Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Week of Shopping on the Budget

Happy Halloween! The candy is now out of the house, save a few pieces we let the kids keep.

I shopped at two stores today, Target and Whole Foods. I didn't need to buy much produce since we still have tons left from our Urban Acres share we picked up last weekend. (We pick up again next Saturday...can't wait!) Our monthly budget is $440, which translates to $110 per week. This week I spent $41.95 at Target and $61.86 at Whole Foods for a weekly total of $103.81, leaving a balance of $6.19.

I'm a big fan of the coupon, so you'll notice that I saved $15.74 using coupons and $.30 at Whole Foods for bringing my own shopping bags. On a tight budget, every little bit helps.


My Tazo tea coupons were all expiring today, which is why I bought so many. But, it should last me for the month. (On my Mellman plan, I can drink the Tazo Chai Tea Latte with soy milk. It's delicious!) I got a great deal on cage-free organic eggs ($3.39) and I had a coupon for a free dozen eggs. Now, they weren't organic, but they were free. My Target is also newly remodeled to include a grocery section, so when I walked in the door I was given an orange. Free produce!

Whole Foods

I love Whole Foods, but you have to shop smart in there. Otherwise you walk out with one grocery bag and $150 poorer. The coupons I used were for Organic Valley products that I found here. I got salmon, halibut, and chicken for meals this week. I also found a recipe for whole wheat sunflower bread I'll be making this week with my daughter.

I'm excited about the menu I've got planned for the week and I feel really good about how the shopping turned out. I got organic eggs, produce and dairy products. The fish and chicken were high quality from Whole Foods. I'm using my Urban Acres produce in my meal planning.

So far so good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whole Foods Recipe for Apple Sandwiches

These look amazing and are courtesy of Whole Foods by way of Organic Deals & Coupons. The recipe can be found here. These would be awesome in the kids' lunch or for a healthy snack. The chocolate chips will entice the picky eater and the peanut butter and apples will be a draw for the girl.

Definitely putting this on the list for next week's lunches.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Christmas Urban Acres Style

Today my daughter and I picked up our first Urban Acres share. In the car on the way over, I couldn't wait to get there. It was like the anticipation before Christmas morning.

"I bet there's squash," I said.

"What about apples?" she said. "I hope there are apples!"

We got to the pick up location, walked in and they were ready for us. The bin was huge. I mean, gi-normous. I lugged that bad boy to the car (fortunately, there were some nice people who held the door open for me) and as soon as we could, we popped the lid and started digging.

(Excuse the pictures... the battery on my stalkarazzi camera died, so these are taken with my cell phone. I'm not organized enough to know where the battery charger is, I'm waiting for antibiotics to kick in and don't have the energy to engage in a full scale search and rescue mission.)

(Back to the excitement:)

Squash! And lettuce! And a huge bag of parsley and thyme. Then we found the pears (not ripe enough to eat) and, ooh, ooh, APPLES! Did I mention the bin was enormous? Just sayin'. My daughter immediately grabbed an apple and dug in.

Later when we got home, we investigated all of the different types of squash. I'd never seen some of them before and I've been exposed to lots of different types of foods. (I spent junior high and high school living outside of the United States.)

Isn't this gorgeous?

My son grabbed his own green apple to munch on and, mouth full, informed me I could bake an apple pie. At least he's excited about the fruit.

This produce is intended to last us until the next pick-up in two weeks and it cost less than what I would pay at the store for that period of time. Urban Acres is so great, the bin comes with instructions on how best to wash and store the greens, making a plan for eating everything (in the order in which they will go bad first), and a sample recipe for cooking the squash.

The refrigerator is stocked! It didn't take long to wash everything. I also chopped up some of the onion, celery and carrots and put them in the freezer for later use.

This journey is definitely exciting. I've got a skeleton of a menu for the next two weeks outlined (only took about 20 minutes) and can't wait to see what the coming weeks bring.

I spent $54 at Whole Foods and $21 at Target (on Tazo chai tea latte concentrate and soy milk). I'll start seriously tracking my budget starting November 1st, because that just seems to make sense to me.

In the mean time, I'll try to find my camera battery charger.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Co-Op

I've been doing quite a bit of research on how we can feed our family organic produce without forking over a premium for it at our local Whole Foods. I have been reading about CSAs (community supported agriculture) on blogs like 30 Bucks a Week and Local Harvest.

I began searching for CSAs in the DFW area and settled instead on a co-op. It's called Urban Acres. I liked it for several reasons: First, I only have to pick up once every two weeks. Second, there is a conveniently located pick-up location. Third, they have a variety of produce and deliver year round. Fourth, you can buy a whole or a half share.

I decided to go with the whole share first which will cost $50 every other week. If we find that it's too much for us to eat, we can switch to the half-share which is $30 every other week. I did pay a $50 membership fee, $14 for the bins the produce will be provided to us in, and we pay for our produce in advance. So, I've already paid for tomorrow's produce and will take a check for $50 for the next delivery. It's kind of like Christmas: you don't know what you're going to get until you open the package.

Tomorrow morning is my first scheduled pick-up day. They sent me two email reminders this week, which I appreciated. I'm so excited, though, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have forgotten.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


After sleeping off the food poisoning, I figured the first step in the renovation of our eating habits would be to tackle the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. I tossed everything that was expired or unrecognizable. A previously packed pantry, spice cabinet and refrigerator soon led to four very full, incredibly heavy garbage bags.

I was sort of okay with things that expired this year, as in 2010. I got a little more uncomfortable when we got back to 2008. When I got to 2007, I was really scared. Then, I got to this:

I didn't quite know how to react. I mean, I'd been using it. I looked around at the bags of expired and awful food. The food that I had been eating, feeding to my family, and wondered if it had contributed to my health issues. If it was contributing to a depressed immune system for my kids. I try to avoid melodrama, but, what if?

