Mealtimes in our home have always been casual and chaotic, with Brett and I basically eating while standing over the kids – trying to keep them in their seats while dishing out seconds from the stove. We have always made dinner as a family a priority, but, I have to admit, we haven’t done it very successfully.
A few months ago, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which offered great advice for how to simplify the lives of over-scheduled and overstimulated kids. One of the big takeaways for me was the importance of establishing daily, family routines – such as mealtimes. So, I decided to improve this part of our family’s schedule by adding some structure.
We Set the table. Believe it or not, we never used to actually “set the table” — unless of course, we had guests over. Brett and I would make the plates for the kids at the counter and serve them at their seats. Now, Theo’s daily chore is to set the table, complete with cloth napkins, drinks, and silverware.
We wait for everyone to be seated. Most of the time, Brett and I wouldn’t even sit down to eat unless one of us was feeding the baby. Brett and I still make all the plates at the counter, but we bring them all over to the table and wait for everyone to be seated and ready to eat before we begin.
We don’t have toys or electronics at the table. At this point, this “rule” is more for Brett and I than the kids, but I wanted to set the precedent early AND lead by example. Someday, I won’t want my kids on their phones during family dinner, so I shouldn’t have my phone at the table either.
We talk. Every night, we go around the table and share our favorite part of the day. Sometimes we ask additional questions like “if you could be any fruit, what would you be?” and silly things like that. As the kids grow older, I hope we are able to keep having dinner discussions. We also say thank you. I usually ask the kids “Who can we thank for this meal?” and they thank whoever made it [lately it’s been Brett], and the farmers who grew it and the grocery store employee that sold it and the animal they are eating [if they are eating an animal, since Eva and I don’t eat meat]. This replaces the typical “saying grace” and I much prefer it because it allows us the opportunity to thank everyone involved in giving us food.
We practice table manners. My kids are finally at the age where they need to be taught table manners, like holding their silverware properly and wiping their faces with their napkins and not their t-shirts.
The other part of simplifying mealtime [also found in Simplicity Parenting] is simplifying food for your kids. It’s been a few years since I began our family practice of eating [nearly] zero processed foods, and I feel like that simplification has made tremendous improvements to our health and our energy and our overall well-being [not to mention our finances].
To read more about how we simplify our food, here are some of my blog posts about our food choices:
When I was a little kid, we had one HUGE desk top computer in our basement that we could power up to play a game if we had the patience and determination to actually get the machine on and the floppy disk running. But today, my kindergartner has spent the last three months doing her school work on an iPad – watching YouTube videos, playing math computer games, and reading digital kids books.
Times have definitely changed.
I know that opinions are very strong on both sides of the screen time debate, and so I have no intention of weighing in on how much screen time kids should or should not have. I’ll leave that to the experts. But I have realized that even more important than setting healthy boundaries for my kids is modeling healthy screen time usage for myself.
While reading Carla Naumburg’s book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, it dawned on me that I am breaking many of the screen time rules that I would want my kids to follow. So I decided to set some boundaries for my own screen time.
I don’t have Facebook, but I still often get sucked into spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Sometimes I pick up my phone to check the weather and realize an hour later [after checking emails, responding to texts messages, practicing Spanish, and catching up on news] that I still don’t know the forecast.
But even still, I don’t believe that using my phone is bad [or that you shouldn’t use yours as much as you want]. I have just realized that if I expect my kids to have healthy boundaries for screens, I need to have healthy boundaries as well. While adults may not have the developmental issues associated with screen time that kids do, we still risk negative side effects such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a general loss of time.
My Screen Time Limits
I am not trying to say that everyone should follow these specific rules. Your usage will depend on how your phone serves you. [And it’s important to remember that the phone, tablet, computer or device is there to serve you, not the other way around.] For me personally, these changes over the past few months have provided me with more quality time with my family, less time wasted wandering aimlessly on my phone, and a better example of how I want my kids to manage their own screens when they are old enough.
1. No screens during mealtime. I’ve been working on table manners and dinner time routines with my kids. One of the new standards is no screens at the table. Right now my kids don’t have their own devices, so it’s really just a rule for my partner and I. Sometimes our phones are so attached to us that they come to the table with us, but this just causes a distraction from the focus of time together as a family during meals.
2. Absolutely no phones while driving. This rule is a no-brainer especially since it is now a law, but it is still a struggle. I have a habit of checking my phone at stop lights and using it for directions or even occasionally making calls. Could these things wait? Most definitely. Do I want my kids thinking that it is ok to use their phones while driving? Absolutely not.
