Thursday, October 2, 2008

What we eat

One of the reasons my grocery budget is so high is that I try my best to feed my family an all-natural diet. Don't get me wrong, we eat McDonald's and that crap pizza they sell at Winco and Costco. I'm not perfect, but that's exactly why when I cook for my family, I mostly cook from scratch. I figure they're getting enough crap in what they eat OUTSIDE of our house that it's worth spending more to make sure we stock our cupboards with stuff that is healthy and natural.

A short list of things I won't buy for the KIDS to eat: (I reserve the right to eat junk food MYSELF! Yummy yummy JUNK FOOD):
preservatives (TBHQ especially)
food additives
artificial colors
artificial flavors (including Vanillin)
Partially hydrogenated ANYTHING

The only things we eat from a box are Annie's "organic" mac 'n cheese (I put "organic" in quotes because only the pasta is actually organic.) and organic pop tarts, both of which I buy it in bulk at Coscto. My kids get all natural bread (which is why it costs $1.88 instead of 2 loaves for .99 cents). I bought tortillas the other day at Winco, but those are for Dave and me, not for the kids. I buy the kids' tortillas at Trader Joe's, where I can buy them without dough conditioners and preservatives. Ditto for hot dogs; I can't buy Ball Park franks for .99 cents a pack, instead I fork over $3.99 for the all natural ones at Trader Joe's (and honestly? They taste WAY better. We eat them too).

A normal day of food around here goes as follows.

I normally feed the kids Fred-Meyer or Wal-Mart brand homestyle waffles (oddly enough EGGO brand waffles are FULL of crap like food coloring and preservatives, but some (not all) of the store brand waffles are actually all natural and in fact, extremely well fortified). We used to go through about $20 a month worth of real maple syrup (I swear it costs more per ounce than VODKA), but lately I've just been buttering the waffles and giving each kid about a teaspoon of brown sugar to dip them in. It's both cheaper and healthier, mainly because there is less sugar in a teaspoon of brown sugar than there is in a teaspoon of maple syrup and my kids were both major syrup fiends. Alternately I make them oatmeal with milk instead of water and add some brown sugar. They rarely eat cereal, but if they do, it's organic Gorilla Munch from Trader Joe's.

Dave and I both drink a BUNCH of coffee with milk in the morning, like four cups each. He doesn't eat before noon during the week. I eat the same EXACT breakfast 7 days a week: two packets of Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar flavored oatmeal. I realize I could save money making it myself from scratch, but I am addicted to the sweet packety goodness. (I make one packet with milk in the microwave and then add the other packet on top DRY. YUMM. Sometimes the kids ask me to make their oatmeal "mommy style".)

Lately I've been helping Dave pack his lunches. He normally takes leftovers from whatever I made the night before. If there aren't any, he'll eat a couple cans of chili and some cottage cheese. He usually also takes a banana, some dry Grape Nuts and a small bag of totally plain peanuts.

For the kids' lunches, I've got a pretty standard rotation between mac 'n cheese, hot dogs, quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, or chicken nuggets (I buy the all natural brand they sell at Costco). I sneak some fruit onto their plates with whatever else I serve.

For my own lunch, I usually either eat whatever I serve the kids or I make myself some Ramen, a hot dog or an egg/sausage burrito.

I always make the kids eat fruit first when they want a snack and THEN they can have a cheese stick or a yogurt or a single pop tart or whatever other snacky thing I've found on sale (like goldfish crackers, etc).

Personally, I have an addiction to Wavy Lays potato chips with Ranch dip (from the packets). That's usually my afternoon snack. And candy. I LOVE candy. I have to sneak it so the kids don't ask for it, but I'm a big snack size person. A couple mini Snickers with a diet coke and I'm set. (I never said I was a health nut!)

Most nights I make a big production out of dinner. I cook A LOT. I've been keeping a (mostly updated) dinner menu on my sidebar at mandajuice for several months. We eat some kind of animal protein every night of the week. Dave has diabetes and that means he needs protein and he has a big appetite, so cheese ain't gonna cut it and I can't make a meal out of pasta for him. I always make a nice vegetable (fresh when I find stuff on sale, otherwise frozen peas/corn/green beans). I usually make rice/pasta/potatoes as well.

I always serve the kids a vegetable with dinner. If they eat their vegetables and most of their dinner, we give them a tiny scoop of (all natural) vanilla ice cream with sliced peaches (or bananas) for dessert.

I never make a separate meal for the kids. They eat whatever WE eat. I never make anything TRULY objectionable, but if they hate it, they get to eat a banana before bed. I don't let them starve.

That said, tonight I'm making salmon, which I won't feed the kids (I'm super paranoid about mercury contamination and I hate the taste/texture of the more expensive un-farmed salmon), so I'm making them mac 'n cheese, chicken nuggets and peas. Dave and I will have the fish with some broccoli and my homemade mushroom orzo pasta, but he won't be home until after 9:00, so I'll be making it after the kids go to bed.

For the record, salmon is a HUGE splurge for us. At $6.99 per pound, it's literally the most expensive thing I ever buy and I usually only buy it once a month. This time I bought a $14 fillet and I'm going to try and put half of it in the freezer for later.

