Feeding my gluttonous horde on a budget has always been… difficult. I admit, it’s mostly because I’m a food snob. If it doesn’t taste at least passably good, I’m not going to eat it. I don’t care how cheap it is. To be fair, I hate some expensive foods too: caviar, capers, salmon, truffles. I think they taste like ass and I don’t know about you, but ass is not a flavor I aspire to. Maybe it’s just me.
But my family is a family of black holes. I don’t say this to be amusing (well, yes I do, but it’s true too), I say this to present the facts of my situation… our budget is a joke. Between my snobbery, food allergies in myself and my youngest, food aversions in the others, and the food sink that is my boyfriend, believe me when I say planning a meal is a bitch in high heels stomping all over my head. Even when I make meals we can and will all eat, I have to cook like I’m feeding an army. A small one, but still. There are FIVE people in my home. FIVE. Not twenty. And THREE of them are children. We aren’t talking about the bottomless stomachs of teenagers, or even the growing bodies of pre-teens. The oldest is nearly 5, and after her is a nearly 4 year old, and bring up the rear is the very-nearly 1 year old. They don’t eat like preschoolers and a toddler, no, they eat like marathon runners. Even the baby can pack away more in a sitting than most school-aged children. You think I’m kidding? Exaggerating? (I’m laughing at you, just a little. Ok, a lot.)
My middle child has eating issues. These eating issues have led to her eating only soft, room-temp or colder foods. There are a variety of reasons why that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say it’s become so severe that she started losing weight because she refused to eat so much. I’ve learned that every bite counts with her and I can’t be so picky about “healthy” because I’m more worried about “survival.” Why do I mention all this? Because this child, this nearly-4-year-old child, has packed away an entire half gallon carton of ice cream in a day before, and I didn’t want to be flamed for only feeding her junk food. Hell, I’m just happy she got calories. Besides, it has ridiculous amounts of calcium, so shut up. But seriously. If I eat an entire half gallon of ice cream in a day, I get sick. She ate that on top of three bowls of angel hair noodles, two hot dogs, three yogurts, and a quart of milk doctored with carnation instant breakfast. (Side note, carnation instant breakfast has an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals. Seriously, read the label. It’s like vitamin central in a tasty tasty powder.)
My oldest can plow through enough veggies to stock a soup kitchen for an entire day, and that’s in one sitting. She has no eating issues — in fact, she will pretty much eat anything that isn’t bolted down. This child can take a salad bar of fruit and veggies and make them disappear in a half hour, then a half hour later is complaining she’s hungry. I would disbelieve her but I hear her stomach growling. Not to mention she’s only grown in height, not in weight, in almost a year and a half. I’m able to count her ribs and vertebrae very easily now and have started to wonder if she needs even more calories. It seems impossible, but I have no better explanation. Her doctor gave her a clean bill of health, so I’m not sure what else to think. But this child alone can eat our budget right out from under us!
And god help me, the baby’s in on it, too. Just today she’s polished off three waffles, four chicken tenders, a handful (my handful, not hers) of fries, two ounces of cheese, and whatever she’s nicked from her sisters. Which is not inconsiderable. She’s an accomplished little food thief. Plus she still nurses quite often. God only knows how much she’d eat if she didn’t nurse! I shudder to think… And she’s only 1, what happens when she’s 4-5? (Scratch that, I know what will happen. She’ll be yet another garbage disposal. Oh my god, save me…)
Soooo, how exactly do I cut my food costs down? I’ve cut out a lot of meat, as that was our biggest expense, but I can’t cut much more, and I already buy some of the cheapest cuts. I don’t want to cut the fruits and veggies any more — that’s our next biggest expense — because I value the nutrition of them over things like, say, starches. Not that starches don’t have their place, they do, but I’d rather my kids munch on pepper strips than pasta. I make my own bread, we buy in bulk, I shop the edges of the store more than the middle (where the more expensive packaged meals live), I’ve even given up buying anything organic anymore because we just plain can’t afford it. We’re already on WIC, which helps A LOT, but I can’t plant a garden (apartment, and no local community plots I can get to enough to tend them properly) and I can’t find a CSA in the area which has our most-used produce. Things like swiss chard and mustard greens and fennel sound interesting, but I’m a simple girl who uses potatoes, broccoli, and romaine. Oh, and my family is none too big on cabbage, and I can’t eat beans. Of any kind. Legumes make me puff up like a puffer fish who sucked a bit too hard on the nozzle of a compressed air can. Most budget meal plans include LOTS of beans. Why? Because they’re packed with protein, they’re filling, and they’re bloody cheap. Yeah, I know, I hate my allergies.
Besides coupons and shopping the ads, I have zero ideas. Literally, I’ve reached the end of my food budgeting rope. Anybody got any tips?