3. No television when the kids are awake. Oh, man. This is tough. Television is such an easy and convenient distraction. A few years back, I would start reaching the end of my rope around dinner time while I was waiting for Brett to get home and trying to make dinner and the baby was screaming and my emergency response was to turn on the television. And I wasn’t even putting on kids shows. I would turn on The Great British Baking Show or American Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t trying to distract my kids. I was trying to distract myself. Talk about setting a bad example for my children!
Once I realized my unhealthy tendency, I decided to move the television to the basement and not turn it on [outside of family movie nights or agreed upon screen times] until the kids are in bed for the night.
It has been a game changer. And not just for me, but also for my kids. We watch WAAAAY less television and my kids are much less dependent on it for their own entertainment. We have all learned how to handle boredom or stress without the television.
4. Phone away when playing with the kids. I knew something had to change when I found myself playing with my kids while responding to text messages. How terrible is that? I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’m sure my kids could tell that I was not 100% present. Sometimes the kids and I are in the middle of an epic story about Brown Puppy [my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal] rescuing Super Chase [my son’s favorite Paw Patrol character] from the hot lava on Daisy Island [that’s our dog]…and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my to do list and that I need to call the doctor to reschedule the baby’s appointment and I need to text Brett to remind him to pick up extra peanuts because I need to make peanut butter for tomorrow’s lunches…
The next thing I know, I’m on my phone and telling my kids to just hang on for one second.
For me, this is a major parenting fail. I want to spend time with my kids. I want to play. I will only have the opportunity to make these memories and share these times with my kids for so long. But I am so easily distracted by everything that I have to do that my brain can’t stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.
So, I don’t keep my phone within reach when I play with my kids. I set it far away – usually out of the room, sometimes even up stairs charging by my bed.
Not everyone has the ability to do this, since many people have to be available at all times, but I have found that even the conscious effort to set the phone down and focus on my kids has improved my ability to set my “adult stuff” aside and slow down my brain for a bit.
5. No screens in bed. The last rule I have set for myself is to not sit and stare at my phone [or any other device – though I don’t have any other devices] before I go to sleep at night. Screens have been proven to cause interrupted, restless sleep when used right before bed. Plus, it’s not a calming way to send myself off into sleep. I often read books on my phone, but for just before bed, I use a physical book. Or I just climb into bed and go to sleep, which is great because sometimes phones create this crazy time vortex where you lose three hours without even realizing it.
Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been personally working on in my own life as a mother – trying to do the best I can for my kids. It’s my job to protect them from things that will harm them, but it’s also my job to set the example.
As I’m writing this, my son is in surgery. It’s a common surgery for kids [tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy] but still requires a general anesthetic, an OR that I’m not allowed to enter, a two week recovery time, and a fair amount of fear.
I could go into all the reasons we decided to have this done – but the truth is, we are trusting our doctors. Theo was hospitalized twice before he turned one and has always struggled with breathing issues and chronic ear infections and mouth breathing. So there are reasons. But we didn’t have to have the surgery. We could have continued to treat his issues as we have been. We could have waited to see if he grows out of it. We could have told the doctors that we don’t think he should have this done because he’s so young and there are risks.
But I can’t pretend that I know more than the doctors who have recommended this procedure. And I know that they are recommending it because they are trying to do what is best for my son.
In the end, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about tonsils or adenoids. I take my kids to see a pediatrician I trust regularly because I am not knowledgeable enough about healthcare. I need a professional’s help.
Like the first time I took Theo for a routine well visit and told the doctor that he was fine. Two breathing treatments later we were headed for the ER where he was hospitalized for a week. Or the time I took him into the pediatrician because I was worried about his hearing and it turned out that he had a double ear infection that required two rounds of antibiotics.
I clearly need doctors for my kids.
In the western world today, it is common to question the doctor, to look for advice on the internet and from friends, and to think that we know better than the professionals. And while I think it is important to advocate for yourself and make the best choices you can for yourself and especially your kids [I gave birth to my babies at home, you may recall], there comes a time when you have to trust your doctors.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – even before this surgery came up – because I saw a rant on Instagram about doctors hiding lots of vital, black label information from patients. As if the entire medical world is out to get us. Trying to trick us into doing all these things [vaccinations, flu shots, epidurals, etc] that are really going to hurt us instead of help us.
