$200/month grocery challenge – Part I

This is the first installment of a 5-part series.

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My family and I recently completed a 4-week long experiment in which we aimed to drastically reduce our spending on groceries and continue to eat well, perhaps even better than before. 

A bit of background A “pantry challenge”, for the uninitiated, involves relying mostly on what you have on hand (in the pantry and freezer) and buying as little as possible for a set period of time – usually a week or a month.  It’s a technique some home managers (let’s be honest, usually moms) use to reduce spending and use up what they have.  (Some people find they occasionally have excess inventory after stocking up during sales or freezing leftovers.) 

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In the past, I have tried “eating down the freezer”, but my success was limited.  I’d see a sale on an ingredient I couldn’t pass up.  Or neglect to eat my homemade frozen entrees – feeling too guilty to use this easy option I’d make myself cook instead (that’s an issue for a whole different post, and a therapist, perhaps).  I have also tried severely restricting the grocery budget temporarily.  That worked okay, but I always found a reason to spend more than I had planned. 

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At the beginning of September, my spare freezer was acting up and I knew it was due to be defrosted.  The initial aim was to eat all its contents, and save money on groceries in the process.  However, I quickly realized we would never eat 24 pounds of zucchini, 5 pounds of tomatoes and several gallons of tomato sauce in a single month.  So the aim of emptying the freezer was abandoned, but the idea to rely on our existing supply, while restricting our spending, stuck and the $200/month grocery challenge was born. 

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The challenge ran from September 9th to October 5th.  I had planned that we would eat dinners out twice a week and grab lunch out as a family once each weekend (12 family meals, in total).  In addition, I knew my husband planned to eat lunch out once a week.  The rest of our meals were to be home cooked. 

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The mission My mission, since I chose to design and accept it, was to feed my family of 3 (two adults and one toddler) 17 meals each week for 4 weeks relying on what we had in the pantry, freezer and garden, with just $200 for extras.  For some perspective, note these four facts:

  1. We eat primarily organic food.
  2. We typically spend $600 a month on groceries (or more). 
  3. Our milk habit alone costs nearly $50/month.  (We seriously need to consider getting a cow.) 
  4. Our pantry is not the kind where one could go grocery shopping.  You know the kind I mean.  Stuffed to the gills like there might be a blizzard in June. 

We started with have a decent supply of coffee, flour, rice, pasta and oats, and more tomatoes and zucchini than you can shake a stick at.  Twice we ate freshly caught fish we received in exchange for sharing storage space in our freezer. 

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So what did the challenge really entail?  Providing 68 organic meals for 2 ½ people for $150.  (Our little guy eats about half what I do or more, so he’s counted as half.  And yeah, I excluded the milk for dramatic effect.) 

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The rationale Why would I do this to myself when I know the success of this plan hinges on things like baking bread, making hummus, and eating a lot of old food?  I had numerous reasons.  Namely, I wanted to:

  • Save money
  • Reduce food waste
  • Rotate stock (i.e., use up the antiques in my freezer and pantry)
  • Discover new things, especially ways to be resourceful in the kitchen
  • See if I could do it

Did we make it?  Tune in tomorrow to find out.  In the meantime, if you’re interested, here’s a sneak peak at our weekly meal plans for the month.

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