It has been one year since we started the Eat Well, Spend Less series (big thanks to Jessica!), and we’re taking a look at how our food budget, menu, shopping habits, and diet may have changed in the last 12 months.
Last April we kicked off the Eat Well Spend Less series by looking at the way we eat. I went over several meal planning tips and guides, and then I broke down an actual week of our food budget and a sample menu for that week. To date, those are two of my favorite posts of the series and on Food for My Family as a whole.
Still, a few things have changed since I wrote those posts 12 months ago, and today we’re going to look at the changes a year of eating can bring. What have we started doing differently, and what changes are we still striving towards?
The Way We Eat
We aim to have a diet that is largely focused on whole foods, and our shopping cart resembles a CSA box no matter where we happen to be shopping: farmers market, supermarket, or co-op. We do use a few convenience items, but we make sure they are brands and names we trust, and we pay close attention to ingredients.
Meal planning is still an important aspect in keeping our budget and diet grounded. With a plan we do much better than without one. During the process of writing my book, we backslid and stopped the menu. It showed in our finances at the end of each week, and it showed in our diet. We eat better on the whole when there is some guideline for the meals we’ll be making for the week. It is worth it, and it needs to be a priority to keep mealtimes running smoothly.
Meals aren’t always fancy. In fact, of the three daily meals, only dinner gets a bit of a nudge in the fancy department. Lunches are often dinner leftovers, but when they aren’t, they consist of basics. I’ve been enjoying eating half an avocado with spinach leaves, a handful of tomatoes (fresh or sun-dried), seeds, and a small scoop of cottage cheese for lunch this week. Raw vegetables and hummus make regular appearances in the kids’ lunch boxes. Fresh fruit is offered as a snack.
We chose to do a few things differently this year with how we shopped. Even during the worst weeks of disorganization with looming deadlines and chaos everywhere else, these things helped to keep us a bit more sane than we would have otherwise been. Our budget has only increased slightly, mostly due to having children who are growing and eating a bit more than last year. We have shifted some of our spending so that it is in lump sums, but otherwise, our approach to family meals and feeding has been relatively stable.
The first major thing was switching the way we purchased meat. A 1/4 of a grass-fed cow was purchased (we split a 1/2 with our neighbor), and while it was a larger investment up front, it’s been wonderful in the long run, and that investment actually saves us money.
Cooking Light did a review comparing grass-fed beef to conventional earlier this year, which made it easier to pull measurable differences in cost and nutrition. Here are a few of the reasons why we like going this route when it comes to purchasing our meat.
- Waste Not, Want Not. Having a freezer full of beef encourages us to use just that beef. We’re using exactly what the farmer delivered to us. We live in a society that so often throws away what we don’t desire, and knowing we need to use these pieces of meat helps us to be better stewards of the land. It also lets us get creative. A roast doesn’t need to mean meat and potatoes. It could mean shredded beef tacos.
- Filler Avoidance. I’m sure you’ve heard about pink slime. I don’t want to eat it. Knowing exactly where my meat comes from helps me avoid strange filers like pink slime (which is incidentally banned in the European Union and can’t be sold in Canada as beef. Hmm.)
- Meds in the Meat. I see a place for antibiotics. However, just as I would not give my children a prescription all winter to prevent ear infections, I would prefer my meat not to get antibiotics without them being truly sick. Antibiotic resistance is a real threat to animals and humans. I feel the same in regards to hormone treatment.
- Price Comparison. Yes, purchasing organic, grass-fed beef will be more expensive. However, that price difference is nullified when you purchase it in bulk. The ability to fill the freezer and use that meat all year actually results in savings over not just individually-packaged organic beef, but over conventionally-raised meat as well. (Cooking Light placed the savings at $300/year for a 1/2-cow purchase.)
- Count Your Calories. I’m sharing this because it’s one of my favorite facts about grass-fed beef. It wasn’t actually a factor for us in making the decision to purchase, but it is a rather amazing thing to think about when you consider the obesity epidemic going on. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner, which means that on the whole, you’ll be consuming fewer calories if you eat the same amount of meat. In fact, the average American would eat 16,642 fewer calories by consuming the same amount of grass-fed beef rather than conventionally-raised according to the Cooking Light piece.
I’ve long been a believer that we eat too much meat. After 7 years as a vegetarian, I still have not been convinced that eating meat and animal products at every meal is a necessary way of life.
Instead, we aim to look at moderation as a way of eating. We started to make more of an effort to ensure 85% of what we eat is plant based and in its truest form possible. This means several meatless meals, but it also includes smaller portions of protein on a whole. It’s about finding balance.
In the same vein, I look at things like dessert as something to have in moderation. Not daily after dinner. I believe in dessert: for birthdays, for family celebrations, for dinners with friends. These are not daily occurrences. My life is not less sweet because I choose to savor my dessert.
As we head into the next year, there are a few things I want to focus on. One is that our dinner schedule seems to shift and sway. While this is necessary to accommodate personal activities, I’d like to try and have a more set schedule for life as a whole, and dinner is included in that plan, which, of course, means menu planning and organization on the whole.
The other thing I hope to focus on more strongly is the role our kids play in each and every meal that is served in the home. I fully believe that we as parents have the responsibility to teach our children the ins and outs of the kitchen and how to feed themselves, and I want to be sure to illustrate that more, as well as be more deliberate about it.
Check out what others are writing this week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series and how they have changed the way they eat over the year: