“Just make a nice little soup” and the cost of food

by Kim on November 2, 2013

Let’s start out with the requisite Halloween pics! Here’s our little scarecrow:

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Clutching a Kit Kat he can’t eat—poor kid.

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Halloween night didn’t go exactly as planned.

We were going to head over to some friends’ house after work to enjoy a few adult beverages and take gobs of pictures of our costumed sons. But Mason was exhausted from a busy day at daycare (and a busy week of having a double ear infection), with a super short fuse and zero interest in the whole “let’s put this scratchy, kind-of-smelly ruffle-necked thing on” idea.

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He was also very upset when two of his best neighborhood buddies showed up at his door randomly, stayed for 10 seconds, and then took off into the night without him.

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I mean, what was that all about??

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By 7, he was literally putting himself to bed. (He waved goodnight and actually started heading downstairs to his bedroom. So responsible, that one.)

Oh well. I feel like I say this constantly, but: there’s always next year.

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And to all you parents who got perfect pictures of your smiling kids in their adorable costumes: please tell me it wasn’t as easy as it looks. Tell me there was at least one outtake. (Lie if you have to.) Haha.

So! Anyway. Last week, the lovely Giselle wrote a great post about clean eating, grocery shopping, and meal planning. (If you don’t follow her already, You. SHOULD. She is an amazing mom and a huge inspiration!)

At one point in the post, she mentioned how much she typically spends on groceries each month, and for whatever reason, when I read that number, I felt a huuuge weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t even realize how much pressure I’d been putting on myself to be frugal at the grocery store, while also making smart choices about the quality of food I bring home. I was holding myself to some really aggressive standards and budget restrictions, and it was insanely stressful.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that, maybe, the arbitrary number I have in my head as the Ideal Spending Limit for groceries is just not realistic for me.

I can’t do it.

And maybe I just need to be ok with that, rather than beating myself up every time I come home with another load of “over-budget” groceries. I mean, I’m not buying a ton of extraneous crap, I’m making some pretty well-informed decisions about what to buy and where to buy it, and we use everything I buy. Isn’t that enough?

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Part of the problem, I’m realizing, is that the Ideal Spending Limit number I came up with was largely influenced by blog posts I’ve read about grocery shopping frugally and healthfully…which were probably written by people who are particularly good at that. They clip coupons, they hit all the right stores at the right times, they buy in bulk, they do a lot of planning and strategizing, they repurpose ingredients, etc.

I mean: I admire Martha Stewart, but I don’t expect my dinner parties to look like hers. So why the disconnect on this?

I appreciate the people who fight back against the whole “healthy food costs more” argument, insisting that if you’re smart enough about your buying choices and ingredient-repurposing/leftover-flipping tricks, you can actually eat very healthfully and frugally.

And I totally agree with them.

BUT it also takes a lot of work to get there. Once you get some good organizational, planning, and shopping habits in place, you’ve familiarized yourself with a variety of cooking techniques, and you’ve gotten comfortable enough in the kitchen to get creative (a la: “I’ll just use the rest of this chicken in a nice Mexican salad for lunch tomorrow”), it’s definitely doable.

But that’s a pretty big ONCE.

I remember listening to the keynote speaker at the Healthy Living Summit this year, giving us a little Healthy Cooking 101 lesson. At one point, as she was talking about repurposing ingredients throughout the week, she said something like, “And maybe on Tuesday, I’ll take that leftover chicken and some fresh veggies and make a nice little soup!”

I remember her tossing up her hands, like that was the simplest, most obvious thing in the world to do when you find yourself with some leftover chicken.

Meanwhile, my brain was going: How the heck do you just “make a nice soup”? I have literally no clue how I would pull that off. Unless there’s a specific recipe in front of me, and I have every single one of the ingredients on hand, I’m lost at sea.

Am I supposed to know this?

So, yes, I have no doubt that it’s possible. But we have to acknowledge that it takes skill, time, thought, and a lot of practice. There is nothing simple or obvious about it.

Sometimes, when that reality is lost (particularly in the blogging world), those of us who haven’t mastered the art of healthy + frugal cooking are left scrambling, feeling like we’re the only ones who don’t have it figured out.

In addition to having a skewed perception of how much I should be spending on food, I’m sure that I (slash the Entire First World) am lacking some respect for how much food should cost.

I always think about this when I’m at the farmer’s market. I see farmers selling cucumbers for, like, 50 cents. Big, juicy, perfect cucumbers that they personally planted, watered, weeded, pulled from the ground, washed, transported, and displayed on a stand at 5 in the morning.

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And there we are, picking through the produce, analyzing it, digging out only the most perfect specimens. Wondering if the guy on the other end of the market is selling his cucumbers at 3 for a buck yet.