The big challenge for me is that one of the big ways people save money on dinner is by stretching the meat out and adding a can of this and a can of that. I just don't cook that way. I make casseroles, for SURE, but my lasagna and shepherd's pie are from scratch and not actually all that cheap to make.

I went to Costco today, so I'm going to try and post that receipt tomorrow with the details.


Ali said...

I've been meaning to ask you what brand of TJ's hot dogs you get. There are so many choices there!

The thing that gets me about the organic pop tarts from Costco is that they are frosted. What's up with that?

I do oatmeal with cinnamon and dried TJ's cranberries and they can't get enough of it.

Mary said...

We actually save money by not eating meat. We're not vegetarians, but I don't cook any sort of meat at home, except for holidays. We eat so much better now and have lost weight and save quite a bit of money. We ate from the garden for the past couple of months, but we spend around $100/week for a family of 4 with 2 teenagers and I don't bargain shop or shop at a discount grocery like WalMart.

Carrisa said...

I gave up Wal-Mart at the beginning of the year and sometimes I miss the bargains I could get there. However, I have found their meats are majorly expensive. My local grocery chain has much better deals on meat, probably because they have a meat counter. We don't have a Trader Joes here which makes me sad because everyone raves about it. I also don't buy anything organic. Of course both me and my husband are overweight so we are obviously not doing things right.

I like to blame Pioneer Woman recipes. They just taste so good. BUTTERRULZ!

Roseann said...

I make waffles from scratch, using the waffle iron, and I always double or triple the recipe. After breakfast, I put the extra waffles in ziplocs and freeze them in blocks of 4. When I need breakfast fast, I pull a bag out, stick the waffles in the toaster oven and toast them. It saves a TON of money, and the waffles stay yummy for quite a while. At least, we go through them before they go freezer-burny.
I also buy my meats in bulk from the butcher. That way we have a variety of meats available, both red and white, and per pound it's cheaper than buying packs in the supermarket. It's also such a better quality of meat that even if it were more expensive, I would still buy it.

Brea said...

Are the organic pop tarts you get at Costco Kirkland brand or something else? I've not seen them at our local Costco, but maybe I'm not looking closely enough!

Momma to LG said...

I find it interesting that you don't serve your kids "bad things" but it is OK for you and Dave to eat it. Not saying it is bad, I just find it interesting.

You seems to have done a good job of reading labels. How did you figure it all out???? I never seem to have the time to take a leisurely walk through the store and actually read labels!

SieraKiera said...

Quaker Maple and Brown Sugar is my favorite oatmeal too. I usually do 2 packs at once too made with water and topped with a little milk!

Elizabeth said...

I think it's pretty normal to try to feed your kids better stuff than what you eat. I think the theory is to not get the kids started on bad habits. Or not to have to share your chocolate stash! Our toddler also eats pretty much what we do, although I will also steam some extra veggies for her, because she isn't a big eater and she will always eat carrots and green beans/asparagus.

Our grocery bill is high, even though we are vegetarian. We like food and I like to cook. I buy organic whenever possible, for the health of the environment as well as for our health. I don't buy any prepared foods (hell, I even make my own yogurt most of the time). I buy things with as few ingredients as possible. I buy 100% whole grain bread, non-rbgh milk products whenever possible, and pretty much nothing with hfcs or hydrogenated oils. And it's expensive to do that, but it tastes better and I think it's worth it. But I also know I'm lucky that we have managed to get to a position where it's possible to do all this.

I just don't know how you eat that oatmeal! Actually, I do. I like the sweet taste too. It's just that once I started making regular oatmeal, the pasty texture of the instant stuff got to me. So I just sweeten the regular oatmeal a lot.

Lesley said...

I've been doing the same thing, except I don't have the ability to go to places like Whole Foods because we don't have them where I live (Ottawa, Canada).

What I'm doing that's saving us money (at the expense of time) is going directly to the farmers. I won't bore you with the particulars, but even just getting the meat saves us a ton and we get our organic meats for the price of non-organic at the grocery store. Meat is by far the easiest since we can just place a large order and freeze it.

Fruit and veggies require regular trips to our local farmers market, and in theory canning for the winter. I only did a little bit of that, mostly I did a TON of tomatoes and some nectarines and peaches. I should probably do pears soon, since the season is near it's peak here. And even if they're not truly organic, they are generally much better than their non-organic grocery store counterparts (in my experience, anyway).

In addition to the financial benefits, there's also the fact that it plain supports local farming, and has pretty significant environmental benefits too.

Dorie said...

I am loving this blog. I work in banking so money talk always interests me. Budgeting is also very important to me. I'm always looking for ways to save a few pennies, especially now with all the out of control price increases.

I feed my kids much the same way you feed yours except we don't have a trader joe's. I had no idea organic pop tarts even existed.

By the way, we also have a $2000 monthly discretionary budget and we rarely stay under that. I can't believe that some people think that's so much and that $700 a month for food is outrageous. How do these people live?

Stefania/CityMama said...

Love that you've brought back Naked Ledger!

