Today I got this comment from Erin on my February challenge post so I thought I’d answer it here.
“Hi, great challenge, but how do you get by without buying groceries? Do you have a huge pantry? What about fresh food?? Just wondering since I seem to spend sooo much on groceries, thanks!”
Oh groceries, the bane of my simple existence. I really do hate shopping throughout the winter because none of my favorite foods are in season and there’s something about being presented with thousands of options that pushes me to pick up “just one more” thing. The result is usually a higher than average food bill for a household of one.
To answer the question, I do have a huge pantry. I don’t can or preserve or buy in big bulk sizes (like 50 pounds of flour or a bushel of apples) but I do buy multiples of the canned foods I like and most of these cost under $1 per can. The exceptions are the canned fruit for pies (cherries, blackberries, pumpkin) and some of the sauces for enchiladas. Smaller cans are closer to 50 cents for chiles, olives, tomato paste, etc.
On top of the canned food I keep a good amount of frozen vegetables (about a dozen bags and each bag has 5-6 servings), breads, and dry food. One of the easiest things is pasta. Spaghetti with sauce from the pantry is a quick dinner or mixed with veggies for a big pasta dish is very healthy. I also keep gnocci, rice, dried beans and salad fixings like sliced almonds, dried fruit and crunchy toppers.
For fresh dairy I also can buy in bulk. Milk freezes and defrosts really well – the gallon I am drinking now was frozen in August. I buy two dozen eggs at a time but might need to start getting those more frequently since that’s my go-to protein right now. I get shredded cheese at Costco in a five pound bag and when I open a new bag I seperate it out into quart containers and freeze for later.
I don’t have many tips on produce other than to buy things a little green and use up the items before they go bad. Onions and potatoes last forever, apples and bananas for several weeks too. But if I buy mushrooms I know they’ll need to be cooked within a few days. This month I made the Pioneer Woman’s stuffed mushrooms and then spread them out over several meals, freezing what I wouldn’t eat right away.
My biggest challenge is eating the food I already have.
In order to save money buying items at low prices you actually have to EAT the food. 50 cents for a bag of frozen baby onions is useless unless you eat them! Half price canned carrots are still too expensive if you let them sit on a shelf for 5 years.
However, I wouldn’t attempt this challenge during the summer when I actually increase my food budget to take advantage of local produce. Part of the reason I decrease my food budget during the winter is that I like to empty out my freezer so I have room for summer produce. Also, if I plan on buying strawberries in bulk and fresh this spring I would like to get rid of the commercially bought ones first.
Tomorrow I’ll post my tentative summer schedule for buying, preparing and using a TON of local produce at rock bottom prices. And I promise, you don’t have to join a CSA, know how to can or have a family of 10 to make it worthwhile.