This is the first of 7 posts for the book club, read more about it here.
I went back and forth on whether or not my family would participate in the food experiment. I had created a list of reasons as to why we were exempt from it: I am pregnant, we have a toddler (who eats like an adult), Zac works 24-hour shifts and needs to pack lots of food, so on and so forth.
We budget off of an irregular income which means everything is prioritized. The last thing to get funded each week is cash. Cash covers groceries, spending money, and our envelopes (entertainment, home care, auto care, pets, personal upkeep and gifts). If we are short any given week, the bills get paid first and the remainder is taken in cash and if that means only $20, then that's the grocery budget for the week.
In my head I envisioned us doing a very casual version of the food experiment, like no caffeine and maybe no sugar for a week. Some of the other suggestions in our experiment guide are eliminating 7 foods, only eating what is in your pantry, cutting your grocery budget and donating the rest. I certainly was not going to limit myself to 7 foods like Jen Hatmaker does in her book.
Well the week of the food experiment rolled around and the bank account revealed that there was exactly enough to fund all the bills with $0 left to be taken out in cash. Not even spending money.
And so, our food experiment began.
Week one of no grocery shopping wasn't so bad. Apparently I overbuy because our fruits, vegetables and other fresh items lasted all week. We didn't struggle to come up with recipes using only the ingredients in our pantry. In fact, it forced me to clean out the pantry which was great because there were items in there that expired in 2009. I had over 200 individual items!
Week two on the other hand was a little harder.
We decided week one wasn't quite enough of a challenge, so we decided to only buy six items at the grocery store: milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, juice and cottage cheese. The milk, juice and cottage cheese were for Finn and we used them sparingly. We used meat that was buried in the freezer and once again found several items that were far past their expiration dates. By night 13 we were eating rice and beans.
The hardest part about week two wasn't the limited menu options, it was going to the grocery store and only allowing ourselves to buy six items. I couldn't believe how much self-control it required. It also opened my eyes to my spending habits and caused me to really evaluate our grocery budget.
At the end of the experiment we made a few conclusions:
- We eat the same 20 meals every single month but we don't shop for them
- We continually buy items to "stock the pantry" that never get used (bread, instant noodles and boxed mixes like Hamburger Helper)
- We allow our shopping habits to dictate our budget
So I was left thinking, "where do we go from here?" I didn't want these two weeks to go to waste.
A few hours later I had compiled our "Monthly 20." It is the master list of recipes and ingredients for our 20 go-to meals. I realized if we shopped for all the ingredients for these recipes in bulk at the beginning of the month rather than spreading them out over four weeks, we could save almost $50/month. The other nights are covered by freezer meals (post coming soon on starting a freezer meal group) and leftovers. We will still grocery shop every week, but the only items we will need are fresh ingredients and staple items like milk and eggs. We have been using this system for two weeks now and have already saved $60 on our March grocery budget.
This experiment forced me to take a break from my normal weekly habits and really think about food. I think about food at least three times a day already, but this was different. I had to get creative. I had to stop and look through recipes, sort the pantry, dig through the spice cupboard. I became truly grateful for each meal because it took a great deal of preparation to get it on the table. We thanked God for our food and for the first time in a while, we really meant it.
"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God."
1 Corinthians 10:31