I have been cooking since I could stand on a chair and make my brothers and sisters fried bologna sandwiches or omelets. That’s trouble with being the youngest of six and the only one that liked to cook. Growing up with a large family spreading a meal to feed everyone was a trick my grandma and mother taught us well. I was taught to can anything we could get our hands on and freeze everything else. We were raised eating lots of meat and potatoes and many Pennsylvania dutch meals that my grandma made. So while raising my own kids I cooked the same way. But now it gets harder to eat all those time tested recipes full of starch and cooked with lard. So through the years I have learned to adapt them to fit in our diet choices and our budget.
I used to work a full time job and visited the grocery store every week. Along with a biweekly trip to Costco and many stops in between. Fast forward 10 years and I find myself at the grocery store once a month and just a few quick pick ups through the month. So what happened? I had to leave my job due to illness and now we live on disability and social security. But we still love to eat of course. So I had to learn to still eat like we used to but on a much smaller budget. I have always spent time canning and freezing all summer long just so we have good food to last us through the winter. My husband hunts and we usually have at least one deer to have through the long winter and spring as well. But what to do to get those groceries to spread is sometimes a nightmare. Add to that that I found out i had celiac disease so now we are gluten free and my husband is a diabetic with a bad ticker. What a menu planning nightmare.
So how do I stretch that grocery budget down to still eat healthy and cook every night. Well I still can, freeze and even dehydrate whatever I can find or grown myself. I do cook everything from scratch and only buy things that either will take me to much time or that is just easier to buy like pasta, bread and some canned vegetable. On any trip to the grocery store I walk through the meat department and pick up sale items or reduced meat that we can use in the coming month. I bring it home portion it out and vacuum seal each meal and plan all our meals around what meat we have on hand. My basic week cooking is usually 5 meals, one day of leftovers and one date night. We also eat leftover for lunches through the week. I still find myself cooking way to much for just the two of us so we usually always have leftovers.
Our local food bank also has a public farm stand that is open to anyone in the county. I love to visit it at least twice a month. They have lots of fruit and vegetable especially in the summer time when they get things from all the local farms that allow gleaming and the volunteer go out clear the fields and then stock the farm stand. Best thing is its free. They set it up so that you can have a few of each product depending on how much they have. But if they have a surplus it can be unlimited and a great time to get some canning or dehydrating done.
I also use one of our local farms that offer imperfect fruit and vegetable that they can’t sell at the farmers markets. They sell them for a reduced price per half bushel and a bonus they let you keep the crates. Last year I got tomatoes for $10 a half bushel and peaches that I call drops for $15. So we had a lot of tomatoes and peaches canned up. Best thing is to contact your local farm stands and see if they offer drops or imperfect produce. Its always helpful to buy some of their other products to keep them calling.
I was able to find an ad on our local yard sale site of someone who was going out of canning and wanted to get rid of all their canning jars, rings and even some great canning books. All for free. I probably wont have to buy another jar in my lifetime. Its amazing what you can find when you search out those yard sale pages. My pressure canner came from the flea market. I had to purchase a new gasket online but for less than $30 I had myself a great new to me canner.
So keeping in eye out all around you for bargains is the greatest asset you can have. Be it farm stands, yard sales, grocery outlets or just your regular grocery store there are bargains to be found that can make your life a lot easier and stretch your budget.
I will go into menu planning and food prep next time. Hope you like my ideas. Please feel free to leave me feedback. Im a big girl.