Keeping meal costs down

I’m going to preface this by saying, keeping costs down is far from my primary MO when planning meals.  I am concerned with nutrition and taste, as well as variety, and we have been drinking organic milk since my daughter started drinking cow’s milk.

Also, as you might have seen from my previous post, I don’t have a car, so hunting down the best grocery deals isn’t usually possible for me.  I also find that buying meat on sale often means eating extra-tasteless sketchy meat.

My other weakness is the farmer’s market.  It’s not cheap, not by a long shot, but it is a whole lot cheaper in terms of environmental impact to buy food that travels less than 100 miles, and is raised without petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Farmers who act as stewards of the lands rather than just raping their fields for what they can get, are going to be the salvation of us all.  And besides, when you buy your food that fresh (picked that day by the farmer who’s selling it to you), you’re getting much more in terms of nutrients and flavour!

SO, with all that in mind, how do I keep the other costs down so I can afford to drink organic milk and local organic produce?  Here are some of my strategies:

– Trying to only make a meat-based meal once per week.  I figure, if I can buy good local organic meat once a week, it’s no more expensive than buying cheaper meat several times a week.  But it’s better.

– Buying cans of tomatoes by the flat, and use them as a base for many meals.  That means pasta sauces, soups, chilis, etc.  Buying them by the flat, or when they’re on sale, means they’re around a dollar per can, so as long as I don’t add many fancy ingredients, I can usually make a cheap meal that will last at least until tomorrow’s lunch if not tomorrow’s dinner.

– Cooking our meals from scratch.  This happens almost all of the time.  So when I shop, I’m buying ingredients, and not paying someone else to screw up my food for me.  I can do that very well myself, thank you very much.

– Making my own bread.  It’s delicious and now that I’ve found The Sandy Hill People Food Co-Op, it’s pretty cheap too!  Their organic bread flour is $1.75 per kilo, while the Herb & Spice has the same flour marked up to $4.75 per kilo!  Sure, I have to bike across the canal to get it, and pay the $15 yearly membership fee, but it’s still a lot cheaper than buying flour in centretown.  As I wrote about in this post, Sourdough is a cheap and delicious hobby, and it keeps our bread costs way down.

– Cheap breakfast foods.  My and my daughter’s favourites are peanut butter toast, and oatmeal.  My husband doesn’t eat breakfast, but he does like eating Corn Flakes at other times of the day so that is the only “commercial” cereal we buy.  It hurts me every time I pay for it, but it’s non-negotiable!

– Making coffee at home and taking it to work in a nice stainless-steel travel mug.  One of my coups is convincing my husband that Starbucks does not deserve $2.50 of our money every single day (and sometimes more than that).  Of course it’s easy for me since I am off coffee until Tiny Baby is born (HOW many more days is that???), but it only takes a *little* more organization in the morning, and it adds up to big savings, even if we buy fancy coffee by the pound.

– Urban foraging.  Now this is just a fledgeling hobby of mine, but last year I canned some truly beautiful cherries that I picked off a tree down the road.  This year I’m already eyeing the crab apple trees and the rose bushes and making plans for jellies and teas.  I’m also fishing around my Sudbury family members to find some good rhubarb patches, since there’s nothing lovelier on a winter morning than oatmeal with a dollop of preserved stewed rhubarb.  I have read the blog of a woman who forages for a huge percentage of her meals.  And while the bounty of Ottawa is nothing to compare to that of France where she is, I’m inspired to start searching for edible weeds and possibly even dumpster diving for “expired” produce . . .

– Shopping at Costco, strategically.  Costco is an overwhelming crazy place, but it does have cheap(er) milk products.  Organic milk, cream for coffee, butter, and cheese, are all significantly cheaper at Costco than elsewhere.  So are their flats of canned tomatoes, and most of their paper products like Kleenex and toilet paper.  I try to get there as often as my brother can handle it (once every few months or so).

So there you have it.  Those are most of my food-related money-saving strategies.  I’m always learning more, so this list might get updated pretty soon!

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