Another Year of Eating Well and Spending Less

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Want to eat well and spend less? Me, too! Here’s how I’m working to improve our diet and stay in the black.

Exactly a year ago I found myself in the grocery store with a huge case of sticker shock. I could not believe what the stores were charging for simple groceries. I almost broke into tears over a package of overpriced tortillas.

The idea stayed with me that night and into the morning:

I will not go quietly.

On a whim, I dashed off an email to several bloggers from different areas of the continent. WHAT are we going to do about this? Surely, we are not alone in wanting to feed our families healthy food without spending too much coin?

What resulted was a wonderful collaboration of nine blogs working together to brainstorm new and creative ways to eat well and spend less. Over the last year, we’ve covered a range of topics, including:

It’s been a year now since the Eat Well, Spend Less girls and I got together. I’ve learned so much from Aimee, Amy, Carrie, Katie, Katie, Mandi, Shaina, Tammy. And we’ve grown a lot over the last year. Not only have several of us made a change to increase the nutrition in our diets and our kids have grown in size and age, but we’ve also added a few more babies to the mix. A couple of us have written books, and one is relocating to a new area where she’ll be learning how to source great food in her new locale.

We’re celebrating a Year of Eating Well and Spending Less!

This week we’re each sharing an update on how we shop and cook in order to eat well and spend less. While I didn’t have a baby in the recent past, my family is growing by leaps and bounds. My teenage son towers over me and consumes calories at a great rate. His younger brothers are not too far behind. Neither are his sisters, for that matter.

Combine that with my desire to buy more organics and fewer processed foods, and it’s been a challenge to keep our food budget in check. In 2011, my grocery spending averaged $715 per month. While my average is higher for this year to date, it’s still well below the national average for a family of 8.

Here are some ways that I’ve changed my habits over the last year:

1. I’m pickier about what we’re eating.

Over the last year or two, I’ve done some food reading that has made me think twice about the food my kids eat. Without getting into big discussions or freaking anyone out, I’ll just say that my research has made me work toward the following changes in our diet.

  • organic produce where possible, and definitely for the Dirty Dozen
  • no GMO’s
  • hormone-free milk and dairy products
  • a reduction in our processed sweeteners
  • no pink slime
  • no unfermented soy

In no way would I enforce these restrictions on other people. It’s just where I’ve found my comfort zone. These are weighty goals and fairly difficult at the moment. I’m learning where to source the items that fit these categories. And some are harder to pull off than others.

2. I kissed coupons goodbye.

Gasp?! Well, not exactly. But, I use far fewer coupons than I did in previous years. As I move our family away from processed foods, I found that I was using fewer and fewer coupons. The amount I might save was not commensurate with the time I would spend to hunt for good coupons.

Yes, coupons are available for healthier products and plain old “ingredients”, but I’ve found the selection to be fairly slim — or simply not worth the time investment. My coupon bag is a slim addition to my purse.

3. I subscribe to an organic produce co-op.

Reader Bethany told me about Abundant Harvest Organics last summer and what a blessing! I subscribe to a weekly delivery of organic produce that is indeed, abundant. (I post my haul every week on Grocery Geek.) For $37 I get a huge box full of fresh from the farm, California grown fruits and vegetables.

Not only am I feeding my family more fruits and veggies, but we’re also learning to like a larger variety of produce, including some weird things, like Pea Tendrils.

4. I shop at fewer stores.

Since I have new picky guidelines (see point #1), it’s easier to shop at stores that I know carry those items. This means that Trader Joe’s and Costco are my friends. Trader Joe’s guarantee promises no GMO’s in their store-brand products. This makes it easier to shop without having to read every picking label. And both Costco and Trader Joe’s sell hormone-free dairy products at great prices as well as ground beef without the slime.

However, those stores don’t carry every ingredient I might need, I also shop at Ralphs and Sprouts on a regular basis. These two offer the specialty items I might want for recipe testing or better coffees that we prefer.

5. I still hunt down the loss leaders.

Although, I’m no longer doing big couponing, I still stock up when I see a great price. I love my stockpile!

Recently, Ralphs had our favorite Starbucks blend on sale for $5.88 a package. You have to buy a lot at that price! I bought six packages that should last about six weeks, when I hope there will be another sale.

6. I cook from scratch.

One of the biggest ways that I save money AND eat better is to cook or bake my own. Having regular freezer cooking sessions helps this. And recently I’ve started to keep a batch of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes dough on hand. I crunched the numbers and found out that the ingredients cost per loaf was $0.25! This is an easy way for me to shave a few dollars off our grocery bill.

7. I am doing a regular grocery audit.

Recently I shared on Good Cheap Eats about how I went over budget last month and have been revisiting some strategies to help bring down our average food costs. I need to have a realistic view of who I’m feeding, how we’re eating and what our needs are. And with a mess o’ kids, this reality is often changing. Doing a grocery audit helps me do this.

This post is part of an ongoing series about how to eat well and spend less. Along with some fabulous foodies, organizers, and frugalistas, I’ve been bringing you suggestions on how to eat like a king without becoming a pauper to do it.

This month we’re sharing updates as to how our eating and spending have changed over the last year.Be sure to check out what the other ladies are sharing this week or browse their archives:

How are YOU eating well and spending less?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Don’t laugh, but this is what I’m doing this year: we found a free source of composted horse manure, and we’re putting that on our garden to increase yields. The more food we grow, and the healthier it is, the better we’ll eat.

    By the way, we have 4000 square feet of vegetable gardens, and Northern Gardener says to put on 5-10 pounds of manure per square yard. Sigh! That is a LOT of work.

    And we’re planting a larger amount of kale this year.

    Note that you do not need huge gardens to make a big dent in your food bill. Check out some of the urban gardening or square foot gardening books if you don’t have much space.