I don’t believe that the medical world is out to get us and I think it’s a sad perspective to have of a profession that is trying to make [and keep] people healthy.
I, of course, realize that the issue is more complex than I’m making it out to be in this short post, but the main point is that we all need doctors eventually and all we can do is find the best doctors available and then trust them.
Theo is fine, by the way. And hopefully on his way to fewer encounters with doctors in the future.
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
On a road trip from Chicago to Detroit last month, we passed a billboard on the I-90 interstate that said something to the effect of: without truckers there would be no food.
The purpose of the billboard was to thank truckers during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week back in September and – don’t get me wrong – I’m appreciative, but I would not starve without truckers.
I am surrounded by local farms where I can buy my food so I don’t need to have it shipped from half way across the country [with the exception of some foods we can’t grow in the Midwest like bananas and avocados – but those are hardly necessities]. In fact, we should all be concerned by the fact that most of the food in grocery stores and supermarkets are transported by long-haul trucks from their place of origin. According to a Business Insiders article, without truckers, the grocery stores would run out of food in three days [read about it HERE.] To me, it is actually kind of sad that they are shipping in food from all over the map when food [often the same kind of food] is being grown by farmers right in my home town.
Having food shipped all over the world is not the best, healthiest, most economical, or most sustainable approach to feeding humanity, which is why we purchase a CSA share from a local farm each year.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
The way a CSA works is local community members pay a price up front for a certain share in the crops produced on the farm. This provides security for the farmer in the event of a bad season and provides delicious, local, and in-season food for the shareholders. We’ve only had our share for two seasons, but we’ve already seen first hand how unpredictable the farming business is. And still, the benefits to spending my grocery budget in this way are totally worth any “risk.”
Here are some of my favorite things about our CSA:
1. My farmers are awesome. I literally know my farmers. That alone, to me, is super cool. And, what is more, these men are a part of my community. They employ community members. They are helping our local economy. I am proud to support them.
2. My food is picked when it’s ripe. My food isn’t picked when it’s green and then sprayed later to make it appear ripe. My food is also picked within a week of me picking it up.
3. My food is grown ethically. I know that my farm takes care of its employees. I don’t have to fear that I am buying food that is grown by a system that takes advantage of people [as many food sources do].
4. My food is grown organically. My particular farm [Rustic Road Farm in Elburn, IL] is applying for its organic certification, and they are very open and honest about their methods of farming.
5. My food is the real-deal misfit produce. You’ve probably heard about all the businesses selling the “misfit” produce that is rejected by grocers. Well, my food is the legit stuff. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It teaches me and my kids that a head of lettuce doesn’t have to look like those fancy plastic wrapped ones in the grocery store. It is food. We all need to be less picky and less wasteful.
If you’re considering getting a CSA share, my only advice is DO IT. If you have any questions about CSAs, let me know! I’d love to share more of our experience.
Also, you can read about our experience last year:
A reader asked me this recently, which made me realize that I owe everyone an explanation. I hope that the title of my blog has not been misunderstood to mean that I have something against makeup or against wearing makeup, because I don’t.
A few years ago I started a blog about motherhood. At that time, I had already stopped wearing makeup, so the title was literal, but at the same time, I meant it figuratively because I was trying to say that I’m sharing the real me – not some edited-for-the-internet version of myself, or the “gram-able” get-my-good-side photos of myself. I chose the name for the same reason that I don’t wear makeup – because I don’t need to hide behind perfection. I like showing people the real me – the same me that my kids see when they drag me out of bed in the morning, the same me that just ran five miles on the treadmill at the gym, the same me that’s too busy to care whether I look good or not. Everyone sees the same face – my real face.
Why I don’t wear makeup
It’s not that I NEVER wear makeup. I do wear makeup occasionally – for professional family photos that we get taken once a year and my anniversary dinner date with my partner and, of course, Halloween [my absolute favorite reason to wear makeup is for a costume!], and a few other special occasions.
In high school, I started wearing makeup partly as way to hide my tragically oily and acne-ridden face from the mean kids in my class and partly as a way to just be normal, like every other girl. But the downside that no one told me about was that eventually I wouldn’t feel comfortable in public without makeup, that it would be a time consuming [not to mention expensive] process every morning for the rest of my life, and that it would make my skin problems even worse.
Then fast-forward ten years and I had become a fitness fanatic on a super clean eating diet and I had just given birth to my second baby, a handsome little boy, and my skin was glowing from all the pregnancy hormones and the clearest it had ever been, so I stopped wearing makeup.
