Grab a drink and a chair, folks. This is gonna be a long one.
In the world today, monthly payments on a vehicle (or two) are at the top of the list of family expenses. Second to that is the cost of groceries. Whenever I get together with friends or family or for a potluck somehow the conversation always circles around to the cost of food and “how can I save on groceries?!” It’s a darn good question too because unlike other budget items we can cut back on or eliminate (think clothing, take-out, fancy coffees or cable), food is a necessity. Although it is true that food IS a necessity, it is also true that expensive food is NOT. I fashion my menus and my shopping around my favorite Paul Fussell saying: “I can feed better at home”.
Over the years I have updated, changed and turned on its head the ways in which I save on groceries, prepare meals and basically treat the subject of food. I’m going to outline the most complete, scrumptious rundown of our frugal pantry, food and meals that I can manage. You’ll find many more posts in my “In the Kitchen” & “Frugal Living” sections of the blog and I encourage you to peruse those posts and the recipes, because it will show just how well we eat without spending a fortune on food. I also encourage you to look through the recipes because I won’t be posting any here, as this post is more about how I save money on food.
With that said…here we go.
First and foremost, when talking about food and food budgeting you have to do two things right away in order to have any success.
- Jettison the Excuses.
- Identify your Boundaries.
Excuses: You know what I’m talking about, I know you do. That little voice in your head rationalizing why you NEED eight different flavors of coffee creamer or why you have to keep an array of “treats” in the house because if you don’t there will be mutiny. If you want to get a handle on your food budget, doing away with the excuses is a must or you won’t be successful. Instead of lamenting what you think will be lost, start building a mindset of gratitude and anticipation over really looking at how you can eat better and spend less. Remember: frugality IS NOT deprivation.
Some of the excuses I hear when I talk about frugal eating:
- You don’t know what it’s like shopping and cooking for a large family! (Oh yes I do! I come from a family of 5).
- I’m a one person house and it’s hard to cook for one person! (News flash…I’m single too!)
- I eat vegetarian (or vegan) and those foods are really expensive!
- I can’t go a meal without meat, and meat is expensive!
- All the recipes are complicated and I hate to cook!
- I love trying new recipes so I’m always buying special ingredients! (Yay, I get this one, trust me. I’m a foodie, too)
No joke…these are common excuses I hear ALL. THE. TIME. While the differences might be funny it also shows just how hard people hold onto their beliefs rather than be willing to change their thinking, like it is possible to be frugal and eat well at the same time. In a word…YES!
I do realize that every person’s situation is different and that my household of two (now one) is not the same as, say, my mom’s situation of raising three kids, or my friends who have 5 to 7 kids. Obviously, I spend less on groceries than a larger family, but let’s not use comparison as an excuse. Try to glean information that can be useful to you, finding ways to reduce the amount of money you spend on food. So, identify your boundaries and preferences for food (mine are: lots of fresh, whole foods, vegetables and fruits) and embrace them, leaving the excuses on the sidelines.
As with other aspects of your life, make food choices that matter to you, but remember…not everything can be a priority. Remember also, the general category of “food” is not a viable priority. Be specific about what you value and write it down.
Where to Shop
Where you shop will have a big impact on your food costs. Constantly shopping at the same store because it’s “on the way home” or “it’s where I’ve always shopped” could be biting into your food budget if you don’t know for sure that you’re getting the best prices. Comparing prices from store to store will let you know which has the lowest prices. One caveat here: I’m not advocating that you run all over the county to buy a few lesser priced items miles from home. That’s not frugal! What I am advocating is doing your due diligence. If you need to stock up on rice or peanut butter you won’t know which store is cheaper unless you compare prices!
Here’s what I did: early in my frugal path, I made a list of the most commonly used foods in my kitchen and priced them out at the stores in my area—a restaurant supply store that is open to the public, a big box store where I buy my gas, the chain stores and an ethnic market.
Once you have this information you can shop at the store that has the lowest prices on most of the items you need, or you can shop at several stores if they are not out of the way. I primarily shop at one store because their prices on produce is consistently lower than any other store, but I usually don’t buy staples, frozen or bakery items there because I can get better prices at the chain stores. Weekly grocery store circulars can be a big help here, if you get them.
(I can remember combing through those circulars with my mom as she planned the weekly menus based on what was on sale that week. I bet you have a similar story.)
It may sound time consuming to shop at multiple stores, but if you go armed with your list and stick to only the items you need rather than roaming all over the store it’s not that bad. I’ve created a routine over the years where I do my grocery shopping and errands on Saturday morning. The tricky part is mapping out my journey so perishable items are not sitting in the car for too long. Fortunately, all the stores I shop at are within a few miles of the gas station where I fill up my tank every Saturday morning. Although I’m not a big on-line shopper for regularly purchased foods, I do compare on-line prices when buying bulk non-perishable items like seasonings, grains and nuts.
Let’s Talk Ethnic Markets
I’m letting the cat outta the bag here. The store I shop at most often is actually an ethnic market that caters to the Hispanic and Indian populations in our area. Why? You may ask. Because they have a great produce section where I can buy reasonably sized produce, not huge specimens, and they consistently have the lowest prices than any other store in my area. I routinely buy items to fill in when the garden is young, or the crop is low. Imagine buying carrots or onions for 25-cents a pound, or potatoes for 50-cents a pound. They also have rocking specials on meat. Several times a year they have chicken quarters for 39-cents a pound, with a 20-pound maximum. Where else can you buy 20-pounds of chicken for $7.80? If you do know of another source I’m all ears!
Be Cautious with Coupons
I’ve had a serious love hate relationship with coupons over the years. On the one hand they are great if the coupon is for something you would buy anyway, but more times than not they entice consumers into buying something they hadn’t planned on, or may not even eat, which puts a dent in your food budget and wastes food. My advice…if you don’t have the control to say NO to a seemingly great deal, don’t use them!
Even though I have used coupons over the years, with great savings, I have to watch myself to make sure I’m not falling victim to the marketing ploy. You’re not saving money if you’re buying something you don’t need! Secondly, and more importantly, coupons are usually for brand name, pre-packed or pre-made foods that are much more expensive than their homemade counterparts. My philosophy has always been to shop the outer isles, which is where the “whole foods” are.
When & How to Shop
Old habits die hard, I get that. But, when you shop and how you shop will have a positive or negative impact on your overall food budget and your ability to save on food expenses.
Don’t shop when you’re rushed for time.
It wasn’t always a burden shopping with Brianne. If I did have her along, we would play divide and conquer. I would give her a few specific items with a particular price point to pick out on her own. Example: variety of apples or type of cheese…her choice. This gets older kids into the habit of looking at what they buy, what the price is, and if there is a cheaper option.
Always shop with a list and stick to it! Make your list at home before stepping foot inside the grocery store. If you’ve taken the time to look over the fridge and pantry you’ll know what you need and what you don’t, so you’re not buying something you already have, while leaving out something you actually need. This is a great time to ask if there are any specific requests other people in the house might have.
Don’t shop hungry! This is not revolutionary, I know. But, it really does make a difference to your food budget bottom line because a rumbling tummy can be a huge distraction as you pay more attention to what you can grab and eat in the store rather than the best price on cuts of meat. The best time to shop is after you’ve eaten (hence my Saturday morning shopping routine). If that isn’t possible, at least take along a snack and nibble in the car on your way. That way those easy open, filling, processed food items won’t be calling your name.
What to Buy
This area will be based a lot on food preferences, dietary considerations, medication restrictions and priorities. In essence, every person’s choices will be different.
There is a general guideline that I adhere to that should work for your particular situation: shop the outer isles. The perimeter of a grocery store is where you will find the majority of whole, fresh, raw, unprocessed foods. Think about that for a moment. The produce section, meat department, dairy and egg case are all on the perimeter of the store. There are some exceptions of course, the bulk bin section, if your store has one, oatmeal, baking goods, like flour, sugar and salt, etc. are on the inner isles, but for the most part what’s on the inside isles are mostly expensive processed foods. If you stick to the outer isles you’ll have less expensive, wholesome foods in your cart.
I’m also a huge advocate of bulk shopping, something I’ve done my entire adult life. With a farm to manage, livestock to tend, a child in school and everything life can throw at you it just makes sense to have a well-stocked pantry. I also live by my own motto of: “last one, buy one”, which basically means that when I open the last container of something, whether it be a condiment or oatmeal, I put that item on my shopping list. Buying in bulk also enables me to take advantage of sales and stock up on items I use regularly at a lower price.
Disclaimer: for the most part, my well-stocked pantry means I have multiples of many items. I don’t just buy a one-pound bag of split peas or beans for soup; I buy 5 or 10-pounds in bulk and repackage to fit my needs. I also check the Manager’s Specials in the meat section to see what is at a super discount. I routinely find tri-tip, top sirloin, short ribs, and pork roasts for just a few dollars, which can be frozen for later use.
What I mean by whole foods:
- Whole foods are the raw unprocessed ingredients needed to make a particular dish rather than buying its pre-made equivalent.
- Rather than buying a jar of salsa, buy the ingredients to make your own: tomatoes, onions, chilies, olive oil, and cilantro.
- Rather than buying pre-cut packages of fruits and vegetables, cut your own. Did you know that dipping cut fruit, like apples or peaches, into a bowl of water with the juice of half a lemon will help keep the fruit from turning brown? And, that root veggies like carrots, beets and parsnips last a long time in the fridge?
- Rather than buying expensive sweet breads like pumpkin or banana, buy all the ingredients and make your own. Or, better yet, work towards having the ingredients on hand so you can make it anytime.
By looking through your pantry, fridge and freezer you can see what pre-packaged foods you buy, and plan to make them from scratch, saving you a ton of money.
What I mean by not buying processed foods:
Simply put, these are any foods that are NOT in the raw ingredients. Think pre-formed sausage or hamburger patties, or canned soups. Buying the pork shoulder and seasonings, and making your own homemade sausage is much cheaper. Cooking down a chicken carcass and adding veggies, herbs and rice will produce a big pot of soup for multiple meals. Making your own meals is healthier as well because home-cooked meals are not full of preservatives and sodium.
Buying whole ingredients in bulk and steering clear or processed foods is the cornerstone of frugal healthy eating.
Dine-In Rather than Din-Out
I struggle with this one, too. Eating out or getting take-out is a hard one for most people to overcome, because they enjoy the socializing aspect, the convenience of not having to cook after a long day, or they have a few gourmet dishes that they think are too hard to make at home. I’m not suggesting you do away with eating out altogether, although that is the direction I’m heading with this. Let’s be honest…portions are WAY too large, the calorie, sodium and fat content is more than is good for us, eating out is expensive and more times than not it’s very fattening. What I am suggesting is that you realize that with a bit of planning and a well-stocked pantry you can prepare most, if not all, of your favorite foods at home for less than you’d spend at a restaurant.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- My sister has a group of friends that meet monthly for a simple meal, usually soup & salad; chili & cornbread; pasta, salad & garlic bread. Sometimes they do a potluck where each person brings a different course and the host makes the entrée. The point is that socializing doesn’t have to be at a 5-star restaurant, or even a 3- or 4-star for that matter. What’s important is that good friends are getting together in love and friendship.
- I have a group of ladies that meet during the warm summer months for water aerobics and potluck. It’s the same house each week, because she has the pool and she loves to host. We each bring a favorite finger food to share. Sometimes we have theme nights like Mexican, Asian, Picnic, etc. Have fun with it, be creative! Don’t have a pool? How about lawn bowling or croquet?
- When I find a new recipe to try and it makes much more than I can eat or want to freeze I hold a Guinea pig party. Anyone willing to try a new, unknown dish is welcome to come. I haven’t poisoned anyone yet, just in case you’re wondering.
- When we decided to start eating out less (not that we ate out a lot to begin with) we made a list of all our favorite dishes and began searching for copycat recipes on the internet. I’m sure you’re already aware of the plethora of food blogs with great recipes that can be found. Think “The Julie and Julia Project”. It was during one of these “new recipe” events that I taught Brianne how to make Julia Childs’ famous Beef Bourguignon. Yes, it was an all-day affair, but it was a great mother/daughter time as well. Amazing things happen when you cook with your kids…no matter what age they are.
These are just a few ways to ease into not eating out. I’m sure you can think of more. If eating out is an absolute necessity, but you still don’t want to bust your budget, consider reducing it to once a month, share a meal, forego the beverages, and factor the expense into your budget. This way eating out becomes more special than routine. Plus you can consider a more gourmet restaurant rather than the run of the mill coffee shop.
Meals at the Ready — ( Freezer Meals)
Life is unpredictable, I know. Traffic, meetings, sports events, school events, lambing season, calving season, show season, frost season, you name it, any number of events can make you late getting home with no time to cook, so you grab the phone and call the pizza delivery guy. Do you have him on speed dial? ‘Cause we’re gonna break you of that right now.
Any frugal household (including mine) will tell you the two saving graces of life are:
- A slow cooker, and
- Freezer meals
I seriously think a slow cooker should be gifted to every single parent. Here’s why:
Imagine you’ve just had the worst day of your working life. After sitting in traffic you arrive at your child’s school only to find out that volleyball practice has been extended for another hour. The fact that you are 30-minutes from home doesn’t help either. When you finally get home, animals want to be fed, the dogs are going crazy, the kid smells from hours of sweating, and just when you want to fall down here comes the all too common question…”what’s for dinner, mom”? Sound familiar? In your previous, not so frugal life you would have pushed that speed dial button for the pizza delivery guy, but not anymore because you have joined the ranks of frugal food weirdoes.
In all of these situations I didn’t have to get take-out because I either had the slow-cooker bubbling away on the counter or I had meals already prepared and waiting in the freezer.
At any given time (or season) I have soups, chili esand stews in the freezer. No matter what the situation is that brings us home late or the disaster that strikes, like a broken water line or a lamb jumping over the fence and slitting his side open on a t-post (true stories , both), we can still sit down to a warm hearty meal at the end of a long, stressful day.
Anytime I’m making a batch of soup, chili or stew, I always make an extra batch to freeze. I portion it out into 24-ounce square freezer containers (I’m not a huge fan of Ziploc bags. Why buy something so you can throw it away?). This is just enough for two portions, with a bit left over for lunch the next day. They also stack nicely in the freezer.
I know from personal experience that with as much as I enjoy cooking, even “I” don’t want to cook every night. Having a stock of freezer meals means I can eat well without busting my budget. Nothing can derail a budget faster than getting caught having to buy take-out.
I also want to say, “be kind to yourself”, especially during the week. With everything that goes on in a week, why add to the stress by thinking you need to create a 7-course meal every single night. Save those impulses for times when life runs smoothly. For every other time, have a nice selection of meals to fall back on.
If you think we eat like the Food Network every single night I can assure you nothing could be farther from the truth. We eat simple meals made with simple whole ingredients. Think baked chicken, rice & salad; pork chops, smashed yams & green beans; or pasta, salad & garlic bread. There are several casserole dishes (and salads in the warmer months) that rotate in and out of our menu selection, too. As surprising as it may seem we pretty much eat the same rotation of foods from week-to-week, with an occasional new dish thrown in when we have the time. Even though I love to cook as much as I love to eat, I have better uses for my time and my money.
After years of preparing meals like this I also don’t do a lot of hardcore meal planning. I have in my head what I can whip up with what’s in the pantry. Depending on what I make, one meal may be eaten over several days as leftovers. We love leftovers! You may want to plan meals if you’re new to creating a stash of frozen meals.
Some of our favorite meals:
Chopped Salad – This has everything in it but the kitchen sink. The lettuce mix is just the canvas for chopped up meats, cheeses and a whole lot of veggies. Great way to clean out the fridge, too.
Orange Chicken Rice Bowls – This is great for leftover chicken, or cook a batch specifically for this dish. The rice has carrots, peas and broccoli in it. Once it is all mixed together the quantity expands exponentially, which makes it perfect for leftovers.
Green Veggie Sauté – I whip up a big batch of onions, mushrooms, spinach, green beans and asparagus into an Asian style sauté, which lasts for days.