    • clearly Iknow nothing of manure and gardenng, but I always wondered how it is healthy when it is the stuff ecoli comes from correct???????

      • Kerry D. says

        I’m so not a biologist, but horse manure is definitely different because they are herbivores… When I’m at the barn, its very clear that it doesn’t smell the way, say, my dogs poo smells. Course I still do wash my hands after I’m around it. 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      If you’ve got the space and the man power, go for it!

  2. Jeanine says

    Hang on, how do I know from the label whether my food has GMO’s?

    • Kelly says

      I was just going to ask about the same thing.

    • Megan says

      You don’t unfortunately! There is no required label for products with GMO’s. Some companies, like Trader Joe’s, just decided to come out and tell you that they don’t use those sources. It’s hard!

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Unfortunately, you don’t. The US govt has decided that there “is no significant difference” and that the American people don’t need to know. {drifts toward her soapbox}. There are several initiatives, both in CA and nationwide to call for labeling. All of Europe labels their food. So, it’s not an impossible thing. And major brands have different formulas for the US than they do for other countries. You can guess which formula is healthier. (It’s not ours.)

  3. Susan says

    I’m so excited! This week at the grocery store, I only spent $75 for my family of 3 plus anothe $16 on bottled water and a shelf stable case of chocolate milk. My son is an underweight sports freak who loves chocolate milk. I haven’t gotten to the point where we bring out water from home to sports events. Maybe that will be my next change. I made homemade lemonade for school lunches this week so we didn’t have to buy canned lemonade or gatorade. I’ve been taking leftovers to work for the last 4-5 months. That’s been saving me $40+ dollars a week too. I’m trying but it’s hard to save money when you work full time.

  4. You better get to Target this week for more Starbucks coffee – $4 a bag!

    Use the $5 off 2 Target printable coupons, plus two $1.50 off manufacturer coupons from 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Ha! Our Target only allows one manufacturer’s coupon per purchase. No stockpiling here. 🙁

  5. I am just so tired of trying to figure out how to eat healthy. And how to figure out who has what in their foods etc. I tried to get a roast ground by the “butcher” this week at Kroger and he said they have not done that in 5 years due to the ecoli concerns. All their ground meat now comes to the store already ground and packaged.

  6. I’m doing some of the same things you mentioned. A couple of others:

    – Keeping meals simple. I tend to want to prepare fancier fare but it seems men and kids like the same meals over and over!

    – Buying in bulk. Since there are almost 9 of us, we actually USE the food we buy in quantity. I’m comparing my local health food coop which sells bulk items with to find the best prices on staples like oats, beans, rice.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      I find that if I have some MOM-condiments, like fancy cheeses or sauteed mushrooms, I can jazz up my portion and still be happy with simpler fare that the fam likes.

  7. Such a difficult thing to do – eat well for less!! I agree that most coupons are for packaged foods – I choose to use them for things like toilet paper and laundry detergent but for the most part they are useless when it comes to the food I buy. I have found a local CSA for meat and dairy that I’m going to start using. I’ve pretty much given up ground meat at this point – just too scary!!

  8. Donna says

    I’m on the same journey. It’s a difficult one, but we have power. We can influence by where and how we spend our dollars! So worth it to do the homework and make good choices that support the farmers, companies, etc that are in the journey as well.

  9. Marlene says

    I read your money saving and healthy eating ideas all the time and I am always grateful to have the opportunity to do that. And, today, I am soooo grateful, and I want to give you a BIG THANK YOU for posting “saying goodbye to grocery shopping coupons”, at least to most of them. I struggle so much about shopping without coupons. I really wanted to save money using coupons because all the big “savers” say to use them but I rarely found things that I could use them for. And, honestly, I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt like a “dumb” person when I was at the checkout lane without coupons and would see other women with a stack of coupons and full shopping carts. Once in a while I would get savings in mayo, a bottle of ketchup, or coffee but I could never find anything that I would like or that I would want my kids to eat. Most of the coupons, like you said are for processed food/items. Now, I see the difference between using coupons to save money (which is great) but maybe not as useful when it comes to trying to eat a bit healthier.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Yes, breathe easily. I loved couponing. Really, I did. It gave me such a rush. But, CA stores are much more strict than those in other states due to excessive fraud. It just wasn’t worth jumping all the hoops to really keep at it, even before I started changing our diet.

  10. I really have enjoyed this series and so happy to hear it is continuing.

    We switched to a local dairy for milk delivery. It’s all but certified organic and it’s a better price (and better taste) than what I was paying for organic in the stores.

  11. Kristin says

    Thank you so much for this great post! I really, really wish there was a feature on your blog where I could save certain posts to reread later!! Maybe??

    • Jessica Fisher says

      I never would have thought that was helpful. Really? I’ll see what I can do.

  12. Kristin says

    Well, it would be so, so helpful to me, at least. I like to refer back to great posts and reread things that didn’t sink in the first and a lot of times (kids!) I don’t have time to read the entire thing at once, but know I’ll want to read it all eventually. Also the only internet access I have is on my phone and limited to the number of bookmarks I can have. Would really love to see this feature on Good Cheap Eats too. 🙂 Thanks for listening!

  13. Thank you for this great post. Eat well and spned less is an important topic for me in Germany too. I try to buy most vegetables and fruits organic (and grow my own vegetables in the summer), but the grocery bills are still very high. I’m sure, I’ll get some further ideas from your posts.
    Best wishes, Micha

  14. kristen marie says

    You mention you subscribe to an organic produce co-op…. where would I go about finding on eof those where I live in Northen, IL (close to Wisconsin border).

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Mine is local to So Cal., but Bountiful Baskets is nationwide. You can also check for a local place.

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