Follow our family's weekly vegetarian menu, access recipes, and download weekly grocery lists, during my quest to get our weekly grocery bill down to $70 per week, while supporting local agriculture and eating healthy organic foods!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Actual Cost of Food

       Living in Texas (in what I can only imagine the most expensive utility district in the nation) has made me acutely aware that the price at the bottom of my grocery sales receipt is not the entire cost of my food. I am sure we have all thought about it in one way or another. Is it really cheaper to go to multiple grocery stores, to get the best deals, if the stores are on opposite sides of town? Is it really cheaper to buy dried beans vs. canned beans if dried beans require a lot of water and hours of electricity or gas use? I don't know. I do feel they are valid questions. While figuring out how much money you are spending on gas to drive between stores seems fairly straight forward. I think it is more difficult to figure out the cost of cooking and prepping your food.
        One thing I think we can all agree on, is using your stove and oven in the middle of summer when it is 100 degrees outside heats your house, and makes your air conditioner work more frequently and harder. I wish I knew how to calculate the actual cost. I can only imagine it is pretty significant. I also know it is completely unbearable to be in our house after cooking a meal in the summer. It usually stays that way well into the night.
        I began having a desire to stop cooking indoors during the late spring/summer months last year. I found very expensive solar ovens, and formulated a plan to get a tall table, and portable electric burners to use outside when cooking. None of that came to fruition. This year I am going to act on it. I am going to keep the indoor cooking to an absolute minimum. I am going to learn how to grill, which means actually using the copy of The New Vegetarian Grill, I bought last year. I have started looking at DIY solar oven plans. I plan to have one made by the end of April. Then I can watch as lower energy bills roll in.
       As a side note, I find it really funny and a tad ridiculous when you look for seasonal summer recipes that call for you to preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  There is nothing seasonal about that.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 8

Goal: $70
Actual: $84.53 plus we went out to eat for another $25

This weeks overages are due to a number of factors. I went shopping based on our passed grocery needs. Meaning I bought a lot of items for an entire weeks worth of eating. The very next day, my neighbors and I decided to start a dinner swap. This means that I purchased almost an entire weeks worth of groceries, and then went back to the store to buy enough ingredients to make a meal for 20 people. I think the overage is fairly reasonable for that fact. I also went a little nuts in the bulk grain section, but the surplus will lower bills later.

Now lets talk food swap! Cooking co-op, dinner trade, whatever you call it, it is AMAZING! The basic premise is you find friends, coworkers, neighbors that would like to join. You make enough food for every family in the group and they do the same. Some co-ops make all their meals and meet one day, swap them and freeze them. We all live very close to each other, and I like fresh hot food, so we each chose a day of the week to be our day to cook. We cook enough food for 24 people, divide it up amongst the group and deliver it to each family by 5:30 pm. The rest of the week, you wait for dinner to be delivered to you!

I can can not articulate how awesome it was. Last week was the first week and it was more than I dreamt it to be. :) Four nights last week, I was able to sit and read to my 2 year old, relax, go for a late afternoon/early evening walk, and get much needed/neglected deep cleaning done. Normally from 5-6 I am stuck in the kitchen, rushing home to be stuck in the kitchen, or prepping everything. It was unbelievably relaxing to take my time on those days. I could get used to this co-operative lifestyle. The meals were all amazing as well.

Dinner Swap Menu:

  • Curried chickpeas and spinach on a bed of kasha
  • Eggplant (or chicken) Parmesan
  • Potato soup
  • Homemade pizza and Salad w/peanut dressing
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta with delicious tiramisu for dessert
I could go on and on about how wonderful it was. We even have a new member this week. This means I cook for the group on Mondays, and for just my family on Saturdays, every other day I get a hot home cooked meal at my door. sigh... life is good. 

I also made:
You might be wondering why I made so many cookies. Sleep deprivation. My two year old daughter has the hardest time going to sleep and staying asleep. One night last week she woke at 1:30 am and when I left for work at 4:30 am she was still awake. This means I got very little sleep that night. I do not understand how she could be up in the middle of the time. I have decided she has toddler insomnia. I have, in fact, coined that term. So, I began a frantic search of ways to get her sleeping at night. I came across all this information about adults with insomnia and in many cases it is due to hunger. Apparently if you eat the wrong types of food before bedtime, or do not eat a snack before bedtime your body does not make and maintain the proper hormones. It them signals hunger, and it can wake you. In the reading, it indicated you might not even be aware your are hungry when you wake. The information stated eating high protein foods before bed will cause these undesired waking. Everything I read said, small amounts of protein, and complex carbohydrates before bed. So I began a quest for "healthy" cookies for her to eat, and decided to push chamomile tea. She did not care for the tea, so I found the lemonade recipe. It is great. She has slept well every night since I started this new bedtime snack ritual. I am also less of a crazy person.. if only a little. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 7 (Sans CSA)

