Eating Clean and Saving $ on Your Grocery Budget

Being a one income family in a two income family world, I have been stretched to find creative ways to cut down our grocery budget. I used to coupon and it was great! But nowadays, with three little ones, my time to coupon is slim. In fact, nonexistent. I can’t follow deals anymore nor do I want to be driving all over town to hit up three different Walgreens. So this is an update post on how a family can save money on your monthly grocery purchases, without messing with coupons. Yes, it can be done!

I hope this post is helpful, even if you just find one or two ways to save your family money. Any little bit helps!

Fruits and Veggies:

We buy primarily organic produce. This can be expensive, especially shopping at your regular grocery store. The way we have worked around our desire to eat organic and our desire to save money is taking advantage of our local farmers markets and getting a CSA box. If you hit up a farmers market at the tail end of the morning, say around noon, you can barter quite easily! I’m not much of a barterer, but it’s not so hard to grab up a bunch of peaches and offer a dollar less than advertised. Especially at the end of the day, when sellers are packing up. They are happy to get that produce moving!

CSA boxes are also a huge help here. There are so many now that you can chose from. The price is great, the food is fresh, you know you are helping support your local community. Our family uses Live Earth Farms from Watsonville. The quality is wonderful and we get tons of fresh veggies.

And be a seasonal shopper. Don’t buy peaches in December – they are going to be ridiculously expensive, not taste great, and they have a large carbon footprint considering they were shipped half way around the world to get to your store. Thankfully, the Lord has give us many wonderful fruits and veggies all year round – embrace apples and grapes in the fall, citrus in the winter, blueberries in the spring and blackberries in the late summer. I know, I wish I could enjoy perfectly ripe strawberries all year. But it’s just one of those things in life that we have to embrace the seasons of change, right? I can’t make my toddler a baby again, I can’t go back on my first date with my husband, and I can’t enjoy a vine ripened tomato in December. Ce la vie. (i’m joking, but there is some truth here!)

Lastly, if your budget doesn’t allow for all organic, shop for just the dirty dozen and clean fifteen. This will help you chose which foods to buy organic and which not to!

Canned Goods:

Here is one place where we’ve saved a lot. In the last year, I’ve stopped buying canned goods unless completely necessary. I’ve found we can make the things we used to buy canned, and make them cheaper. Such as black beans, jams, applesauce, pumpkin puree, salad dressing, enchilada sauce and chicken broth. For example, I can make a year’s worth of organic applesauce for $40 from apples at the farmers’ market. I would definitely spend more than that through the year if I bought it pre-made. It does take time, of course, to invest in making these things from scratch. But you can make this into a fun adventure for the whole family. Take everyone berry picking – kids LOVE picking berries. Make a day of it. Come home, let them smash the berries to bits with a potato masher and then work together to make jam. It’s super fun! Some of my fondest memories are staying up late in the kitchen with Andrew, boiling jars together, making a mess, and enjoying the experience together.

Word up to those of you with a Vitamix! You can make your own nut butters! So easy! Big savings for you folks!

Grains:

The bulk bins and Costco are our friends! I can stock up on great organic deals in the bulk bins or by splitting grains with a friend at Costco. Buying a bulk bag of brown rice is pennies to the dollar cheaper than buying frozen packs from Trader Joes (which, I love by the way). It’s great to have time savers like this on hand, but if you are looking to cut back on money, try cooking the brown rice yourself. Double up the recipe and keep it in your fridge for a few days. You can even freeze it in your own bags and pop it out when you need it.

Another budget and health benefit is to limit or stop buying cereal. Packaged cereal is expensive for what you get, and it isn’t much of a health booster. Most “healthy” cereals are still packed with sugar and are refined carbohydrates, which your body breaks down into more sugar. All this to say, buying oatmeal (even better, steel cut oats) in the bulk bin, is a healthy better-for-you alternative and much cheaper. It took our family a while to get away from the cereal habit, but once we did I couldn’t imagine going back! Hot oatmeal, ladened with berries and nuts and milk and butter is just so much more delicious in the morning rather than cold cereal. If you really enjoy the ease of cold cereal, make your own granola!

Paper Things

Such as paper towels, napkins, diapers, and wipes … We just don’t buy them! This saves us big $ … Diapers alone in this house would run us upwards of $100 a month. Andrew jokes that I allow toilet paper in the house, haha – which I get when it drops to the lowest price and shipped for free to the door using Amazon prime. We use white clothes that I buy from Costco for about $11 – these last us at least 3 years per pack. We recently tried the norwex cleaning clothes and also find these super helpful. There are a zillion health benefits and environmental benefits for making the switch away from disposable paper products, but I will let you search for that information on your own if you are interested!