And I never went back.
That’s pretty much it. I was tired of feeling like I looked bad without makeup. I was tired of the breakouts. I was tired of buying products to try to make myself look beautiful. And it took a while, but now I’m very happy with my plain face. I no longer feel the need to put on makeup. When I do wear makeup, it is just for fun. I don’t need it to feel confident or beautiful anymore.
Side note: I do work outside the home, though only part-time, and I have a customer-facing, sales position as a personal trainer but I still don’t feel the need to put on makeup. That being said, I work at a gym where people aren’t dressing up or trying to look their best [well, most people anyway], so I don’t feel pressured to put on a face the way I might if I were back in the corporate world. Still, I’d like to think that I love my natural self enough to not bother with the makeup.
My [nearly] zero waste beauty routine
Turns out, the best way to have zero waste in the beauty department is to embrace natural beauty and not waste time or money on beauty products at all.
[Jonathan Van Ness would KILL me if he heard me say that – sorry, Jonathan! I love you!!!]
However, that being said, I do try to be hygienic [I say “try” because I have four little kids, so sometimes just showering is a struggle – let alone shaving or exfoliating or any of that extra stuff]. So here is my “beauty” routine [can I even call it that?]:
I brush my teeth. I use this beautiful bamboo toothbrush that I love. I am still working through my toothpaste stash [and have been for the past two years…] but I already have some toothpaste tablets to try and will make the switch as soon as all the Colgate is gone.
I wash my hair. I use bar shampoo and bar conditioner. This current coconut shampoo bar is from Lush and smells amazing!
I wash my body. I use all natural, package free bars of soap from wherever I can find them. This current beauty is from an apothecary vendor at my local farmers market.
I shave occasionally [aka rarely]. I’m still working through my obscenely huge stash of disposable plastic razors. I want a safety razor SO BADLY. I think I may just donate my unopened packages of razors to a local shelter so I can make the switch right away.
I clean my ears. I know people say not to do this. When I first went zero waste, I stopped buying q-tips. “Shia Su said I don’t need them, so then I don’t need them!” ….but I do need them. I’ve had drainage problems in my ears since I was a kid and after about a month of not cleaning my ears I could barely hear. So I buy the paper kind and compost them.
I don’t wear deodorant. If my hands get dry, I use the aquaphor lotion we have for the kids. If my lips get chapped, I use the family lip balm we all share.
[Jonathan Van Ness would be SO ashamed of me right now…]
I do own some makeup. I’ve been using the same tube of bb cream for the past five years, I kid you not. I am also still using the same mascara and eye-liner. I have literally not bought any makeup since before I had kids five years ago.
My skincare treatments
I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this statement, but in my experience, clean eating and exercise are the absolute best skin care. I used to spend tons of money on special creams and exfoliants and acne products, but nothing ever cleared my skin until I cleaned up my diet.
Since puberty, I’ve had super oily skin. I used to wear a crapload of that powder foundation to try to tone down the shine on my nose. It was gross. But since I’ve been eating plant-based, whole foods, my skin is not oily at all. If anything, it is too dry. I sometimes actually put coconut oil on my face because my cheeks get dry. [I would have NEVER put oil on my face ten years ago!]
I do get the occasional pimple like every human being, but I don’t hide them with makeup. It’s not fooling anyone anyway. I choose to own my blemishes instead. I just let them be and they go away. In my experience, makeup only makes it worse.
My plan for wrinkles
Well, I have noticed that I am getting wrinkles. I took a picture with my daughter the other day and when I looked at it, I was surprised at all the wrinkles. [Darn you improved cellphone cameras!]
This is the picture:
I’m not implying that they are bad or that I’m not happy because I have wrinkles – it was just the first time I noticed them. I’m starting to look older, which for me is a positive thing since people usually think I am in college.
Things may change as I continue to age, but at this point, I don’t understand why the world tells us that wrinkles are bad and to be prevented at ANY COST. Wrinkles aren’t ugly. They are a sign of age, yes, but age isn’t a bad thing either. Age is a privilege. Age is wisdom. Age is something to be proud of. I intend to embrace my wrinkles rather than fight them.
In the end, how you present yourself to the world is a personal choice. Beauty is a complex thing and everyone wants to look and feel their best, so I’m not trying to discourage anyone from doing any beautifying that makes them feel good. But no matter what face you choose to show the world, I hope YOU know that your real face is beautiful and you don’t have to hide it.