Breakfast for Dinner – You always have plenty of eggs when you have layers, so why not turn mealtime on its head and have a frittata, scramble or just eggs and toast. Frittata’s and scrambles are a great way to use up a variety of leftover veggies.
Pasta Fagioli – This is a favorite, especially in cold weather. It’s hearty, packed with protein and perfect for freezing. There’s no way to make a small batch of this, just saying.
White Chicken Chili – Another favorite.
Anti-Pasta Platter – Perfect for those hot days when no one feels like heating up the kitchen. We lay out a combination of sliced meat (whatever we have), cheese, olives and whatever else we have. It’s usually paired with a seasoned olive oil, for dipping, rustic crusty bread and a simple salad.
Bruschetta – Another hot weather favorite. Grilled rustic bread loaded up with chopped tomatoes, basil and seasonings, paired with a Caesar salad.
Batches of soups, stews and chili are a great way to “clean out” the freezer. None of us are perfect and even I have had those packages of frozen meats or veggies hidden in the dark recesses of my freezer. After doing a thorough cleaning and super batch cooking marathon, I try (operative word…try) to maintain a strict “first in, first out” rotation of frozen foods.
Use Meat Sparingly
I have to say up front that I am a total carnivore. There’s nothing I like better than to cook (or grill) a good piece of meat! But, as we all know, meat can be an expensive part of your everyday meal. To combat the bloat of your food budget, use meat sparingly; giving it a supporting role rather than a starring role. If I make a roasted whole chicken one night, I’ll shred some and use it in lettuce tacos, or make a chicken stew. After I think I’ve pulled off all the meat, I throw the entire carcass into a pot to make a base for chicken soup. You’d be surprised at how much meat is still left when you think you’ve gotten it all. Left over beef can be chopped up and used to make Beef and Barley soup; a completely hearty and feel good meal. This way I’m extending the protein into multiple meals, saving time and money.
If I’m not raising a protein myself I’ll buy from a local producer. Traditionally, I‘ll buy a left over fair lamb from a 4-H or FFA member. Not only am I helping to support a young livestock producer, but I get a great product at a fair price. I have the lamb processed into steaks and stew meat, rather than whole cuts because they are more useful for my type of cooking. Meat also freezes well, so I also stock up on certain cuts when they are on sale (usually pork because I don’t raise hogs).
I also don’t eat meat at every meal. A few times a week I go meatless, but that doesn’t mean I’m scrimping on taste or protein. I just get my protein from other foods. My lunches are also primarily meatless. I’m a big salad fan (who wouldn’t be living in Cali), as well. Egg salad and crackers, hummus with pita bread and veggies, or whatever is hanging out in the fridge that needs to be eaten are all good lunch alternatives.
Going without meat a few times a week doesn’t mean you have to forego flavor or being full, but it does mean you’ll lower your grocery bill.
Have a Well-Stocked Pantry
Any meal is possible if you have all the ingredients you need without running to the store. This is where your list of most commonly eaten foods comes in handy. Once you know what you eat on a regular basis you can decide how you’d like to stock your pantry. This is important if you live far from town, have harsh winter weather or get stuck at home for some other reason. The point is…can you whip up a meal day-after-day, even a simple soup or stew, with just the contents of your pantry?
Having a variety of raw ingredients on hand also means you’ll go to the store less frequently and when you do go, your trips will be shorter. Sometimes I only go to the store once or twice a month because I have everything I need right at home.
My Basic Pantry Staples:
Rice – (white, brown, Arborio, jasmine) (kept in the freezer for long-term storage)
Beans – (white northern, kidney, Lima, butter, garbanzo)
Steel cut oats
Pasta – (various kinds and shapes)
Oil – (olive and vegetable)
Butter – (salted & unsalted)
Vinegar – (various types)
Herbs & Spices (a whole lot of variety)
Potatoes & Yams
Carrots, onions & celery – (the three basics for almost every dish known to man)
Garlic – (fresh and dried)
Butters – (peanut, pumpkin and apple)
Condiments, olives & pickles
Flour, sugar, salt and other baking ingredients
Nuts, raisins & dried fruit
These are the foods I buy in bulk, because the per ounce price is cheaper. I replenish as my stock becomes low. They are also foods that are shelf-stable and will last for several weeks (or months) in proper storage conditions.
Stocking a pantry in one fell swoop can be an expensive proposition. You may enjoy about how to build up your pantry over time, here.
This is an area that can really wreak havoc on the grocery bill if you are not properly prepared. And, don’t think your will of iron will keep you from rushing to the first fast-food place or mini-mart you find when the hunger pangs begin. We’ve all been there. I won’t pretend we haven’t.
So…what is my plan for snacks? In short…to have them with me all the time! I take them to work, when I shop, go for a hike, run errands…you get the picture. This is especially important when you have little ones. Here are a few of our favorites:
Homemade trail mix; at least our version. Almonds, peanuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries & chocolate chips. Hey! I’m frugal, not into deprivation.
Dried fruit – mangos, cranberries, blueberries, apples, apricots and of course, natures candy…banana chips.
Deviled eggs – back to the laying hens. I make these by the dozen, which really means 24 halves. They are filling, super tasty and packed with protein.
Edamame – boiled and salted and ready to pop into your mouth. They are great cold, too.
Popcorn – not a week goes by that we don’t have popcorn. I buy it in bulk from Win-Co.
Are Drinks Damaging Your Food Budget?
Along with prepackaged foods, drinks can put a serious dent in your food budget. To help combat this expense only buy them for special occasions. When Brianne was in grade school everyone thought she wasn’t allowed to drink sodas, but that was not the case. She was allowed to have them at picnics, beach parties, sleepovers and the like, if she wanted them, but they were not part of my weekly shopping list. As a result, she never acquired a taste for them and now she rarely drinks them. Side note: can I just say how crazy it makes me to see a toddler downing a full sized soda.
What we regularly drink:
H2O – yep…right outta the tap. It’s cheap, good for you and we don’t waste plastic bottles. Some people think it gets boring, but you can spice it up by making “spa water”. Toss some sliced fruit, ginger or cucumbers into a jug of water to give it a light refreshing flavor.
Tea – Hot or cold. I will just confess up front that I’m a tea freak. I like all kinds of tea, black, green, fruited, spiced, you name it. But, my go-to is iced tea. I usually make a small batch in the evening that fills my 24-ounce reusable bottle. When I’ve finished that, usually by lunch time, its water for the rest of the day. Like many coffee drinkers I know I can’t give it up, so rather than depriving myself, I just limit how much I drink. I look for sales on tea bags and stock up when the price is good.
Spirits – I’m not much of a hard liquor person. In fact, I cook with liquors more often than I drink them, but I do have a nip now and again. The airplane sized bottles are perfect.
Wine – It’s hard to live in California and NOT be a wine connoisseur. When I do buy wine I stick with Trader Joe’s and Cost Plus, and keep the price less to than $10 a bottle.
Frugality isn’t about depriving yourself. It’s about finding less expensive alternatives, which is the mainstay of living a frugal life. So buy what you love, just frugalize it!
Waste Not; Want Not
That pretty much sums it up. DON’T WASTE FOOD.
Did you know that 40% of all food produced in the US ends up in a landfill? Think about that for a moment. If you spend $100 a week on groceries, would you be okay with throwing away $40 every time you shopped? I bet not. What’s more astonishing is that if you are okay with the waste, you’d be throwing away over $2,000 a year! That’s not chump change!
Here are the most common reasons for food waste:
Buying more food than your family can eat. When you make a list and stick to it you end up only buying those items that you need and will use. Regularly cleaning out your pantry and freezer will help use up foods, reduce the amount of food you buy and help you to determine what you r family really eats each week.
Getting Sucked in by Sales on Items You Don’t Like. Everyone loves a sale. I get that. Even I’ve done this on occasion. But, the purchase is no bargain if you end up with foods your family doesn’t like and won’t eat, not matter how much you extol its attributes. Stick to what you know is healthy and what your family likes and will eat.
Choosing Take-Out Rather than Dine-In. Ordering take-out rather than eating food you already own occurs because of a lack of planning. Having a list of easy meals, that you can make in bulk, or using a slow cooker, will go a long way to reducing your food waste and thereby money waste. If done right, you could have a wholesome, homemade meal every night of the week for a fraction of the cost of a take-out dinner.