Goal : $70
Actual: $86.45

I don't know what to think about this week. Our CSA needed to be renewed, but I didn't really feel like dealing with SXSW crowds to go pick it up, and we need to get our taxes back before we drop $300 on a 10 week share. Part of me wanted it to be well under budget, but then there was this other part of me that wanted to go over budget, just to say to myself, "Aha! having a CSA share really does save  money!!" So, just be aware that there could have been some level of sabotage in this weeks budget. I did go to the grocery 3 times this week. Which added about $8.36 in little extras. I could have definitely said no to my daughter about a z-bar, and 4 pack biokiefer.... Ok, Ok looking over the receipt it looks like had I not bought random quick snack bars, then we would have been right in line with our standard. The CSA may not save us money, but it definitely gives us a bigger variety, and healthier whole foods. Without it I leaned pretty heavily on frozen. Every time I dumped frozen veggies into a pot it made me cringe. I think I have come to love the (time consuming) ritual of cutting whole veggies for dinner. 

Some of the meals we ate include this delicious  kale and white bean pasta penne from
Edamame, peas with blue cheese on a bed of quinoa 
And this completely amazing whole wheat banana bread

As much as I love our CSA and lamented it all week. I don't think we are renewing it. This is only due to my newest dinner time development. Co-op Cooking!!! I am really excited about this, and you will get to read all about it on Thursday's post!!

Edamame, peas with blue cheese on a bed of quinoa 
8 oz frozen edamame (soy beans)
8 oz frozen peas
1 small red onion
2 gloves garlic
1/4 cup Braggs (or soy sauce/tamari)
3/4 cup water
Blue cheese crumbled to top (amount varies for preference)
1 cup quino
2 cups water

     Wash quino well. It is known to be quite sandy otherwise. Place quino and two cups of water in a small pan and cook on med to low heat until all the water is absorbed and quino has expanded and looks like a spiral. Meanwhile, combine other ingredients (leaving the blue cheese  aside and refrigerated) in a pressure cooker. Stir well and cook per pressure cooker's directions. The quino and edamame mixture shoudl be done roughly the same time (usually within 15 mins.)  Make a bed of quino on the plate, top with edamame mixture and crumble the blue cheese over both to complete.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reinventing the Wheel

Developing and sticking to a food budget is a practice of necessity in our home. This explains the long gaps in posting. When it is not a necessity, I shop in a willy-nilly the surplus with never dry type of way. At times when it is required, I find myself cursing the frivolous "times are good" self. I keep thinking, "if only I had stuck with the budget, money would be a bit more loose now." C'est la vie! It is what it is and it is time to enjoy the present with as much gusto as the past. Lessons have been learned and life will be more balanced going forward.

With that being said, I started this blog as a way to keep myself in check. I also look around for other blogs and people that have succeeded in feeding their families low cost vegetarian meals. While I would love to develop and create recipes, menus and shopping list everyone can follow, I am perfectly happy following someone else's plans and ideas. Why reinvent the wheel? This leaves me doing internet searches for "$50 vegetarian menu, " low cost vegetarian," etc every now and again. Today I think I found the gem of all gems!

Low Budget Vegetarian

This site is simple, and amazing! The author offers a FREE 90 page "cook book." Really it is an instruction manual on making tasty, balanced, healthy, low cost meals, shopping tips and meal planning.  It is so informative. I have been looking for a how to manual on cooking, I think this is the answer. I am extremely happy to have stumbled onto it! I can't wait to incorporate his ideas into my shopping and cooking to see how it helps.

