Since moving to town a year ago I’ve started religiously shopping for groceries every two weeks. When we lived two hours away I usually only grabbed groceries once a month. Although extremely cost efficiant, there are several negatives to such a huge once-a-month shopping endeavor. I’ve gone into extensive detail about the planning process (which really hasn’t changed, other than being cut in half) but the actual shopping was… well… an “adventure”. But don’t take me wrong: I’m in no way complaining. We had no other option at the time so we made it work. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There are definitely some aspects of the process that I don’t miss though.
“Wait, soooooo… we can’t just eat it all right now?”
First, it meant amping myself up for a super stressful marathon grocery day once a month. And I mean marathon. It usually involved hauling three impatient kids and two or three heavy carts around a store for 4-5 hours while painstakingly crossing items off a grocery list and adding the cost into a running total (to make sure we didn’t go over budget). As you’re probably already aware, kids love being trapped in grocery carts for hours on end. Luckily they never try to pull things out of the overloaded carts, slip out of their seatbelts to try to stand in the basket or scream when they get crabby…. Well, not before the age of three months old anyway. After that, doing basic elementary school addition in your head (or on your phone) becomes a high pressure form of torture. The grocery shopping equivalent of waterboarding.
After the shopping is complete, the “cramming” phase would start. All those kids and all that food still have to make it home. Our little 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe is already filled to seating capacity with three carseats, side by side, crammed into the backseat. Adding a month worth of groceries for a family of five into the mix tested a lifetime of advanced Tetris skills.
“I think I can fit that fourth gallon of milk if I turn it sideways…”
Once home, the kids and food had to be unloaded and another two hours would be dedicated to rearranging the kitchen, pantry, fridge and freezer to fit everything. Taking into account the two hour drive each way just to go to the store and the 4-5 hour shopping process itself, the act of putting everything away would usually go late into the night. Consequently, the meal calender always included a slightly pricier, often unhealthy but super easy dinner option for that night. Think hot dogs.
We’d wake the following day sore and exhausted but we’d have a house full of food, which was a very satisfying feeling. The sense of “food security” was usually short lived though. After a week and a half, the fresh fruit and vegetables would dwindle and disappear, leaving us to rely entirely on frozen and canned produce. Bread was always baked fresh to save money, which was a challenge with three kids (and a small camping-sized oven that guzzled propane from tanks we had to take to town for refills) so it was not a common food staple. For grains we had to rely heavily on pastas and rices… which lost their excitement pretty quickly. And when the end of the month approached, the house was barren. No snacking between meals. Stick to the meal plan. There were a lot of unsatisfied cravings.
Homemade pita bread. Just like regular pita bread but more affordable… oh and it requires a soul-sucking all day process to make.
The worst though, was when the propane would leak or the pilot light would go out on our ancient propane fridge/freezer setup. It was unfortunately a common occurrence and the compact unit had next to no insulation. Add to that the swampy excessive moisture produced by a shutoff propane refrigerator broiler and you have the perfect formula for mold, rot and bacteria.
More than once we’d come home from a day of errands and doctor appointments to discover that all of our meat, all of our dairy and all of our frozen produce had gone bad. On a good month, we wouldn’t have a fridge outage until the end of the month when there wasn’t much to go bad and we wouldn’t have to wait long before the next grocery day anyway. Once though, it happened two days after we had stocked the fridge and freezer for the month. We lost everything. I actually cried. A lot. We always kept a pantry full of potatoes for emergencies because they’re cheap, filling and have a long shelf life. We had eggs from our chickens too. Boy did we get sick of potatoes and eggs though.
Fresh produce at the end of the month? What kind of black magic is this!
Now that we live in an apartment in town, our stress levels have greatly improved when it comes to providing food for our family. Although we miss our chickens, having an apartment-sized electric fridge/freezer is a luxury we are increasingly grateful for. Plus we can buy food biweekly, which means we enjoy fresh produce all month long. The drive to the store takes only minutes and a fraction of the amount of gas, which opens us up to the luxury of having the time and money to divide our list between the discount grocery store, the dollar store and the Farmers Market. Although I still plan and budget like I always have, the list is half as big, the shopping trip twice as fast and the car bizarrely uncrowded. I just can’t stress enough how much our attitudes towards food in general has improved.
Plus, no more eggs and potatoes.
…although, now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m kinda craving them.
We donated our chickens to the Sierra Waldorf School where we still visit them. Maybe this one will lay some potatoes for us.