As promised, I have tracked my food for one week and am going to show you what my meals look like on my plant-based, no processed, mostly vegetable diet.
Let me tell you a story.
Yesterday, I was in the Panera drive-thru ordering three chocolate chip cookies for my kids [it was flu shot day], and the employee tells me that it is cheaper to buy four cookies than it is to buy three. So, of course, I order four cookies.
The problem is, I only have three kids who are old enough to eat cookies. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen to the fourth cookie…
But I definitely ate it, despite telling myself that it could just sit there uneaten all day.
That cookie was 440 calories!!!! That is more than a THIRD of my total caloric goal FOR THE DAY! ONE COOKIE!
No wonder so many of us have trouble managing our weight.
So that brings me to the veggie diet.
The [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet
Some things I need to mention:
1. I am not pretending to be a dietician or nutritionist.
2. I aim for between 1,100-1,200 calories per day, which is less than I need because I am trying to lose weight. But I always eat when I am hungry and never eat less than 1,000 calories. This is also a CARB HEAVY diet.
3. There are some foods I eat that I don’t track such as some raw vegetables that have very little caloric value and I don’t measure and track the olive oil I use for cooking. So my total calorie amount is higher than what my tracker shows. [I didn’t take pictures of my snacks which varied and usually made up about 300 calories each day.]
4. I exercise every day – usually twice, sometimes three times…so this helps me with weight loss. [Hence, the large amount of carbs I eat.]
5. This is baby weight.
Ok, so here we go:
Brown rice, black beans, peppers and onions for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻
Eggs with sweet potato and black bean hash for dinner. Otherwise, vegan and made from scratch.
Egg for lunch. Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce for dinner. 👍🏻
A random assortment of vegetables for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻
Grilled chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and squash.
Vegetable frittata for lunch [made by Brett!!], and homemade vegetable stew for dinner. 👍🏻
Leftover sweet potato and black bean hash, with vegan Parmesan. 100% vegan whole foods made from scratch. 👍🏻
Before and After
I lost five pounds and I never went hungry.
As you can see, I like oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch. What can I say? I like routine.
Here is our family photo a week after Nora was born:
And here is me with the kids tonight before going out trick-or-treating:
[By the way, how adorable are these kids?!?]
And the week is over just in time to enjoy Halloween!
Now, it’s time to go eat some candy!
Confession: I definitely fall into the 44% category!
We are officially a fourth of the way through 2019! So, I thought I’d share how my resolutions are holding up.
I posted about my original goals for the year here.
Health-wise, I want to practice yoga. I have been faithfully practicing prenatal yoga at least once a week – the only exceptions being when we have been on vacation. I have even bumped up my practice from 15 minutes [yeah, I really don’t like yoga] to 45 minutes! It’s almost growing on me! It’s actually a nice break from my typical workouts which are getting harder and harder as I get further along in this pregnancy.
Oh, and floss daily. I have been flossing [nearly] every day using my water flosser, which I love. This is also a nice zero waste option – though unsightly and taking up a lot of space on my bathroom counter.
New skill this year is knitting. In January, I knitted three blankets as gifts for family and friends, but I cheated and did “finger knitting” using Loop-It yarn.
BUT the experience did help me to understand knitting better. Since then I haven’t done ANY knitting because I haven’t made it a priority to go buy some yarn and pick out a pattern. But I intend to make this a focus of Q2 so I can make that baby blanket for my baby girl arriving in TWO MONTHS! Ahhh!
At home, I want to start making my own cleaning products. I still haven’t run out of any cleaning products. We had quite a collection and a huge selection. But I am ready with my vinegar and essential oils for when the time is right.
I hope to reduce our trash [and recycling] even more. We are improving in the trash and recycling area. I now empty the three trash cans in our home once every other week. We didn’t put the cans out on the curb at all for the entire month of March because they were never full. Truthfully, they weren’t full when we finally did put them out last week, but we might as well let the truck stop at our place.
Some weeks we have more trash, some weeks less. But overall, we are definitely continuing to reduce the waste.
