Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trimming the Fat: How I Cut My Grocery Bill in Half

I've been trying to find a way to share my strategy for slashing our monthly food budget, but haven't really had the time until now. A friend emailed me recently, asking for menu ideas to help her reduce her monthly grocery bill. Here is my reply.

When the hubby lost his job, I wanted to trim the fat on the budget. As far as groceries were concerned, I wanted to first make sure that my children were getting adequate nutrition. So, I got on and typed in our info to get free customized printouts of the exact amounts in each food group for recommended daily servings. I think for the youngest two, I had to google "daily recommended food servings" to get more specific info. At my house, we eat three meals, and two snacks (fruit and a dairy product) daily. So, I sat down with the serving sizes and actually divided it up and spread it out over 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. For example, at breakfast, I get 1 C dairy (usually milk because it's the easiest to measure), 1 oz protein (1 oz is an egg or 1 actual oz of cooked meat, or 1/4 C beans, or 1 tbsp peanut butter), and 2 oz grain (1 oz is a slice of bread. 1 C cold cereal, 1 C cooked cereal, grains, or rice), and 1/2 C fruit.

Then, the first week, I did my normal shopping which came out to $80 sans veggies (my veggies come from a CSA at $20 per week, but we won't be renewing unless the unemployment situation changes). That first week, I did all of the measurements and realized I still had 1/2 my food amount left over. So, the next week, I only had to spend about $40.

I believe in leftovers, especially now, since I have to make it count. So, when I make my menu, it includes lots of leftovers. I cook from scratch, which is very easy. When I go to the store, I only buy what's necessary to make the meals on my menu for the week. I also make sure I keep my pantry stocked with commodities and seasonings that I use regularly (ex. I always have onion, garlic, bell pepper, salt, black pepper, canned beans, and canned diced tomatoes).

I do not have a set menu plan or grocery list. Sorry. That is probably my next step. I did stop buying organic products this month because this is now going into month 4 and things are looking lean. If I don't have to buy commodities, I average $30-$40. If I do have to buy commodities, it's about $60-$70. This past week was $90 because I needed more commodities (sugar, flour, olive oil, etc) and I bought two loaf pans so I can start baking my own bread.

Here is an example of some things I cook:
-stir fry with whatever vegetables I have on hand and sausage or chicken
-spaghetti (again, I have resulted to buying the cheap metallic tasting Hunt's @ 99 cents per can and I add vegetables)
-baked chicken (we eat the chicken for 2 days and then I make soup and we eat for 2 more days)
-beans (usually from scratch. Canned is for the lunch soups)

Those are my staples. It's usually very little meat (expensive) and lots of grains and veggies.

This week's example:
Breakfast: (rotation)
Oatmeal/Grits/Pancakes (could do more if Andrew could eat eggs)
Milk/Orange Juice from concentrate

Home made fruit salad

2 veggies (so far, salad and sauteed zucchini or squash from the CSA box)

Red beans and rice
2 veggies from the CSA box
Tonight, I'm adding cornbread for variety

So, that's the whole week's menu. Spaghetti and Beans all week. But, we are in a different financial situation. You probably just need to do 2-3 nights of the same meal.

Anyway, lots of info. If you need more, let me know. Any suggestions from my readers would also be greatly appreciated.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bread and Meat, Let's Eat!

As a teacher, I used to love attending make and take workshops. I liked walking away with something tangible I could use in my classroom the very next day. In the same way, I really enjoy attending home school workshops, mom's meetings, and reading materials on home schooling. There is so much information and I'm finally starting to bring those ideas into my home to bless my family.

After attending this year's Texas Home School Coalition's home school conference, I couldn't wait to implement some of the ideas I gleaned from Sally Clarkson's workshop (Whole-Hearted Child philosophy). The easiest thing to start with was feasting. See, feasting is about more than the food. You can serve cold cereal or filet mignon, but the focus is on setting a mood that encourages connecting and sharing ideas.

So, with a loose understanding of Sally Clarkson's concepts, this is what I've done so far in my home at dinner time:

1. The table is set for every meal with silverware and napkins.

2. I light a candle (just a basic jar candle. Right now, the scent is pumpkin spice).

3. I set the mood with a variety of different types of music. Currently, thanks to Pandora and my Vivaldi station, the boys are learning about classical music and loving it. They always ask to see the album cover and try to pick out the instruments.

4. I loosely focus on proper table and conversation etiquette.

5. Here is the important part. I casually introduce a variety of conversation topics, from current events, asking them about their day, telling them about mine, conversations about God, sharing something from a conversation I had or something I read, or whatever crosses my mind. Then, I wait. This gives them time to process the information, formulate a thought, and share what they think about the topic. Sometimes, they think of something totally different to talk about and that is okay because they are thinking. That's the whole entire point of the feast! To connect and think critically about ideas that shape their world.

6. And finally, I finish with funny poetry and a quick bible lesson. Right now, we are reading The New Kid on the Block, by Jack Prelutzky. This is great because in order to truly appreciate the poems, I have to stop and give quick definitions of vocabulary words and explanations on some of the concepts. Of course, once they understand the context, then the poems are even funnier. Little boy giggles are the best! Then, I follow up with a daily devotion from Devotions for Little Boys and Girls, by Joan C. Webb. These are quick, interactive, and lead to lots of discussion.

