Thursday, March 26, 2015

10 ways to eat healthy on a budget

I'm far from a health nut or financial guru, but when the stars align my family is able to prioritize healthy food while maintaining a family budget. After a friend ask me about healthy eating on a budget, this post was born and I officially join a bazillion others who have written on the topic. Stop reading now if you are done with 10 ways to do...anything. I won't be upset.

A good grocery budget is possible (so I've heard), but it can be super hard for the average family. I'd love to stick within our food budget each week, but we can go over. Sadly, this means we dip into our "entertainment" funds to pay the grocery bills. Sure eating is quite enjoyable at times, and I even consider myself a closet foodie, but I am not really okay with our grocery shopping habits snatching up the money we try to set aside for movies, concerts, or theme parks. Or heaven forbid, new shoes or jeans - should things really get out of control. (Girls, it's cool to go barefoot. They're called capri pants!) Maybe if new and exciting restaurants were nibbling away at our entertainment or clothing allotment (joking!, kind of) I would turn a blind eye, but I'm so over giving those allocated funds to my local grocery chain. 

My girls are big eaters, I don't do so bad myself, and my love, Tony, is often training for something - currently an Ironman triathlon. We simply consume a lot of food. I try hard to view this fact in positive light. Two growing kids and a family of healthy, active people - needing lots of food, is a good thing! So is living in a place where organic or high nutrient food is available, even at an increased price. 

Tony and I often have a conversation about our grocery budget and the "cost" of scaling back. As we know, there are many unhealthy options available much cheaper than their nutritious counter parts (hello "dollar menu", government food subsidies, and overwhelming obesity rates among the poor). Simply going with the cheapest items every time doesn't work for us even though our budget decisions have left us with a rather small amount to feed the family. We see our grocery trips as a balancing act and like most areas of our life we try to weigh the pros/cons and sometimes compromise. So please understand, while I am sharing my thoughts on the subject, sometimes we deviate from my grocery shopping ideals as we balance healthy eating with a small grocery budget.

Here are a few things we do fairly consistently: 

1) Skip the meat or pre-packaged meat alternatives. With a vegetarian in our household, the meat-eaters among us often go meat-free; however, I find that the meat alternative products are expensive, too. Do you have to go completely meat-less to make this tip work for you? No, vegetarianism is not for everyone and cutting meat out of your diet even one day a week can have a huge impact on your grocery bill. I read in the Huffington Post article 10 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill While Eating Healthier (they seem to think 10 tips is about all we can handle on this topic, too!) that grocery bills could be higher by $80-$100 a month for a family of four which chooses to eat meat every day of the week. 

2) Cook from scratch. Pizza crust, pie crust, bread, cookies, whipped cream, pancakes, croutons, hot cocoa, french fries, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce. Those are just a few of the foods I easily make from scratch. True, this can be tricky with time constraints, but it really can curb your grocery bill. This is also a great way to control your ingredients and make things a lot healthier. I never add high fructose corn syrup to anything I cook at home, you know!

3) Cook ahead. If I am making pancakes I try to make a ton and freeze them (in freezer safe bags, between pieces of wax paper), so I can pop them in the toaster for breakfast during the week. Also, I love to make extra chili or soup, so that I can freeze it and eat it later in the month. If I cook based off of sale items, then double or triple a recipe, we can eat that same meal later at the discounted price, even if the items are no longer on sale. Bonus: This tip helps save on dishes!

4) Price match and use cell phone app rebates. I tell my grocery store clerk about sales at other stores when their company will price match. If the price matching lowers the price by less than a couple dollars I'm rarely asked to show the ad, although these days you can easily pull them up from your smart phone. I use apps in place of coupons often. Both Ibotta and Checkout 51 (this is not a sponsored post, just sharing the love because) give me rebates on food after I've shopped. The cool thing about apps like these is that unlike most store or manufactures coupons, they will give you cash back (small amounts, but still!) on things like apples, honey, celery, milk, bread (any kind) and eggs. I never see a produce coupon in the paper and eating more fresh food is key in a healthy diet! Bonus: Pair these rebates with traditional or online coupons and maximize the savings!

5) Choose to do without. Not a fun option, but when you need to make it work, sometimes you just go without. Choose meat OR cheese on your sandwich, drink more water instead of juice or pop, etc. Tony and I find that we have to be careful with this tactic. We've felt so deprived on occasion it ends up coming back to bite us. At times we go without for so long that finally we break and binge at the store, because we miss so much stuff. Then feel guilty and go without again for a time to counter act the spending (repeating the cycle over again until we identify it). In the end we end up spending more in the binge than if we had treated ourselves a little bit here and there along the way. So use this advice carefully, and make sure to treat yourself once in a while. We want these habits to stick.

