Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning Meals One Month at a Time

Every 4-5 weeks I sit down with my meal planning calendar and plan dinners for our family for the next month.  Breakfasts consist of some variation of oatmeal, healthy cereal, toast, fruit, yogurt, eggs from our chickens, home fries, waffles or pancakes, and bacon or sausage from our hogs.  Lunches are usually leftovers from our dinners or our kids sometimes take maceroni and cheese, bean burritos, or cheese and crackers with a fruit leather to school.  They are not big sandwich eaters, which forces me to be creative when packing school lunches. 

I always bring my lunch to work.  After dinner on the evening, I pull out a few small lunch storage containers (glass or BPH-free plastic) and fill them with leftovers so that I have lunch packed for a few days.  If it is something the kids are likely to eat, I pack a few for them as well.  If not, their lunches get packed in the mornings.

I use this template to plan my meals:

I simply fill in the dates and start writing.  I plan for leftovers 2 days a week and cooking 5 days so we aren't wasting food.  I plan a few easier meals and a few that require a little more effort as well as some crock-pot meals.  Since we have leftover night a couple nights a week and we are using our meals for lunches, I make large portions.  Sometimes, I intentionally make an extra-large portion or 2 of whatever I'm making and freeze half for those extra-busy weeks.  Sundays nights I always make a soup so I can freeze a portion and also because it makes great lunches for the week.  Because my husband and I have an ongoing obligation on Wednesdays, my 15 year old babysits so the kids get maceroni and cheese with a fruit or veggie every Wednesday.  They don't mind! 

I also don't get specific with the veggie when I plan so that I can buy whatever is in season, available from local farms, or is available as organic when I get to the store.

Here is my menu for this month (starting on a Tuesday):
Tuesday- Leftover night
Wednesday- Maceroni and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Pork chops, baked potatos, veggie
Friday- Homemade vegetarian pizza with baby carrots
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- White bean soup
Monday- Nachos
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceroni and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Steak, roast potatos, veggie
Friday- Lasagne, salad
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- Potato escarole soup
Monday- Chilli
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceron and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Roast with carrots and potatos
Friday- Whole wheat spaghetti with veggie
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- Minestrone soup
Monday- Pinto beans and cornbread
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceroni with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Crock pot barbequed ribs, mashed potatoes, and veggie
Friday- Ravioli with veggie

This month, I was in a huge hurry when I planned my meals, so I relied on old standards and didn't get too creative.  While I'm making my menu plan, I jot what I need for my monthly grocery store trip down on this template: which also jogs my memory about other items I might be running low on. 

Since we are busy with work, animals, scouts, 4-H, church and about a million other things, I don't make anything too elaborate.  Everything I cook is super-simple. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorite simple and time-saving recipes.  I will also be sharing my progress towards a few household goals, including my goal to lower my grocery bill by $25 dollars per week.  Stay tuned!" class="pin-it-button" count-layout="horizontal">

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Once a Month Shopping

What does one month+ of groceries for a family of 5 look like?  Here it is . . .


I shop for all of my conventional grocery store items once per month.  This saves me gas, headaches, stress, and money.  The money is saved because I have less opportunity to impulse buy and because I can better organize my purchases.  Here is how my intricate grocery system works broken down by food categories:
Meats: All are farm raised an local.  I always have a freezer full of meat to plan meals around.  At the moment, I have 1/2 a cow grazed on a friend's farm.  We have very little pasture here on the farm and what little we have is quickly eaten by the ponies, so grazing a cow is out of the question.  Eventually, when we have a boy goat to wether and we are out of beef, we will switch to eating chevon as our red meat.  We have plenty of wooded acres and goats are browsers rather than grazers, so they stay well fed without pasture.  Of course, we have plenty of pork from our hogs.  In addition, we order a couple of hens from the Oklahoma food coop for white meat.  Occasionally, I splurge on some wild salmon as well.  I tend to eat more meat than most of my friends, but it seems an efficient way to raise a significant amount of what we eat here on the farm.
Vegetables:  In the summer, these come from my garden or the farmer's market.  Although there are more choices of local vegetables in Oklahoma than in many places thanks to a wonderful local food infrastructure, the choices in the winter tend to get a little meager.  Salad greens from local farms are available in almost every store in town, so that's not a problem.  Still, we do eat a  lot more conventionally farmed fruits and veggies in the winter, although I do try to buy organic as much as possible. 

