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The grocery challenge wrap-up

grocery challenge wrap-up

I think it's taken me so long to write this post because I've been so overwhelmed by everyone's response to this challenge. It definitely got a lot of you thinking, as it did for me. Many of you are 'old pros' at what I attempted last week, some of you are daily grocery-store shoppers and couldn't imagine not going for a whole week. I get that, too.

I don't think I'll bore you with a week's worth of menu plans and "what we ate" lists. There were some definite highlights of the week, like lunch on Wednesday. When I reached in to the fridge for my leftover chicken from the night before, with big plans of chicken salad swirling around in my head. Only to realize that a certain man of the house had squirreled away all the chicken in his lunch. It even warranted a desperate call to his work, "You took ALL the chicken??!!! What are WE supposed to have for lunch???!!" He was sorry, he didn't realize there was so much in the container. blah. blah. blah. It's amazing how grumpy you can get over a few pieces of chicken when you're making every morsel count.

After I collapsed prostrate on the kitchen floor, weeping over the lost breasts of tender white chicken (not really–they weren't tender… No seriously. I didn't collapse.) I did one of those electricity-wasting moves of standing in front of the open refrigerator door waiting for food enlightenment to ascend on my soul.

And it did. In the form of leftover Orzo–one little box sure makes a lot. Some Ranch dressing–which makes everything edible for my children. And a few pieces of bacon–which makes everything taste good. We rounded off the meal with a can of soup and a few carrots hiding in the vegetable drawer. My children gobbled and proclaimed it their favorite meal, ever. (They tend to get dramatic when they're hungry.)

So, in a nutshell, here is what I learned this week:

* there is a lot of food in my pantry. especially a lot of side dishes–rices, beans, hearty grains. I need to use them in my meals more frequently.

* when you know you can't run to the grocery store as soon as you are out of something, you are more careful with portion sizes and waste. I offered less food at every meal. And carefully saved any bit that was leftover.

* I took more control in my kitchen. No more cupboard-diving by little girls. I tended to control and watch each thing that was eaten–which often led to healthier choices.

* I had plenty of food to get by for the week. Some of this was due to the fact that I had skipped a dinner the week before and had some of the supplies leftover. But I also found a few things buried in my freezer that I didn't know were still in there.

* I did not eat the deer sausage. But I will. For fear of receiving a lashing with a wet noodle from many of you. 🙂

* for me, the hardest part was when I wasn't in the mood to be creative. I have grown accustomed to my planned-out meals and some evenings, I just longed for something easy and planned to throw together. I didn't want to do the mish-mash, make-it-work kind of meal. When I whined about this over the phone to Emily, she reminded me, "Well, technically, you could have opened up your cupboards and freezer and made a plan with what you had at the beginning of the week." Oh yeah. I could have.

All in all, it was a great experience. There were a few low points. A few moments where I was really, really tempted to sneak off to the store. But I didn't. And I don't think my children, who suddenly became the grocery-store police, would have allowed it.

Though I haven't admitted it to my husband yet–who tried to get me to go another week on the challenge–I kind of wonder if I couldn't make this an every-other-week, kind of deal. I wonder if I could do a big shop one week, and the following week get by with a budget of about $50 for the farmers' market, fresh veggies and dairy? Hmmm…something new for me to think about.

If you played along or if you thought about food spending and using what you have this week, will you share your thoughts, observations? I'd love to hear.

grocery challenge wrap-up

I think it's taken me so long to write this post because I've been so overwhelmed by everyone's response to this challenge. It definitely got a lot of you thinking, as it did for me. Many of you are 'old pros' at what I attempted last week, some of you are daily grocery-store shoppers and couldn't imagine not going for a whole week. I get that, too.

I don't think I'll bore you with a week's worth of menu plans and "what we ate" lists. There were some definite highlights of the week, like lunch on Wednesday. When I reached in to the fridge for my leftover chicken from the night before, with big plans of chicken salad swirling around in my head. Only to realize that a certain man of the house had squirreled away all the chicken in his lunch. It even warranted a desperate call to his work, "You took ALL the chicken??!!! What are WE supposed to have for lunch???!!" He was sorry, he didn't realize there was so much in the container. blah. blah. blah. It's amazing how grumpy you can get over a few pieces of chicken when you're making every morsel count.