6) Use dried beans (lentils, peas, etc.). We try to buy dried beans. The canned ones are not only more expensive, but also higher in sodium and can have added ingredients. I like to cook the dried beans in a pressure cooker. We were gifted a stove top one for our wedding and I received a microwave pressure cooker for my birthday last year. If you don't have a pressure cooker, don't fret. You can soak beans, lentils, peas, etc. and rehydrate them on your stove top. Just google it! The tricky part when using dried beans can be the need to plan ahead and start your beans the night before (if not hours before). Good news is that you can cook a lot of them - think tip number 3! - and freeze them in smaller servings, so you don't have to go through the whole process so often. Yes, you still have to thaw your beans, but that is faster than going from dried to cooked/rehydrated. Plus, as I already said, they are healthier! 

7) Make your own veggie stock. Making your own stock can be a lot healthier and way cheaper. Keep your veggie ends and scraps (freeze them as you go) and then boil them down into your own homemade veggie stock! I've learned to stay away from cruciferous veggies; broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other green leafy veggies. Also, make sure you save clean vegetable scraps which are not rotten! No one wants dirt or spoiled food in a broth. You can freeze the stock in individual containers based on your common cooking needs, including ice cube trays if you use small amounts in various recipes. Bonus: Even if you don't want to try to make your own stock, products like vegetable bullion are cheaper than canned or boxed veggie broth and will last a long time. 

8) Eat leftovers. We don't always feel jazzed about it, but we try to eat our leftover. If we can't I have been known to freeze them, even if the portion is small. There are nights around here where we are all eating something different, because we have a little bit of this or a little bit of that. This happens sometimes at the end of a weekend or right before our next shopping trip. I can pull out those frozen leftovers on those occasions.

9) Maintain a herb garden. When you buy herbs from the grocery store it can cost between $3.00 to $6.00 Those herbs only last us one, two, maybe three meals. Potted herbs, on the other hand, cost from $2.50 to $4.00 and they last for months. Or you can try to go even cheaper and start from seed! I like to use fresh herbs when I can, because it can help add a bunch of flavor to dishes. Also, it allows me to minimize the "boring" feel of some simple/healthy dishes.

So here we are at the final tip for eat healthy on a budget. This, my friends, is where my family often fails: 

10) Meal Planning. It's just hard. Tony and I try from time to time, we'll be going strong, and then we mess up. Either we're going out that night or we don't "feel" like what we've scheduled. I do meal plan, but stink at sticking with it. My mom got me a membership to eMeals as a gift. (You should know I happily endorse eMeals and remind you once again this post is not sponsored. I wouldn't have protested if they wanted to sponsor the post; it's just that no one sponsors any of our posts. Like ever. I suppose we'd have to hustle a bit and prove that we carry a lot of clout. - laughing at the last sentence - ) So back to what I was saying, Yes, eMeals. They will do the meal planning for you and email you weekly with all the recipes and even a shopping list! You guys, they have all sorts of meal plans, too. Low calorie, paleo, clean eating, kid friendly, low carb, low fat, vegetarian, gluten free, budget friendly...I know I missed a few. Just make sure you check them out. This meal planning service has me doing better lately, honestly I still drop the ball, but we'd be a bigger mess without it!

So have you seen all these tips before? Are any of them new to you? Which tip to eating healthy on a budget do you like most? Who has become a part of a CSA? A food co-op? Leave your tips in the comments below.  


Bonus tip!:  Make your own yogurt. Disclaimer: I don't do this, but my mother has in the past and a friend of mine always does, so it's possible people! Plain yogurt is so versatile and can be used in place of so many other things to make a recipe a bit better for you. Also, when you make it in your home you easily control what you add to it. Plus, it grows! This is so weird and amazing and science-y! It grows and you don't have to keep re-buying it. Yea, yogurt!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Silent, but not still. (A return to our blog)

Emily: Wow. It’s March. Mid-March. We're nearing the end of 2015's first quarter and we haven't posted once yet this year.
I’m sorry.
Actually, you know what? I’m not. (As a woman I often feel compelled to say that when I'm not sorry or have nothing to apologize for, but lordy, that's another post). 
There have been plenty of days where I've felt kind of bad about letting our blog fall quiet – where I've believed we were passing on an amazing opportunity to share, laugh or encourage. Many times over the past months Tony and I have talked about this still space, wondering about it's purpose, it's importance, and questioning our next step. We always fell on the same conclusion. Let it be. In this moment, let it be. 
I'm not sorry. 
Although our voices have grown a bit quieter in the public realm, our passions, our opinions, and our desire for meaningful contribution have not diminished. We've needed this season to grow in understanding and practice listening. Although words have been absent from our blog, we've soaked up the words of people who speak with authority on issues important to us and our greater community. We have not been still, although we've been silent.          
Tony: Often I find myself telling others we can learn so much when we're outside our comfort zone. And for me, when I am outside of my comfort zone, that really is when I am learning the most! It's when we're comfortable that we unknowingly decide we don't need to pay close attention to our surroundings. In all honesty, most of us have to actively seek out opportunities to learn in many life situations. It's not always easy, but it's at that time I grow as a human and become someone who has potential to offer something back to the world around me.

