Taming the Cupboard: When Individual Needs Affect the Grocery Budget

Taming the Cupboard: When Individual Needs Affect the Grocery Budget

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Haphazard management of your grocery budget will impact your ability to manage other aspects of your household finances and even impact your time management in a negative way, particularly if your nutritional spending habits lead to a sickly household. Time spent nursing a family member back to health, running to Dr’s appointments, obtaining over-the-counter meds from the store, etc, all take away from other tasks you or the kids could be handling. So we will spend October, November, and December, talking about Taming the Cupboard. If you want to see articles I’ve written on the other pillars: Taming the Clock and Taming the Coin, you’ll find them in the category listings to the right. You’ll observe I already touched on various subjects in those quarters that we’ll focus on more heavily in this quarter, because the Clock, The Coin and the Cupboard are seriously intertwined!

This week was due to begin on #Thrive Thursday last week discussing individual needs within your growing family. [bctt tweet=”One of the sure-fire ways to waste money when trying to cook at home, is doing what I call restaurant cooking, or a different dish for each person at every meal.” username=”songdovemd”] When your kids are in elementary school through sometimes to middle-school, it is advantageous to all involved AND your pocketbook, if you cook one meal for the family rather than several smaller meals for each individual in the family. This will make it easier to go grocery shopping as well, becuase your observations of how much each person eats of a given food will guide how much you need to buy for the next 3 weeks.  This is still the better way to cook even into your teen years as you teach them how to cook for the family.

However, sometimes nutritional needs change more drastically for one person than for everyone else, and their needs must be taken into account when shopping to feed everyone economically. One person might come down with a food allergy for example. Rather than suddenly shifting the shopping and cooking to only ever have a small meal made just for that person, adjust the shopping so that related foods that person CAN eat, are now eaten by everyone in the house instead. This makes the shopping more affordable and creates less potential waste at home from individual portions. There are ways to do this that won’t break the bank, depending of course on the stores in your area.

One allergy most people never think of, is poultry. In our household, the person with that allergy turned out to be me. This meant no buying of chicken or turkey or eggs unless I was 100% sure they were strictly grain-fed and free-range. Needless to say, eggs did not feature in our grocery shopping for many years until stores began carrying grain-fed eggs at lower prices. I wasn’t going to increase the food budget for the sake of my allergy to eggs.

My allergy to chicken and turkey meat however, meant only buying fish, pork or beef for the meat portion of our sandwiches or dinner portions. If you have paid attention to many food and budget bloggers out there, when they teach you how to plan a month’s worth of meals for a family of four under $300, they have chicken in everything!!! Financially, they have been known to be the cheaper bird for years, although where I live, the cost of chicken is going up. But it used to be the cheap meat for the longest time!

So how does a single mom of two kids manage the meat section of the grocery budget when I can’t throw in chicken??? Two methods:

1) Always do a brief pass through the meat department looking at price per 100 grams before grabbing the nearest deal. Remember that sometimes, a deal is not really a deal when compared to other products in that grocery section. Sometimes the reason a deal won’t work for your family is because the best-by date is too close and you don’t have a big enough freezer to keep it in before you use it. Other times, the deal won’t work because it contains the offending meat. This is true of meat-mixtures such as some brands of meatballs where the ingredient list reads: Beef, and/or pork and/or chicken and/or turkey. You’ll see this type of ingredient list on wieners, many sandwich meat blends, some meatball blends, some sausage blends, etc. So read the ingredient list, check the best-by date, check the price per 100 grams and do a quick pass through the meat department before settling on what you’ll buy. This may take 5 to 10 minutes out of your trip, but those 5 to 10 minutes will save you money toward other things on your grocery list.

2) Smaller meat portions. The Canada Food Guide for the longest time recommended a meat portion roughly the size of a deck of cards. This is an adequate amount of meat-based protein for most people. Here in North America, most people expect a meat portion the size of a turkey leg and this shows up in restaurants when you order a steak and it literally fills your entire plate. Shopping like that for meals at home is way too expensive! You and your kids don’t need that much iron and protein. Fortunately B12 will wash through your system if you get too much of it, so that’s not a worry. Trying to get your B12 from plants is dicey at best and often involves a supplement from the pharmacy section. You want to pass through the Pharmacy section as little as possible and get your nutrition from the grocery area as much as possible. So get your B12 from red meat in card deck sized portions and you’re good to go. Sometimes the meat portions around our table would be a big bigger per person, but ONLY when the following criteria was met:

Bulk meat purchases should be capable of being divided up into single household meal portions big enough for each person to get that card-deck-sized amount of meat. The price of the purchase divided by how many household meal portions you can guestimate from just looking at it, should equal roughly no more than $1.00 per meal. The way prices of meat go up and down, sometimes you’ll have to suffice with $1.50 per meal, and a splurge is when those portion divide into the total cost at $2 – $5 per meal. Save this splurge for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and birthdays. The rest of the time, your meat bill should divide out into $1.00 family portions.

fish n chipsOne of the ways I’d address both points above for my meat allergy, was to visit the fish section of the meat department. Where I live, this tends to be the more expensive section with the deli being the most expensive. But sometimes you find deals that are better priced with more meat portions in the fish department than in the red meat section. Sometimes sandwich meat looks like a ham you carve up yourself into sandwich slices after baking. Other times it looks like a family-club-size tray of breakfast sausages that you cook up bulk and slice thinly for sandwiches.