"Mom, we don't have very much food," my son replied upon surveying the now depleted contents of the frig.

Yeah, I'm okay with that. And I'm going to start filling it up with healthy, unprocessed food.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Organic Family on a Budget Commandments

It all started innocently enough. I had a craving. A big bad, mother of a craving. For queso. On my way home from a work function, at 10 p.m., I hatched a plan. Driving on the highway is great for planning, don't you think? I decided I would be good and forego the trip through the Taco Bueno drive thru.

Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

No, no. I'd make my own queso. From scratch. (I use this term loosely.) I opened up the refrigerator and pulled out the massive block of Velveeta. Then, crossing my fingers, I looked in the pantry for some Rotel.

Out of luck, I started the hunt through the refrigerator door for some salsa. No dice. I started moving jars, tupperware containers with God knows what in them, baggies and cartons, searching.

A-ha! I found it. Way in the back on the bottom shelf. A half-full container of Pace picante sauce. I paused to consider how long it had actually been in there, but I brushed any hesitation aside and went to work. In 2 microwave minutes, I had a bowl of queso.

I sat down at my computer, continued my research on organic eating and inhaled the processed junk inhabiting my bowl. The irony was not lost on me.

I was fine. For about 30 minutes. And that's when I knew.

The salsa.

I spent the next three hours throwing up. And vowing that as soon as I felt better, and oh, by the way, please dear God let it be soon, I would go through the refrigerator, the pantry and the freezer and look at expiration dates. I wouldn't think about throwing twenty dollar bills in the garbage. If it was expired, I would toss it.

In. The. Trash.

My head resting on the toilet, with plenty of agonizing, albeit interrupted, time to think, I decided I would live by the following Commandments:

1. Thou Shalt Not Buy Any More Junk. I won't bring anymore into the house, but of the unexpired foods, we will use up what we have. Or maybe donate it to a Food Bank. (I'm sort of conflicted on this point, but I digress.)

2. Thou Shalt Purchase Organic and Local Foods Where Possible. Based on my limited research so far, there is no down side to purchasing local and organic produce from a health perspective. We are also a family that eats meat, so we will need to investigate how to find better options to get on our table. However, see Commandment Number Three.

3. Thou Shalt Not Adjust the Monthly Grocery Budget. Right now we are spending about $440 per month on food and $60 on toiletry/household cleaning items. I don't know if this is a lot, a little or average.

4. Thou Must Figure Out How To Do This Without It Being a Time Suck. My husband and I now both work more than full-time jobs and the weekends are for family time. I can’t be shopping and cooking all day long. Dinners during the week have to be quick and easy because we only have so much time in the evenings for soccer practice, homework, dinner and family time before bed.

5. Thou Shalt Reduce the School Lunches. The kids can continue to eat hot lunch at school, but I will work on reducing this to twice per week. The hot lunch bill each month right now is about $160, so this should go down. My son, the picky eater, doesn't like the choices some days for hot lunch, so this won't be a problem for him. My daughter, however, is super excited about eating school provided lunches because Kindergarten is the first year she has been able to eat in the cafeteria. She wants to eat it every day. She will be a challenge.

I have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Tough Question: How Do We Become An Organic Family On A Budget?

It's been in the back of my mind for years maybe. What we eat. What I buy. I've known it wasn't the best, but a more than full-time job, the kids' school schedules, and my husband's return to school full-time increased my stress and decreased any extra energy I had to think about it.

Over time I got tired. Bone dragging tired. So tired I could barely make it to the end of the day. And cereal and pizza seemed to make sense. "I don't have time to cook," I said. "I need sleep."

But it didn't matter how much sleep I got. I was still exhausted. So, I went to my regular doctor. "There's nothing wrong with you," he said.

My hair started to fall out. Like, covered up the bathroom floor in a dark shag carpet of the stuff that was still supposed to be attached to my head, falling out. So, back to the doctor I went.

"There's nothing wrong with you," he said.

"Yes, there is."

So he did a full blood work-up. Four vials of blood to check my thyroid, white blood cells, cholestorol, lupis indicators, and a whole page worth of stats. The prognosis?

"There's nothing wrong with you."

To say I was frustrated would be a monumental understatement.

Desparate, I turned to non-traditional methods. My husband and I talked long and hard about it. We tapped our savings and I signed up for the Mellman plan. Nowhere left to turn, we invested in my health. Quite honestly, it was a last ditch effort. We had no idea what to do, but we had to do something.

Not long after I started the program, my hair stopped falling out. And I had ENERGY. And I felt better. I was preparing my own healthier foods, the ones I could eat, but I was still feeding my family the same stuff I had been cooking before. In other words, crap. This quietly, unobtrusively gnawed at me, a silent hammering away at my subconscience.

Then I watched Food, Inc.

Insert several hours of contemplation. Then anger. Then resolve. And hours of research.

I was exposed to new vocabulary words, like free-range, organic, locavore and grass fed. But I also remembered words I already knew, like budget, depleted savings and the phrase "full-time working mom."

I had hard questions and wanted answers Google couldn't give me. How do I feed a family of 4 a healthy, organic, local diet without blowing my budget? What meals can I prepare that won't require hours in the kitchen? Can I do it without making a zillion trips to thirty different stores? How will the pickiest eater on the face of the planet, my eight year old, deal with these changes?

How do we become an organic family on a budget?

This blog is my attempt to answer that question. I'm not naive enough to think it will happen overnight or that I won't make mistakes along the way. But I have to try.