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How I Maintain a $50 per Week Grocery Budget for a Family of Seven

January 16, 2013



Out of necessity this past summer, I began to pare down our family grocery budget. In the past, we’d shopped primarily at our local chain grocery store, coupons on hand, after scouring the sales sheet for the best bargains (this is on a good week. Let’s face it, there are plenty of weeks where there is no planning involved, whatsoever).  What had worked for our family of seven for a while, it seemed, just wasn’t working anymore.  My kitchen is pretty small, yet the limited cupboard space I had still had plenty of boxes and cans of food from … goodness knows when.  And I was constantly pitching spoiled or freezer burned leftovers from the refrigerator and freezer.  Nope. Not working anymore.

The changes I made didn’t seem terribly significant at the time – they really boil down to better menu planning, buying less (yes! Less!) and changing where I shop.

First we went through the cupboards and threw away anything that was really old or had no chance of being eaten.  I rearranged my cupboards according to what was useful and what we could use in meals.  The remaining items I left on the counter with a note for the kids: eat these.  Now when I say that I threw out old food, I mean REALLY old. The food that was (sealed in packages) that was just a little old – the kids ate. I am very okay with ignoring ‘best by’ dates on packages, generally speaking.  Sure, the popover mixes that had been in the back of the cupboard forever didn’t turn out great (could have been because 10 year old children baked them …) but they were good enough for them to get eaten for lunch with peanut butter and jelly on.  All the cereals that weren’t getting eaten? Yes, “add some sugar if you want, but that’s what’s for breakfast (or lunch).”  Really, my kids are okay with a few weird meals!  Truly – do what works best for you and is within your comfort level.  But pay attention to what you’re pitching.  It’s pretty sobering, the waste!

The next step we took was to look at what we had remaining, and plan a week’s worth of meals around it, possibly doubling some of the meals (and freezing the extra).  But truly – no more shopping ahead and buying in bulk!  I took my grocery bags and my quarter and headed to Aldi with my list.  The great thing about Aldi (okay there are many great things about Aldi) is that it’s small.  You can cover the store in less than 30 minutes.  Instead of having 15 different brands and varieties of mustard to choose from, there’s one or two.  Problem solved. Put it in your cart and move on.  And there’s no need to stock up (specials on meat/bread aside, as they get discounted when they are close to the sell date) because the price will be the same next week.

Fewer groceries in the cupboards and fridge have meant that everything gets eaten. Less waste means less money going in the garbage, literally!

Now this summer, when we began, we were 1. Eating down the stock pile and 2. Eating out of the garden.  So I haven’t stuck to $50 every week. But that was, and remains, my goal.

With company this fall, and then the holidays, it’s been really hard to stay on track. This week I am regrouping and committing to follow these same strategies again.

How’s your grocery budget working for you? Anyone want to join me?


Dirt Balls

January 10, 2013

dirt balls


Let’s get this out of the way from the get-go:

Dirt Balls are not terribly photogenic.

But they’re tasty! And nutritious!  And super easy to make.  Until my kids knew what was in Dirt Balls, they just thought I was being extra generous with the treats.

1 cup almonds (or other nuts. As with many things, I use what I have on hand)

1 cup pitted dates (avoid getting sugared dates, though!)

1/3 cup raisins

3 tablespoons cocoa or carob powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

Grind nuts in a food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and pulse until mixed.  Form into balls (sometimes this is easier to do if you chill the mixture in the fridge for a little while, first).

And that, my loves, is how you make Dirt Balls.  Just think it over carefully before you tell your kids what exactly is in them! 😉

Did you know this?

January 8, 2013


Yep. You can regrow green onions.

Cut the greens off for your recipe, then put the white end, sprouts down, in a cup of water and set it in your windowsill. In a few days? Voila!  more green onion!


Confessions of a Home Cook

January 5, 2013


Being a recent college graduate (!!) who’s made a re-entry back into the food industry, I am often asked about career paths and choices.  The fact is, I had my babies a little early in life (my youngest of the five are 10 year old twins) and I’m what you would call career-driven. Oh, hell yes.  Full steam ahead for this girl.

One of the questions I’ve been asked about is if I want to move more into the kitchen, professionally.  These days I’m dividing my time between retail and kitchen prep hours, so I do see the inside of the kitchen quite a bit.  I’m not the fastest prep cook on the block, but I’d like to think I can hold my own.  The truth is, however, I don’t have professional chef aspirations.  I’m a home cook, through and through.  I think that’s probably why I enjoy, and am experiencing success in, the retail end of my job – knowing just what the target market is really looking for and giving them several fabulous options they hadn’t even considered (we all need those ‘secret weapons’ in our pantry, don’t we?).