Dairy:  If I can find time to run by one of our local farms, I buy raw cow or goat's milk.  If not, we have a regional dairy that runs its own stores and doesn't use rBGH.  I can also get items like heavy cream (if I don't have raw cow's milk to skim off of), sour cream, etc.  at the regional dairy stores.  Cheese, buttermilk, etc.  I can get through the Oklahoma food coop ( or at the regional dairy store.  I usually buy vegetables and dairy on a weekly basis. 

Eggs:  Come from our own hens, of course.

Baking goods:  Most come from my monthly grocery store trip, except my whole wheat, which I can get through the Oklahoma food coop.   Basically the Oklahoma food coop caries only locally grown foods or items that are produced in Oklahoma.  All items  have too meet certain criteria such as containing no known GMOs, not coming from a CAFO, etc.  Orders are taken online and are delivered one evening per month to several towns throughout the state.  It's a great system and very well organized.

Everything else:  All that is left comes from my once a month shopping trip.  This includes dried beans, rice, pasta, canned goods, a few extra loves of bread for when my baking can't keep up with family demand, popcorn, wheat crackers, soy sauce, spices, coffee, tea, Dr. Bronner's soap, toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.  Again, I try to by organic when I can afford it, but I also need to stick to my budget.  In the future, I hope to start canning more of my own salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. as well as freezing more vegetables from my garden and the local farmer's market. 

So, what about cost?  My absolute top budget for my monthly trip is $350, but I'm trying to slowly get that down to $300.  I should also say that we are slowly building a stockpile of dried goods for preparedness--not a paranoid "the world will end soon" preparedness, but a "you just never know" preparedness.  My weekly produce and dairy budget can vary from $30 t0 $50 and I spend another $25 per month averaged with the OK food coop  (maybe nothing some months and maybe $100 others).  That brings my spending to around $150 or less per week outside of what we farm ourselves.  I'd really like to lower that amount, but that seems to be the best I can do for now.  It does seem that as I learn couponing strategies (when there are good coupons for healthy foods), buy more in bulk, etc.  those amounts are slowly coming down. My costs for hay and feed are pretty minimal (maybe $25 per week maximum), so feeding a family of 5 with a teenage boy and a husband with a big appetite a whole foods, mostly organic diet for $175 per week isn't too shabby.

I will report back on any progress I've made on lowering my grocery amounts even further.  Take a look at my next blog for more on how I plan my menu one month at a time as well as my food goals for the future. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Manners for Real People Concerning Real Food

I eat this stuff we're all calling "real food" these days.  Mine and my family's diet consists mostly of farm raised meats, organic dairy, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and natural sweeteners.  I try not to go crazy with sugar.  I avoid certain things like they are the plague--things such as artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, and high-fructose corn syrup.  I eat mostly whole grains (although I'm a sucker for a crusty white French loaf). 

All in all, I do quite well with my diet, but guess what?  I've got news for you--it doesn't make me superior to other humans just because I'm a little more conscious about what I eat.

It doesn't make God like me better than you because I buy organic.  It may not even make me live longer just because I eat more fruits and veggies.  It improves my chances of not getting an illness that might kill me, but it doesn't protect me from oncoming trains or zombie apocalypse.  I'm not extra-special just because I raise my own pork and eggs.  It makes me happy to lead a more independent and "back to the land" lifestyle, but I don't think it's going to get me a Nobel prize or sainthood in the Catholic church.  I'm not going to gain scores of admirers or have small children ask for my autograph just because my wheat has more bran than your wheat. 

I'm not saying that our food choices don't matter, because they really do.  I wouldn't be out feeding hungry pigs when it's 20 degrees outside or picking up food coop orders after an exhausting day at work if  I thought what I was doing didn't matter.  I have very healthy children.  My 15 year old caught a cold this month for the first time in years and was in absolute shock over it.  He literally thought he was going to die.  I've watched too many friends lose their woman-parts to cancer.  Healthy eating may not save me from that fate, but it's the one thing I can do to lessen my chances.  When I choose organic, acres of land and the surrounding environments are saved from pesticide poisoning.  When I choose local, I am strengthening my community in innumerable ways.  I could go on, but my point is that food choices DO matter.  They matter a lot.

