Over the past year or so, as I've been working more and more outside the home with my Zumba career, I've been posting less and less on here about the food we eat. Part of that is because when my camera broke and I've been unable to afford to replace it (today's my birthday if anyone wants to get me one as a present), my posts would have lost a lot of visual appeal since I can't use pictures. But a bigger part of that is embarrassment. I've been moving more to convenience food since teaching up to three Zumba classes a day creates a physical toll and leaves me exhausted (if you're not familiar, a Zumba instructor typically burns between 800 and 1200 calories per class, so we're talking serious physical exertion) and this is on top of homeschooling four kids and being a single mom to those four kids, with all the time and effort that entails. I don't always have time to make happy homecooked meals (I've been trying to make friends with my slow cooker, but it is taking some getting used to) and the kids frequently have to fend for themselves at mealtime, since that's often when I'm working, and that is reflected in the groceries I buy now.
But the time for shame is done. Judge me if you want, but I know my struggles and I know I'm doing the best I can with what I have. I'm going to start sharing what I buy in the form of actual grocery lists and/or receipts (probably lists, since that's easier to read) and recipes as applicable (see above about kids fending for themselves, which frequently involves horrible things like Pizza Rolls or SpaghettiOs). A lot of people are going through similar struggles and if I can help even one family stretch their food dollar so their tummies are actually full, that makes any personal humiliation totally worthwhile.
For a long time, I didn't even have to worry about how much we were spending on food. Coming from a history of having $20-30 a week to feed the family, when we started getting $600+ a month in food stamps, I could buy pretty much anything I wanted. Since I'm allergic to gluten (thank goodness it isn't the kids that are!), that frequently manifested in getting a lot of fancypants gluten free products, so I could still have things like bread or crackers. Those days of luxury came to an end though when I got a notification from the state that our SNAP benefits were getting shut off because I "didn't work enough" (in other words, they lost the ginormous stack of papers I had compiled and submitted to them documenting how much I work and what I make doing it). Rather than trying to fight a bureaucracy so famous for screwing things up anyway, I decided to make do with what I had. (The whole story of that decision can be found here) If you don't use the balance on a SNAP card, at least in Michigan, the money is there until you spend it. Once the last month was deposited on my card, I had about $700 to last our family indefinitely.
I budgeted that $700 out to be about $50 a week, so it will last several months, into the time of year when my Zumba classes are most likely to build (Yay, for New Years Resolutions!) and hopefully I'll be able to pay cash for my family's food. This series is the story of where that money is going, to stretch it that far. Unlike artificial "food stamp challenges", I'm not starting with an empty pantry and fridge though. I still have a full-ish fridge, very full freezer due to garden harvests as much as shopping trips, and stuff in the pantry. I get to use that to prepare my family's food, since, again, this isn't an artificial "food stamp challenge", but rather the real life of my family.
Before I start posting my actual groceries, I want to share how I'm making my lists these days. I'm trying to keep a supply of food in the house, as I mentioned, that the kids can get on their own. They range in age from four to 14, but between them, they can "make" pretty much anything from a mix or that they just have to heat, but are unwilling to try to actually cook, so real food is pretty much out on the nights I'm not home. (In case you're wondering, I'm usually too exhausted to eat after my classes or I just heat up some leftovers.) So with this in mind, as well as watching out for ingredients I'll use to make stuff when I am home, I start my shopping with the weekly ad. I am mostly looking for really good sales with this, particularly value added things, where if you by X, you get Y for free, whether Y be more of X or a completely different items. I start off by writing down anything I'd like to buy, marking the sale prices in the margin of the paper, but am still flexible on quantities or whether I'll actually get it at that point. Then, I check out the coupons. Since the store I shop at doesn't double coupons anymore, I don't bother doing full on clipping anymore, but I'll look for items that are on my list to see if I can save any extra. Then I figure out how much of each thing to get. If there are any of those value added deals, I'll make sure to include the appropriate quantities to get the best deal. From there, I consider how many I would like to get and how many will fit in my budget and still let me get the other things I want. All through this, I'm tallying up my totals to make sure I don't go over. Once I get to the store, I stick to the list. Period. There is no last minute changes. Period. It is what it is.
Thursday, I'll share my first shopping trip Feeding 5 for $50, which actually took place on 10/24/13.