Personally, I would like to read two books a month: one fiction and one non-fiction. I have been reading WAY more than two books a month. In Q1, I read a total of twelve books and I’ve already finished two for this month. I have a lot more time to read a) because Brett has been working a lot of late nights lately and b) I barely spend any time on my phone or watching tv anymore. I’ve read some fiction classics that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, plus some religious books, some feminist books [I’m currently working on Emma Watson’s book club list], a biography, a book on posture alignment, and three books on poverty and how to put an end to it. So I’ve been busy…
For my family, I want to spend more time outside. We didn’t do great during the cold months, but now that it’s warmer we’ve been spending lots of time outdoors. In order to make it a priority, I’ve added “outside” time to my daily habits list on my chalkboard planner.On rainy days, it’s my first inclination to keep them indoors, but I have been reminding myself that it’s not harmful and sending them out with raincoats and boots. It’s a muddy mess, but they are still getting time outside.
And for this pregnancy, I want eat welland enjoy it as much as I can, because it will [hopefully] be my last. Well, I’ve definitely been enjoying it – if by “enjoy it” I was referring to lots of ice cream and bacon cheese fries at midnight. Hey, I’m only human…
Since I first moved out on my own, I have been trying to figure out this whole grocery shopping thing – how to eat well without overspending money or time.
I have tried everything – from couponing to rebate apps to stockpiling boxes of granola bars[not healthy, by the way]. I shopped exclusively at Aldi for a time. I followed popular shopping bloggers and ran to the store every time they said there was a good deal.
None of these things worked for me. They were all time-consuming and exhausting and didn’t actually seem to save me much money and on top of all that, we weren’t eating healthy foods.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality or healthfulness.
After ten years, I have FINALLY reached a place where grocery shopping is no longer expensive, time-consuming, or unhealthy. I spend less time meal planning, less time at the grocery store, and less time stressing over the grocery budget than I ever have.
To give you an idea of how much you can save, here are USDA’s recommended grocery budgets.
They vary based on the number and ages of you family members and based on whether you are living lean [“Thrifty plan”] or high on the hog [“Liberal plan”].
So according to this chart, for my family of five, a thrifty plan would be $561.50 per month, if I don’t count my youngest who is only 18 months old, or $655.60 if I do count her.
Doesn’t really matter because our budget is $400/month. This doesn’t include our eating out budget which is $60/month and allows us to eat out about twice per month. Also, every other month we cut our budget in half [a lengthy explanation of which I may write and post someday]. So, technically, we feed our family for $300/month, if we average it out.
That may sound like a lot or a little to you depending on your situation, but for us, it is less than half of what Brett and I were spending back when it was just the two of us – and we weren’t eating nearly as healthy as we do now.
[I’m harping on the healthy thing because anyone can eat ramen noodles every day and save tons of money, but I have found that I can eat super healthy – I’m talking fresh produce and high quality foods – and still save money. So if you are one of the many people today who believe that eating healthy is more expensive, please read on.]
So how do we feed our family healthy foods with so little money? Well, for starters we buy very few processed foods [for our health] and we do our best to avoid packaged foods [for the health of our planet]. Those two things contribute a little bit to our savings – but I know that they are not the reality for the average American [though I wish they were].
The bulk of the money and time is saved by following these five simple rules:
1. Buy what is on sale.
Rather than creating a meal plan and then buying the ingredients regardless of the price, I let the weekly ads determine what we eat each week. In my area, each Wednesday, grocery stores roll out new ads with new deals. I compare the ads from four different local grocers and then choose the one [or maybe two] with the best sales and that’s where I’ll be shopping that week.
Besides simplifying meal planning, another benefit of this rule is that it saves a lot of time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I’m going in to get. I don’t need to price compare a bunch of different options, or stroll down aisles looking at different food choices, or fall prey to the clever marketing tricks like flashy signs and end-caps. I go in, get what’s on sale, get out.
Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it.
[As with all rules, there are exceptions. In the case of rule #1, I don’t buy my bulk dry goods on sale because most stores don’t offer regular sales on bulk goods. In this case, I am prioritizing my obligation to the health of the planet over money – ALWAYS a good choice, by the way. But I still save plenty of money.]
2. Set price limits.
Over the past two years I’ve learned what a good sale price is for most items and I have set rules for how cheap they need to be. Simply being “on sale” is not necessarily good enough. Not all sale prices are created equal. For example, it is extremely rare that I will buy produce at Aldi because their sale prices are never as good as my other local grocers. If you [as most people do] assume that Aldi is cheaper for everything simply because it’s Aldi, then you are overpaying.
In order to figure out what a good sale price is, you have to pay attention to sales in your area over a period of months. My price limits are still changing as time goes on. For example, I used to only buy boneless chicken if it was under $2/lb, but after a while I learned that I could find it at least once a month for $1.49/lb. So that became my new price limit.
