Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The care and keeping of a large family - food shopping

When people ask me how many kids we have, the second question I invariably get (after they've recovered from their shock) is "How do you do it?" I thought I would do a few posts on that subject, starting with my very favorite subject - food. ;o)

Those who've known us for many years know that I used to be the queen of the coupon. I could feed our family of 14 on $500-800 a month, and that included diapers, pet food and household stuff (cleaning supplies, detergents, toilet paper, etc.). The problem was, even though we ate a fair amount of fruits and veggies, we were still relying heavily on prepackaged and convenience foods because I could get them for next to nothing. Here's a picture from my old couponing days (this photo comes from our kitchen remodel post).

I would spend a couple of hours each week getting my shopping lists and coupons together, and then I would shop 2-3 times per week at multiple stores. I definitely saved a lot of money, but it wasn't the best diet, and it did take a big chunk out of my limited free time.

Since we cut meat and dairy out of our diets, the way I purchase groceries has COMPLETELY changed, and it's so much nicer! For one, my grocery trips are limited to one every week, and I can even stretch it to two weeks. The grocery store is now just a fill-in for me. I buy things like chips and cereal and bottled items, plus our household products, but that's about it.

This is how I do my shopping now:

Once a month

Once a month I go to Costco and buy primarily stuff for my kids' lunches. I typically get lunch packs of Veggie Chips, dried fruit/nuts, pita chips, hummus cups, juice boxes, nori snack packs (my kids love these!), granola bars, etc. I also buy Kirkland organic salsa and chips, bulk bags of organic rice, quinoa, oatmeal, etc. Sometimes they have vegan veggie patties, egg rolls, potstickers and stuff, so I buy those on occasion. I always buy cases of organic rice and soy milk, too, because it's cheaper than anywhere else. While I'm in Billings for my Costco run, I also stop at my favorite health food store and stock up on soy yogurt for the month.

Another monthly grocery option we take advantage of is the Azure Standard delivery truck. This is where we get most of our specialty vegan products. Their prices are very competitive (much cheaper than Whole Foods, which we don't even have). I typically order coconut milk yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream, and Daiya shredded cheeses, plus Clif granola bars, bulk flours, grains, and sweeteners. I get 25 lb bags of organic whole wheat pastry flour and big bags of organic oatmeal from them, too. Some of these products can be purchased locally, but Azure's prices are much better. The only thing they don't have good prices on is produce, although their produce is very good. Anyway, everything is delivered here on the first Monday of each month and it takes all of 10 minutes to grab our boxes from the truck and get them home. It's worth checking to see if they have a drop in your area. Very often the stops are made at Seventh-Day Adventist churches. You can contact Azure (link above) to find out if/where they stop in your area.

A third thing we take advantage of Amazon's Subscribe and Save offerings. I have several things mailed to me each month, including Amy's chili, lunch cartons of chocolate soy and almond milk, dishwasher detergent, toothpaste, hair spray, and other household items. I buy cruelty-free cleaning products from them for much less than I can buy them locally, if they can be found. (I do get Ecos laundry detergent from WalMart for a good price, though.) Shipping is free, and the prices are great!

Once a week

I order three Bountiful Baskets each week, and I alternate conventional and organic baskets every other week for variety and to help keep the price down. I try very hard to plan my meals around the produce we get so that I don't have to run to the store for any fill-in items. Once in a while I have to, but usually I don't. We get enough that we have plenty for a fresh fruit and vegetable in the lunches each day, as well as fruits and veggies for each dinner. For those not familiar with Bountiful Baskets, it's a co-op in which each participant pools his/her money with other participants to purchase fresh produce. S/he also agrees to donate time periodically for unloading the truck and distributing the produce. The conventional baskets are $15, and organic are $25, with each basket being roughly 50% fruit and 50% veggies. You don't know what you'll get ahead of time, but that's half the fun of it for me. :o) Bountiful Baskets also offers various add-ons, which change from week to week. They offer Mexican and Asian packs, cases of single fruits or veggies, tortillas (the most amazing things ever!), granola, olive oil, bread (also amazing), as well as special add-ons around the holidays (cookie kits, hostess packs, gingerbread houses, etc.) For $15, you get a GIANT basket of food. I've priced it out on occasion and it has always saved me a lot of money. Especially when I end up with 20 avocados or something, I feel pretty darn good about it. ;o)

Here are a couple of examples of what I bring home each Saturday (but again, we order three baskets, plus occasional extras like the case of oranges below).

And as I mentioned previously, I go to a real grocery store once a week, but mostly for household items and odds and ends and for things the kids need. I keep a menu posted on the fridge (which I'll talk about in another post) where family members can jot down anything they've noticed that we're out of or that they need for school.

Shopping this way has revolutionized my life. When I had a smaller family, I would wander the aisles of the grocery store with no list and no direction, randomly throwing stuff into my cart and trying to remember to get the rest of the ingredients for a particular meal once I decided on something. I invariably forgot things, and because I never gave any advance thought to it, I never felt like we had anything to eat in the house. I was always throwing away spoiled food, and we ate out WAY too much. We rarely eat out now, but if we do, it's generally because we've planned it.

In the next post, I'll talk about how all this food turns into meals for my family! :o)

No comments:

Post a Comment