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2014. What a year!
Live Simply grew and welcomed many new family members to this little community of real food, DIY-obsessed, and naturally-minded folks. (Big bear hug)
I published two books: Real Food Planning Challenge and Holiday Celebrations (available for a limited time over the holiday season).
For the latter half of the year, I was able to stick to my real food budget.
Simplify School Lunch Packing
Over the years, I’ve developed strategies that help me simplify packing my kids’ lunch. I created the Simplified School Lunch Kit to end the school lunch overwhelm and share all my simplifying strategies and lunch plans. It’s possible to simplify and even enjoy lunch packing!
Here’s what you’ll find in this kit:
- ready-to-use lunch plans
- a food prep guide
- my stress-free approach to planning and packing lunch
- nourishing recipes my kids love
- 20 fully-packed lunchbox printable cards to make building a school lunch super easy
And the list could go on.
If you’ve been around the Live Simply family for long, then you know that the last success on the list above was no small feat. My first post in 2014 was an honest confession about my overwhelming grocery budget that had grown larger than Pete’s dragon. For those unfamiliar with Pete’s dragon (remember, we are in that stage of Disney and young kids), let’s just say my monthly food bill was ginormous, in a very embarrassing way.
I spent many months working on my real food budget, but at the end of each month I would sit down to a stack of receipts and feel the crushing disappointment of defeat. The calculator was a continual reminder that I had once again failed and spent more than we could afford.
Now, I’m not the kind of gal that takes defeat easily. If something isn’t working, I like to investigate and strategize. I want to make things work! After three months of crushing defeat and angry words with my calculator, I decided more bite-sized actions were needed to make real food affordable. After all, real food is a lifestyle and overspending each month does not help to create a very happy or doable life!
I sat down one quiet Sunday night and thought about the little habits that were making the greatest impact on our family’s budget, in a good way–happy thoughts! From that list, I created four bite-sized or weekly habits that I wanted to put into practice. Slowly, as I practiced each habit, my food bill began to shrink. Success felt so good!
“Shrink? Really? So, how much are you spending on food?”
Our family budget is $700-$800 a month for real food and extras (like Dr. Bronner’s soap for making homemade hand soap, laundry soap, body wash), toilet paper (a major necessity), chicken feed, and dog food. This number may seem really high to some people and to others very low. Let me explain a bit about our budget:
- We live in Florida. Florida is an amazing vacation spot, but sourcing real food in Florida is not easy or cheap. While many of my friends in the Midwest pay $3.00/lb for grass-fed beef, the cheapest I’m able to source grass-fed beef is $6.00/lb, and that’s for hanging weight (that just means in actuality I pay a bit more). Whole pastured chickens easily cost $4.25/lb.
- Raw dairy is a priority for our family. This means I spend $9/gallon on local raw milk.
- Again, we live in Florida. I realize this may seem like an excuse, but Florida is expensive. Part of the issues are: bugs, extreme heat, extreme rain…extreme everything! Seriously, when it’s not overly hot, there are garden-eating bugs, when the bugs are sleeping there are extreme garden-trampling hurricanes. Growing food in Florida is extremely hard! Are you getting the whole “extremely” idea?
- We’ve cut luxuries in our life to afford real food. I am a firm believer in making luxury sacrifices (if needed) to purchase good-quality food. This means: we don’t have cable or go out to dinner regularly, and rarely purchase movies (we have Netflix!). This also means: we enjoy amazing real food, make the best lattes at home, spend less time and money at the doctor and on medications, and get to spend a lot of quality family time together.
Could I work on lowering my food budget even more? Yes!
Could I raise my food budget? Oh yes! I’ve demonstrated that, and do not want to go back.
My current food budget is perfect for my Florida family, nourishing: two adults, two kids, two dogs and eight chickens.
Whether your budget is $200 or $800 a month, my four weekly habits will help you make real food affordable.
Four Weekly Habits to Make Real Food Affordable
Habit 1- Take InventoryAn inventory is simply a list of all the food items in your pantry and freezer; food that can be used to make meals.
Grab two pieces of paper or the inventory printables from my book. Set aside an hour or two the first time you create an inventory. Pull everything out of your pantry, discarding or donating items that aren’t desired, and write down the name and quantity of each item you plan to keep. Put everything back in an organized manner so your food is easily accessible. Repeat with the freezer inventory. Keep these lists handy in either a binder or on the freezer or pantry door. Each week, before meal planning (we’ll talk about this about habit later), spend 5-10 minutes scanning your organized pantry and freezer, double checking if anything needs to be crossed off (i.e: you used all the oats this week to make oatmeal and granola bars) or the quantity updated.
Habit 2- Shop Your InventoryShopping your inventory simply means shopping from your food stash before you ever visit the store or market.
With your updated inventory lists in front of you and a meal plan calendar or blank paper with dates added (which I also provide in my book–seriously, it has everything!), take a look at the food you already own and plan as many meals as possible. If you have oats, plan to make granola bars for a lunch treat and oatmeal for breakfast. If you have frozen fruit, plan smoothies for a snack and breakfast.
Habit 3- Meal Plan and Keep ItMeal planning is essential to making real food affordable.
The easiest way to meal plan is to take time in advance to create a master list of your family’s favorite recipes. Keep this list in a binder or on your fridge and continue to add new meals as they become “favorites.” In order to add a new meal, you’ll also need a “Recipes to Try” list. When you spot a recipe on Pinterest, write down the name and source (website, Pinterest board name) on your to-try list. When you find a to-die-for lasagna in a cookbook, write down the name and source (page number, cookbook name) on your list.
I make one new meal every two weeks. If the meal turns out to be amazing and my family loves it, I add the recipe to my “Family Favorite Meals” list. When it comes time to meal plan I check my inventory lists, write down all the meals I can make from my own food stash, and then pull out the favorite list and fill my calendar with delicious recipes. I write down each meal title and add ingredients to my shopping list.
After creating and implementing a meal plan, don’t throw it away! Keep your meal plans in a safe binder or folder. After a couple of months, you’ll have an amazing collection of ready-to-use meal plans, saving you time and money!
Habit 4- Plan a Prep DayA prep day is a day/time you set aside each week (and mark on your calendar) for preparing meals and ingredients for the upcoming week.
Simply set aside 1-2 hours each week for preparing ingredients and meals based on your meal plan. If Monday and Tuesday are busy days, bake muffins during your prep time and freeze them. Prepare smoothie packs, chop vegetable for soups and salads, and marinate or cook meats. The purpose of prep day is to cut down on the amount of time you’ll spend in the kitchen the rest of week which means you will not have the desire to stop by the store and pick up an easy meal in lieu of cooking dinner, saving you money and time!
These weekly habits save money, time, and sanity! Yes, they require a bit of time and practice (practice makes “perfect,” remember?), but they also make a huge difference in your grocery budget and overall stress level. Taking time to inventory your food stash, shop what you own, meal plan (and keep it!), and prepare food in advance are essential habits to making real food affordable.
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