Waiting too Long to Eat Leftovers. To avoid food waste and the following waste of money, you MUST eat any leftovers. Not doing so is not an option. If this is not possible, then freeze the leftovers and eat them at another time. Conversely, if you have veggies that are not quite good enough for fresh eating, freeze them to be used later in soups, stews, casseroles or chili. Even the smallest portion of veggies can be added to any of these dishes. If your family doesn’t like leftovers, start cooking just enough for that one meal.
I realize that food waste isn’t entirely avoidable. There will always be some unusable bits. But there’s no excuse for trashing an entire pot of soup just because you got bored eating it, or you didn’t want the same thing twice in a week. I’m not hardcore on a lot of things, but having been in the food banking world for years has made me keenly aware of the waste. Tossing food is not only a waste of your money; it is also a waste of the time and resources spent to produce the food. I always encourage people to have a good way to store leftovers. I use reusable lidded freezer containers rather than Ziploc bags because you buy them once and use them for years, or in my case, decades. If you have chickens, they will devour veggie bits and pieces, spent lettuce and even crushed eggshells. If not, get a compost bucket and build your own soil!
Work Day Breakfast
I’m not known for being a morning person. Odd for a homesteader, I know. But I’m not. The last thing I want to do after jumping out of bed in the morning is fill my stomach with food. But that doesn’t mean I don’t eat breakfast. It just means I wait until later in the morning. The challenge with this is I’m usually already at work. My remedy: take my breakfast to work. My favorite breakfast is good ole fashioned oatmeal. Loaded with pecans and dried cranberries, and microwaved with a splash of milk and you’ve set yourself up for the entire morning. The added bonus is it costs pennies per serving and keeps you from running by a coffeehouse for a $4 coffee and a $3 pastry. Better for you too.
Hitting the Open Road? Take your Food!
Whether you’re going on a long trip or a short hop, never leave home without food and drink. Seriously, don’t do it. There’s nothing that will eat into your budget faster than constantly stopping to feed someone. Whenever I leave the house I always have a water bottle, a container of snacks and of course, a tumbler of iced tea. No matter what.
We got pretty good at this road trip food thing after years of weekend livestock shows and volleyball tournaments. We’d pack egg salad sandwiches for the drive, along with our trail mix (almonds, peanuts, dried cranberries and chocolate ships), homemade banana bread and plenty of cold drinks, because rule #1 on the road…”feed the driver”! No kidding.
Samples of our packed foods:
Pack a lunch for work or school. Pack it every day. To make this easier, pack the night before so that you don’t get caught rushing and forget. I do this while I’m making my iced tea. Our favorite lunches are egg salad, either on bread or with crackers, salads, soups and leftover whatever. Occasionally I’ll take homemade pate, cheese and rustic bread.
The workplace stash. This is similar to the road trip foods, but for your desk. Simple foods like trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, even peanut butter and crackers can help fend off hunger pangs and keep you from heading towards the vending machines for a pick-me-up. If you’re lucky enough to have a fridge in your office, like I am, you have a lot more options. A container of cut fruit or cubes of cheese are a great energizer in the afternoon.
You can do this, I know you can! And, after you get into the swing of things spending $15 for lunch or $5 for a soda and chips will feel less like a luxury and more like a burden; a financial burden that is.
Just Dig in and Eat It!
With the best of intentions we have all had our version of the culinary epic failure. I know I have. So what do you do when a meal turns out to be less than stellar? Eat it anyway. Yep, we do…as long as it’s safe. And after it’s gone you can put that recipe in the “never to be made again” pile.
Don’t forget to check out the “In the Kitchen” and “Frugal Living” sections for more ideas on meals, recipes and saving money.
A few posts back I wrote about how a well-stocked pantry can save you money and time, while adding to your homestead’s ability to weather situations that may prevent you from getting to town for supplies. You can read “Creating a Well-Stocked Homestead Pantry”, here.
It’s one thing to have a stocked pantry. It’s quite another to “start” creating and paying for a well-stocked pantry. My larger pantry happened over time, but the smaller “starter” pantry took just a few weeks. For many, building a pantry in a few weeks is thought of as an expensive proposition. But it doesn’t have to be. The tips below will help you get started on building a pantry for only a few dollars each week.
Want to build a homestead pantry on a few dollars a week? Here’s how.
Pick a day of the week to be your starter day, like Monday. Beginning on Monday, and every day after that, put away $2.00. Put it in a jar. Put it in an envelope. Put it in a drawer. Just, put it away.
At the end of seven days, take your $14.00 a go shopping for the staple items that will make up the base of your pantry. You’re only going to spend $14.00. Any change remaining after your purchases will be put back into your collection to use the following week.
Remember…these categories are based on those in “Creating a Well-Stocked Homestead Pantry”. You can reread it here to refresh your memory.
A little note: There is no right or wrong way to supply your pantry. In my sample I tried to cover several categories of what I felt were the most important and would be used more often. You could easily concentrate on just one area until it is filled, or create your own. You know your family and what they will eat better than anyone. If you have to, make your own list.
WEEK 1: Starting Amount – $14.00
- All-purpose white flour (10 lbs.) – $5.12 – Wal-Mart
- Sugar (10 lbs.) – $5.74 – Wal-Mart
- Table Salt (4 lbs.) – $2.77 – Wal-Mart
- Amount Remaining: .37
WEEK 2: Starting Amount – $14.37
- Old-Fashioned Oatmeal (5 lbs.) – $3.95 – Smart & Final bulk section
- White Rice (20 lbs.) – $8.92 – Wal-Mart
- Sea Salt (1 lb.) – $1.00 – Big Lots
- Amount Remaining: .50
WEEK 3: Starting Amount – $14.50
- Pearled Barley (5 lbs.) – $3.95 – Smart & Final
- Spaghetti Noodles (4 lbs.) – $3.59 – Smart & Final
- Egg Noodles (2.5 lbs.) – $6.39 – Smart & Final
- Amount Remaining: .57
WEEK 4: Starting Amount — $14.57
- Dried Great Northern Beans (5 lbs.) – $7.99 – Smart & Final
- Corn Meal (5 lbs.) – $3.99 – Smart & Final
- Baking Powder (12 oz.) – $1.89 – Smart & Final
- Amount Remaining: .70
WEEK 5: Starting Amount – $14.70
- Split Peas (5 lbs.) – $4.29 – Smart & Final
- Flour Whole Wheat – (5 lbs.) – $4.59 – Smart & Final
- Yeast (2 lbs.) – $4.79 – Smart & Final
- Baking Soda (1 lb.) – .89 – Smart & Final
- Amount Remaining: .14
WEEK 6: Starting Amount – $14.14
- Brown Rice (5 lbs.) – $4.29 – Smart & Final
- Tube Pasta (4 lbs.) – $4.00 – Smart & Final
- White Vinegar (1 gal.) – $2.04 – Wal-Mart
- Cider Vinegar (1 gal.) – $3.79 – Wal-Mart
- Amount Remaining: .02
WEEK 7: Starting Amount – $14.02
- Bread Flour (10 lbs.) – $7.29 – Smart & Final
- Dried Pinto Beans (10 lbs.) – $5.99 – Smart & Final
- Amount Remaining: .74
WEEK 8: Starting Amount – $14.74
- Olive Oil (1 qt.) – $7.99 – Smart & Final
- Arborio Rice (2 lbs.) – $3.99 – Smart & Final
- Fine Salt (1 lb.) – $1.00 – Big Lots
- Coarse Salt (1 lb.) $1.00 – Big Lots
- Amount Remaining: .76
WEEK 9: Starting Amount: $14.76
- Butter (3 lbs.) – $7.79 – Costco
- Brown Sugar (4 lbs.) – $4.00 – Smart & Final
- Macaroni (2 lbs.) – $1.98 – Smart & Final
- Amount Remaining: .99
WEEK 10: Starting Amount: $14.99
- Vegetable Shortening (3 lbs.) – $4.39 – Wal-Mart
- Walnuts, halves (1/2 lb.) – $4.25 – Smart & Final
- Almonds, slivered or sliced (1/2 lb.) – $3.29 – Smart & Final
- Sunflower Seeds, shelled (1 lb.) – $1.50 – Big Lots
- Cornstarch (16 oz.) – $1.49 – Wal-Mart
- Amount Remaining: .07
In just a few short weeks you’ll be well on your way to stocking a full pantry. If you don’t want to spend 10-weeks gathering up your supplies, save a bit more each week, or save for a longer period of time then go shopping all at once. Be sure to take advantage of sales and coupons to make your hard earned money go even farther.
