Last post, I mentioned our (IMHO) crazy low food budget of $120/week. At a gathering on Wednesday, a friend asked for some details and said that if she spent that little on food, her kids would be eating their own arms. Other friends in our wonderfully diverse group agreed.
So this week, I will be laying it out day by day. And, by the way, my kids are eating their own arms, figuratively. The first few weeks, I heard a lot of moaning about how there was nothing to eat. Using Google Translate effectively put these teen complaints into a language that my middle aged brain could grasp: There were not enough yummy, ready, snacky foods. I got the message and have worked to address the issue. On our monthly Costco shop, I buy some of these teenage desirable foods: crackers, corn tortillas, Cheerios. Then I stash them in a large Tupperware bin in the basement under a bin of baby clothes. A package of cookies will feed our family for two snacks (2 cookies per person) but only if I stash them back in the basement after the first snacking event. Otherwise, “no one” would eat them but they would mysteriously be gone by the time the next snack came around.
So to recap: the food budget is $120/week. I plan the menus for the week on the weekend and then do a big weekly shop on Tuesdays. I withdraw $100 in cash every week and put it in a Mason jar. Then as I shop, I use that cash and that cash only and stick the food receipts in the jar. At the end of the week, I throw out the receipts (because I’m not anal, just being forced by circumstance to budget and cook like someone who is). I realize that I am not getting Airmiles or rewards, and I don’t use coupons. I just drive to my favourite store and buy the things that are on sale and the things that I have decided we will eat for the week. The glass jar keeps me honest because when it is empty, we stop eating.
So you’re thinking – she’s in her 40s and she has 5 kids and she stays home to homeschool them so she must, by this time, have a wealth of experience in extreme food budgeting and subsistence cooking. My friend, nothing could be farther from the truth. Twenty-five years ago, I shackled myself to a talented chef and have spent the ensuing years not food budgeting, not couponing, not menu planning, not buying in bulk. On a normal day in our house, we start thinking about what we want for dinner at about 2 pm, then we run to the shop to get what we need, then we spend 2 or 3 hours preparing a decadent gourmet meal completely from scratch.
I have taken this project on in an effort to get more organized, give each child adequate notice of what he/she needs to make on his/her cooking day and to get our financial house in order. Our recent trip confirmed to me that North Americans have a skewed idea of the selection of food items that should readily be available in a home. Living here, we are blessed to have such a wonderful array of ethnic foods from which to choose. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. But there are very few places in the world where people decide on a whim to have Ethiopian or Indian or Thai or Southern BBQ or Sushi and then have the expectation to act on that desire. In summary, there’s nothing wrong with chewing on your own arm once in a while.
So on Monday, the cupboards are kinda bare and we are eating stuff that keeps well since shopping day for us is Tuesday. Today’s food all fell under last week’s food budget but the big shop tomorrow will have to account for next Monday so it all works out, n’est ce pas?
Breakfast – Slowcooker Oatmeal (2 cups steel cut oats from huge 3.17 kg bag bought at Costco, 1 jar homemade applesauce from foraged apples, 8 cups water, cinnamon). Throw everything in a slow cooker and cook on low overnight. Warning – this recipe isn’t great. The oatmeal forms a crust but I don’t have time to refine right now and it sure makes an easy breakfast. I think if it were to cook for 5 hours instead of 8-10, it would be perfect but I’m not about to get up at 3 am to turn on the oatmeal. Serve with a splash of milk and maple syrup. Paris hates oatmeal so she ate leftover fancy olive bread. Lastborn was really hungry so she ate a fried egg as well as the oatmeal.
Snack – Kids each had 2 Mr. Christie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (blech!) that I broke down and bought on sale last week (less than 1/2 price).
Lunch – Mary’s Ridiculously Expensive Crackers from Costco with homemade tzatziki (made with homemade yogurt) and homemade baba gajouj. The crackers are one of the “desirable” items from the October Costco run. The reason I was able to pull them out today is because they’ve been living in the secret Tupperware bin.
To make tzatziki, grate cucumbers and add salt. Allow to drain. After 30 minutes, squeeze out all water by pressing on cucumber mash. Mix together yogurt, cucumber, minced garlic, and a bit of olive oil. To make baba ganouj, puree 1 roasted eggplant in a food processor with a spoonful of tahini, juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and olive oil. Make these two dips because eggplants and cucumbers were on sale last week. Even though the crackers are expensive, they are full of good stuff and all of us only ate less than 1 of the two bags that comes in the large box from Costco. Serve with celery sticks. We also had some leftover pizza from last Friday night.
Snack – We each had a grapefruit (3 for $1 last week) and some seaweed.
Dinner Cooked by Five Year Old – Mini Beef Pies. This recipe is new to us and was recommended by a friend and fellow homeschooling mom. Place one square wonton wrapper in a muffin tin. Add in a spoonful of cooked ground beef, a bit of chopped veg (we used leftover cooked mushrooms and spinach), a bit of tomato sauce and a dab of goat cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. These were delicious but next time, I think I would brush the wonton wrappers with a little fat before baking. The mini pies were a hit with the kids. Firstborn was so proud to see her siblings scarfing down her treats.
I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough food so I made a quick broccoli, red pepper and ground beef stir fry to go with the pies. I added tamari, pure peanut butter, sesame oil and ginger to the stir-fry. The beef was the same cooked ground beef that went into the mini beef pies and was part of three packages of grass fed beef that I cooked up this afternoon for Thursday’s Bolognese Sauce. The dinner was filling and delicious and everyone was satisfied.
Dessert – We very rarely eat dessert but tonight the kids had store bought sherbet and cones that were brought to us by Oma (so free).
NOTE: The kids are free to gnaw on whatever else they want at any time in the day: nuts, seeds, fruit, pickles, sliced ham, avocados, twine, paper, snot, arms.
Quote of the day comes from Lastborn:
You know why I am glad to come home from our big trip in October? Because oyster season is starting!