After I collapsed prostrate on the kitchen floor, weeping over the lost breasts of tender white chicken (not really–they weren't tender… No seriously. I didn't collapse.) I did one of those electricity-wasting moves of standing in front of the open refrigerator door waiting for food enlightenment to ascend on my soul.

And it did. In the form of leftover Orzo–one little box sure makes a lot. Some Ranch dressing–which makes everything edible for my children. And a few pieces of bacon–which makes everything taste good. We rounded off the meal with a can of soup and a few carrots hiding in the vegetable drawer. My children gobbled and proclaimed it their favorite meal, ever. (They tend to get dramatic when they're hungry.)

So, in a nutshell, here is what I learned this week:

* there is a lot of food in my pantry. especially a lot of side dishes–rices, beans, hearty grains. I need to use them in my meals more frequently.

* when you know you can't run to the grocery store as soon as you are out of something, you are more careful with portion sizes and waste. I offered less food at every meal. And carefully saved any bit that was leftover.

* I took more control in my kitchen. No more cupboard-diving by little girls. I tended to control and watch each thing that was eaten–which often led to healthier choices.

* I had plenty of food to get by for the week. Some of this was due to the fact that I had skipped a dinner the week before and had some of the supplies leftover. But I also found a few things buried in my freezer that I didn't know were still in there.

* I did not eat the deer sausage. But I will. For fear of receiving a lashing with a wet noodle from many of you. 🙂

* for me, the hardest part was when I wasn't in the mood to be creative. I have grown accustomed to my planned-out meals and some evenings, I just longed for something easy and planned to throw together. I didn't want to do the mish-mash, make-it-work kind of meal. When I whined about this over the phone to Emily, she reminded me, "Well, technically, you could have opened up your cupboards and freezer and made a plan with what you had at the beginning of the week." Oh yeah. I could have.

All in all, it was a great experience. There were a few low points. A few moments where I was really, really tempted to sneak off to the store. But I didn't. And I don't think my children, who suddenly became the grocery-store police, would have allowed it.

Though I haven't admitted it to my husband yet–who tried to get me to go another week on the challenge–I kind of wonder if I couldn't make this an every-other-week, kind of deal. I wonder if I could do a big shop one week, and the following week get by with a budget of about $50 for the farmers' market, fresh veggies and dairy? Hmmm…something new for me to think about.

If you played along or if you thought about food spending and using what you have this week, will you share your thoughts, observations? I'd love to hear.

34 comments on “The grocery challenge wrap-up”

  1. That is so great! I have done that calling and crying to my hubby when he takes my lunch 🙂 Glad to know I am not alone. I love grocery challenges and I am so proud of you for taking one on. Way to go!

  2. Congratulations! You are inspiring…. Food preparation is the bain of my existence, but with a hungry husband and 2 toddlers I am forced into it daily. I do a lot of ready made, and it preserves what little sanity I have right now, but I dream of being creative and thrifty as you have been this week…. I mean, less money on groceries could mean more money for fabric!!!!! now, just to find the time to create meals and sew…. I read your blog daily and enjoy it immensely, thank you for putting your time and energies into it!

  3. oh, molly, you did well. We do an every-other-week grocery run (except for milk and bread) and supplement from the farmers market. My life is always easier when I have a plan for the week’s meals, and that plan usually has nothing to do with a grocery trip. Once a quarter, I go to nashville to trader joe’s and I’ll stock up on frozen chicken, frozen shrimp, jarred pasta sauce and fried rice (emergency meals only), plus pantry staples I can only get there (also I get our laundry detergent there). I usually spend about $100-150. At home, I get milk, cheese, butter and bulk grains from whole foods every other week (N is allergic to growth hormones in conventional foods). Farmers market is every week. The “regular” grocery store is just for sandwich bread, canned beans, apple juice, blah, blah. But I rarely go in more than every other week. I’d be lost without my deep freeze. I find if I keep the things we like on hand, I panic less. But a family of 3 eats much less than a family of 5!

