Wow, how is it late February already? We’ve had an absolutely delightful Valentine’s Day, our oldest turned 14 and just gets better with age, and I’ve been traveling more frequently for work. But we did something else as well, that has taken much more creative effort, and that is to (albeit temporarily) completely stop bulk-buying groceries. It’s time to start seeds too, which always gives me hope for spring.
I write this as we head into another weekend of freezes, after snow and ice hit us – and a lot of people across the US – while I was in Florida on my last business trip. When I finally got home at 3 am after multiple delays, home could have been an ice cave for all I cared, so long as it had my family and my pillow in it. This winter has been an oddly warm one in Massachusetts, but we’ve already had one polar vortex, and this weekend is shaping up to be pretty frigid.
But back to no bulk-buying, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom on how to procure groceries. Still, there’s a method to my madness.
In January, the focus was on our pantry challenge, which was a mixed bag when time got to be an equal challenge for us, and we spent a chunk more than planned on food, but still a lot less than usual. And we ate significant space into our freezers and pantry, and used up things that had been lingering around. There’s still more work to do there, but overall I’d give us a B-. Not A+ grade, but still pretty decent.
But the other thing that I’ve been trying to address is that our grocery bill has spiked hugely since the pandemic started in March of 2020 for a variety of reasons. For one, unlike those that had time for hobbies, I work in Mortgage Servicing, and the pandemic job losses and governmental programs that launched to help struggling borrowers meant that we were busier than we had ever been before. I regularly put in 12 hour days, time on weekends, and logged in at night after everyone’s evening routine had wrapped up and I kept this up for multiple years. No sourdough art bread for us, between that and the kids schooling at home we were slammed. Which meant putting homemade food on the table required a lot less analysis and a lot more winging it.
Lots of mindless grocery shopping happened. Lots.
And with the kids home and everyone uncertain about the future, we started buying a lot more snacks and junk food than we had ever before, which we’ve tapered significantly, but that definitely added to the bill. What at first was a ‘whatever-gets-you-through-today‘ philosophy simply morphed into less-healthy habits and a higher grocery bill.
And of course shortages, and inflation. Add that together and our pantry and freezers were always full, but too full and with a complete lack of knowledge of what was in there.
So step 1 was to really concentrate on using things up. Step 2 was really to re-focus on meal planning not just for dinners but breakfast and lunches as well, and buy what we needed, and very little else. I mean, occasionally we needed chocolate covered pretzels or strawberry cheesecake Ben & Jerry’s but doesn’t everyone?
We really needed to get a grip, and we started to. And when we looked at our shopping habits, what I realized was that while stock up shops at Costco or BJs happened about once a quarter pre-pandemic, they were happening a lot more frequently once Covid hit. We never ran out of anything, and it was like having our own grocery store at home. Which is great, honestly, because we could make anything we wanted anytime, but also a little silly after we got vaccinated, boosted and were able to get out more. Groceries are meant to be used up.
So I shifted gears completely. Dinner meal plans were made and (mostly) adhered to. We reduced our meat intake, something we’d been working on separately. And we added a lot more vegetables, also working on 30 unique plant-based foods a week, which is a whole lot.
Our food budget has gone way down – on a weekly basis, we’re spending about $160 including several gallons of milk from our local dairy. Last week and this we spiked over $200, but that was because we were actually out of things we never run out of, like those aforementioned snacks. Even with baking cookies weekly to add to school lunches, there comes a point where you need to buy some things.
And we do still shop to recipes, because cravings! Like this amazing buffalo chicken skillet pictured below with ground beef instead of chicken because that’s what we had, but mostly we’re shopping around raw ingredients, sales and using the meats we have from our Walden Local Meat delivery. I’ve made this one 3 times now, and we rave about it each and every time I do.
It was a pretty big paradigm shift to just shop for the week, and the best part is that it has worked extremely well. Where we need to focus next is ensuring that there’s always healthy lunches available to us when we’re short on time during the week, but our weeknights have been remarkably smooth and pretty healthy, all things considered.
