about 1 1 /2 cups) Plus broth, salt, pepper, honey, tomato paste, and Sucanat. I also have just over half a jar of peanut butter and a full pound of raisins. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.  And I still have part of that chocolate bar!

Issues: My little Lulu (age 15) is about ready to revolt. She has decided that she doesn’t like the foods available this week. She

"Fondue" with Banana, Orange and Muffin Dippers

wants to make fudge, she wants to make cookies, etc. She wants to eat “all the food we have not just what is allowed.” Part of the problem is it’s spring break and she is home.  Believe me, I’m working hard to keep her busy but several inches of snow on the ground apparently makes her want sweets.  I did make her a fondue thing that she was quite pleased with. I’m hoping that will hold her for a couple of days.  Everyone else seems okay for the most part. I think Joe is noticing the rapidly dwindling supply of food and not liking it. 

Here is the super simple beet greens we enjoyed on night two. I wish I would have made twice as much it was so good!

 Simple and Tasty Beet Greens

Beet greens (I had the greens from 3 beets)
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup beef broth (or broth of choice)
Juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
Sea salt to taste

Wash the beet greens. My were not looking their best so I let them soak in cold water for about 10 minutes to ‘perk them up’. Then cut the stems and greens into bite sized pieces. Cook over very low heat with butter. Add beef broth when it looks like they are getting a little bit dry. When the greens are soft, turn off the heat and squeeze the lemon juice over and salt to taste. Stir to mix and serve.

Additional Thoughts AKA Millie’s Soap Box

One thing that I think is important to point out. This week is based on one weeks spending. It is based on what is available to every person in the area I live in.  I live in the middle of Wyoming. We do not have a year around CSA for produce here (in fact the seasonal CSA is out of Colorado, not  Wyoming). We have 2 farmers market that operate during the summer for 6 weeks only.  Just last year we were fortunate to get Natural Grocers in town.  We do have a small group that orders food monthly, weather permitting, from Azure Standard (Azure only delivers one time per month and one of us makes a  2 hour drive one way to pick up everyone’s orders). We do have farmers and ranchers here from which I purchased this weeks beef, milk and eggs (I’m my own egg farmer but it still counts).  We have chain super stores here.  Walmart is one of them.

Yes, I get that Walmart is not a favorite. I get that people have issues with it.  IF YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE THEN YOU WILL NOT SHOP IN THAT STORE AND WILL FIND A DIFFERENT SOURCE.  But for this experience Walmart, is available here and available to everyone.  And yes folks, Walmart– as undesirable as it is– has prices alot less than any place else in my town.

You might have noticed that even shopping at that store I’m STILL at the END of my budget. Higher prices would mean less food or even lower quality food.  If you have great sources for your food that fits into your budget, use them. If a person is just starting out on real food, they probably don’t have all of your sources yet.  And I get that some of the things in Walmart aren’t the best quality. 

I think that if we make people think that the ONLY place they can shop is their local farmer in order to eat a real food diet, people will be overwhelmed and not even bother trying.  Isn’t even making an effort to choose real/raw ingredients worth something even if those items do come from ‘that store’ ? How about we applaud people for buying rice in place of rice a’ roni instead of condeming which store they choose to buy that rice from?  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  This is a food journey and doesn’t have to start off perfect in order to still give results (disclaimer: some people come into real foods due to illness or food allergies, if you are one of those people you may need to make drastic and immediate changes to your diet.  You can still do it on a budget but it will be even more challenging).  Plus I believe that once people start changing from a SAD diet to a real food diet they will get excited about these changes and scout out higher quality foods that don’t come from the devil himself  that store.

Let’s talk about sources. When you were first starting out on real food, where did you find your sources? I checked on Real Milk and Local Harvest. I also checked to see if there was Weston A. Price chapter here (there wasn’t but is now).  Weston A. Price Chapter leaders are an excellent source to find products.  As I found sources for things I asked what else they knew of that I’d be interested in. We were new to the area so I knew no one. Now after almost three years, I have a pretty decent amount of sources. That being said, I still buy my wild caught salmon and a few other things at that “awful store everyone hates”.  The salmon is half the price of any other store in town. That frees up money for me to put toward other things (such as real milk). Maybe someday, when we have an unlimited budget we’ll make other choices. For now, we do the best we can with the amount of money we have. Just like I’m sure each of you do.

Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen recently posted an excellent article on her families food costs.  I love how she lists where she buys things. Yes, she spends more than this experience would allow but the quality of her food is excellent.  And the comments with the article are great. Many people offering their tips to quality food.  One thing that really stuck out at me was the different areas people live in really impacts the availability of products and prices.  Something to keep in mind in your own food journey.

See all of the posts in this series.

So what do you think? How do the meals sound? Are you loving the liver suggestion?  Be sure to share your tips for finding sources.

 

6 comments to Thrifty Food Plan Week 1: Four Days Down, Three to go

  • Laurie

    You’re doing a great job, Millie! Thank you for sharing ALL of the details of how you’re making this budget work for your family. I’m thankful for your realism.

  • Sarah

    We eat well on far less than $172 per week. I never buy processed foods or commercial meat. It can be done.

    • Millie

      Hi Sarah,

      Our family of 5 does too, in our ‘real life’. I really believe the challenge this week has been starting with a completely empty kitchen. The little things that make a meal really add up. Next week I’ll have more money. $172 a week is alot for some people but not nearly enough for others. I think it is very dependent on location.

  • NancyO

    Hey there…I’m really impresssed with what you’re doing, and have enjoyed reading about the process. We’re a family of 7…4 of whom I feed 3 meals a day…3 adult children who are in college and eat here several times a week, but do take raw milk and free range eggs from my frig as they need them. We go through 3 gallons of milk and 6-7 dozen eggs per week at $3/dozen. My grocery budget (just food) is $600/month. I shop local farmers and our small health food store, but also frequent Kroger and Walmart…for specific things.
    I challenge the idea that WM (or Kroger for that matter) are evil, and I’m sorry you have to defend yourself in shopping with them…although I understand, because it’s pretty in vogue to hate “big business” these days. IMHO they are businesses that are driven by what people buy…unfortunately, most people buy junk. If those of us who do buy whole food abandon them altogether, they’ll only cater to the junk buyers. I don’t mean to sound critical here, just realistic. Our food dollars talk. I live in a very small town in the south and there are few options for groceries other than WM and a rather small Kroger. We each just do the best we can.
    For those just starting out on this journey, rest assured that you will make progress if you are really choosy about what you buy from these large chains. Read labels and ask the managers (I’m sure they get tired of hearing from me) for specific items…organic peanut butter, organic produce, etc. Our Kroger used to not carry organic produce at all, then several of us let the produce manager know we wouldn’t buy anything else for certain items (dirty dozen), and as he began carrying organic in those items, we made sure we bought them. It has paid off!
    Thanks for doing this series…I’m going to tackle something similar in my menu. %600/month isn’t stretching as far as it used to, and it’s not looking like most of our budgets will be getting a “cost of living” raise! 🙂
    Blessings!

    • Millie

      Hi NancyO,
      Thank you for your kind words. You make some excellent points. Being choosy is important and asking for the items you would like to see a store carry is great!
      Yeah, I see groceries and gas going up but don’t see our paychecks increasing. hmmmmm. 😉

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