At the end, you’ll experience the luxury of walking to the pantry and pulling out what you need to make a meal. No more last minute runs to the grocery store. No more frantic trips ahead of winter storms only to find store shelves empty. Now, you can sail right through whatever life, and Mother Nature throws your way.
Homesteading is not just about growing a garden or raising livestock. It’s a whole mindset of having what you need to live a simpler more fulfilling life. Part of that more simple life, at least in my opinion, is to have what I need when I need it so I can 1) reduce the number of trips into town, and 2) reduce the amount of money I spend for so-called unexpected purchases. You know the one’s I’m talking about. That missing ingredient you need for a new recipe or not having enough of something you need to make a full meal. The primary place I put this thought into action is in the kitchen.
Although I raise livestock, have laying hens and have a garden, I still purchase some items from local stores. These are items that I either can’t or don’t grow myself. Things like oil and flour and spices. When you have a well-stocked pantry you have choices, choices about what to make for dinner, choices about cooking at home instead of picking up expensive take-out and choices about how to alter a recipe to fit what you have on hand. You even have the choice to hunker down at home when weather turns bad or illness strikes, making it hard to get to town.
With more and more people reclaiming the art of cooking from scratch to avoid processed foods or manage food allergies, and more people realizing the benefits of weathering a natural disaster at home, it has never been more important to create a stocked homestead pantry.
But, where do you start? Isn’t creating a stocked pantry challenging, time consuming and expensive?
NO! It’s not. And, in the end you will be able to look at your pantry with peace of mind, and choices.
Keep in mind, though, the list I’m providing isn’t your whole pantry, it will support the “whole foods” you raise, grow, preserve or buy from a farmer or CSA, foods like meat, dairy, fruits and veggies. Some of the items listed can be made at home, but I’m including them in consideration of people (like me) who do not always have time to make them from scratch. Pantry items are the components that will help you pull the whole meal together.
Many of these basics can be purchased in large quantities or in bulk so you never run out. Whether you buy in large or small quantities remember to keep track of your stock on hand so it can be replaced before you run out. I purchase multiples of some items, while others I stock up on when they are on sale. After the list I’ll give you pointers on how to fill your stocked pantry.
Wondering what the benefits are to having a well-stocked pantry? Here they are:
- You cut down on buying expensive take out or fast food. Saving money and your health.
- You can always make something. It may not be 5-star cuisine, but it will be warm and filling.
- You have the opportunity to buy in bulk, saving money and creating a food safety net if a crisis keeps you at home for any length of time.
- Your shopping trips become shorter because you’re list isn’t as long.
- You can easily plan and cook meals knowing you have needed ingredients.
- It just makes good sense.
CATEGORIES OF A WELL STOCKED PANTRY
Mustard – yellow, Dijon, Honey, and any other kind your family enjoys
Pickle Relish – if you don’t make your own
Did you know that with these ingredients you can make your own Thousand Island dressing?
GRAINS & GRAIN ITEMS
Rice – white and brown, Jasmine, Basmati, Arborio
Barley – pearled
Oatmeal – old fashioned
Rice is the main character in many casseroles, while barley is great for making hearty soups.
Oatmeal, choke full of fruit and nuts makes an inexpensive stick to your ribs breakfast.
Pasta & Noodles – spaghetti, tube, macaroni, egg, and any others your family likes
Dried Beans – pinto, Great Northern, kidney
Lentils –yellow and brown
Walnuts, pecans, almonds (slivered & sliced), sunflower seeds, peanuts, and any others your family likes.
Oil – olive, sesame, coconut
Bacon grease – strain and store bacon grease to use instead of oil.
All-Purpose Flour – White and whole wheat, if you don’t grind your own.
Bread Flour – White and whole wheat, if you don’t grind your own.
Sugar – white, brown and confectioners
Honey – locally sourced, if possible
Salt – non-iodized, fine, sea, course, kosher
Pepper – black and white, or peppercorns for each and grind your own
Vinegar – white, cider, wine, Balsamic
Chocolate Chips or other cookie additions
Tea & Coffee
Dried Fruit – if you don’t dry your own
Herbs & Spices – buy from ethnic markets or the ethnic section of your grocery store where quantities are larger and prices are cheaper.
There you have it, the basic list for a well-stocked homestead pantry. Feel free to add any family favorites or items you use most often. Your pantry is the best place to start when creating your own list or adding to the one above. With these items always on hand you’ll be able to make any number of hearty wholesome dishes your family will love, without having to run to the store for last minute additions.
So—how do you go about stocking the pantry without breaking the bank?
You have a few choices here.
You can go ALL in and buy everything in one shopping trip if your food budget can handle it. Mine couldn’t, so I built the pantry over time. My first shopping trip was actually to price every item on my list. I compared prices at the stores I shop at most often—the ethnic market, Wal-Mart, Big Lots, Target and Smart & Final. Now I could group items depending on which were cheaper at what store. Cheaper can be deceiving, though. You’ll want to calculate the cost per ounce, or pound, to find out which store is REALLY the least expensive. (Use this formula to calculate the cost per unit: cost ÷ ounce or pound).
Over a few months I allotted a certain amount of money each week just for stock-up items. This also gave me the choice to buy larger quantities of certain items. Take white sugar for instance. I could spend a few dollars buying a one pound bag one week or I could wait and spend $3 to $4 and buy a 10-pound bag, which would last me much longer.
With the essentials taken care of more of your grocery money can be used to take advantage of sales on items that can be frozen, like meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables. Items you may not raise or grow yourself.
By having a well-stocked pantry (and freezer) I have been able to reduce my grocery shopping to just a few times a month, mainly filling in or buying sale items, and spending less than $20 each trip.
Final Words: I haven’t mentioned buying on-line or strictly buying organic and non-GMO items. It’s not that I don’t believe in these avenues, I just wanted to be more general. Each person can, and should, decide how best to feed their family.
To reduce your grocery bill and save a few bucks after all that holiday spending, dedicate the next 10-days to eating out of your pantry. Take a day and prepare meals using what’s on-hand from your pantry and freezer. This is a great opportunity to use up freezer items you’ve had for a while and learn new recipes using just the ingredients you already have. Only shop for essential perishable items, like milk, eggs and produce (if you don’t already produce them yourself). You’ll not only save money, but also have a chance to inventory your pantry, creating a list of “to buy” items.
To extend your savings even more “eat-in” for another 10-days and watch the savings grow. You may even be inspired to not spend on other items, like clothing, toys, or entertainment.
Preparing for a crisis or power outage or storm is an essential task for any homesteader and home-owner alike. It is an every day task and important topic to discuss with family and friends because when disaster strikes food and water will disappear from store shelves at an alarming rate. In fact, most authorities estimate there are 37 essential food items that will become impossible to find less than 2 hours after any disaster strikes.
Take stock of the 37 most important goods to buy from the grocery store while they are still available and save yourself and your family the stress and drama of seeking them out post crisis.
Stock up on these foods before a crisis hits
- Distilled water and seltzer water — because we can’t live without it.
- Canned liquids — like fruit juice, broth, milk and veggies.
- Powered milk — regular or goat’s milk, but not non-dairy creamers.
- Hard cheeses encased in wax — they won’t grow mold, retain moisture
- Protein bars and protein drinks — Whey Powder or protein concentrate.
- Canned & dehydrated meats — jerky, tuna, smoked salmon, sausages.
- Coffee, tea and bouillon — for energy, cooking and medicinal use.
- Oils — small containers of olive, coconut, Ghee, butter, shortening, lard.
- Whole wheat flour — non-GMO flour and whole grains for longer storage.
