Today, Lanark County Food Bank presents its first guest post! Occasionally, we will bring in someone to offer another perspective on important topics like stretching your budget, food security, issues of poverty, recipes, and more. Without further ado….
Food shopping stresses me out.
It would be so much easier if I could just walk in and fill my cart with whatever I want and need without thinking about how much it will all cost. But I can’t. We live on a pretty strict budget so price plays a big role in helping me determine what foods to buy for a family of three and our furry dependants.
That being said, we still eat well. Mostly because I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how best to stretch my food dollars.
Natural foods are a priority for my family, so I sourced two excellent year-round farmers’ markets that offer fresh breads, honey, and preserves at very reasonable prices. Farmers’ markets aren’t always more expensive than grocery stores. I can buy four loaves of delicious homemade bread for $5 and giant jars of local honey and jam for $6.
While living in the country does present challenges when it comes to food choices, it has provided my family an opportunity to really get to know our neighbours. We’re like an extended family – we work together, help each other out and, yes, share food with one another. Take, for example, the neighbour who supplies us with fresh eggs every month – for free – or our neighbour who gives us bags of dog and cat food when we’re running low. The cost to us – a helping hand when it’s required – seems pretty darn fair to me!
Fruits and vegetables are staples because we love to eat them. Instead of buying the “fresh” produce at the grocery store, I keep my freezer stocked with a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables. I get more for less and there’s no risk of spoilage. In the summer, we grow a garden so we can have truly fresh, homegrown produce. I was surprised to learn how green my thumb was – I even had success growing watermelons!
I spend a lot of time looking through grocery store flyers to find the best deals on canned goods, pasta and sauces. Sometimes I have to go to more than one store to save, but in the end, it’s usually worth it.
Meat is a bit trickier. I can’t afford to buy meat at the farmers’ market – it’s simply too expensive – so I typically shop around for deals on that too. I make it stretch by making large batches of spaghetti, chilli, or casseroles. These meals are great for leftovers and freezing.
If we want treats such as cookies, pies, or cakes, I make them myself. It’s a lot cheaper to buy the ingredients to make a big batch of cookies that I can freeze than it is to buy the packaged ones.
The Dollar Store is my go-to place for most cleaning supplies and household items. I have found that a $2 bottle of window cleaner works just as well, if not better, than the pricey, name-brand stuff. It’s also a good place to shop for items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, and deodorant.
I try to make a list when I go shopping, so I know exactly what I need. As a general rule, I try to eat before I go so my growling stomach doesn’t tempt me into buying things I don’t really need.
Shopping can be frustrating, especially when you have to pinch your pennies. The system I developed only works if nothing “extra” (like a car repairs) disrupts it. It’s sad that feeding families can be so challenging, but I’ve found that with a little patience and planning, it can be done, even on a tight budget.
Lianne Lahaie is a reporter for The Review and lives happily and modestly in the middle of nowhere.