    My challenge was interrupted by cooking for a funeral, but other than that, we made it just fine. I finally went to the grocery yesterday and only got beans, spinach, frozen corn, and bread.

    Didn’t mean to make this a book. . .

  4. That’s awesome! I hear you on the creativity piece. It is exhausting to be creative at every meal. But those successes, like the orzo, are better than a gourmet meal, in a way.

    A thought: We are members of a CSA and raw milk co-op, so our produce and dairy is delivered weekly, which leaves little else that we *have* to shop for, so we don’t. We buy in bulk on an, at best, semi-weekly plan and do lots of scrapping together with copious amounts of greens in between. I love, love, love the farmer’s market, but it makes me wasteful and lazy. If a box of produce that I haven’t selected to meet the whims of my taste buds comes to me, I am far more resourceful and far less wasteful–we’re even eating our carrot and radish tops. And they taste good!

  5. Nice job, Molly! I have lots of pantry stuff, too–the grains, the dried beans, etc., that I could make into meals. Some weeks when I plan my shopping list there really isn’t much on there, as every so often I remember all the stuff I already have. But you have more guts than I. If I didn’t go shopping we wouldn’t have any veg or fruit. Or soda, god forbid 😛

    One of my favorite go-to meals when I have very little in the house is carbonara: pasta, bacon, onion, and broth, if you have it, plus an egg or two and some parmesan cheese. Yum. I like to buy a pound of bacon and break it into small amounts for freezing, so I can just take out 4 strips at a time for something like this and I don’t end up tossing any, which happens if I just leave the whole thing in the fridge. But we’re a family of 2, so it’s a very different story!

  6. Hi Molly, I want to thank you for making me think about this, this past week. I didn’t quite make it…I actually took a picture of my overflowing cart on Friday and was going to post it titled: “For Molly, sorry…”, but never got around to it.But, as with so many things, it’s not just about meeting the goal, but learning something along the way and getting ourselves to look at things closer, or differently.Anyhoo…I just wanted to agree, that yes! it takes so much more time, thoughtfulness and energy to be “creative” and make do with what you have, which of course the evil convenience food pushers know all too well.But as we “nutritional gatekeepers” (read: mommys) know, it is well worth the effort.Take care, good luck, and good eating!

  7. PS. It would make an interesting extension challenge…. geared towards those of us who detest cooking….. a contest to create basic, easy, palatable, recipes that costs very little….. for the dual purpose of helping those of us love to sew but hate to cook. Save time from meal prep (more time for sewing) and save money from shopping (more for fabric!). We could call it the “Food and Fabric Challenge”. People could submit their recipes and pictures of the lovely fabric they purchased with the savings!

  8. I’m so impressed with you following your challenge and your table looks lovely.I didn’t follow along with the challenge but I did do a big shopping for 2 weeks and have been avoiding the grocery store otherwise. I planned ahead and have been sticking to it. I have also been trying to make some of the items we normally buy. One $4 giant can of tomatoes made 4 dinners worth of pasta sauce-I usually buy jarred sauce. We made homemade cherry-lime aid. And a few others. I also tried to cook up any veggies that started to turn instead of tossing. Thanks for the inspiration to look at our grocery shopping differently.

  9. I would never have the time to shop more than 1x a week so I had no idea that wasn’t how everyone operated! Some people only shop once a month. I couldn’t function like that as I want fresh fruit & veggies plus milk each week.

    I don’t work in the summer so we pay for a CSA membership (fresh fruit & veggies from farm each week) and buy a large meat package at the butcher in May. It’s a big expense for us at the start of the summer but then our food budget is almost nil for remainder of the summer, which helps since our cash flow is lower those months. Other than milk and eggs, we really don’t need to buy much and since the perishable veggies are coming from CSA farm, staples from grocery are all nonperishable.