We make our oatmeal with (non-fat) milk, too. I buy the big canisters of Quaker Oats and cook it in the microwave in a covered glass pyrex dish. It's cheap easy, healthy, and delicious, and the girls top it with whatever they want (butter, brn sugar, chopped dried fruit etc.).

I am the opposite of you in that i can't stand the taste/texture of farmed salmon--it's too mushy and "muddy" tasting, so our splurge is wild salmon. (Farmed salmon is dyed it turn it pink...not to freak you out or anything!) When it's Copper River Salmon season in the Pac NW you should definitely try it! It's expensive but worth every penny. Thank goodness that season is short.

Our things I won't compromise on are organic milk, Milton's 100% Whole Grain Bread ($3/ loaf unless on sale), organic veggies, organic thin-skinned fruit (if I can peel it I usu opt for non-org), veg-fed eggs, organic whole chickens which are avail in a 2-pack at Costco. One thing that has changed about our diets is that we don't eat a lot of meat at home anymore (even though I love to cook it). We probably have (org) beef 2x a month and pork 1x a month. We try to be mostly veg at home. We will make a meal around some kind of whole grain, brown rice (great selection at TJ's), or pasta (I'm half Italian, I could never give up my favorite carb), and we eat lots of soups and stews.

We also don't do dessert every night mainly because I don't have much of a sweet tooth so I don't think about it. We have "dessert night" on Fridays (when we do a family movie night). The kids get ice cream, i get another glass of wine!

I also cook from scratch at home for exactly the reasons you suggest--we enjoy the occasional McDonald's treat. And I never make separate meals either. No patience for that! And as a result, my kids are pretty darn-good eaters.

HeatherK said...

I wish there was a TJ's closer to us! So veggies aren't big with them? I try to feed them a 'rainbow' of veggies over the week and peppers and petite baby carrots are usually a fave. Do they like jam on waffles? Might be a way to do more fruit. My girls don't know that nuking frozen peaches as a topper or just a snack isn't 'really' a treat.

Astarte said...

My real must-haves are organic, grass-fed milk, and free-range, organic eggs. I realize that free range may not be quite the term I would use for the lives these chickens may lead, but it's the best I can do aside from having my own chickens, which I simply cannot do. Also, organic peanut butter. I don't understand why other companies put partially-hydrogenated *anything* into pb when it comes with it's OWN OIL, for heaven's sake!

I refuse to buy bread with crap in it, especially corn syrup. We don't use a lot of bread, but when I do, it's not going to be full of THAT.

I've had to scale back on my organic shopping lately because of the cost of everything in general, unfortunately, but regardless of the price, I had to stop shopping at Walmart because their produce was TERRIBLE, and the selection was awful.

Mandajuice said...

Ali, we buy the Trader Joe's All Beef hot dogs. It's their brand (I don't have a pack on hand to check the label!) at $3.99 a pack. I never leave without stocking up!

Brea, the pop tarts are Nature's Path brand, coincidentally the same brand they sell at Trader Joe's.

momma to LG, We've just been reading labels for so long that it's second nature. When Genoa was allergic to dairy and I couldn't eat it, I had to TRIPLE check the labels. Practice! And I think we rationalize not feeding the kids the bad stuff because they're growing still and we're not (at least we're not supposed to be!)

lesley, Buying half a cow or a whole pig is something I'm definitely considering. I hesitate only because it might be cheaper to just send Dave on a hunting trip. Either way, we need to buy a freezer for the garage first!

astarte, aside from bananas and potatoes, I refuse to buy produce at Wal Mart. It's always TERRIBLE. And I should've put corn syrup on my NO list because I usually avoid it. I do sometimes make my own marshmallows, though, and those are pure karo syrup.

Nicole said...

I think finding a butcher shop would be a good idea with a husband that needs to eat protein intense meals. I work in an old school ethnic town that has a fab butcher shop. The meat is locally sourced and very high quality. Price wise it is neutral.

TJ's is not so close for me but I find I buy too much packaged, processed food when I shop there. I have my sister stock me up on cuban black beans and orange chicken and I can live happily not having one in my town.

Sarah said...

For what it's worth, Gorilla Munch is on the 'no' list in 'Eat This Not That' due to the poor ratio of sugar to nutrients. They suggest Cascadian Farms Clifford Crunch instead, amongst others. It's so hard to keep up with it all!

Shan said...

I am envious that you can find healthy all-natural bread for $1.99! Where I live it's easily $3/loaf. The "cheap", less healthy bread is probably about $1.50-$2.00. I won't skimp on bread, either, even though we're on a tight budget.

Also, I agree with you wholeheartedly Amanda about how you don't let your kids eat some of the foods you eat as an adult. Same here, and I too believe that since I am no longer growing, it's okay for me to eat more sugar etc. than they do. My kids do get occasional treats--I have found that the advent of preschool demolished all my previous control over not feeding my child processed snacks or juice--and I don't buy hormone-free or organic milk (truly, cannot afford it), but for the most part I eat all sorts of junk food that I do NOT allow my children to eat.

Anyway, interesting post! Thanks!