It’s true, we do run out of things these days, and it definitely requires a bit more thought, but it has also been a fun marital collaboration exercise, making a meal plan and a grocery list. Today it was especially fun because both of us had slept very little, and walking to and from the living room where we were lazing in front of the fire to check to see if we had things like lemons left felt like a lot of work, so when Eli managed to be the one to ensure we didn’t overbuy, it felt like an achievement. Try to keep in mind that the kitchen and the living room are about 8 feet apart. We are nothing if not exciting here at Sithean. This week we had a lot more leftover veggies and food because I traveled, but conversely we had a dinner request from my son and we were out of some things that we needed.
So what does that mean in practice? Well, we did already have lots of food in bulk form, so we’ve been eating that down. We’ve made exceptions for a few items, like rice, that we normally buy from the Asian grocery store in 15-lb bags, and go through about every couple months. But mostly we’re buying what we can eat in a week, and supplementing with items in our freezer and pantry. We’ll still do quarterly stock-ups at big bulk stores, and while we’ve trimmed down what we get from Amazon’s subscribe and save service, we still do have some items supplementing our normal grocery shopping.
So what does it look like? This week we ordered groceries from Whole Foods/Amazon because we would have otherwise been to multiple stores. While their prices are high on some things, they are also often lower on vegetables, and the produce is very fresh.
I’ve included our whole order with exact amounts below. This week included more meat than usual because my son requested Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon and Eli wanted homemade bread to go with it. We were running low on flour, which is normally delivered to us every few months in 30-lb quantities, so I ended up buying a 5-lb bag of it. We were also out of bacon, which normally comes with our Walden Local Meat delivery. I would say meat added another 25% cost to our budget, something to consider in the future. We already had the baby potatoes, onions and mushrooms, as well as beef broth, so it was the bacon and beef that were the costs.
And I accidentally orderd 1.5 lbs of deli sliced cheddar instead of .5 lbs, so we’ll be finding ways to eat cheese. And we bought eggs because while the chickens are laying intermittently, the cold tends to put them off of production.
Fortunately for us, cheese consumption isn’t typically a problem. And we have pineapple, honeydew, apples and oranges for fruit, along with a few blackberries we’ll eat in the next 24 hours.
So what does this week’s menu look like?
Friday : For breakfast Connor and Eli made me and themselves some eggs – Connor’s first omelet was delicious! I supplemented with Trader Joe’s bake-your-own croissants from the freezer, which are a favorite treat around here.
Instant pot beef bourguignon and homemade bread were dinner for 3 of the 4 of us, since our oldest met friends for dinner. The weather was cold and I was tired from traveling all week for work, so this was a lovely warm dinner to sit down to, and not a lot of effort.
Saturday: Dinner out, our annual Igloo dinner on the water with my parents. Breakfast and lunch were leftover beef stew and bread, eggs and bagels. Oldest had leftovers from dinner out.
Sunday: Waffles and bacon for breakfast, leftovers and catchall for lunch, Stuffed Shells for dinner with salad and cut veggies – I had bought most of the ingredients for the stuffed shells the week prior, and ran out of time to cook them.
We’ll prep cupcakes for my son’s lunches and Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad for lunches. If I have time I’ll make granola. We’ll also cut up the pineapple we bought previously and eat up the last of the blackberries from Misfits Market.
Monday: Breakfast is leftover waffles, or egg sandwiches with English muffins we already had, ham, egg and cheese. Lunches are quinoa salad and whatever supplements catch our eye in the fridge. Eli cooks chicken with plenty of leftovers, broccoli that we already had and rice will be the sides.
Tuesday: Breakfast is pretty similar to Monday, but I’ll probably have scrambled eggs and we have oatmeal as well. Dinner is a simple Chicken Pot Pie Soup, using up some cooked chicken I have in the freezer with salad and cut veggies on the side. The celery was bought last week and really needs to be used.
Wednesday: Our oldest goes to Dad’s after Volleyball, so it’s our son and us. Eli cooks, TBD but we have a lot of peppers from previous shopping trips, so maybe stuffed peppers. Breakfasts again are egg sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or oatmeal.
