Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grocery Prices Are Going UP! Now What?? #lowcarb #frugal

It is getting harder and harder to eat low carb meals cheaply. I've never seen the price of food rise so much, so quickly, in the 35+ years I've been buying groceries. On many of my usual purchases the price has doubled in the last year. It is impossible to buy as much as I did when I started this blog, for the same prices. Even while I'm spending more, however, I'm also finding ways to stretch our dollar. Some of things I'm doing now, I've always done - but now it is even more important if I want to continue to feed my husband and myself (and several days a week, my grandson) as well as I always have.

I want to mention that we are big meat eaters. We like a big hunk of meat on our plates, and I typically serve it with 2 veggies. Once a week or so we do have a potato also, which many (most?) low carbers don't do. But we do. On potato days I can get away with a smaller portion of meat, which is of course our biggest cost.

First - and I've always done this, for the most part - I only buy meats that fit in with my budget. I have $/# in my head that I won't go over: $3.25 for beef, $2.00 for pork ($3.00 for bacon), $4.00 for fish, and $1.00 for chicken. Mostly I can get my meats at a meat market in the next town, and they have excellent quality fresh meats there. I usually make a trip there once a month - sometimes more, sometimes less - and then throughout the month if I'm at another market and see meat on sale that falls within, or below, these prices, I buy as much of it as I can afford and it goes into the chest freezer.

Second, in season I buy fresh vegetables, and I shop the "last day" racks at the local markets when I'm already there for other things, then plan the next day's meals around what I buy. What I can't buy fresh, I buy frozen in big bags - 2.5-5# - usually from Gordon's. I've always done this, but never really shopped the "last day" racks so much. Roadside stands are a wonderful way to save on fresh produce, but we don't have many (any?) that I've seen around here.

Third, I'm in the process of learning to make my own condiments and pasta. I bought a pasta maker, and am experimenting until I can get a decent result (which I will post here). Once I can do a decent pasta, that will replace one of our more expensive meals once in a while. Ketchup is nearly $3 for a small bottle (the 1gN kind from Heinz), and mayo has more than doubled in price since last year for a smaller jar. Forget that! I have a blender, I have eggs and oil and I'm not afraid to use them :). But it is typically less expensive - and definitely gives you more control over what goes into your body - to make as many foods yourself as you can, rather than buy processed.

Fourth, shop around, including the internet. If you live in a city where low carb ingredients are available (I don't, our small town has mostly the basics), compare the prices locally with amazon.com, netrition.com, honeyvillegrain.com and others. Watch for free shipping offers (Amazon Prime has saved me a LOT of money...although not necessarily on food) and sign up for newsletters and sale flyers through email. Always figure your price per ounce or pound, and include shipping costs if buying online - but also include costs for your time and gas if shopping locally! If you drive past your local health food store all the time anyway, not a problem; if you have to go out of your way, or to the next town, a low shipping fee (or all for one price shipping, like netrition.com charges) may be less expensive, with gas prices being what they are. Typically I buy my flours and baking products, sweeteners, and some of my seasonings online.

Fifth, buy whole, and make it small for yourself. This applies to big hunks (tenderloins or whole strips) and "family size" packages of meat as well as grains (flax, quinoa) and other dry foods (nuts). MUCH less expensive in many cases, especially when you find a sale! A small coffee grinder from KMart for less than $20 is perfectly adequate to make rough flour and meals out of most dry ingredients. There are exceptions but most of the time, you can get more for less.

Sixth, make adjustments. My husband and I both eat larger meals (although I don't eat as much at a sitting as I did before my fundoplication surgery in December), and I have learned over the years that if I try to reduce portion sizes, my husband especially will go looking for snacks a short time later - and an additional snack costs more than a larger portion. But I will often reduce the portion sizes of the more expensive parts of the meal, and increase the portion sizes of the cheaper parts of the meal. Also, sometimes adding a sauce made from the drippings (the seasoned oil the veggies were roasted in plus the meat drippings, a pinch of xanthan gum and a squirt of cream) which would otherwise go to waste will also add to satiety, enabling me to reduce portion sizes.

Seventh, replace at least one meat dish with a casserole every week. No, not with noodles and rice, as we did before :) but with other filling but lower carb options. My casseroles typically consist of meats - but in smaller quantities -and vegetables, lots of different kinds of vegetables!, with some high-fiber additions (baby corn, water chestnuts) and a fatty sauce to fill us up. (Fat=satiety and we don't have to fear fat when we're eating low carb!) Add some low carb rolls or biscuits from one of the trillions of recipes on the web and in low carb cookbooks, and you've got a great meal plus leftovers for lunch the next day!

Lastly, I have made cuts in other areas of my budget that enable me to spend a little more on food. This is a personal choice, and not one that many would want to make. But for me, making a single tank of gas stretch for an entire week and keeping the thermostat at 62 instead of 65 are acceptable trade-offs. We like our beef twice a week and our fish every week, both of which are more expensive and also more important to us than extra trips in our gas-hog van or walking around the house without a sweater. And as dairy prices have skyrocketed but we aren't willing to give up our cheeses, cream, and butter we need to make a way to pay for those. It's rotten when we have to choose between heat and healthy food but such is our country now, decisions made by leaders who don't have to pinch every penny...but that's a post for another blog :).

Hope some of my changes will help you too!