I would highly recommend this to everyone. I mean, how can you pass up free, let alone something that is so useful! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 6

Goal: $70
Actual: $70.85

  • CSA Share: 
    • Turnips
    • Beets
    • Carrots (a ton)
    • Brussels Sprouts with greens
    • Brussels Sprout greens
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Salad Greens
    • Scallions
    • Oranges
    • Grapefruit
    • Cilantro
    • Parsley
  • Store 
    • limes
    • lemons
    • apples
    • tomatoes
    • onions
    • avocado
    • ginger
    • tofu
    • tortillas
    • great northern beans
    • pinto beans
    • basil
    • almonds
    • walnuts
    • eggs
    • cheese
    • cliff bars
  • Homemade Apple Sauce: cut desired amount of skinned apple into small chunks. Place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover apples. Add 1 tsp of cinnamon and bring to a boil. Boil down the liquid slightly. Drain excess water and save for use in Applesauce oatmeal. Place cooked apple in food processor and pulse until desired consistency is reached. 
  • Apple Sauce Oatmeal with Apple: Skin and cut a large apple into chunks. Place in sauce pan with 2 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of old fashioned oats and 1 tsp of cinnamon. reduce heat and cook to desired thickness, being sure to stir constantly. Once cooked stir in Homemade applesauce liquid and 1/3-1/2 cup of homemade apple sauce. 
  • Smoky Pinto Beans: Soak dry pinto beans overnight. Cook according to package directions, or in pressure cooker. Once beans are cooked reduce heat, add smoked sea salt to taste, and 1/2 chopped onion.Cook on reduced heat for 10-15 mins. Save extra beans in liquid to make bean burritos. 
  • Bean Burritos When making a meal with pinto beans, or black beans cook the entire lb of beans. Save half to make bean burritos a couple days later. For instance, this week we have Costa Rican Style Black Beans and Rice. I used half the black beans in that recipe and then saved the remaining beans and the juice the beans were cooked with. In the next day or two I use the beans to make refried beans for burritos.  
    • Refried Beans
      • Beans in juice
      • 1/2-1 onion diced
      • green or red pepper if on hand
      • 1 bunch of greens stemmed and cut thinly or left over cooked greens, if on hand
      • 2 Tbls oil
      • Ground Chipotle pepper to taste
      • Smoked Salt to taste
                Blend beans in juice and set aside. Heat oil in skillet or wok and add onion and green pepper. Cook until onions are translucent. Add ground chipotle pepper to onions and cook for about 1 min. then add blended beans. Cook for several minutes and add smoked salt and greens, if desired. Cook beans and stir constantly, until beans reduce and thicken. 
Notes: My husband eats egg and cheese tacos every morning for breakfast. I think this probably adds about $8 to our grocery bill each week. That is just an observation for anyone looking to save a bit more. Oatmeal is so cheap, easy and delicious. My husband only eats a cliff bar for lunch, so unfortunately, oatmeal will not fill him up enough or give him anywhere near the protein of a couple egg. 
            I tried three recipes from They were all wonderful and simple. I think I might try her kid friendly mac and "cheese" as I have never found a vegan mac and cheese that is at all tasty. 

Project Food Budget: Weeks 4 & 5

The last two weeks were blog free for a variety of reasons. Week 4 was consumed with flu. Aside from feeling the sickest I had been in my life, I also sent my husband to the grocery store with the list. I am positive we went over that week. When I am with him we do a good deal of shopping at Fiesta Mart. Which is insanely cheap on a huge array of items. We then get a few additional items at HEB. This saves us at least $10 a week. I don't think my husband enjoys stopping at two stores. The week he did the shopping he only went to HEB. I think he said the bill was around $80. 

Week 5: I was in a budget funk. I am finding it extremely difficult to stay under $75. I think I got in the, "I want to buy what I want when I want and not be so restricted mood." While I did not really do this, I was down on the budget. I think we spent about $85 that week. I  became concerned that our budget was not giving us room for enough fruits and veggies. I was concerned we might not be getting enough Calcium. After tracking our calcium intake for two days, it seems we are getting more than enough. I am feeling much better about our budget and our ability to eat well with it. 

Here are some good finds from those weeks:

Beetroot Hummus (possibly the best hummus I have ever had.) 
Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Smoothie
Black Bean Brownies 
Mini Carrot Loaves 

Information on Nutrition:
Harvard's School of Public Health has differing ideas on healthy eating as well as an alternate food pyramid. 
Meal Make Over Moms is a site run by two moms who are also registered dietitians. They have some wonderful sounding recipes and great ideas about how to get kids to eat healthy.
Spark people is actually one of my happiest finds. This website allows you to track your menu, and it tallies the nutritional info for you. They  have a feature that suggests a menu base don your dietary preferences. It also provides workout routines and recipes for healthy eating. It is completely free! I honestly think it is the best site I have seen that offers these things. I have even participated in pay for sites that are not even nearly as thorough and good.