Eat Well, Spend Less: Looking Back on the Way We Ate

This month in the Eat Well, Spend Less series we’re looking back on what’s changed over the past two years in the purposeful way we feed our family.
The Way We Eat: Eat Well, Spend Less Yearly Review via
This month marks two years of the Eat Well, Spend Less series. Last year for the one-year anniversary I covered a lot of the ongoing changes we were making as a family and a bit of the reasoning for them. As I was considering how our food habits have changed since last year I feel a bit like a broken record playing the same 3-second loop over and over again. First, let me share with you what has stayed the same in the last 12 months, and then we will take a look at a few things that have changed.
Eat Well, Spend Less Yearly Review via


The food culture in our family remains largely unchanged. We focus on eating whole foods and cooking from scratch. Simple meals are king for everyday eating, and we choose to focus on high quality ingredients over fancy methods most nights.

Back in October we again split a side of beef with our neighbors. We’ve found that 1/4 cow is a substantial amount for us, and the only time we’ve had to buy beef outside of that is if we want to host a party or cook for a crowd with a specific cut of beef. For our home use, we’ve been happy to adjust our expectations and stretch our cooking knowledge to include all cuts of beef in our meals.

Last year I shared some of the cost savings that comes with buying in bulk, estimating that we save hundreds of dollars a year for 1/4 cow over purchasing the same cuts separately of either grass-fed organic or conventional beef in stores or at the market. It is definitely an investment up front, but it is one that is worth making for us. I looked at Craigslist for freezers, and in my area you can find a good chest freezer or upright for $50-$100, which means it would pay for itself in less than one year.

Our milk continues to come, cream on the top, in glass bottles to our front door. I’ve tried their free-range organic eggs, too, and the quality was definitely worth the price. The CSA share is something we’re currently considering. The only thing holding us back is that we enjoy our weekly farmers’ market trips in the summer and autumn months, and we aren’t certain how to juggle both, but the convenience factor is definitely nice.

Plants continue to take up 85% or more of our diet, and we’re adding more and more produce to that. I don’t believe that I drew the long straw four times to get kids who eat their fruits and vegetables. Instead, it’s something we work at, and there are still items that each of them doesn’t appreciate, and there are nights where they stare at their plate and frown. For the most part, however, all four eat a wide variety of produce for all three meals and their snack. It is something we work towards daily, and we will continue to reinforce until they move out of the house.
Eat Well, Spend Less Yearly Review via


One thing that I realized I was failing at this last year was getting back to the basics with my kids. Sometimes in the effort to get food on the table, it’s easy to overlook the simple things: “This is how you boil pasta,” “we cut the pepper like this and remove the seeds—oh, and let’s have a talk about capsaicin,” “the yeast rises while it sits because–.” These simple lessons are valuable, and being able to talk about them with my kids is what will make them better cooks, not because they know how to follow a recipe, but the why and how behind making the recipe.

One of the greatest lessons in cooking is actually thinking about the simple parts of it. Mandi talked about this in one of her recent posts, how learning the basics of how to cook actually helped her to enjoy the process more. I think this is something we all need to consider, both while cooking ourselves, and while encouraging others to cook, your kids included. We’ve been making a lot of pasta, hand-rolling gnocchi, whipping up batches of ricotta, and preserving lemons lately.

Some of our backs to basics are a bit urban homestead: tapping the maple trees to make syrup, planting seeds for the garden, learning how to jam the raspberries from our bush or how to freeze strawberries for later. What I really am looking for here, though, is just to get them to understand and know the basics, to have food be a part of their lives and the way we live, and for those processes to be intentional, even when they are rushed, hurried, crazy with life.

Food Avoidance

Late in 2011 we learned a few things that may trigger Kjell’s neurological episodes that were landing us in the pediatric ICU on a regular basis. After a visit to Mayo Clinic and a few probing questions, I came home with a list of food additives, seasonings, and dyes that may act as triggers. These things aren’t necessarily the direct cause to what was happening, but we opted to start avoiding them to a greater extent. They were already things we didn’t purchase or consume at home, but I hadn’t been avoiding them when we visited relatives or spent some time at a friend’s house, or even things I really thought about when visiting the neighborhood restaurants. It turns out that I needed to.

By avoiding common triggers for migraines like food dye and, most importantly, monosodium glutamate (the dreaded MSG) at all meals, we’ve been free of hemiplegic migraines and have shed our yearly trips to the ICU with tubes breathing for him. It’s really something that deserves a post of its own, and it’s been a long time coming.

Recently Related:

::Back to the Basics of Feeding Your Family
::Introducing New Foods to Your Kids

As always, be sure to check out the yearly reviews for the rest of the Eat Well, Spend Less group.


  1. I never really thought about avoiding certain food to stop migraines. I get migraines all the time. I will have to look into which foods to avoid.

    • There are lots of foods that are known to cause migraines! One of my best friends went from having migraines EVERY MONTH to not having one in seven years by cutting out preservatives. The food triggers are different for everyone but it’s definitely worth your time to research! She had a good friend who had a stroke as a result of one of her migraines and that’s what prompted her to get serious about finding a “cure”.

      • Yep, no preservatives, food dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners (even in gum). Hemiplegic migraines, which is what Kjell has as his probable diagnosis (most people don’t need help breathing when they get these, which is why it’s not definitive) actually look very similar to strokes. I’m glad your friend is seeking out how to control them naturally!

