Frugal Grocery Week

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..


narf7 said…
I could put my hand up and say emphatically "Oh, I can do that, it's easy. I won't even spend $1 on groceries this week but that would be cheating as we only shop once a fortnight for groceries ;). I follow A Girl Called Jack. Not only do you get recipes for cheap and healthy grub but you also get an excellent running social commentary. My kind of gal. While Stevie-boy and I have no debt, we realise that things can turn on a shilling (read that adage not so long back and have stolen it as my own ;) ) and we are always up for ways to make what we have go further. I have cut sugar out also and found myself wanting "breakfast cake" the other day. I went with a chickpea brownie recipe (that had sugar in it) and I tweaked it so much I ended up with a completely different recipe (that I call chocolate date breakfast cake) that relies on dates for sweetening and that was delicious. I threw in a can of chickpeas, a large whole apple and dates and winged it. Sometimes you just have to wing it to find out if it will work. From the same experiment I found out that a whole apple, some cocoa, a cup of dates and a can of chickpeas makes the very best chocolate pudding. Another bonus recipe apparently ;)

Do you have a food processor/blender? If so, you have the means to make minute oats. I make them out of pearled barley and millet etc. I get lots of healthy whole grains and then turn them into "flour" in my blender and cook them up. My most interesting experiment on the whole grains breakfast idea was to throw in split peas and red lentils. I needed a whole LOT of dates to cover over that "interesting flavour" ;).

"Necessity is the mother of invention"
Jo said…
Fran, ha ha, too clever with the fortnightly grocery shopping! Now your challenge is to spend $42 next fortnight:)

That is a brilliant idea re blending the oats - I will give it a whirl(!!).

Your chickpea and date repertoire is astounding. I know I have a chickpea brownie recipe somewhere. It sounds very wrong, but chickpeas are very bland after all, and would no doubt make a very moist cake. I will put it on my list of things to try.
I read the $21 challenge book a while ago from the library. It is a great idea! I am doing the Independence Days challenge at the moment from the book of the same name. Have you seen that before? Come over and have a look if you like - it is on every Thursday!
Great to meet another Aussie here, especially from Tassie - from favourite place in the world! I would so live there if hubby would move. Which part of you from (only if you want to say!)
Look forward to following your simple living and saving.
Mimi said…
Jo first of all, thankyou for spelling 'reined in' properly amongst other things, and secondly for raising the issue of The Top Up Shop as a budget saboteur. Yes, poor grammar and spelling irks me no end. I'm sorry. The 'your' instead of 'you're', there, their and they're getting all jumbled, and people writing Wallah, when they mean 'voila'. It's all part of the hazard of the world wide web, isn't it. I have to say that I admire your stance of not resorting to cupcakes and damper as a fallback position despite the easy access to flour and sugar. Well done. As for chick peas and the right context, they're a good combo. Raw Caramel Truffles spring to mind. Call them Protein Balls, and you can eat them for breakfast if you like. As for The Top Up Shop....well...guilty here. Very naughty really. I either resist completely and substitute madly, or I go in there and do a full shop instead of a Top Up. Sigh. And the $31 you spent on your $21 Challenge? Well that book is a bit long in the tooth now, and $42 is the new $21. On that basis, you did well! Mimi xxx
Jo said…
Hi Jane, welcome, it is lovely to see you here:) I had to look up Independence Days Challenge - I thought it sounded familiar, and of course, it is from Sharon Astyk's work. She is so amazing. I will pop in and see how your Independence Days are going:)

I love Tasmania too. We moved here on a whim nineteen years ago, and I will never leave! I am in Launceston, up north, where the winds are less arctic..

Mimi, I have to confess to being a bit of a grammar and punctuation Nazi myself. I wondered if it would be too rude to write a whiny post pointing out the difference between its and it's etc, and that there is definitely no 'a' in definitely.. however the blueday audience is not the target demographic, so I have so far refrained..

I have never done a $21 challenge before, and I am sure you have done many, and no doubt contributed any number of recipes to the book - certainly you are my great mentor on that site, and I am convinced that you know how to do everything:)
Bek said…
I am in! I need to rein in my budget also! Luckily I just did a large shop at the farmers market so have lots of protein options in the freezer. Just need to be more creative with my stores and garden veg to ensure nil or minimal buying. I needed a challenge like this! Cheers.
Jo said…
Bek, oh, goody, company:) At least we know we both have lots of passata and pasta sauce to fall back on! Also I have a year's worth of jam and relish, and I am sure you do too. There are advantages to summer preserving:)
Anonymous said…
Gah, groceries are the bane of my existence. I'm determined to spend less, but the Wee Ferals seem to think that eating their way through the pantry when they get home is totally acceptable. I don't know if we can manage $21 a week - I almost spend that on milk alone (I'm not allowed to buy the cheap milk from the supermarket because farmers. Which I agree with, damn it.) But I am attempting to not go to the supermarket more than once a fortnight and just buy fruit and veg each week. And we have completely cut back on take aways. We were having takeaway a couple of times a week. We're down to once a fortnight, so yay for meal planning.
Anonymous said…
I'm impressed that you are attempting $21/week for groceries for 4 people.
When my sons were still at home I always had a grocery budget,but it was (if I remember correctly) at least $50/week, and that was a few years ago.
I saved money by stocking up on the weekly sale items, I always cooked from scratch(except for the horrid 4 years I worked full time)

