Taking a Hard Look at My Food Budget

Oh boy! For the better part of this year, my mission has been to get our food bill to feed the family within a reasonable number. But as we started The Great Salad Experiment, I saw the numbers going by $40 a week and I was like whaaaaa! No! No! No! No! No! $40 more a week for good might not sound like much, but when you add that up over the course of a year, that’s over $2,000!

I needed to find a way to get back close to where I was before because spending that much money on food when I knew I could eat well for less didn’t make sense to me. So far, here’s what I was doing:

  • Using Trader Joe’s Salad kits for breakfast
  • Making full on recipes for lunch salads

So to bring the cost of our meals down, I decided to hit at these two things.

First I decided to make my own salad recipes for breakfast

There’s the idea that making food from scratch over buying convenience ingredients is cheaper, and there’s some merit to this assertion. Food companies refer to things like salad kits, marinated meats, and salad mixes as value adds. And value adds usually cost a smidge more money.

So on Week Three of The Great Salad Experiment, I planned to make two salads for breakfast to last the week:

Since I knew my intent was to save money, I made the salad dressings (links above). Again, homemade is cheaper.

Verdict: Homemade Wasn’t Cheaper…So I’ll Buy the damn kits

I spent about $19.50 on the salad ingredients alone for that week. 

If I’d bought the Trader Joe’s kits that I usually do, it would have cost me $19.95.

For 10 breakfasts, either option was still pretty cheap, but here’s why the $0.45 I saved by making the salad vegetables myself wasn’t actually a savings:

  1. The $19.50 doesn’t include the cost of the ingredients for the dressing. The Salad Kits come with the dressing in the kit, so that put the kits ahead.
  2. The $19.50 doesn’t take into account the time it took to chop, wash, and dry all the greens. I enjoyed the bonding time in the kitchen with my lil’ man. But there were other ways I could’ve spent that time to bond with him. 

Then I Decided to Rethink My Lunch Strategy

I was really enjoying eating all the produce I was getting at breakfast and lunch, but all that cold food had started to wear on me. If you hadn’t read the first article in the series “How The Great Salad Experiment Started” you’d remember that I said:

I don’t like salads. Scratch that…I hate salads. They’re cold, they’re light, and they don’t feel substantial enough to hold me off till a late afternoon snack.

I’d figured out the light and substantial part, but I was tired of cold food. And then my husband looked at me one day and said “sometimes you just want something warm.” This was the guy who inspired me to start eating salads this way in the first place, we needed another way. 

I saw this as a sign that we were about to crack. If my husband was starting to get weary of the salads, it was only a matter of time before we quit altogether. 

What does this have to do with the experiment on a budget? Well so far, I’d been using recipes that called for three or more different vegetables. That was driving the costs of those meals up…this was an opportunity. I decided to try bowls instead. In my mind, I could keep my bowls simple (and cheap) and warm at the same time.

What are Bowls?

Buddha bowls, grain bowls, do a google search and you’ll find absolutely gorgeous photos of veggies, whole grains, and avocado with drizzled dressing. I gravitated towards them because they were warm and still packed in a ton of veggies!

Image Source: Google Search of “Grain Bowl”

I did a search on the “Anatomy of A Veggie Bowl” to get the gist of what would go in them:

How I Used Them

Using what I learned, I came up with the components that I wanted in our bowls:

  • Salad Veggies: 2 cups
  • Starch (Grains or Starchy veggies): 1 to 1-½ cups
  • Lean Protein: 3 to 5 oz
  • Cheese (optional)…I haven’t used any so far
  • Salad dressing: 2 to 3 tbsp

I didn’t actually measure contents into each bowl, instead, I used the serving sizes above to help me estimate the quantity of the ingredients that I needed to get from the store. 

This worked beautifully well…we’ve done it so far for two weeks and I have no intention of stopping. Some of the bowls we’ve created are:

What you can learn from my experience

Even when you step out of your comfort zone, honor your truth

While I’m not completely surprised that I’m no longer eating salads for breakfast and lunch, I’m proud that I stepped outside my comfort zone and tried the experiment because I learned that:

  1. I love how I feel when I eat loads of produce most of the time
  2. It’s possible for me to eat salads for breakfast every weekday. The fact that I can open a bag and breakfast is ready is downright magical.

But I had to honor the truth that having only one hot meal (dinner) wasn’t good enough for me. I didn’t feel nourished, and I owned the fact that my lunch and dinner needed to be warm. 

A pivot isn’t a failure when you keep your endgame in mind

Even though I chose to switch to warm bowls instead of cold salads for lunch, we kept the intent of what the  lunch salads were supposed to get us:

  1. Ease of prep. Choosing one or two veggies to roast all at once on the weekend along with cooking the meat and starch helped make sure  I didn’t have to worry about making lunch for the rest of the week. The simplicity of prep also contributed to bringing my food costs down.
  2. Loads of produce. Eating about 2 cups of veggies at lunch in addition to the 2 cups we were having at breakfast was a lot of veggies and I feel great for it.

Keeping the eye on this endgame even in the midst of a pivot made me feel even more successful than the weeks when we ate salads as we intended. 

Next week, I’ll be doing a run down to talk about whether I believe the great salad experiment was worth it.

Photo for Blog Graphic by  Ella Olsson on Unsplash

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