It should be noted on the sandwich front regarding meat, that you only want one layer of meat, not a dozen like what you buy at the drive-thru sandwich shop! You can have your meat sandwich, but do it in moderation. [bctt tweet=”You need your animal-based proteins, B12, Omega-3’s and other benefits for sure, but you don’t need a single sandwich holding the equivalent of a week’s worth of sandwiches for your entire household!” username=”songdovemd”]

By shopping this way for meat, my kids would sometimes refer to breaded shrimp as “Mom’s chicken” because it reminded them of breaded chicken. I didn’t buy shrimp all the time because half the time it was too expensive, but when it was on sale, it was nice to have in the house.

Everyone in the home eats the same foods. As an adult, my daughter has grown into a Quinoa allergy, so we read cracker and bread ingredient labels now to ensure we don’t bring home grain products that have Quinoa in them. I don’t buy flour mixes, and only buy unbleached or whole wheat flour to make my no-knead bread recipe, ensuring we have bread in the house everyone can eat that doesn’t break the bank.

Fruit allergies can be addressed this way as well. Nut allergies can also be shopped for in this way. Keep in mind that treats entering the house from outside sources you didn’t buy may mean a family member misses out while others get to enjoy it. Try to keep this to a bare minimum until the kids are old enough to graciously allow others to eat what they can’t, in front of them without getting passive-aggressive or manipulative about it.

In the case of nut butters, those can get crazy expensive very fast, so if someone can eat them and another can’t, don’t bother buying them. When those who can eat them get older and want to buy them with their own money, they keep an extra knife for that jar and wash it when they are done. But don’t try to replace peanut butter with hazelnut butter for example, the price difference is staggering! Just simply not have nut butters in the house unless you have the budget to buy whole nuts and have a VitaMix blender you can use to make your own. Most of us don’t have that unit, and whole nuts are not cheap these days.

You may be tempted to buy Nutella instead, but read the ingredient list on that product and it’s look-alikes. There are often chemicals and sweeteners in there that will court cancer long-term, and you don’t need to deliberately introduce cancer-causing agents into your diet. If no one in your home has a nut allergy, then buy nut butters with the shortest ingredient list possible: nuts, salt. You have to stir these ones, as they settle, but they are healthiest and are another source of protein.

banana splitMilk is another area that can cause allergies or sensitivities. Lactose intolerance can be addressed by lactose supplements, and you’ll have to decide which is more affordable for your particular household, nut milks or supplements. I don’t recommend rice or soy milks. Soy has too much estrogen in it making it unsuitable for young girls, older women and men in general no matter their age. Estrogen should not be introduced to your young boy, your teenage boy, or your adult son. Rice naturally pulls up arsenic from the soil in levels far higher than other plants in the plant kingdom. This can cause trouble with the esophagus nerves among other side effects. All plants you eat will have arsenic in them to some degree, but rice is particularly good at pulling it from the soil. Ethnic people groups that have largely become immune to arsenic in rice are mostly the Asian peoples and those in the East-Indian regions. If you are of these descendants living in North America or other Western cultures, you may be fine consuming rice and therefore can bring rice milk into the home for your dairy-affected family member. But if your ancestry does not hail from these regions, you are safe not to bring rice milk into your home.

For myself, the fats present in cow’s milk caused me gall bladder trouble, so I went down to drinking 1% milk and then not every day, mostly in cereal, cocoa, or baking. When you have an intolerance in the house like this, everyone drinks the same milk to keep costs down, and it is rationed. No more than a cup per day per person. If they want more dairy, they can have 4 paper-thin/cardboard thin slices of cheese with their two pieces of toast or sandwiches at lunch.

Don’t go crazy on the cheese or it will eat your budget badly as well! Buy no-name or house-brand whenever you can, and on sale as well if possible. But remember, check the price per 100 grams to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck. Buy the bulk slabs of cheese and only cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella on average to keep costs down yet again. Fancy cheeses such as Gouda, Edam, Havarti, Monterrey jack, and others are for special occasions, not for everyday use around the house. You want the cheapest cheese that will go the farthest. Here at home, we’ll take a 700 gram brick and cut it into four sections and put those in a bag in the fridge. This tells us visually that we have 4 days of cheese in that block, total, and to be wise with how much we use at meal times. Cheese and milk will freeze as well. Cheese can get crumbly when you thaw it out, but it still acts and tastes like cheese. Milk will need shaking after thawing, and perhaps adding a bit of sweetener or vanilla if the flavour changed, but the health benefits are not affected by freezing.

These are just some of the individual nutritional needs you may encounter in your home, and that we encountered in ours. It is my hope that as you figure out how to address the changing needs of your household around the table, that your periodic discovery that your grocery budget needed a sudden shift will be less of a hassle as time goes on, and more of an adventure to see how else you can meet nutritional requirements while keeping your budget low. It is doable, and my grown kids can now do it on their own. We have certain stores we don’t like to shop at, because they make this challenge harder than it needs to be, but it is doable.

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