- Wheat germ and Shredded Wheat — for fiber, vitamins and protein.
- Potato flour — not potato starch for gluten free cooking, baking and soups.
- Corn as a grain (dried) — can be ground into flour, for baking and grits.
- Corn as a vegetable — non-GMO canned.
- Oats and Oatmeal — good source of fiber, a hearty breakfast.
- Bread crumbs & stuffing’s — sealed in plastic, for coating, fish cakes, and casseroles.
- Shelf stable, ready to eat meals — like tuna kits, GoPicnic & French Bistro.
- Crackers — packed in #10 cans, accompaniment for soups, tuna salad & PB.
- Potato Flakes & au gratin potatoes — choose those without hydrogenated oils.
- Rice — store instant to save on resources, jasmine, basmati, Arborio, short grain, & brown.
- Pastas — filling and versatile for soups, stews, casseroles & main dishes.
- Raisins, dried fruits, fruit strips — for protein, fiber, iron, vitamins & cooking.
- Jams and jellies — a comfort food along with glazes, marinades and baking.
- Canned fruits — provide calories, hydration, vitamins, use in soups and baking.
- Canned veggies — think canned with calories like root veggies, yams, sweet potatoes. Also sauerkraut, cabbage and beets, and carrots, peas and potatoes.
- Beans, legumes & peanuts — dried and canned for energy and fiber.
- Nuts, seeds and nut-butters — raw, roasted & buttered for cooking & eating.
- Honey — even if you don’t use it, buy some for flavoring, medicinal & topical.
- Iodized salt — needed to preserve and season food; inhibit germ growth and regulate fluid balance.
- Sugars and Molasses — granulated sugar, brown sugar and powdered
sugar wrapped in plastic, to protect from insects.
- Spices and herbs — buy more of the spices already in your cupboard.
- Condiments — pickle relish, small cans of mayonnaise mustards, Tabasco sauce,
vinegars (balsamic, cider and rice whine), maple syrup, vanilla and almond extracts, cocoa powder and chocolate syrups.
- Chocolates — it’s a morale booster that could prove essential.
- Vitamins — multi-vitamins plus Calcium with Vitamin D and magnesium.
- Food bars — are compact nutrition complete with protein and energy.
- Vodka — you can cook with it, drink it, provide first-aid, bug repellent or barter
- Dry yeast — for baking bread even though it has a short shelf life.
Along with the 37 essential food items for your Prepper’s Pantry, you also need to consider non-food related items, like hand can openers, firewood, charcoal, lighter fuel, candles, paper plates, plastic utensils and disposable cups. Also, remember feminine hygiene products for every female in your house!
If you have a root cellar, you can store fresh apples, potatoes, onions and garlic, or any other root vegetable, which will last for several months.
Last, but not least, a disaster of any kind can and most likely will be a stressful time, so never feel guilty about stocking a few of your favorite junk food items.
There you have it — 37 essential food items to stock for disaster prepping. With these items on stand-by you will be more prepared than most households in the country, which will make you and your family very happy when the unthinkable strikes.
Bananas seem to be a staple in any home that has (or had) children in it. It is the “go-to” snack for toddlers, a vitamin packed boost for after-school activity crazed grade-schoolers, and a perfect addition to the health conscious meal for older kids and adults. Like I said…it’s a staple in most homes.
In our home they were cut up into oatmeal for breakfast, whirled into smoothies for a cool refreshing drink, or dipped into melted chocolate for decadent treat. But, with all those bananas hanging around there were bound to be a few that didn’t get eaten quite fast enough. And, once they get past their prime they’re not so popular anymore.
When bananas were too soft for fresh eating I would make banana pancakes on the weekend, so they didn’t go to waste. Frugal moms can get very creative when they live on a budget and don’t want to waste food.
We are fond of banana pancakes, but how often can you eat a thing before it becomes boring. I had to find other ways to use up the spotted yellow and brown skinned tropical fruit. When no ideas came to mind immediately (scary I know) I threw the now very ripe bananas in the freezer until I could think.
That’s when it happened. That ah ha moment when you find what you’re looking for without really even looking. I was flipping through a cookbook, looking for a completely different recipe, and there it was, bold as day…a banana bread recipe for a holiday breakfast.
Now, why didn’t I think of that? In my defense…I can’t be “on it” all the time! Cut me some slack, please:)
I read over the recipe and mentally checked off the ingredients one at a time (it’s so nice having a well-stocked pantry). The recipe called for slightly softened fresh bananas, but I only had the one’s I had thrown in the freezer a few weeks earlier.
What the heck, I’ll give it a try.
I thawed the banana’s, reread the recipe, making a few adjustments, and the end result was a soft, moist, dark-colored nutty bread with the most intense banana flavor I had ever tasted.
It was, in fact, the best banana bread I had ever eaten.
So what makes this banana bread so different?
My gastronomically uneducated opinion is…the sticky, sweet, intensely flavored syrup that is given off when the bananas defrost; that and the combination of brown sugar, applesauce instead of oil and the addition of pecans rather than walnuts.
This recipe has become a favorite. We have eaten it toasted and buttered for breakfast, grilled it like French toast, and cut off chunks and taken them on hikes. We have even taken it on airplanes when traveling.
The Ultimate Banana Pecan Nut Bread Recipe
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon (sometimes I use pumpkin pie spice, which is nice too)
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (toss in the bananas and the syrup if using frozen bananas)
½ cup applesauce (any kind)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Cream together butter, brown sugar, and eggs.
- Sift dry ingredients and combine with the butter mixture. Blend well.
- Add the bananas, applesauce, and vanilla; stir well, but don’t overwork the mixture.
- Fold in the pecans and pour into a well-buttered loaf pan.
- Bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Makes: 1 large loaf.
TIPS: This is one of those full proof recipes. It’s hard to screw it up, so be a little adventurous with it. I have used different kinds of applesauce from plain to chunky homemade to cinnamon. If you do try it with cinnamon applesauce, reduce the cinnamon in the recipe by half.
I know, I know. We all have grandma’s best ever this or that, the tried and true family favorite, but this is seriously the best banana bread you’ll ever taste.
And, it came about by shear accident. Let me explain.
It was years ago. DD was still in grade school and bananas were a staple in our house. We used them in lunches, on oatmeal, dipped in chocolate as a sweet treat. Every week I would buy them and every week they were eaten in some fashion or another.
Then, they fell out of favor as many foods do when you eat them insesately for weeks or months. They are no longer special, just part of the daily grind that is putting together meals or packing school lunches.
When bananas were too soft for fresh eating I would make banana pancakes on the weekend to use them up, so they didn’t go to waste. Single moms can get very creative when they live on a budget and don’t want to waste food.
But, this day was different. We had tired of banana pancakes, and not being a fan of banana cream pie I had to come up with another way to use the now spotted yellow and brown skinned tropical fruit. When no ideas came to mind I threw the now very ripe bananas in the freezer until I could come up with a plan.
Then it happened. That ah ha moment when you find what you’re looking for without really even looking. I was flipping through a cookbook, looking for something completely different, and there it was, bold as day…a banana bread recipe for a holiday breakfast. I read over the recipe and mentally checked off the ingredients one at a time (it’s so nice having a well-stocked pantry). The recipe called for slightly softened fresh bananas, but I only had the one’s I had thrown in the freezer a few weeks earlier.
What the heck, I’ll give it a try.
I thawed the banana’s, reread the recipe, making a few adjustments, and the end result was a soft, moist, dark-colored nutty bread with the most intense banana flavor I had ever tasted.
It was, in fact, the best banana bread I had ever tasted.
So what makes this banana bread so different?
My gastronomically uneducated opinion is…the sticky, sweet, intensely flavored syrup that is given off when the bananas defrost; that and the combination of brown sugar, applesauce instead of oil and the addition of pecans rather than walnuts.
This recipe has become a fall favorite and is great toasted and slathered with butter, or even made into grilled French toast.
Frozen Banana Bread
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.
Sift dry ingredients and combine with the butter mixture. Blend well.
Add the bananas, applesauce, and vanilla; stir well, but don’t overwork the mixture.
Stir in the nuts and pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3-inch loaf.
Bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Makes: 1 large loaf.