So, Emily and I have been spending a lot more time learning. Personally it's been by listening, observing, and asking. I've been listening to podcasts on business management and understanding P&L reports. I've been listening to different genres of music, ones I'm not necessarily familiar with, to find inspiration in my own writing. I've spent more time listening to talk radio and sermons while driving. Also, I've been looking for opportunities to listen to stories from people who have experienced things that I have not (and might not ever!). These people, these storytellers, are some of the many I've been observing more and more, and they have me asking myself many questions. These specific ones to name a few:

How does a person of color react to an experience that I will never face? And what is my role in that situation? How do I become more cognizant of my white privilege?

How does a woman reach the top of a company when I live in a place where she is not paid the same as her male counterpart and too often told she'll never be able to do X or Y because of Z. Is there something I am doing to promote this; and if so, what will I do to correct this? How can I educate my two daughters (and be there for my wife!) after learning that male and females are not treated equally.

How do people make their dreams come to life when everyone around them is telling them it's silly or a waste of time? Am I crushing someone's dream or cheering them on? Am I not chasing dreams because I'm telling myself they're a waste of time?

It's a fascinating thing when I pause, shut up, and begin to ask questions. I've found myself telling our oldest daughter, Catherine, she could miss an opportunity to learn if she doesn't stop and ask questions. Well, that same principle applies to the life of an adult. If I wander around inside my comfort zone, and choose not to ask questions, then my chances of learning something great are slim to none. If I live strictly in my comfort zone, I fear it could lead to a life of complacency. Then, unfortunately, I will have nothing much of value to offer people I encounter along the way, and that to me is unacceptable.

Emily: It is from this position we move forward with our blog. We've been living life in our best attempt at a sponge like state, but we understand that while we've given our greatest efforts to listen intently, we are experts on just about...nothing. Humbly, we desire to use this blog to explore the world around us, ask more questions, and share experience/knowledge from others who can speak with authority on topics we care deeply about. While we have no plans to refrain from opinion pieces or family updates, I am still very much an opinionated person and googly-eyed mama who thinks my kids are the moon and stars, we do want this space to evolve in it's purpose. Many of you who know us understand we can be full of grand ideas, but also shaky in application (we suffer from intense human-ness). Please know, we would love your support as we return to this blog.

Tony and Emily

Sunday, November 30, 2014

National Adoption Day/National Orphan Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Month or National Orphan Awareness Month. All month long there were days to celebrate and social movements to participate in. 

November 9th was World Adoption Day. Kristen over at Rage Against the Minivan posted in celebration of this day and shared the #flipthescript movement; a movement in which adult adoptees add their voices to the discussion of adoption (adoptive parents and adoption agency voices are often more prevalent). Check out her post here where you'll find links to more adoption related articles, videos and posts.

November 22nd was National Adoption Day. "A coalition of national partners – Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Children’s Action Network and The Alliance for Children’s Rights – sponsor National Adoption Day to draw special attention to children in foster care waiting for permanent families and to celebrate all families that adopt." [source]

November 2nd was Orphan Sunday. Our family was asked to help with a video played during our church's services that day. We are so pleased to be a part of a church with an orphan care ministry, adoption and foster care support, and an understanding that families are not bound by genetic ties. The video was made by Shawn Prokes for Eastview Christian Church, and although I found it beyond strange to see our faces on the large screens dotting our church sanctuary we are happy to represent one of the many ways God can bring great joy out of something so hard.  


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mighty Girls - Halloween

It has been a few weeks since our Facebook feeds and our neighborhoods have been full of pint-sized Elsas, ninja turtles, ballerinas, and superheros. It'll be at least another week until the sugar high subsides. 

For a couple days in a row we had a chef and a doctor in our family. The girls played the parts well and walked pretty tall in all their gear; Catherine literally did as her 12 inch chef's hat appeared to add a mile to her tall, slender frame. It was cute to see them so happy with their choice. One of my favorite comments was, "Oh, what successful trick-or-treat-ers you have there." Hahaha! I guess it was a different direction from last year's Tinkerbell and Little Red Riding Hood, although their previous costumes hold a special place, too.

Last week A Mighty Girl featured many girl-empowering costumes and dress up clothes on their blog. Norah, the doctor, has her picture included under: Mighty Girls Explore Careers. Click on over to their post to see not only Doctor Norah, but many mighty girls dressed up as role models, superheros, and historical figures (scroll down a lot to find our little doc).  

Below are pictures of both girls rocking their looks. Any guesses on how many more years we'll get both of them to commit to a costume? I'm eating it up while I can!