  10. I, too, made it through the week without a grocery store run. This week, I’ve found myself pretty reluctant to go into the store. And, while I’ve been there, I find myself asking, “Do I *really* need this?” with each item I touch. But, as one of the commenters above mentioned, we have a weekly CSA box that includes a dozen eggs. So, really, the only thing I *really* need to buy on a weekly basis is milk. Bread, grains, pasta, beans etc. are all so heavily stocked in the pantry that I wouldn’t have to buy any for quite a while.Thanks for this challenge. I’m becoming an even more mindful shopper.

  11. Yea! Good job, Molly!I’m just trying to make it through all the greens in my CSA bag each week. No matter how much salad and stir fry we eat, it doesn’t seem to disappear.I may turn into a rabbit soon. 🙂 But at least I’ll be a very healthy rabbit.

  12. I came upon the challenge a few days ago, but had already been somewhat at it in our household.

    My challenge:

    -I must cook a meal.

    -Most of the meal must come from the house.

    -Whatever doesn’t, I have to ride my bike or walk to get.

    Luckily, I live in the middle of the city, so it’s really not that hard to go to the grocery. But it shows you how lazy you can get.

  13. Ha! Lori and I are with the same CSA and I’m jealous of her ability to make meals out of it all. I may be a rabbit, but getting the troops to comply is proving trickier than I thought.

    Anyway, Molly, I’m so proud of you. I’m pretty sure I could make it a week around here, too…although it would take Jay getting over his ‘meat at every meal’ thing he has. You did great. And yes, the creative meals are always the ones my kids like, too. Isn’t that funny? I think they like the variety, to be honest.

  14. Way to go. We’ve had a few of those creative stretches, and they are creative. We depleted our well-stocked pantry and my backlog of stock.I found accommodating things like garbage bags (compostible, and necessary as we don’t get bags from the store) or detergent tricky to manage in a shop. I can run through the food list, but these big ticket kids kill my budget. (I need a costco card.)

  15. Great update! I giggled when I read about you standing in front of the refrigerator waiting for some ‘food enlightenment’. I do it all the time! 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration. Happy shopping.

  16. It has taken us a while to get to the point we are now. But, not so long ago I felt similarly to where you were. And my husband had a habit of almost daily trips to the grocery store.

    Over the last year, with trying to keep our expenses in check and save for our impending adoption, we looked at how we eat, what we eat, how we shopped and how much we were spending. A caveat…we only eat whole foods (minimally or non-processed foods) and we cook all of our meals from scratch with as much organic as possible. So our grocery budget is huge! But we have saved enormously on time, gas, and surprisingly…health!

    Anyway, now we do one big shop PER MONTH! and a tiny shop once a week only for dairy and fresh produce. The meat, grains, pastas, nuts, everything else goes on the “Big Shop” list. In the four months that I have been shopping this way, I’ve saved an average of $175 dollars a month on our food, while accumulating over 30 days worth of pantry reserves in case of layoff, emergency, or new baby.

    The big shop takes me a few hours as I shop at two/three different places…Trader Joe’s for organic staples, Whole Foods for the staples that TJ’s doesn’t have and produce when the farm won’t have it. And our local farm for meats, produce and eggs.

    We have a few set nights of menus at our house…Friday is always home-made pizza, one night is salmon and one night is beans and rice. The rest vary by season, availability and inclination. We keep a few quick recipes for nights when no one feels like cooking and we’re totally psyched by how much time and money we save this way. I can honestly say that after a brief adjustment period (about a week) we don’t miss the old way of running out to the store all the time. Now we just run down to “shop” in the basement pantry. Can’t beat the savings and the good food! Plus more time home with family

  17. good for you :)It does take a bit of planning, but I have saved not only money, but time not grocery shopping every week. I look at it as a challenge… can I make it another day without shopping? I will say, I never deny my family anything… if we’re out of something, like, yes, even ice cream, I will stop and pick it up. But I’m able to go into the store and ONLY buy the ice cream, not 10 other things like I use to do. Keeping a list of items that I need to buy really works for me. Good luck 🙂

    Oh, you had my giggling at your, “you took ALL the chicken” call to your husband. My husband does that all the time and now I have learned to pack his lunch the night before for him 🙂

  18. We try to do the “every other week” big shopping trip as you describe at the end of this post and it works for us. Toward the end of the 2nd week, we are scrounging about the freezer for meat and end up eating frozen peas, but it does help us really use what we have.