Here are some examples of my price limits [understand that prices will vary greatly depending on your location]:
I won’t buy produce for more than $1/lb. Sometimes I do buy blackberries at $.88/6oz package and I will buy avocados if they are $.79/each or less, but I don’t make a habit of buying these items because they are so expensive compared to normal produce.
I won’t buy cheese for more than $1.50/8oz package. If cheese is not on sale for this price or less, we just do without cheese. It’s not even really a hardship. In fact, I think it has improved my children’s appreciation for the taste of real foods not covered in cheese.
I won’t buy eggs for more than $1/dozen. Though, I admit, I am going to buy eggs from our farm CSA this summer at $5/carton, but in this case, I am prioritizing supporting local agriculture and health over saving money. I will also be limiting our eggs to one carton per week.
Your rules will depend on what eat, but everything should have a price limit required for purchase. There will always be off cases when you simply must have something – like butter to make buttercream for your son’s birthday cake – and it’s not on sale. Okay. Sometimes we have to bend the rules.
3. Eat less meat…and live longer and healthier lives.
I’m a fitness professional, not a registered dietician or nutritionist, so you don’t have to agree with me on the healthful side of this rule. Eat meat if you want, but know this, meat is WAY MORE expensive than plant-based foods. We used to make two or three chicken breasts for our family of five for dinner. Now, we all share one chicken breast [oftentimes less] and fill the majority of our plates with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.
This is the USDA’s newest recommendation for healthy eating which has replaced the typical food pyramid we all learned in grade school.
Notice that three quarters of the plate are filled with plant-based foods. Now think about how your dinner plate typically looks. Most Americans eat a meat heavy diet, with the protein being the main course and the vegetables and fruits being “sides.”
If you need further evidence, watch the documentary, In Defense of Food, or read the book with the same title by Michael Pollan.
Time to rethink the way we eat…and hopefully soon because the health epidemic in our country is quite literally frightening. But the good news is, eating more plant-based foods is CHEAPER!
Also, according to the chart below by health.gov, over 85% of the population is not eating the recommended amount of vegetables…
C’mon, people. Let’s eat some more veggies!
[Someday I’ll go into greater detail about how to eat healthy on a budget. It is not hard, folks. I promise you!]
4. Buy less food.
This might sound obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated anyway because we have a bit of an overeating problem in America.
According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults in the US are obese [read about it here.] And, shockingly, according to this article by NPR, 75% of Americans believe themselves to be eating healthy…so why are obesity rates so high?
There are lots of factors that contribute to the obesity issue, but no matter where you look, portion size and overeating are partially to blame.
Nutrition scholarMarion Nestleat New York University says portion size — just eating too much — is an issue. “I’d vote for that as a major cause of obesity,” Nestle told us by email.
“Some of the problem is that individuals pay more attention to getting good things in their diet than they do to limiting overall intake,” addsDavid Just, a behavioral economist who studies food psychology at Cornell University.– npr.org
The accessibility of food in our society has made overeating too easy. Yes, restaurants serve us too much food, but we also serve ourselves too much food at home. We also stock too much food in our kitchen, making it too easy to eat whatever we want whenever we feel like it.
Let’s all do ourselves a favor and buy less food. There is no reason to stockpile canned goods as if we are fearing an imminent apocalypse…unless you are fearing an imminent apocalypse…in which case, there is no need to save your money because it will be useless when the zombies take over.
Some basic ways to buy less food is:
Go grocery shopping once a week and only buy what you need for that week.
Buy fresh produce so you CAN’T stockpile it. Fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER!
Don’t buy [or buy very little] unhealthy snacks and treats. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on food that is going to make you sick and unhappy in the long run.
Avoid processed and packaged foods – for the sake of your wallet, your health, and the planet.
5. Eat all the food you buy.
Again, this seems obvious…but apparently it’s not because 40% of food in America is thrown away.
In 2012, NRDC published a groundbreaking report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. That is on average 400 pounds of food per person every year. Not only is that irresponsible—it’s expensive [emphasis mine]. Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. – NRDC report by Dana Gunders, source
And before you go blaming it all on grocery stores, this infographic created by the NRDC says that households and restaurants are the biggest generators of food waste [at least in Denver, Nashville and New York].
Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of families in our country who struggle to put food on the table.
So besides the cost of wasted food, I feel just plain terrible knowing that I am throwing food awaywhen some people are not eating today. And I feel like a terrible hypocrite if I talk about our grocery budget being “tight” while I’m throwing food in the trash – or even in the compost bin.
