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Polyamory for the Practical
Feeding the Large Family
One of the neat things about being poly is that groups are actually cheaper in some ways. Food is a good category for this. We tend to spend ~$23 per person per week. (That's less than you'll get if you get the full allotment of food stamps in my area, by the way -- and none of us exactly have a small appetite.)
Being wise here mostly involves making a price book. Never heard of a price book? Well, it's really simple. You have a list of the things you commonly buy. (Don't worry if you don't have a master grocery list. Later on in this article, there's one for download). While shopping, record the price you usually pay for these things. When you get home, you can take the time to figure the unit price of each item. Then, as you scan the circulars for sales, or see a "great deal" advertised in the store, you'll know whether or not it is genuinely cheaper.
We have nutty schedules. (Try living with one husband in an office job and one who is a cook who mostly works nights and weekends some time). Add to that the fact that we often have people dropping in. I am never entirely sure who or how many are going to put sitting down at the dinner table. We do have a menu plan and it helps with this. We always plan to make about twice as much as we need for that particular dinner. That usually becomes a lunch or two for whoever is home the next day. Unexpected guests just aren't a problem when you do this.
We also take the menu plan a step further. We have a rotating list of twenty-four meals. When we've served all twenty-four, we start over again. Go ahead and say you'd be bored. I dare ya! Then try to think up twenty four dishes. Do you only eat a particular meal once every three weeks? I betcha you eat about seven to ten different dishes all the time.
This was our April 2000 menu. You will notice that some of the meals are links. You can click on these to get to the recipes. As the Spirit moves me, I will add more recipes.
Notice that several of the meals in our plan use an Italian seasoned tomato sauce base. You can make up such a sauce, freeze it and use it as needed. You can make a lasagne ahead and freeze it for nights that are going to be busy and you don't feel like cooking. Many soups also do well for this.
A slow cooker is a most excellent tool. It boggles me how often you find them at garage sales, in thrift stores or gathering dust on upper shelves in kitchens. I don't know about you, but I am most likely to run out for something prepackaged or be tempted to order out for pizza when I am tired, have been running around all day and whatever meal is on the menu plan doesn't look all that exciting to me. If I have planned ahead, and burned my energy when I actually have it (i.e., in the morning), I can get a crock pot meal on and not worry about it.
My family recently got a nice 6.5 quart crock pot and it's taken no time at all for me to become very grateful for it. Many mornings, I will throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot, turn it on low and be very happy come evening to find a nice meal waiting. This also combines well with the "make ahead in bulk" concept. This large crock pot has been used to make a wonderful orange pork chop meal that freezes well, spaghetti sauce, chili, a roast and beef stew. All of these things freeze quite well and can be defrosted for nice meals on busy days any time we like.
Aren't I nice? I assumed you'd make one (chortle). This part is actually pretty easy. If you've got the rotating menu plan, you've also got the rotating grocery list. In practicing various geek stuff, I wrote an MSAccess 97 database that has a master list of the consumables that Our Little Quad uses. My wife or I will go around the house, menu plan in one hand, and master list in the other, checking off what we need for the next two weeks. Then one of us will check off on a form in the database all the things we need and print up a fresh list, complete with notations about which store we're going to be going to for what. I know it sounds like an unnecessary amount of work to go to, but it actually saves us a lot of time in the long run. You can download a copy of the database here . It's got a form you can use to add new grocery items, new stores (since the ones in the database are clearly specific to my area), and new aisle classifications. If I can find some beta testers, I'll see if I can convert the thing to other database formats. I give permission to distribute this freely, make sure you give credit to The Goddess of Java.
You can't, can you?
Wanna tell me what that wilted lettuce, unidentifiable green goo, and brown apples are? That's money that's going into the garbage.
You have to be careful with produce and estimating portions. We actually don't buy these in bulk, as it will be a sure bet that the last bit will go bad before we use it.
Now, things like onions, celery and carrots are easy to handle as they are starting to wilt a little. You can make a nice vegetable stock out of this. (In fact, I usally make a stock out of vegetable tops the nights I'm making things that require carrots, onions and celery). Freeze the stock and you can use it instead of water in some things for flavoring. (Onion stock is great in spaghetti sauce).
For fruit past its prime, I've learned something new from my new husband (did I mention he's a chef?). JUICER! Fresh juice is really good and you can use fruit that doesn't look so pretty when you serve it. My kids are addicted to a strawberry-apple-grape combination.
This is a standard. You're more likely to buy on impulse when you're hungry and there are mountains of food in front of you. You've done it; I've done it. Don't do it any more.
The fewer times you approach the cash register, the fewer dollars you'll spend. When you're shopping twice a month for a family of six, you're lucky if you get everything on your list in the cart, much less anything you don't actually need.
This is a new one for my family, but we've found it's useful. With three people cooking, we don't exactly keep the contents of the kitchen in our heads. It makes life easier in a lot of ways. We tend to take a kitchen inventory about twice a month right before shopping trips. It makes doing the grocery list easier. We also find we are less likely to have the mystery stuff in the back of the freezer because we are more motivated to use up leftoevers.
We do our major shopping twice a month. But, we do run out of milk, eggs and produce before the two weeks are up. I try to keep trips to the grocery store down to once a week when I can. That does mean sometimes stretching the milk with powdered milk, but my kids don't seem to care. That being the case, I do plan it so that they wind up drinking it from time to time.
A side of beef is cheaper than buying beef at the grocery store. When skim milk goes on sale, being able to stock up and freeze it is a nice asset. Being able to make meals in advance so you are not tempted to order out when everyone is tired and out of sorts is nice, too.
Speaking of which -- Once a Month Cooking has its advantages. I don't actually do this, though I do have planned-overs. But, if the idea sounds appealing, you should check out:
An Organized Home Guide to Freezer Cooking: Cook Once a Month!
Once a Month Cooking with Real Food For Real People
I never really believed that baking one's own bread was cheaper until I actually priced it out. We can get a loaf of bread for around 99 cents. It costs me around 30 cents to make one. Not only is it cheaper, I assure you I can make better bread than the discount sandwich loaf you find in stores!
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