Drugstore Items

I make most of these. Toothpaste and deodorant is super easy to make and (in my opinion) work just as well as the regular stuff. I switched over to jojoba oil for a facial moisturizer and hair anti frizz. At $8 a bottle, it lasts a year and can’t be beat. Coconut oil is great here too. We use coconut oil as a moisturizer for the whole family. Nothing puts a baby into sleep mode like a bath, and lavender mixed into coconut oil! Vinegar is great for cleaning, especially with a few drops of essential oils to make it smell nice. Easy to save money when you don’t have to go to the drug store! There are some great websites out there with natural cleaning and beauty product ideas.

For things I don’t make (like shampoo, make up, etc) I take notice of sales and buy when they are cheapest. You can even find high end make-up and perfumes on sale (like bobbi brown and laura mercier) if you follow them online and wait until they do a sale. Yes, it does happen! I also enjoy the expensive Aveda hair products. By paying attention to their company, I’ve found they offer $20 off each purchase on Earth Day. I wait until April 17th each year to buy shampoo!

Dairy and Meat:

It’s just plain hard to find high quality dairy and meat on “sale”. Because we are able to save on all the above listed items, I do spend a pretty penny on our organic milk, and grass fed beef. This means, though, that we just don’t buy beef all that often. When we do, it’s a treat, and I try to find it at Costco for the best price. Same with salmon, which we love! Once a year copper river salmon goes on sale at Costco and we buy a bunch and freeze it. There are also wonderful opportunities to buy a quarter of a cow or be a part of a fresh fish CSA. However, these all require freezer space which our family does not have. I buy the large bag of frozen foster farms chicken at costco, because they are the only company that does not use hormones in their birds. Cutting down on meat is also the best way to save money in this area.

We chose to buy organic whole milk and whole milk yogurt. There are some good reasons for this which you can read about, but we do spend extra money here. Instead of purchasing individual cups of yogurt, buy the big tub when it’s on sale (or better yet, at costco where you can get two large tubs for under $7!). Then sweeten and flavor it yourself. We like fresh berries, honey or maple syrup, and a splash of vanilla extract in ours! Some of those preflavored “kid” yogurts have more sugar than an ice cream sundae.

Let me end by saying, there is something beautiful about investing time and effort into your family’s health by making foods that you might usually buy prepackaged. I’m certainly not above popping open a can of something for the sake of time. But it’s a great blessing to those you are feeding when you put the time into making your own version. There are health, taste, and budget benefits. You naturally avoid so many chemicals, salt, and sugar when you make canned goods yourself. And your bottom line will be a lot happier, too. Some of my fav “do it yourself” recipes are here.

None of us can make everything from scratch. I too enjoy the time saving advantages of many of the foods on the market – trust me with three kiddos they are super helpful. But even one or two choice to make yourself can help – not only with budget but with your enjoyment of food. I hope this post has helped in that quest towards making a few changes.

Ok, so that’s the low down! And, a disclaimer: Just in case you think I’m all miss healthy, floating around the house munching on carrots sticks and rubbing coconut oil in my skin – remember that last night my kids ate a premade frozen lasagna. Ha!

Andrew’s Blog Worthy Ultimate Banana Bread

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I’m laughing a bit while I type this, because Andrew has been making this amazing banana bread for years – and for whatever reason I just haven’t found the time to put it on Reliable Recipes. He jabs at me for fun that it isn’t “blog worthy”, but it indeed is! Let it get the acclaim it deserves!

In all honesty though – this is not a healthy good for you recipe. It’s naughty. You’ve been warned.

Makes one 9-inch loaf

Be sure to use very ripe, heavily speckled (or even black) bananas in this recipe. This recipe can be made using 5 thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid naturally, they can bypass the microwaving in step 2 and go directly into the fine-mesh strainer. Do not use a thawed frozen banana in step 4; it will be too soft to slice. Instead, simply sprinkle the top of the loaf with sugar. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness five minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. The texture is best when the loaf is eaten fresh, but it can be stored (cool completely first), covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 3/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 6 large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled (see note)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup walnuts , toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
INSTRUCTIONS
  • 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.
  • 2. Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).
  • 3. Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
  • 4. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of either side of loaf, leaving 1½-inch-wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.
  • 5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

TECHNIQUE

  • DO THE RIPE THING

    Don’t even think of making banana bread with anything less than very ripe, heavily speckled fruit—unless you’re fine with a bland loaf. As bananas ripen, their starch converts to sugar at an exponential rate. In lab tests, we found heavily speckled bananas had nearly three times the amount of fructose (the sweetest of the sugars in fruit) than less spotty bananas. (The exact percentage will vary from fruit to fruit.) But the impact of ripeness only goes so far: We found little difference in sweetness between loaves baked with completely black bananas and those made with heavily speckled ones.