It’s kind of embarrassing.

So how’s that for a nice little Saturday chat? Sorry—that ended up getting a little ranty and off-topic. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Are you comfortable with your grocery spending habits or would you like to improve them?

What’s something you’ve learned to do that’s made frugal grocery shopping or healthy cooking easier?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex @ Alex Runs For Food November 3, 2013 at 1:31 am

I definitely need to work on my grocery spending. My biggest thing is eating things before they go bad. I need to learn to just but groceries for the week.
I don’t really know any tricks… I just try to make a meal plan for the week and stick to it. It’s hard sometimes though.
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Kim November 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

Yes! Eating things before they go bad is a big stressor for me too. I’m so scared to commit to produce sometimes for that reason. :)

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Katie @ running4cupcakes November 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Oh yes – there were tons of outtakes of Luke in his Tigger costume – that is didn’t even want to put on in the first place. . . sure he wanted to wear it every day for the last week, but on Halloween night – of course not! And I think that sometimes the blog world can give you an unrealistic view point – you never really know how much of the real story you are seeing. . . on running4cupcakes, I try to be truthful, so hopefully, people can see that I struggle – that’s why I did my grocery challenge and worked my butt off during it!
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Kim November 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

Phew, it’s nice to feel normal! Thank you! It’s funny, though–I was specifically telling my husband about how your son couldn’t wait to put his costume on and was wearing it at dinner the night before, haha!

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Kim November 2, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I used to do the whole coupon and multiple store grocery shopping thing but I finally realized that the amount I saved wasn’t worth the amount of time I was spending on it so I stopped – it was a total load off when I gave that up.
We have so many big event pictures that aren’t full of smiles – I actually like it now that they are older because when I look back at the pictures they portray more real life since they didn’t smile all the time as little ones. (I also never canceled picture appointments due to black eyes or large knots/bruises on the head because, I like the real-life part of pictures.
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Kim November 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

That’s interesting! I think I can embrace that approach now that I have a job…when I was staying home, I felt like I had to really pinch pennies, and that I should have been able to come up with the time to make it happen. But it’s just so tough!

I love your dedication to portraying real life!

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Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries November 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm

We definitely had some “outtakes” on Halloween, so don’t even worry about it. ;) Hunter lasted about 30 minutes, and then he had enough. Sorry your little guy was so tired, but like you said, there’s always next year! He sure did look cute though!

As for the grocery shopping thing, again, just like pretty much everything else in life, I think you just have to do what’s best for YOUR family. Of course I think it’s important to be responsible in regards to spending AND the quality of your food, but that varies by person and family.
Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries recently posted…Hunter’s First HalloweenMy Profile

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Kim November 4, 2013 at 9:59 am

Totally agree. The problem is that I think many different approaches could “work” for our family…it’s just a question of how much effort I’m willing to put in! :) I feel like no matter what I do, I’m always sacrificing something…whether it’s time, money, or convenience. I think what I’m discovering is that it hurts me the most to give up time!

Thanks for making me feeling normal about the Halloween thing! I just felt weird forcing him to dress up when the whole point is that it’s supposed to be fun for the kids! And here he is bawling. haha.

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Katie November 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I think cooking and meal planning takes practice. If you keep up the good work of following recipes, it will eventually come. That woman (cannot remember her name) had a few years and lots of experience better/more than us. Don’t beat yourself up. Spend a little more on groceries, spend a little less on something else. Don’t beat yourself up, thats mean.
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Kim November 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

Totally takes practice, you’re right. And I definitely don’t expect myself to be able to measure up to that woman (whatever her name was!), but I often feel like other bloggers and friends are miles ahead of me. Oh well! Thanks for the encouragement!

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Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome November 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

Sorry Halloween didn’t go as planned. Like you said, there’s always next year :-) Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad that my post gave you a sense of relief about your grocery spending. There are times I feel guilty after spending more than I wanted to at the grocery store but I always just try to remember that our health is worth it! It definitely takes some practice, time and a lot of effort to get to a point where budgeting comes easy. I’m no where near that point yet but working on it :-)
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Kim November 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

Oh, you’re much closer than I am! You are a constant source of inspiration for me, so thank you for that! :)

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Presley @ Run Pretty November 2, 2013 at 7:59 am

I’m too lazy to be good at budget grocery shopping. I just throw caution to the wind and then don’t spend money on other things… like my appearance. Whoops.
Presley @ Run Pretty recently posted…Halloween HangoverMy Profile

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Kim November 4, 2013 at 10:03 am

Haha I wish I could do that…I love clothes too much. Clothes and food. The rest can go.

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