These days, with just the two of us we don't have a budget, we still stock up at the sales, we don't buy many prepackaged meals and I eat from the garden in the summer.And of course a pound of meat could last us 2-3 days.
I will confess here and now that my husband does the cooking and the grocery shopping, he goes to 3-4 stores each week buying up the sale items, so we could really, not shop for 6 months and we wouldn't go hungry
To be fair to me though I do the baking :)

Jo said…
Ah yes Miss maudy, the eating-through-the-pantry syndrome. I tend to be mean about that, but then, there is nothing really fun in our pantry. Crackers, almonds, sultanas, dates.. that's it really. Our after school snacks consist of - grilled cheese on toast, fruit, pop corn, cheese and crackers, or stewed fruit and yoghurt. The girls make horrible concoctions of oats, yoghurt and dried fruit.. and yes, expensive milk, yoghurt and eggs. We could be so thrifty if we didn't have ethics!
Well done you for meal planning. I am not so good at that, although I always plan to plan..

Marieann, goodness, $21 is not my normal grocery budget - I would be so impressed with myself if I could feed four for that every week - the $21 challenge is just for one week, thankfully, to counteract the recent overspending. You sound all set to weather the apocalypse with your 6 months' worth of food tucked away:)
Minerva said…
I am fortunate enough to have a good job, so don't have to worry too much about the budget, but I do get great enjoyment eating through the pantry and using up bits and pieces. Have you thought about muesli bars for after school snacks? If you have flour, sugar oats and dried fruit and nuts you have most of what you need. My current recipe is from Kitchen Wench (easily Googled) and can be endlessly varied according to what is in the pantry. Daughter is vegan, so I use maple syrup or golden syrup instead of honey, and you have me thinking I might use dates in my next batch! x
Jo said…
Minerva, found and bookmarked that recipe - thank you for that! I have been looking for a good muesli bar recipe for ages, but none have been 'quite right'. It is brilliant for when the kids go straight from school to sport and need something to keep them going. Will have to wait until next week though - we have used up all the dried fruit, except a packet of prunes I found at the back of the cupboard:)
Anonymous said…
Despite being a longtime SimpleSavings member, I've never done a $21 challenge. I have extended my shopping and missed the occassional week, but it's a rare thing. I prefer to call my challenges, shop the pantry.

And know you haven't failed. The $21 challenge is a concept, not a set amount. And it started years ago, so with inflation, allow more than $21, if you were to be strict with it.
Jo said…
Ooh, I like shop the pantry:) Last night I made some hideous bean burgers with kidney beans. I even followed a recipe, but it was false advertising. Boo. Tonight, roast chicken, or there will be a mutiny..
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Top work and very thoughtful stuff. You could make your own yoghurt too? One $5 sachet of culture extends to 3kg of Greek yogurt here and if you put a whole lot of effort into it you can extend that culture for much further again. I try to stick to what is doable as there are just so many different things to get my head around. No point in trying to do everything all at once.

Buying in bulk is also an option if it is possible in your part of the world. Every man and their dog seems to grow potatoes around here and 10kg sacks can be had for $10. I've started buying huge quantities of organic rolled oats in 20kg sacks. Plus, if nothing else, shop at the local market - if you have one - because most of the fruit and veg there is all seconds and heaps cheaper (the firsts are exported or end up in supermarkets) than at the supermarket. As Harcourt - which is one of the big apple growing areas of Australia - is only just north of here, sometimes I wizz up there and pick up huge boxes of seconds apples: Cider, chook food, dog food, breaky fruit is all there for the taking if you can purchase stuff in bulk. Even good quality flour (I use a pasta dura style of flour) for bread making purposes in bulk is heaps cheaper than buying it by the kg or two. Plus you can use that to make pasta, dog food, biscuits, cakes. Nice to hear that you are not starving! :-)! hehe...

Oh yeah, and working out how to store all of this stuff as well as your own produce is not as easy as it seems. Preserved produce is spilling out of the kitchen here and into other rooms...

Beans and pulses are the traditional diet! How good are chickpeas and lentils? Yum and ham hocks slow cooked added to a lentil soup base.... Your post is starting to make me salivate.

Exactly, stick to the spirit of the law and try and enjoy yourself at the same time. It all takes experimentation and hard won experience to learn all of this stuff and most cooking is a huge amount of fun. I've been working on how to churn out 80+ dog biscuits in batches without it seeming like a massive amount of hard work - using the wood oven - recently and it all takes sweat labour. But it sure beats working for the man instead!


Jo said…
Hey Chris, you are a veritable fountain of bright ideas! Yes, yoghurt is on my list of 'things to try in winter when I can stop in the garden already' - oops, and here we are! So yoghurt next!

I am admiring your enthusiasm for making dog biscuits - are your dogs impressed? My dog appears to eat anything except broccoli, so I generally feed him left overs, except if there is onion in it. Roast veg are very popular, pumpkin soup, anything with meat obviously. If it looks like it needs more protein I crack an egg over it, and he is so happy!

Yes, I buy lots in bulk, and store it all over the place. I stopped buying breakfast cereals, so there was another cupboard freed up to store lentils and rice!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Yes, time gets away from us. Dogs are impressed and yeah, they're not very fussy! Glad to hear that you are buying in bulk. Cheers. Chris
Barb. said…
I need to do something like this again. Our freezer is so full and we have a young bull that needs to go...Might give it some serious thought.

Jo said…
Barb, that sounds like an absolutely airtight reason to eat down the freezer! I can't imagine how much space a bull might take up - probably more than my boring suburban freezer holds! Good luck!

Popular Posts