TIPS: This is one of those full proof recipes. It’s had to screw it up, so be a little adventurous with it. I have used different kinds of applesauce from plain to chunky homemade to cinnamon. If you do try it with cinnamon applesauce, reduce the cinnamon in the recipe by half.
You can also use this recipe as a base for other quick breads like apple spice, apple butter, pumpkin or pumpkin butter.
So many people romanticize farm life. They show pictures of fluffy day old chicks, frolicking lambs in lush green pastures, gallons of frothy milk warm fresh from the udder or homemade baked goods that would make even Julia Child jealous. What they rarely talk about is the other side of farm life, the side that is not always pretty and sometimes downright depressing and ugly. That part of farm life that bespeaks of failure or sadness or a job not so well done.
I have farmed for many years, and have lived on my suburban homestead for many more, but it wasn’t until last night that I thought of myself as a failure, of someone who couldn’t get it all or keep it all together.
It was late, as usual, and I was just getting home from work and making my evening rounds. I was standing out near the barn looking out over my little farm; assessing the orchard, the garden, the barn and the chicken coop, when a rather profound thought came to my mind…”I am not very good at this anymore”, “I have become the worst homesteader ever”.
As I stood there looking out over my little plot of land, I took a mental survey that went something like this:
- I have a wonderful barn, one that has housed sheep for shows, rabbits & chickens for meat, and laying hens for eggs, but one that is in desperate need of cleaning and painting.
- I have a chicken coop with one hen. ONE! The others were picked off by a marauding opossum over the past few weeks. The one I have left is not even laying, so we are eggless to boot. I can’t stomach the idea of eating store bought eggs so we have gone without.
- My attempt at growing sweet potatoes in an unused water trough was an epic failure, and the weeds in my garden are more prolific than the vegetables. I did get a few spindly cabbages (that I fed to the chicken). I guess that’s something.
- My fruit trees have produced very little. A huge windstorm that followed the spring bloom blew off most of the blossoms and small fruit. I got two Fugi apples, barely enough for a rustic apple tart.
- My most productive haul was from an espaliered pear tree that I planted last year. I got about three dozen Asian pears that were absolutely divine.
Overall, the year has not been good, which made me feel like the worst homesteader ever. I blog about homesteading on a suburban lot, but it’s pretty uninspiring when a homestead blogger has no chickens, no garden, and no produce.
After 15 years on my homestead (and another 15 on a larger farm) one thing is for sure—farming is unpredictable—it has its ups and downs, it ebbs and flows with good years and bad. It helps if you’re not work 60-70 hour weeks at an off-farm job, but that is my life right now
There have been years when our little farm has produced more than we can use…making me feel like I should get an award for small plot farming…And other years? Well, it’s all we could do to keep the animals alive, get to our shows, manage school and work, and put a few greens on the table.
Thank God I’m not dependent on my farm for survival, or some years we’d be doomed.
But here’s the thing…I couldn’t care less. I’m fine with good days and bad days; productive years and not so productive years because modern homesteading is more about the journey than the destination. Sure, I’d love spending ALL day tending my farm, digging in the garden or preserving the harvest, making quilts or cooking homemade meals, but that’s not realistic. Neither is spending every weekend working on the farm rather than living. We all have a life outside of our farm life, or at least we should.
But, in reality, more times than not I have something to celebrate and that’s precisely what I intend to do—celebrate my accomplishments, regardless of how small they seem to be. Accomplishments like:
- Enjoying a light lunch of fresh made chevre and home baked bread on a glorious fall day. The milk came from a friend’s dairy goats and was mixed with herbs from an herb garden planted just this summer. The bread makings are part of my well-stocked pantry.
- Transforming a paltry apple harvest into a delicious (and easy to make) rustic apple tart that was enjoyed following a roasted lamb dinner. The lamb was raised here and put in the freezer last year and the carrots for a Woodcutter’s Carrot side dish came from a local farmers market.
- Raising a farm kid who just graduated college and is pursuing her own independence while planning for a farm life of her own.
- Growing a friendship that not only provides a wonderful supportive relationship, but goat’s milk as well. My schedule doesn’t allow time for dairy animals (as much as I would like it to) so this is the next best thing.
- A fully stocked pantry that allows me to spend more of my free days homesteading and less time shopping in town.
Over the years I’ve learned that not everything is sunshine and roses, not everything attempted is a success. Failure is a fact of life and you can either embrace it or be so afraid of it that you shy away from trying anything new or different. I don’t ever intend on being like that. I’m too curious a person to be daunted by the possibility of failing.
Someone once said that, “you learn more by failing than by succeeding”. I think that’s true because when I fail I have the chance to pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. And, that’s exactly what I intend to do with my homestead—start again—like any good farmer would.
So, here’s what I’m going to do after brushing myself off:
- I’m going to my local farm stand and buy myself some new hens. They order day old chicks in the spring, use them for educational purposes at the farm before selling them off in the fall so they don’t have to be cared for during the winter. It’s a great deal. I don’t have to brood them or grow them out until they are old enough to lay. They are laying already!
- I’m going to enlist some help and do a major garden clean-up; clearing weeds, fixing the raised beds, and installing a better watering system that won’t require me to spend hours each day with a hose in my hand. I’m already excited because there is nothing better than spending time in the greenhouse starting seeds, planting them out and watching the garden grow lush and green. I’m also going to renew my pumpkin patch because I truly miss those wonderful orange orbs peeking through their giant green leaves.
- I’ve always wanted a small flower bed outside my chicken coop and a load of free bricks I got a while back will be perfect for the edging. It will make a wonderful “bee friendly” flower bed near the fruit trees.
- The barn is getting a complete cleaning, top to bottom, well, top to dirt floor. The nesting boxes will be cleaned out, refilled and waiting for the arrival of the new hens, and I’ll make space to store all my long-handled gardening tools.
My lists can sound daunting, but I’m excited about the opportunity to start afresh, shaking off the bad year and looking forward to all the possibilities of new successes.
We’re not perfect, here. It’s nothing like a television show. Some years are wonderful and everything hums along beautifully, while other years are messy and epic failures.
But, like I said, homesteading is a journey and not a destination. As long as I’m enjoying the journey and excited about renewed possibilities, my enthusiasm for living a farm life in the ‘burbs will not be dampened. So, not to worry folks, I’m not going anywhere. Rest assured you’ll be hearing about the whole beautiful, dirty, glorious, messy thing—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s a lazy summer day laying on my vintage patio daybed.
I close my eyes, drifting away as a warm breeze envelops me. My mind meanders to gently rolling hills with green grass swaying in the breeze, pastures dotted with grazing sheep, new spring lambs sprinting from mama to mama, a dairy cow lying quietly chewing her cud, and a steer growing fat waiting to fill a family’s freezer. I see chickens clucking and scratching around the barnyard and bees buzzing in the garden.
…and there’s always a but, isn’t there?
When I open my eyes instead of rolling pastures and a white picket fence I see a house on a small lot at the edge of town. Not exactly the picturesque farm I see in my mind’s eye.
That suburban reality is the reality for most of America.
But, (again with the but)
A suburban dwelling doesn’t mean you have to give up your homesteading dreams. It only means you have to readjust your thinking about what homesteading is.
Modern homesteading means different things to different people. One person might be interested in old-time remedies to keep their family healthy, while another embraces baking bread or growing herbs on an apartment balcony, and yet another combs yard sales and antique auctions for vintage watering cans or Mason jars to adorn a kitchen or patio.
Today’s homesteader can be whatever they want to be, they are not bound by the realms of farms, small towns or rural life.
Different strokes for different folks, right?
We do have a few similarities with our more rural cousins, though. We crave returning to our roots, to old time skills and a slower way of life. We want to create a more self-sufficient life for ourselves and our family. We want to be self-reliant.
If this sounds like you, you’re in luck. There is no requirement that a homesteader must live in the country or on 100-acres. You can do it right now, right where you are, even if where you are is a downtown apartment…a city lot…or a 1-acre plot.
So let’s get you started with 10 simply things you can do right now to set yourself on the path of becoming a modern day homesteader.
