I’m so pleased to introduce a local colleague, Adrienne of Whole New Mom, who is fairly new to the blogosphere but much more experienced than I am in the world of traditional foods and frugal living. Her guest post today fits perfectly into the theme of the Eat Well, Spend Less Series, and I invite you to learn from her along with me:
Do you find yourself wondering how you are going to feed your family healthy, real food while staying on a budget?
Gas prices are climbing and food prices are following and…guess what?! Things probably aren’t going to get much better anytime soon!
As the manager of your home, you have a big job ahead of you, but I have some tools that are sure to help.
First of all, let me tell you that, while this can be a daunting task, step by step it can be done. And I am here to prove it.
Healthy Food on a Modest Income – It Can be Done
My family has lived through 2 advanced degrees with no debt and lived on under $33,000 for 2 years in a row prior to moving to Michigan (that’s a lot of why we moved ) and we have never gone into debt. We also have a special needs child whose condition is not covered by insurance, our medical expenses top $5,000 out of pocket every year, and my husband does not make a six digit income. Nowhere close. And we are still not in debt. So believe me when I say that you can eat whole foods on a modest budget.
For any kind of job, however, you need the right tools and the right information in order to get the job done.
That is what I am hoping to provide you with; a list of some indispensable tools, with instructions for each to get you on your merry budgeting way.
Healthy Food “Couponing”
I am, of course, assuming that most of you reading this post are attempting to eat whole, real foods. (And if you aren’t, you should be :-)) As such, you will need to find a good system that enables you to obtain real, whole food at a consistently low price. Traditional couponing may be great for those eating processed foods, but there are no coupons (or barely any) for dried beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Some people think that eating healthy has to cost a lot of money, but that is not true. However, the real food form of “couponing” means obtaining large quantities of bargain priced (or free :-)) food, processing it when needed, and storing it for use by your family throughout the year.
So I have put together a list of some of my favorite — and I think necessary — products and storage tips to help you start your frugal pantry. So pull up a chair and let’s get started.
But first, some much needed…
1. Don’t be intimidated. You can do this. Just break it down into manageable bites.
I have been at this — the building of a frugal pantry, that is — for quite some time now. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Not much does, now does it? It started out of necessity when we lived in Oklahoma. My husband worked at a college where pay was slim and raises were almost non-existent, and we were just starting our path down the road to eating all whole foods. I bought my first bulk bag of steel cut oats — and the rest is whole food pantry history.
Now I continue to learn new ways to buy, process, and store foods that can help us with our goal of having a diet that is healthy for both our bodies and our budget. And I am learning more all the time.
2. You don’t need to do it all at once. Especially if you have younger children at home, and more especially if you have a special needs child at home (like I do), big projects take a lot of time. It is important to slow down and not get ahead of yourself with unrealistic expectations that will just become stumbling blocks down the road.
For example, I am for sure not an expert on all that you could do to build a frugal pantry; I have yet to attempt canning on my own. I canned once with a friend about 20 years ago (yikes!!) and although I have a canner in my basement, it is just sitting there in its pretty pristine blueness. That being said, I do think that it is a healthier option to dehydrate and freeze most foods, and these storage methods are preferable to canning in the hot summer months. UPDATE: Cost of canning vs. dehydrating vs. freezing
But I sure would love me some canned tomatoes and salsas on my shelves — any skilled canners living within shouting distance of Grand Rapids who are willing to teach me are welcome to shoot me a comment through my Contact Me page and I will be a happy camper! Adrienne, you can come over and learn from me even though I barely know what I’m doing! Here’s canning tomatoes and canned salsa.
3. You are not alone. The whole team working on this Eat Well, Spend Less series are all partners with you in this. We all have budgets that we are working with while trying to feed our families healthfully. With all of these tips and all of us working together, we can get this job done. I encourage you to hang in here for the entire series, subscribe to all of the contributing bloggers’ sites, and then supplement the posts with comments so that we can all learn from each other.
Your Main Tools
These are the “indispensables” that I currently use in my frugal pantry:
1. Cold storage: A chest freezer, and possibly a second deep freeze or fridge
2. Good quality plastic storage bags & clips
3. Buckets made of food-grade plastic for storage
4. A dehydrator
Now, the specifics on how to use these tools to get your frugal pantry going.
The freezer will enable you to take advantage of opportunities to purchase of bulk beef and chicken, and will also be a storage place for frozen vegetables and other freezables that you find on sale or deep discount throughout the year. Truth is, you can freeze almost anything. Two exceptions would be potatoes and fresh lettuce (though I once processed lots of organic discount salad greens for adding into stews and soups).
