Last night I announced to the girls that our fun activity for this week would be eating out of the fridge and pantry. I am doing pretty well sticking to my grocery budget, or I was, but somehow the totals have crept up in the last few weeks leaving me almost a week over budget with the grocery money. Damn you, organic rooibos teabags and family size blocks of chocolate that were voted 'Most Desired Dessert' several weeks in a row (luckily we only have dessert once a week now, or we would all be waddling).
I do want to make it clear that we are not in any danger of starving to death here, like sad orphans in the snow. The Man is covering all of the children's expenses, and some of mine as well so that I don't have to work a lot while Posy is still at primary school. Still, a budget is a budget is a budget, and unlike the federal government I don't get to work on a deficit, so the food budget is being reined in.
I joined an Australian Savings forum earlier this year, Simple Savings, which is a brilliant site with a million ideas for living better with less (yes, there is a theme in my life this year), and a forum full of amazing people who can do absolutely anything (much like Blueday readers - I was gobsmacked at the range of comments on the my last post - you all make SOAP. And toothpaste. You are all green gods and goddesses). It was there that I met Mimi and Annabel, and also bumped into Lucinda under an alias. You see, all the best people hang out there.
Now, to get to the point of this long-winded story - one of the most popular ideas to come out of Simple Savings is the $21 challenge. The challenge is to only spend $21 on groceries for a week, and for the rest to eat out of the freezer and pantry. And garden, of course. And maybe go visit your mum one night.. only kidding. That would be an expensive night out for me!
So this afternoon I will be popping out to buy milk, yoghurt, and a couple of potatoes. Because we ran out. I do have three pumpkins though, and all the warrigul greens in the world in the garden, and about fifty apples left on the tree. There is flour and some rice, lots of dried beans and lentils, but no chocolate:(
Last night I stewed up some apples for snacks with plain yoghurt and honey, which The Girl took to work today. I also made the last of the roast chicken into soup with chickpeas for the little girls to take for lunch, and made a giant pot of chili which I could happily eat all week, but certain other demanding members of the family will probably require more variety. Yesterday also we ran out of quick oats which the girls use to make their breakfast in the microwave, so I soaked some proper oats last night, and made real three-bears porridge this morning. The Girl and I both liked it better than the quick oats version, Rosy didn't like it, but ate it and Posy refused to try it, so fifty percent success rate with that one - par for the course around here.
There are several things I like about this challenge, which makes it worthwhile even if you are not concerned about your grocery budget (is there such a person?). First, it reduces waste because you have no recourse to that sneaky mid-week 'top-up shop'. Second, it makes you more creative with your cooking and food choices (Vegemite and sardines on toast anyone?). Third, it forces you to try new things (today Posy ate chickpea and chicken soup much against her better judgement, and discovered she likes it!). Fourth, it is great training and role-modelling for any children of the house who will be leaving home and doing it tough as uni students, apprentices, or in first badly-paid jobs and need to know about the budget is a budget is a budget mantra.
Of course, the easiest thing to do on this challenge is resort to flour and sugar, the cheapest calories. I have enough flour and sugar in the house to make every day a riot of cup cakes, pancakes, scones, and an endless parade of bread and jam. BUT, we have cut right back on sugar, and are trying very hard not to eat much in the way of refined flour either, so our fall back position is oats, lentils and dried beans. We have a whole chicken, some mince meat and bacon in the freezer, and providentially, a block of cheese and some eggs. It would be easier if I made up a menu, so I might go and do that now..
While I do that, for any one trying to cook on a budget, I love the recipes on A Girl Called Jack. And the best book for cooking frugally and without waste is Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal. Not a recipe book, but a book which will show you how to cook 'with economy and grace'. Perfect.
Several hours later: well, in between driving back and forth to dancing classes numerous times this afternoon, I popped into the Vegie Shed, where I spent $31 on vegies, milk, eggs and yoghurt. Technically I have already failed the $21 challenge, but as it happens, I am less of a letter of the law, and more of a spirit of the law person, so in the spirit of the $21 challenge, I am about to embark on a week of not spending any more on groceries. Would anyone like to join me?
Updated to add: So Bek has totally upped the ante and is going to do the $21 challenge until the end of June. She is clearly an adventurous soul, but then she also has a magnificent back yard food garden, but then again, it is winter.. why not pop over and see how she is going..