1. First and foremost…decide what you want as a homesteader. It may sound simplistic, but it is actually crucial and sometimes very difficult to decide what you want or why you want to homestead. Do you want it all—gardens, orchard, animals, the whole shebang? Or, do you only want pieces of a homestead life, like baking bread, canning vegetables or growing flowerbeds. The choice is yours, so take your time. There’s no right or wrong way to homestead in our modern world.
2. If you decide to “go big” then you’ll need to assess your property. What do you have room for? What don’t you have room for? What are the “must haves”, and what are the “can do with outs”? This is an important step so you don’t over extend yourself or your property. Be realistic about you and your property. While homesteading can be fun and rather addictive, it WILL be a whole lot of work. The more you have, the more work there will be and your homesteading journey won’t be so fun in the end if you overextend yourself.
I moved into my 1/3-acre home on Labor Day weekend and spent the entire winter drawing plans and laying in supplies for my “bigger picture”. By early spring were we ready to rock the barn building and garden layout.
Remember…a homestead is a constant work in progress, enjoy the journey.
3. While you’re pondering Steps 1 and 2, do some fun things.
Create a potted herb garden even if it’s on your balcony, windowsill or patio.
Begin seeking out new recipes to start cooking from scratch more often.
Try your hand at making a simple chevre cheese.
Teach yourself to bake bread, even if it’s with a bread maker.
Whip out your sewing machine and make an apron.
Here are a few ways to begin homesteading in suburbia:
4. GROW SOME OF YOUR OWN FOOD.
No matter how big your garden is you will relish a bounty of fresh veggies that will provide you with nutritious, pesticide-free meals, and save you money in the process. There are many types of gardens perfect for any suburban homestead no matter where you live. There is the traditional backyard garden with lots of raised beds or rows of produce. There’s edible landscaping where fruits and vegetables are intermixed right alongside your other plants. Then there’s potted gardens that are perfect for small spaces or apartment living. Fruit trees can be planted to take the place of shade trees giving you useful shade and using valuable water to produce food for your family.
There are few things more fulfilling than taking a bite out of a juicy, sweet, unbelievably tasty tomato that you just grew yourself. The difference in taste between those and the ones picked green and shipped from Central America or halfway across the country is absolutely astounding.
5. SET UP A RAIN BARREL AND COLLECT WATER.
Rain water is one of the few free things in this life, so why not collect it to use in the garden. Many cities have water collection programs where rain barrels are free or at a low cost. The water you save can add greatly to your household savings, especially during dry spells. Diverting grey water from the washing machine can also add to your water savings program.
6. PREPARE FOR THE UNFORESEEN.
Life is unexpected at best. We never know when the next storm will hit, knocking out power or making it impossible to get to town. The best precaution to any natural disaster is a well-stocked pantry. A closet, the basement or an extra bedroom can all be outfitted with shelves and stocked with staple items and family favorites.
Picking up a few extra items at the market will have your pantry stocked in no time. And, if a natural disaster never strikes you will have put food away at a lower price than future inflated prices.
7. CAN OR FREEZE FOR LONG TERM STORAGE.
Once you’ve had a few fresh veggies from the garden and gotten the hang of cooking from scratch chances are you won’t want to go back to store bought foods, especially if you live in an area that has long, cold winters. Preserving the harvest is the next logical step in your homestead journey. There are many ways to preserve—canning, freezing, dehydrating, salt curing, pickling, fermenting, root cellaring and more. Start with something simple, like homemade pickled beets. They are practically full proof!
8. RAISE YOUR OWN CHICKENS.
Chickens are my “go to” livestock for beginning homesteaders. A small flock of 3 to 4 laying hens is fun, easy to care for and will give you fresh eggs for the kitchen and manure for the garden. You can build a simple coop in an afternoon, or be creative and look for a large used doghouse or garden shed. Be sure to check out local ordinances so you know if you can have them and how many you are allowed.
9. START A COMPOST PILE.
A compost pile is a must have for any homestead. The rich soil you make from decomposing kitchen scrapes, grass clippings, fall leaves and manure will improve your gardens and give you a better bounty. Fall is the perfect time to start because of all those free leaves. Four wooden pallets is q quick and easy way to start making your own soil.
10. BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY.
New homesteaders may find the process of starting to homestead a bit daunting, but once you start talking to people you will quickly realize there is a whole community of like-mined people out there who are dying to help you be successful, so embrace their generosity. A great place to start talking to people is the Farmer’s Market, a local farm stand or plant nursery. While you’re making plans you can gain knowledge and build friendships that will carry you into the future.
Another great way to meet new people and get your kids involved in your homesteading journey is to enroll them in a youth program that focuses on the many areas of homesteading. 4-H and Grange are both farming centered programs that have lots to offer. Check out your county Cooperative Extension office or Grange Hall for programs near you. You will build lifelong skills and friendships while also learning about leadership.
11. SET UP A CLOTHES LINE.
This sounds so simple, I know. Sometimes it’s the simple things that really get you inspired to do more. My outdoor clothesline was the first thing I put in and the time I spend hanging clothes or taking them down is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. It’s kind of therapeutic as well as being productive.
12. BUILD YOUR SKILLS.
No matter what kind of homestead you decide on you will need many skills to make it work. From gardening and preserving to building or cutting firewood, now is a good time to start. Learning can take place in classes offered at local Grange Halls or home improvement stores, on the internet watching YouTube videos or by spending time in the library or bookstore reading about the skill you want to learn. But, don’t forget to put your new found knowledge to work by practicing what you’ve learned. Be patient too. And remember, a homesteader is a lifelong learner willing to continue gaining skills throughout their life.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but this will get you started and hopefully inspire you to delve deeper into the wonderful world of homesteading.
Check out our categories for lots more information on turning your suburban lot into a productive mini-farm.
Nothing says winter more than squash. And, a roasted creamy butternut squash is a cold weather favorite at our house!
And, butternuts are loaded vitamins and nutrients, too!
We usually have squash as a side dish to roasted lamb or pork, but sometimes we make it a light supper all by itself. There’s nothing like a piping hot squash drenched in butter, spices and maple syrup. Yummy!
We usually grow our own and store them, but in season they can be found at farmer’s markets or grocery stores very inexpensively. Find a cool dark place in your pantry or cellar and buy baskets of them to store so you can have this sweet and tasty treat all winter long.
For baking, I like to choose heavy, thick necked squash rather than those with long skinny necks. This will give you more “meat” and a nice hollow seed cavity for the goodies.
To prepare your squash:
Cut in half long-ways, leaving the stem and bloom ends intact. You don’t want all the sweetness spilling out. Now, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. I like to use a melon baller because it has a lightly sharp edge that slices through the flesh easily. I don’t peel my squash because I don’t want the flesh to get hard and crusty during cooking.
If your squash came from the farmers market you can save the seeds to plant your own crop, or roast them like pumpkin seeds.
Score the fleshy neck part of the squash in a diamond patter so the butter, maple syrup and spices can sink in.
Place the squash, skin side down, in a baking dish. Try to nestle them together so they keep each other from tipping over.
Now, for the good part.
Place about one tablespoon of butter in the seed cavity of each side, followed by a tablespoon of maple syrup. If you prefer you can use brown sugar instead of the maple syrup. Then sprinkle the whole thing with pumpkin pie spice. The amount is up to you.
Pop it into the over and bake at 400-degrees for about an hour. Spoon the melted buttery sweet syrup over the neck a few times and let it ooze into the scoring. At one hour, insert a knife to make sure it is baked all the way through. If it is, the knife will slide through the fleshy part easily. If there’s any resistance continue baking and checking until it is done.
To bake a more savory, rather than sweet, squash drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and bake as above. Herbs like savory, sage, tarragon or thyme will also compliment a savory version of the baked butternut squash.
If you can’t wait a whole hour for your squash to bake, peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler, cut into cubes and then toss in the ingredients for the sweet or savory version.
There’s a few ways you can serve your squash. One is to serve it whole so the flesh and syrup can be scooped out together with each yummy mouthful. Or, you can scoop out all the flesh and mash it, like mashed potatoes, or puree it if you like a smoother consistency.
But, no matter what your favorite turns out to be you’ll be loving your squash all winter long.