About one year after moving into our new home, we started talking about purchasing a chest freezer. True to my nature, I did quite a bit of research into what would be the best type of freezer to buy if we were indeed to purchase one and wondered whether we should pull the trigger or not. With trepidation we went out one night, bought the freezer, and got it into our basement. Well, also true to my nature, I questioned the decision a lot. For one day.
Because the very next day my friend who worked at Aldi called me and told me that they were selling their bananas for $.10 per bag. Now, how many bananas you can pack into a Nissan Sentra’s trunk? A lot! In all of my bargain-hunting euphoria, I actually calculated how much money we had saved with that purchase alone as I peeled and packed bananas into our new freezer, and I found that we had just saved over $47! Our freezer was already beginning to pay for itself.
You might also consider one other fridge or freezer, depending on your needs. I store bulk grains (ones that cannot be stored for a long time at room temperature), nuts, and seeds in our second fridge.
Bags and Clips
I have these on hand at all times. And not those expensive zipper lock thingies with seals that take so much time to close or those pesky twist ties that end up tying you into knots. No, this is storage sanity. I use these to store prepared beans, bulk nuts and seeds, dehydrated produce, bulk baked goods, and even bulk spices.
I use both 6 x 3 x 15 & 4 x 2 x 8 bags from Country Life Natural Foods. There are some bread bags available on Amazon, but I have not purchased them and cannot attest to their sturdiness. Mine hold up quite well.
The clips I use are just fabulous. They hold their shape, are dishwasher safe and come in a variety of useful sizes. They are the same Twixit Clips that you can also purchase elsewhere with another company’s logo on them, but who needs that? Frugal mommas opt for no logo and choose savings instead.
I purchase all of my grains, nuts, and seeds in bulk and then use these bags and clips for storing them. I share more of how in my post on How to Store Nuts and Seeds.
Food Grade Buckets
These buckets are another frugal pantry “must.” My basement (though I won’t let you see it right now ) has a bunch of these babies, all full of beans, wheat, and organic popcorn that I purchase regularly in 25# bulk bags. You can also store granulated sweeteners and salt in them.
Now, you can for a time purchase bulk bags of grains, beans, etc. and store them “as is” in your basement, but you sure don’t want one of those tipping over onto your floor – so get the buckets as soon as you can!
Whole wheat is one grain that can be stored at room temperature for a LONG time, so get a bucket and pour it in. I recommend putting a strip of masking tape on top with a label stating the ingredients so that you don’t spend years opening lids to find out what is inside (like I used to do :-).) Other grains will need to be stored in either a refrigerator or freezer because they go rancid at room temperature.
A dehydrator is a must as well for the whole foods, frugal family. This is just the right tool that will enable you to take advantage of inexpensive (or free) produce at farmer’s markets and elsewhere.
What can you do with your dehydrator? Well…the question is more “What can you not do?” Literally. Cut up and dry your cheap grocery and fruit market finds and your garden extras. And your neighbor’s garden extras. Deep discounted applesauce makes great fruit leather, and of course, you know that you need one for drying your nuts. There is so much else that I could write a bunch of other posts about it and I will in the future. Take it from me, you want one of these. More on How and Why to Dehydrate Foods, part two, and where to buy one…
And yes, I have even made dried bananas. Can you say “Aldi”? Have you seen the price of dried bananas? They are typically at least $10 per pound! That alone justifies the price of a dehydrator in and of itself!
Now, finally, in thinking about buying the buckets, bags and clips, and even yes, the more expensive dehydrator and freezer, and you are probably wondering if it makes sense to lay out that kind of money with things being as tight as they are. You may wish to read my post on “Inflation – One Way to Beat It.” It just might be better to buy it now than later and start saving right away. Dehydrators and freezers are investments that we know will pay dividends — a rare thing in these financially uncertain times.
What is your favorite bulk food storage tip? Any questions about food storage?
Adrienne Urban of Whole New Mom is a wife and a homeschooling mother of two boys, one of whom has Asperger’s and life-threatening food allergies. In her past life she worked in the financial services industry and taught in Japan. She has a passion to help others navigate the sea of information on the road to healthier lives while trusting God for the results of their efforts. Because she loves to (and can’t afford not to ), she specializes in frugal living and simplifying special diets (allergen-, gluten- and sugar-free). You can also find her on Facebook or subscribe to her feed HERE.