Here is how I know this is working. In the beginning, there was some resistance because with change, there is always that period of discomfort. However, I stayed the course because I knew that just like vegetables, this would be good for them. Now, after about two weeks, my boys are no longer gobbling down their food and asking for more because their little tummies haven't had enough time to register the fullness. Instead, they are feasting on ideas and lingering at the table. They are engaged in the music and they are NOT playing with their food. Most of all, if I forget to do any of the things I mentioned above, they are quick to remind me. I would strongly suggest coming up with your own daily feast traditions. We always ate every meal together at the table, but Sally Clarkson's feast idea has taken our mealtimes to another level of bonding. I'm interested in hearing about your bonding traditions in your homes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Plans for the New Year...I Think

Well, my summer vacation is coming to an end, and I think I might possibly be ready to start the new year. I have to say that it is with much anxiety that I am starting this year. This is the first time ever in the three year history of the The Wicks Christian Academy that I am surrendering our home school journey to the Lord. I have to admit that I have not...and it's been very painful.

This is how the journey has progressed:
Stage one: "Why me, Lord?"
Stage two: "What do you expect me to do with all of this?"
Stage three: "I give up! I can't take it anymore! YOU do it because I quit!"

So, finally, I am right where He wants me, surrendering my white-knuckled grip on my babies, their future, and my carefully crafted Ivy League worthy educational plans.

I asked, "What should I do?"

He said, "Raymond Moore, Charlotte Mason, Whole-Hearted Child" all sixty or so times I petitioned his doorstep.

Of course, I then hastily replied, "Um, no. That's not what I'm looking for. I'll come back tomorrow." Silly me.

Time has proven that my all-knowing God is right. So, here are my plans.

I am taking the ages and stages in Raymond Moore's Home Grown Kids and exposing them to everything that I might have missed or haven't gotten to in those stages. This will involve lots of hands on learning: baking, telling time in every day life, astronomy, charting the moon, digging in the earth, going out into the community, nature journals, great literature, service projects, wood-working, and life-skills development (including how to fix a faulty appliance as needed, and so much more. If I learn how to add documents and pictures, I'll post the charts I created based on this information.

Then I'm mixing it with Charlotte Mason's principles of short lessons, lots of time in nature, narration, dictation, light copy work, excellent literary works, habits formation (my favorite aspect of the philosophy), and relevant assignments.

Finally, I'll season it with Whole-Hearted Child's (Clay and Sally Clarkson) belief in learning, love, and joy being an on-going combined organic concept everyday in the life of a family.

This is new for me. I am throwing out the expensive curriculum I purchased last year, while keeping some of the great books to incorporate in God's plan for my home school. When I have done all that he is currently directing me to do, then I will go back up to the mountain top and ask for the next set of instructions. At the end of the day, he is the Master Teacher of the The Wicks Christian Academy, not me. Please pray for my obedience to what I know is His will for our home school journey.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sometimes, a Little Drama is Necessary

During quiet time today, I could hear Stephen kicking his headboard. So, I walked stealthily upstairs and swung open the door. He sat straight up and pointed across the room at Andrew, who was peeking over the top of his book. I focused in on Stephen and whispered, "I am the mommy. I can see and hear everything in this house. God gives all mommies the ability to figure things out when it comes to their children." His beautiful cinnamon-colored eyes grew wide with awe. I followed with a pregnant pause, directed him to lay down with just my finger, and then stared him down until the door was closed. Exit Mama, stage left.

Church Training Update

We have been church training for about two and half weeks now with some improvement. The first week was interesting. Unfortunately, I had several appointments and a home school conference, so it was very inconsistent. So, what can I tell you? You get out of a thing what you put into it. Needless to say, that Sunday morning, Caden played quietly for all of eight minutes of his daddy's sermon before letting me know he had had enough. Now, we had only worked up to eight minutes by the end of that week, so he actually did well, considering the amount of coaching and training he'd received. What did I learn? Consistency is key! Side note: The other two behaved very well, because they are old enough to understand that the doughnut refreshment during after church fellowship is contingent upon good behavior.

Week Two: Mama was on it like white on rice! We practiced everyday, building up to eleven minutes of quiet play time on my lap. Of course, the first few minutes involve lots of kicking and screaming, but he settles down and gets with the agenda. So, how did church go? Well, I could actually hear most of the sermon for the first time in three years! I only expect good behavior during the sermon. During congregational singing and prayer time, everybody is up on their feet singing, clapping, or praying, so that's his favorite time of the whole service. He fussed for the first 8 minutes of the sermon, but then calmed down and sat for the last 11 minutes, or so. Which, again, reflects the training. He was up to 11 minutes of home practice, so that's all he was able to give me on Sunday. I was also smart! I moved to the back row, which gives him room and makes me less tense about worrying about if eyes are on the pastor's wife and her loud offspring!

I'll keep you posted on any future developments.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Champion Water Maker of the World!!!

This Texas heat can sap the strength out of you, especially in the midst of the longest drought in our state's recorded weather history. Saturday afternoon, Andrew and his friend ran into the kitchen, filling the room with the smell of sun baked boy sweat, and immediately asked for water. Whipping the pitcher of cold filtered water out of the refrigerator, I quickly poured each a glass. With one gulp, the water was gone, leaving behind satisfied smiles.

With a wide grin, Andrew's friend said, "That was some good water!"

Andrew replied, "My mom makes the best water in the world. She could win a water-making contest!"

That's me, ladies and gentlemen: Champion Water Maker of the World!