As a home cook, there are a few things that intrigue me … that I’m passionate about:  Supper as opposed to dinner. Comfort over formalities.  Cooking with people, as opposed to for people. Now, if I’ve cooked for you … it’s because I really like you. But there’s something very organic, very natural, about preparing food together. When I made supper last night with one of my girls, I not only got to instruct her on the finer points of building a kick-ass béchamel sauce, I got to hear about the boy who sits in front of her who is ‘naturally mean’ and a few other very funny stories from her day. Simple ingredients being turned into the best thing ever: magic.

The other thing that fascinates me about cooking, and cooking together, are creating something amazing out of very simple pantry and garden ingredients. The best pot roast you’ve ever tasted, thanks to fresh garlic, rosemary from the garden and some cheap red wine.  Or something else so delicious, all due to a secret weapon ingredient you’ve got stored in your freezer or on the back of a shelf.

Cooking, really, should be about togetherness. About including the kids in our ‘work,’ maybe more so than the kids including us in their play.  About trying new ingredients, gaining some new secret weapons, and about enjoying it all together.

Happy New Year

January 2, 2013



It’s the officially “the day after the holidays.”  Looking at the assortment of treats and goodies to choose my breakfast from … there is no egg nog. Which, oddly, makes me blue.

I have no New Years resolutions which include “blog more,” despite how neglected this space has been. The fact is, I have been cooking. A lot.  I have said goodbye to the days of work in nonprofit and have begun to forge a career in the food industry.  I make food, I sell food, I read and talk an awful lot about food.

So back to this space — it may be less neglected this year.  It may be that I jump back into Twitter and G+.  Or it may be that I keep things more face-to-face.

At any rate — Happy New Year.  Before the business of “after the holidays” sets in, kick back, put your feet up and drink one last egg nog.

White Bean Soup with Thyme

October 16, 2012


Feeding a large family on a small budget requires a lot of creativity.  Buying ingredients that can be used a variety of ways – and then getting them at a great price – can make all the difference in the world when it comes to stretching the budget as far as possible.

We have switched to being primarily Aldi shoppers.  The prices are great, I don’t have to take the extra time and energy to plan my weekly menus out according to what is on sale, or what I have an extra store coupon for at any given time.  The store is small enough that , with my list in hand, and my trusty 12 year old side-kick pushing the cart, I can get a week or more worth of shopping done in about 30 minutes or less.

A week or two ago, my husband did the Aldi’s shopping trip and picked up a ham for 99 cents per pound.  Jackpot!  While we aren’t huge ham eaters, it gives us a few dinners, several breakfasts of ham and cheese omelets for my teenaged son, and a nice ham bone to wrap and put in the freezer to be made into soup later.

Well, later has come!  One of my favorite bean soup recipes comes from Nicke, a friend I’ve been on the same parenting message board for ….. years.  Since back in the day when people frequented internet message boards.  😉  We are making her White Bean Soup with Thyme recipe today — it will be perfect this week with our Minnesota kids out of school for a long weekend!

1 lb Great Northern beans, soaked overnight
2 tbsp oil
2 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 cans chicken broth (26 oz total)
1 quart water
1 meaty ham bone

Rinse beans and set aside. Saute carrots and onions in oil until onion is translucent (approximately 10 minutes). In your stock pot, put the vegetables, beans, broth, water, spices and ham. Bring to a boil, and simmer 1.5 hours, or until beans are falling apart. Remove ham bone from soup and defat and debone the ham. Add chopped ham meat to the soup. Put half the soup through the blender, then add back to the stock pot, for a thicker, creamier soup.

Green Smoothies

October 9, 2012

One of the downsides of my job (I work for Macy’s, selling their gourmet food and also doing kitchen prep work in their Marketplace Deli) is that I work weekends.  And I work six days each week (okay, that’s two downsides).  On the flip side, however, is that my day off is generally one that I get to spend in a quiet house, all by myself.  With five kids and a busy job, most of my life is loud, fast paced, adrenaline producing, so my day off at home, all to myself, feels indulgent and almost (but not quite) like a guilty pleasure.

One of the ways I’m recharging today is by adding green smoothies back into my diet again.  Green smoothies are a simple and easy way to increase your fruit and veggie intake for the day.  I first got started drinking smoothies when a blogger I follow threw down a month-long green smoothie challenge.

Through some trial and error, I’ve learned that really the only greens I like much of in a smoothie are spinach and chard.  They have a naturally sweet taste which complements the taste of the fruit nicely, while other greens (kale, romaine, etc) just taste like blender salad to me.

I’ve also learned that I don’t like to add a lot of fruit in my smoothie.  Adding too much fruit (or using juice, instead of water, to blend) can add a lot of extra sugar to your diet.  And the point of a green smoothie is to be healthier, right? The smoothie I made for myself today has a six ounce package of spinach, one banana, and a good sized handful of red grapes  – with enough water added into to make it all blend together well.This made a blenderful – enough to have one big glass now and another one later today, or tomorrow with breakfast.

Here’s a great video to help you get started —