  2. I had no idea of the side effects of food additives. I’m so glad that you have some resolution for your son’s health. You do inspire me with your take on food and how you talk to your kids about and get them involved. Just so you know you are making a difference!

  3. I love reading more about your journey, Shaina. You definitely have your own little homestead vibe going on. I’ve always been jealous of your garden. =)

  4. I’m still envious of your fresh milk delivery.

  5. I love these tips. We are in the market for a deep freeze now to be able to buy in bulk. And we just found out that the local dairy still delivers their products door-to-door. I’m so excited!

  6. I love what you say about remembering to talk about food in ways that make sense to children. My son is always asking to help in the kitchen, and while I don’t always let him, we do talk a lot about food, what to do with it and where it comes from. He tells me there are kids in his class who didn’t know that milk came from cows before they talked about it in class – that is worrying when what we eat is such a fundamental part of what we are…

    • Thank you, Louise. I love that you get your son in the kitchen. It is so important to educate them about food, just like we educate our children to watch for cars before they cross the street.

  7. What a great post Shaina. So many good tips and things to think about. 🙂

  8. WOW, I am so glad you figured out the link between food and your trips to the ICU! It’s amazing how much food can effect our health and yet so many doctors don’t even bring it up. And I must say I always LOVE looking at your beautiful photos and vantage points. So beautiful!

    • Thanks, Steph. Hemiplegic migraines are really uncommon, but they have some of the same triggers that regular migraines or migraines with aura do, and no, doctors aren’t always forthright in suggesting dietary changes. Though, I do wonder if that is because the public doesn’t like to be told what to eat or not to eat. There is a huge stigma around that. We learned about dietary changes simply because I was obsessively researching the topic before our Mayo Clinic appointment in hopes that I could ask the right questions, and even when I suggested eliminating all those things, the doctor pointed out that it takes out essentially all convenience food items. For many people this is a major deterrent. For us, it just meant educating our children so they didn’t see those options at holidays, friends’ and relatives’ houses, while on vacation, or at school as an option anymore.

  9. What a beautiful write up and lovely overview of your family’s diet 🙂 I love all the whole, fresh food ideas.

  10. Do you have a recipe for the second image-looks like maybe polenta and mushrooms?? Looks amazing!

  11. It’s so true that eating well doesn’t have to mean spending more. I love this post and feel encouraged by your message. Thanks so much!

  12. What a great recap of another year Shaina. Your focus on Back To Basics with the kids caught my attention…this is something I hardly do, and I am not happy about that. I can change that 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration as always…so glad to hear avoiding those foods has helped your little one!!!

  13. Thought-provoking post, and really great tips! I love that you’re taking the time to include your children in the cooking process.

  14. I wish we could get fresh milk delivered! The reason we stopped getting it is because of the 1 hour drive to the farm, just couldn’t do that every week.

    I wanted to mention, as others may find this helpful. I had recurring migraines a couple of times a month since I was 16 until I was 24. It was awful and no specialist could tell me what the issue was. Had a CAT scan and other tests, nothing. So when I was 24 I read somewhere about the effect of cell phone radiation on some people who are sensitive to it. I decided “What do I have to loose? Let’s see if this would work”, so with my doubts I quit using my cell phone cold turkey. I’ve been migraine free for nearly 6 years! So while I totally see how food additives may be culprits for some people, especially children, there are also other triggers and for me it was electromagnetic radiation in low doses. Just hoping my story may help someone 🙂 Oh, and right now I’m living a happy life cell-phone free. We still keep one in the car but it is always turned off. It’s also interesting that my husband is also sensitive to cell phones the same way, but he still gets occasional migraines, he is exposed to cell phones at work all day and eats more junk foods when nobody is looking (since we only eat good stuff, traditional foods at home).

  15. I actually love that not much has changed for you. I think that’s good affirmation that you’ve found a way to feed your family that is aligned with your values – values related to food and values related to simplicity and making food fully integrated with daily living, as opposed to a burden. I find that the big changes can feel onerous at first, but as we’ve become more comfortable with cooking from scratch (for example), then family pizza night becomes a joy, rather than a struggle to find the recipe, verify ingredients, etc. instead, it’s just part of our routine to make the dough be hand, etc. sounds like the same with your 1/4 beef – you ‘be found something that works and is supporting your values and goals for your family. Hooray!

  16. This day and age our children are not learning to cook. Eating fast foods is a regular thing for a lot of families. Teaching your kids to cook makes them become healthier adults. Good for you.

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  1. […] Shaina from Food for My Family shares how she’s realized she needs to get back to basics with her kids and how important avoiding certain foods is for one of her children’s health.  Click here to read it. […]

  2. […] Shaina from Food for My Family shares how she’s realized she needs to get back to basics with her kids and how important avoiding certain foods is for one of her children’s health.  Click here to read it. […]

  3. […] from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship Letting go of food guilt and shame, from Mandi at Easy. Homemade. Looking back on the way we ate, from Shaina at Food for My Family How I really eat well and spend less, my […]

  4. […] from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship Letting go of food guilt and shame, from Mandi at Easy. Homemade. Looking back on the way we ate, from Shaina at Food for My Family How I really eat well and spend less, my […]

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