In my home, we do everything we possibly can to avoid wasting food. Some of the ways to reduce our food waste are:
Eat all the leftovers. I set designated days at least once but often twice per week to eat whatever we have that is close to expiring.
Only buy what you need for a week. You may not know what you need for a week, but if you find yourself throwing food out, then you know for next time that you need less. Obviously some things with longer shelf lives, like dairy products and dry goods, don’t need to be purchased weekly. That leads me to the next tip:
Don’t buy more if you still have food to eat. I don’t know why we do this but it seems that it’s totally normal to go buy a full cart of groceries when we still have enough food in our home to feed our family for the next six months. I’m not joking. When we got ready to sell our last home, I started using up all the food that we had in our cabinets and pantry and – oh my gosh – our second freezer. Lo and behold, we had enough food to feed us for months. I decided then and there that stocking so much food in our house was wasteful and expensive and I stopped doing it.
A word on frozen and non-perishable foods: Some people prefer to buy non-perishables because they feel like they throw out more food when they buy fresh – which they really might. The problem is not the fresh food – it’s that there is a disparity between the amount they are buying and the amount they are eating. As I said previously, fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER! Buy fresh food – just not so much – and then EAT IT!
So, this has been a book. If you’ve stuck with me, I hope you’ve found some useful information and, hopefully, some motivation to improve your spending and eating habits.
These are all things I wish someone had told me a lot earlier, but everything I found about saving money on groceries revolved around making a list, not shopping hungry, and clipping coupons. I wanted something that saved me time AND money AND made me a healthier consumer.
For me, this is it.
If you’ve found a method that works for you, share it in the comments! We all have room for improvement!
Well, it’s the start of a new year which means that the gyms are going to fill up with all the newly resolved exercisers, which used to annoy me back when I was just a fitness junkie, but now that I am a personal trainer, I love seeing all the people fill the gym. [And, of course, it’s good for business.]
So what if most people will be gone by March? Two months of healthy habits are better than none, right? While I wish people would stick it out, change is really hard and making the effort is the important first step. I’m sure every year there are a few who make it past March and become regulars.
According to a magazine I was reading the other day, 20% of people who make resolutions will keep them!
That’s actually pretty good!
Those 20% are giving the rest of us hope!
Last year, I set resolutions as I usually do – stop using disposable paper products, reduce my family’s waste, run the Chicago marathon, take up baking, have family fun day once a week, visit the dentist [it had been 10+ years 😱], be more intentional about my marriage, double our charitable contributions, and send birthday gifts to all of our family members – all of which I accomplished.
Some of these goals were rather vague, which is fine with me because not everything can be definitively measured. I did some intentional things to invest in my marriage [baking competitions weekly and packing his lunches for a few months], but the “what” isn’t the point. The most important thing is that I can look back on the year and say that my relationship with Brett got stronger.
Some of these goals [like reducing waste] took on lives of their own and produced lots of mini goals throughout the year [like stop junk mail, declutter the home, ethical purchasing, sustainable living, simplify, simplify, simplify].
In 2019, I plan to continue with my goals from last year, but with some new added goals.
Health-wise, I want to practice yoga. Truthfully, I hate yoga. I’ve done a fair share – even taken clients through yoga workouts – but it’s not my favorite. It’s great for pregnancy though, so I am going to try to improve by adding a yoga workout once a week. Oh, and floss daily. Since I’ve managed to get myself to the dentist, I would like to maintain my oral health. Plus, I got a water flosser for Christmas. 😁
New skill this year is knitting. I already bought myself a small starter kit of knitting needles. Hoping I can make a baby blanket for the new kiddo before he/she arrives in June.
At home, I want to start making my own cleaning products. I am still using up a lot of products that we’ve had lying around and as soon as they are gone I am going to start making my own. There are other things around the house that I am still phasing out as well. I hope to reduce our trash [and recycling] output even more this year, as well.
Personally, I would like to read two books a month: one fiction and one non-fiction. I prefer non-fiction, but I find myself most able to relax and unwind when I get lost in a good story.
For my family, I want go spend more time outside. I loved our month of focused time on getting outside. I hope to be able to emphasize that throughout this entire year.
And for this pregnancy, I want eat well [something I struggled with during my other pregnancies] and enjoy it as much as I can [I do not like being pregnant], because it will most likely be my last.