Yes, food matters, but human beings matter more.  I know when I make good food choices a lot of humans besides myself get to be physically happier and healthier.  My actions, for good or ill, have a ripple effect in this world.  That's why when I act superior and dogmatic just because I eat this and you eat that, I'm negating my food choices by adding "junk thoughts" into the world.  Junk thoughts, with their stress-inducing negativity, can be just as poisonous as junk food.  My people don't need my judgement.  They need my support and encouragement to take better care of themselves, sure, but that doesn't happen when I treat them with scorn.
I see too many real food eaters adding those junk thoughts into the world.  I actually heard someone once state that feeding a child refined sugar was a form of child abuse.  Really?!  I had a pretty rough childhood and I can guarantee you that being fed sweet confections was the least of my troubles.  Let's try to have a little gratitude for the fact that we live in a land of such abundance that we can actually choose what we eat. Let's pray that someday soon all of the world's peoples can have enough nourishing food to fill their bellies and sustain their health.
To avoid us all going off the deep end with this whole real food business, I propose a few ground rules:

1.  When you are a guest in some one's home, unless you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, accept what they offer with gratitude.  They used their financial resources, time, and energy to feed you.  Say thanks and eat.  Enjoy a little community.  Don't dictate do them what they serve to you when you are a guest in their home.

2.  Accept gifts freely given.  On several occasions when organizing pot-luck style meals with organizations I am involved with, I have been told to purchase specific brands because they are healthier.  Since I agree that those brands are "better for you" brands it was no big deal for me to comply, but the request really irked me.  What if I couldn't afford those brands?  What if I had already bought something only to find it didn't make the cut?  On another occasion, the food I wanted to bring was nixed for not being healthy--nevermind that there was nothing else there that my special-needs child would eat. This is especially bothersome when it happens at church functions.  I'd hate it if someone felt unwelcome in God's church because they didn't bring the right yogurt to the potluck.  If I remember right, Jesus had  a few things to say to those who wanted to get too dogmatic about other people's dietary habits.
3.  This is my own personal ax to grind, but keep in mind there may be extenuating circumstances to why somebody doesn't follow your ideal diet.  Although I believe that healthy eating isn't unaffordable by most people in America, it is expensive to consume an "ideal diet".  This is a complex issue.  I was shocked to hear on NPR that a family of 4 was forced to eat unhealthy because they only received $150 a week in food stamps, especially when they used the "soda is cheaper than milk" excuse.  Yes, soda is cheaper than milk, but water is free!  The beverages available in our house are milk, water, coffee, and herbal tea--and you have to be at least 15 years old for the coffee.  My children have survived for years on those limited choices.

Regardless, we all know the organic milk is twice that of the conventional milk.  I have at certain points in my life been so poor that I've had to choose the absolute cheapest options at the grocery store.  If you aren't in that place right now, say a prayer of gratitude and don't judge those who are. 

On another note, I have a child who has borderline Asperger's and a lot of sensory integration issues.  Food flavors and textures are a real issue for her.  We feed her as healthy as we can, but sometimes just getting anything into her little body takes priority.  She eats a lot of mac and cheese (no artificial colors!) and not many veggies.  Yes, I've tried all that "getting your picky eater to like veggies" advice and it still doesn't work.  I make her take one bite out of her veggies every night in the hope that she will become more used to the texture.  I send her to school with a fruit leather.  That's about all she can handle right now.  I'm probably not going to hell because my little girl doesn't get her 5 a day.

4.  Your family doesn't need your "lessons".  If they are kind enough to watch your kids, they don't need you to micromanage every aspect of the care and feeding of your children.  I used to be so guilty of this.  Now I realize that my kids don't belong to just me--they were born into a marriage, a family, and a community.  I have final say on their care and upbringing, but I need to pick my battles.  I figure that, in total, the meals fed to my children by extended family equals 3 weeks or less, so that leaves 49 weeks out of the year that they eat an above average diet.  My family knows my preferences so it's really not worth the damage to those relationships to press the issue too much. I try not to sweat it when I'm not in absolute control of what they are eating and enjoy the grown up movies, quiet car rides, and alone time with my hubbie instead.

5. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  Some days I'm tired and our diet may not be as wonderful as it usually is.  Sometimes my kids get invited to a birthday party at (gasp!) McDonald's.  Sometimes we are traveling on the road, didn't plan ahead, and there aren't many food choices.  Sometimes, life isn't perfect.  I do pretty damn good, and that's good enough.

I'll end with a quote from Diet for a New America, which I read when I was 18, and has stuck with me these past 19 years:  "Better to eat beer and franks with cheer and thanks than sprouts and bread with fear and dread."  Gratitude is everything!

Farm Happenings

It has been so busy, busy, busy around here, I haven't hardly had time to post.  I have been building a very rough website for our farm to promote what we sell on a very small scale.  I don't want to sell through the larger coops, etc.  because I want to run the farm rather than have it run us!  I'm hoping that selling person to person will at least help the farm to break even and supply us and our neighbors with fresh, wholesome food.


Our girls are set to deliver any day now and are sharing quarters with the chickens for the time being.  The "goat yurt" has instead become the "pony yurt".  They are creating all kinds of havoc for the hens, but at least they are close by and safe from our buck, who has no respect for a lady who is with child.  He doesn't hesitate to butt them to steal their feed whenever the opportunity arises.  Despite his disrespect, he can't live without his girls and escapes daily to hover near their pen and bleat at them.  He's hardly ate or drank in days, poor baby!

M., my daughter, has started raising Jersey Woolies as a 4-H project.  They are primarily a fiber rabbit, but are much less expensive than angoras.  This is Moonshadow.

And this is Wildflower--she's a beauty!

My Zelda continues to grow and continues to be a well-mannered girl despite being mostly pit bull.  As long as she minds her manners, she can stay here at Dome Farm.  Our other 2 dogs are working/herding breed mixes and having a pit is something I never thought I'd do.  Maybe she has just enough of other breeds to even out her temper, because so far she's just a sweet and gentle soul! 

All of our hogs except this gal went to the butcher and I've sold a few pounds of pork to friends.  I'm hoping I can sell a few more!  This lil' 300 lb. lady hasn't gone yet, because she managed to escape the trailering process by knocking my dear hubbie flat on his back (don't tell him I told anyone)!  We created a chute to the trailer (thus, the old door) and have been feeding her in it to get her comfortable with it.  Last night while she was eating, I snuck up and closed the door on her.  She started pitching such a fit, I was afraid she'd tear my horse trailer apart and I'd have no way to take the ponies to riding lessons.  As I was debating whether I should leave her in, I'll be damned if she didn't jump over the door and out of the opening in the top.  Of course, I didn't see her do this, but my 15 year old son swears that she launched herself up, "swam" her front hooves in mid air, then landed unceremoniously on her face outside the trailer. 
At first, I thought he surely accidentally let her out and didn't want to admit it.  I told him I was going to look and see if she really had dirt on her face.  He gave me that blank look that only teenagers are capable of perfecting and said, "Mom, she's a pig.  Of course she has dirt on her face."  Good point!  I have concluded that T., who feeds the hogs every day, knows enough about them to have the good sense to not open the door once we had her in. The only reasonable explanation is that this girl is a superhero.  I have officially dubbed her "Spiderpig."

My dear hubbie had a day off work to spend at the farm and built this shelter for our does and their babies to live in when they have officially recovered from birth and their new pen is built.  We had very nice shingles left over from a remodel job.  Unfortunately, the very wealthy homeowner stiffed us for a considerable sum of money.  Why it's never the people who have to scrimp and save to have their homes remodeled and always those who can easily afford it I will never understand.  A least our goats have the nicest roof of any goathouse in town! 

Only the best will do for our girls!  Hopefully my next post will be of our new kids.  Until then, I have some great ideas for some new posts on real food, shopping, budgets, and livestock.  Now to find the time . . .