Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feeding An Army

I've stated many times that during the height of our financial crisis, we only bought food and other necessities. Last night, as I was making dinner, it dawned on me that I probably spend more on groceries alone than others spend for food and luxury items. So maybe our total output is the same as others who may not be as prudent in their purchases.

As I washed the three hearts of organic romaine lettuce for our dinner salad, I wondered if you knew what it took to feed my little army (yesterday's setting was the Navy--I'm just trying to be fair). Then I wondered if you cared. I think that, for people who are not familiar with big families, it may be interesting to know. Not only that, while my husband was out with the kids, I was desperately attempting to come up with a post for today.

Since we moved the baby out of our room last weekend (HURRAY!), I've been catching up on some much-needed sleep, and my writing has been flowing quite well (for me, anyway). Yet, last night, as the house and my Dobies lay quiet, waiting for the light bulb to flash over my head, I felt a block coming on. That's when I was washing the romaine. Shoot, now you know the secret to how I come up with these lame posts!

So, if this doesn't interest you at all, or if you feel that I'm going too far off-topic (which, by the way, I don't think that I am), maybe I'll be a hit tomorrow. You just never know.

I'll give you an average day of meals that I cook when my oldest son is home from college. He'll be graduating this May. He's hoping for a job offer (and has been told that he's getting one) from the company where he's been interning for 18 months (telecommuting from school, at times). So, he'll be moving back in with us and paying room and board for a shared room with his brother, food, and utilities. All his other expenses with be his responsibility. Also, the amounts of food that I use are based on feeding the equivalent of four adults and five children, three of whom eat very little.

For breakfast on most days, I make three cups of organic steel-cut oats OR about 18 eggs and two pounds of bacon OR a triple batch of pancakes (I don't know what this entails as my husband makes it from scratch).

For lunch, if we are having deli sandwiches (our lunches run the gambit of just about everything), we'll go through about two pounds of meat (preferably nitrate free, but not always) and almost an entire loaf of whole wheat bread. Sometimes the kids like quesadillas, so I use about a dozen tortillas (we buy the uncooked 36 pack from Costco) and about 1.5 to 2 pounds of sharp cheddar cheese with 32 ounces of sour cream.

For dinner, I'll give you the example of Salisbury steak. I use three pounds of ground beef and about 5 pounds of potatoes. I've found a great mashed potato mix with only potatoes, butter, and salt. If I use this, I make two of the large packets. That brings me to our almost nightly lemon/olive oil salad of three hearts of organic romaine with 1/2 a package of organic grape tomatoes and an organic cucumber--all from Trader Joe's and less expensive than the conventionally grown produce in the supermarkets. I figure that we save a ton of money on medical expenses (we have private insurance) by eating healthy in the first place. My children are usually seen by our pediatrician for check-ups only.

We've recently eliminated all candy from our diets, except for special occasions. It threw me off guard a bit when one of my sons asked me if he could have an orange for "dessert." Also, between meals my children may choose a snack from bananas, oranges, organic apples, bell peppers, or carrots.

Believe it or not--even with the use of a hand sanitizer when we're out--my kids still catch a virus sometimes, but fight it off quickly--one by one. If they are stuffed up from a cold or have an earache, the best fix is xylitol (pronounced "zylitol") gum. For about $2, xylitol gum will demolish any ear infection in a day. No $30 doctor co-pay. No antibiotics. No pain. This is the most effective remedy that I've used. I have never seen it fail. If my children are too young to chew gum, I put some loose xylitol in the corners of their mouths before they go to bed. Since we've started using this technique, we've have never had an ear infection.

The biggest splurge on my food bill? Raw milk. The cost is $6.95 per half gallon. We buy two per week and only give the kids half a cup in the morning and half at night. If they have a lot of congestion, then we buy an extra one and let them drink more.

So, with all that being said, and keeping in mind that we shop the sales and don't just buy what we want, our grocery tally for an average month is about $1,000.

Living on two acres, it would be ideal to grow our own fruits and veggies. I don't know if it would be any cheaper, but it would be very convenient and nutritious. Right now, we have a few apple trees and a couple of orange and tangerine trees (our lemon tree was eaten by a gopher). They don't produce much. That's probably because it takes more than just planting them, setting up the irrigation, and returning in a year to see if there's any fruit.

The vegetable garden has been on my mind for a while. We have every critter imaginable, so I can't just spread some seed down and water every day. Between the birds, squirrels, rabbits, mice, gophers, every bug know to man, and our loyal watch dogs, there may be nothing left for us. I've considered a giant planter with a wooden bottom and high sides--but birds, squirrels, and mice would still have access.

Anyway, I've decided to scale it down--way down--in order to experiment this year. I have five large 16" diameter planters. I'm going to set those up on an old six-foot patio table in the sun and cover the whole thing with bird netting. If I do it well enough, it'll keep the crawling rodents out, too, while providing access to the "garden". I already have strawberry plants and will be transplanting them after this rain spell is over. Then I'll buy a variety of tomato seedlings. I'd like some cucumbers, but the vine would end up wrapping itself around the table a few times. Lettuce would be nice, but I've done that at another house and the bugs are very aggressive and wiggle their way to the center of the head. Plus, I'd need a ton! Next year, maybe we can do more directly in the ground.

OK, I think I'm ready. There's just one small detail: would someone please tell me how to keep the tomato bugs and slugs at bay?