  • SIL_Banana_LightlySpotted_htc.jpgTOO SOON
    1.8% FRUCTOSE
    A lightly speckled banana has only a little fructose, the sweetest sugar in fruit.
  • SIL_Banana_HeavilySpotted_htc.jpgJUST RIGHT
    5.3% FRUCTOSE
    A heavily speckled banana has a lot more fructose.

TECHNIQUE

  • WHO KNEW? BANANAS HAVE JUICE

    Typical banana bread contains just three pieces of fruit. Here’s how we upped the number to five without turning the loaf into pudding.

  • STP_BananaBread_018_htc.jpg1. EXTRACT JUICEMicrowaving ripe bananas for 5 minutes causes them to release “juice.”
  • STP_BananaBread_031_htc.jpg2. STRAIN IT OUTAfter straining the bananas, you should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid to work with.
  • STP_BananaBread_036_htc.jpg3. REDUCE THE JUICEReducing the banana liquid yields a concentrated liquor, intensifying flavor without making the loaf wet.

TECHNIQUE

  • SHINGLE YOUR LOAF

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    Layering thin banana slices on either side of the loaf adds even more banana flavor to our bread (and brings the total number of bananas in the recipe to six). To ensure an even rise, leave a 1½-inch-wide space down the center.

 

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

 

 

Making salad dressing was one of those gnostic skills that I thought some people had and some did not. I was of the have not. The few times I tried to “throw together” a salad dressing, it tasted like oil. So I gave up and bought the bottles, trying to work around all the zillions of weird ingredients that goes into a simple salad dressing.

After getting more serious about what we were eating, I decided to chuck the salad bottles again. Saving money on dressing, as well as the health benefits of making your own, forced me to get back in the game.

I found with a little information, making your own salad dressing isn’t so hard. You just need a good base. You can jump off that base and get creative – as long as the ratios of oil and vinegar stay the same.

So here’s how to mix up your own! Super simple. Use whatever you have in your fridge.

Base:

3 parts olive oil
1 part vinegar (red wine, balsamic)

Chose some add ins:

Splash of Lemon/Lime/Orange Juice
Scoop of brown mustard
Scoop of hummus
Salt
Finely Fresh Herbs
Seasonings
Minced onion or garlic
Shredded cheese
Mashed avocado
Salsa

Too Tangy?  Make it creamier – Add in some plain yogurt/mayo/sour cream

Garlicky Zucchini and Squash Ribbon Salad

Bring it on, summer! This salad was super yum! With all those tomatoes, squash, and basil you are going to be seeing around soon, this salad is a must have. It would be great to bring to a pot luck! My kiddos ate it up, exclaiming several times how much they liked the “squash pasta”. Hey, whatever name works. This calls for zucchini, but I used yellow crooked neck squash. Seriously. Try it.

Also, let me give a great shout out to Post Punk Kitchen. Loving all their vegan options – even though we aren’t vegan – they have some great stuff!

1 cup diced fresh tomato (from 1 average sized tomato)
10 large basil leaves, thinly sliced (plus extra small leaves, to garnish)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic (personally, I used half of a bulb green garlic, diced)
1 lb zucchini, peeled into ribbons

Sea salt
Fresh black pepper

Don’t worry about getting the zucchini into perfect ribbons. Simply give the zuke a preliminary peel so that you don’t have too much skin (unless you like that.) Then place on a cutting board and peel into rustic ribbons, turning the zuke as you go. You might have a little nub left over, so just slice it up and add to the salad. Really, you can’t go wrong. Anyway you slice it (har har) it’s going to be great.

In a large mixing bowl, toss together the tomato, basil, vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Add a big pinch of salt and some fresh black pepper. Let that sit as you prep the zucchini.

When zucchini is ready, add to the bowl and using your hands, toss to coat. Taste for salt. Garnish with basil leaves and serve!

~ If you’re looking for a more substantial salad, you can bulk it up. Add chickpeas, toasted walnuts, and avocado. Yum!

~ Use a non-serrated peeler if you can, or your ribbons will have ridges. Not the biggest deal, but probably worth mentioning.

~ You want to serve this as soon as possible, to retain its crunch and freshness. If you let it sit for awhile, it will become more like a slaw.