    My husband is really the best at saving money on the grocery bill. His not-so-tricky trick is that he goes into the store without any actual recipes in mind. He just picks up whatever meat, fish, veggies, and starches are on sale and then we figure out meals/recipes after we’ve shopped.

    I find I spend way too much $ if I go to the store with actual recipes in mind. I end up buying expensive items that I feel are necessary bc they are part of a recipe. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this.

  19. so glad to hear all about it. I did it too, but I really thought of you with more mouths to feed than I have. Although I am pregnant – so that counts for 2… It was a great challenge, made me want to go a little longer, but I WAS really excited when I got to go to the store. And it made me excited about the things that I bought, and grateful for what I have. I really know what I have now, which is SO good to know! Thanks Molly. I really think you rock. keep it up!

  20. Thank you for being an inspiration to many of us for a long time. The orzo meal sounded great, and it’s cool to hear how excited your kids were… I love it when my girl just gobbles up what I’ve made… there’s nothing better than that.Thanks for saying what you said so well.

  21. We did it this week too, (aside from a gallon of milk and one onion 😉 ) It wasn’t that difficult for us, surprisingly. We enjoyed using up our pantry items, and I still only spent 50$ at the grocery today. We have fish, meat and sides for at least another week. Thanks for inspiring us!

  22. I try an do this every so often for a couple of reasons. Firstly I hate grocery food shopping so if I can go without I will. I also set myself a monthly budget and sometimes treat myself with some extra fabric or clothes if I have let over money. This really is a great incentive to food shop less!

  23. Hi Molly,Sounds like you did great. We make mixed up leftover lunches around here as well. Also, I’m not a fan of venicin either, but once tried it in a 7-layer taco-type dip, with the salsa, cheese, onions, olives, etc. It was adequately disguised. You might give that a try.

  24. I think this is the funniest blog post i have ever read. I have had that EXACT scenario happen more than once embarassingly enough. Huffing and puffing at my husband at work – how DARE he take the leftovers….(when i would have had no problem taking them to work myself) and then just feeling defeated that there was NOTHING else to eat. We are so spoiled aren’t we! It’s lovely to eat what we want, but so good to be challenged once in a while too. so thanks…..

  25. You did a great job Molly, and this was super inspiring. I love the kid supermarket police. The most important thing for me is for a meal to be cohesive and using up odd bits and pieces rules that out. We had a rehearsal dinner here for our son a week ago last night. I patted myself on the back for coasting on wedding weekend leftovers all week, I did not go to the store once all week. Breaking in easy here and will try again soon. Since I am officially empty nested you would think this would be easy but really it is not!

  26. I hid bacon in the fridge only to wake up so excited to have some with my eggs and be disappointed that DH took it to work with him. I called him with the old “et tu, Brute” line.

    Then realized that I must not have a very exciting life if my day was ruined over missing bacon 😉

  27. Hahaha! Love reading how it went and I sooooo sympathize with the call to the office to find out if ALL the tasty leftovers went to work with my husband!

  28. Hi there — first time on your blog! I did something similar to this back in March, only I started off shopping with the intent of stretching the groceries for the week. We did charts, menu plans, even an experiment! It was a whole week of food study. We spent $150 that week but I think we can get by with a little less. It was actually fun working with the food we had and the kids helped with a lot of the cooking.

  29. Hi Molly. I’ve enjoyed your grocery store challenge posts. We have a similar situation–a pantry full of dry goods, a fridge full of food, yet still feel compelled to do a full grocery run every week! I do think it would be so much better to be mindful of what we already have and use it up a little before going to buy more . . .

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