Thursday: Same breakfasts as before, but usually by this point in the week I’m eating leftovers for a combo breakfast/lunch. It’s just Eli and I, so we’ll make the last 2 frozen salmon fillets in the freezer over cauliflower rice and with some crispy brussels sprouts.
Friday: Simple breakfast – eggs, cereal or oatmeal, and Eli and I will eat Tuna Salad for lunch, which we have everything for already. I tend to add dried cranberries and red onion to it. The kids are with Dad this weekend, so dinners will be simple and healthy for the 2 of us.
Saturday: We’ll probably need a few things for the week, and some more milk, but this week’s grocery shop should be much less. Lunch is TBD, and dinner will be a simple marinated meat or fish with Kale Salad with Crispy Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas. In addition to a few things we’ll need for the week, we’ll get more of the La Fermiere Honey Blossom yogurt, which is a huge splurge and treat, but oh-so-delicious.
Sunday: The kids come home today, and I have one more big package of chicken breasts in the freezer, so I’ll make Sheet Pan Sticky Ginger Sesame Chicken, which I’ve been meaning to try and then also marinate chicken for sheet pan chicken fajitas on Monday and probably prep some chili for lunches during the week as well as chocolate chip cookies for snacks and lunches.
Monday: Sheet pan fajitas, guacamole and salsa, salad
We’ll still have a bunch of food to use up, including a couple of butternut squashes from our autumn stock up, so I’m already planning the next meal plan. It’s almost, but not quite, time to stockpile for a few months, and Eli and I have decided to splurge on a Costco membership, mostly for the reduced-price gas. We still like to go to BJs as well with the Moms because they have things Costco doesn’t, so we’ll try to do that periodically.
Items in your order (40)
Bell & Evans Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
3.83 lb ($7.49/lb)
Beef Stew Meat Grass Fed Step 4
2.97 lb ($10.99/lb)
Weight adjusted from est. 3.00 lb
Wellshire Farms Virginia Baked Ham
0.50 lb ($12.99/lb)
1.50 lb ($8.49/lb)
Burnett Dairy Provolone Cheese
1.00 lb ($8.49/lb)
Bacon Pork Bulk Dry Rub Black Forest
1.00 lb ($10.99/lb)
Onion Green Scallion Conventional, 1 Bunch
Carlson Orchard, Cider Apple, 64 Fl Oz
365 by Whole Foods Market, Eggs Brown Large Grade A, 12 Count
365 by Whole Foods Market, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, 12 Ounce
365 by Whole Foods Market, Pasta Elbows, 16 Ounce
365 by Whole Foods Market, Tater Puffs Organic, 16 Ounce
365 by Whole Foods Market, Mushrooms Mixed Organic, 10 Ounce
King Arthur All Purpose Unbleached Flour, 5 Pound
365 by Whole Foods Market, Olives Green Ripe Pitted Medium, 6 Ounce
PETIT GOURMET French Beans, 16 OZ
365 by Whole Foods Market, Seed Mustard Ground, 1.41 Ounce
Lime Regular Conventional, 1 Each
365 by Whole Foods Market, Syrup Chocolate Organic, 15.8 Ounce
La Fermiere Orange Blosson Honey Yogurt, 4.9 Oz
Sunset, Cucumber Mini, 12 Ounce
365 by Whole Foods Market, Pretzel Chocolate Milk, 5 Ounce
Sunset Grown Honey Bombs Tomatoes, 12 Oz
Organic Navel Oranges, 4 lb Bag
365 By Whole Foods Market, Butter Salted Organic, 16 Ounce
Icelandic Provisions 5.3oz Traditional Skyr Yogurt, Peach Cloudberry, Icelandic Cultured Dairy Product With 15g Protein Per Serving | Thick & Creamy T
365 by Whole Foods Market, Peas Green Petite Organic, 16 Ounce
Little Leaf Farms Crispy Baby Red & Green Leaf Lettuce, 4 Ounce
Better Than Bouillon Organic Roasted Beef Base, Made with Seasoned Roasted Beef, USDA Organic, Blendable Base for Added Flavor, 38 Servings Per Jar, 8
365 by Whole Foods Market, Organic Carrots, 1 lb Bag