I have written previously about some of the ways we can reduce our grocery budgets and found that I had to wean my kids off of some of the snack habits I had created when I had been buying a lot of the packaged items at the store. My solution was to make certain things myself. This might not be for everyone, but if it helps you transition away from store-bought crackers and snacks, I would highly recommend it and encourage you to make every effort to find the time to make these items at home.
I found recipes for various types of crackers on the Internet and was usually able to carve out one day of the week that I could devote to making them. It really wasn’t any more difficult than baking a batch of cookies. I made saltine crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, and yes, even the cheesy fish crackers. Because there aren’t any preservatives in these homemade varieties, you might find that you need to keep them in the refrigerator. In our climate and at the rate my kids eat them, I don’t need to worry about them getting stale or moldy.
Another item I started to make from scratch was granola. I found a recipe that I liked, tweaked it to fit my family’s tastes, and make it in large batches regularly. It is so versatile as a snack or for breakfast. My kids will eat granola plain, but will sometimes throw in a handful of raisins, craisins, or chocolate chips for variety. We also use granola sprinkled over yogurt with fruit for a breakfast parfait. My son loves his cold cereal so he will put the granola in a bowl and pour milk over it. It is a denser cereal than some of the boxed varieties we used to buy at the store, so he doesn’t need very much to feel satisfied.
I also started to make my own yogurt so that we would always have it on hand. My kids would eat yogurt all day long if I let them and it was starting to get expensive, even if I bought the larger containers. I found a reliable recipe from the internet, bought a small container of yogurt at the store to get me started and before I knew it, I was making yogurt at least once a week, if not more. Once I had a batch of yogurt made, I would reserve a small amount as a starter for the next batch and keep the rotation going. I can usually find milk on sale for around $2 per gallon. I only use four cups of milk to make a batch of yogurt and it yields about a quart of yogurt. That makes my homemade version fifty cents versus $3-$4 or more for a quart of yogurt from the store.
Bread was the next thing on my list and I stopped buying all varieties of bread and tortillas as well as pizza. While this might not seem like it would put a significant dent in the grocery budget, I realized that even if I only saved $5 by doing it, I could use that $5 for something else. I found a bread machine at the local second-hand store for $5, believe it or not. See? It has already paid for itself! I use my bread machine almost daily for making bread as well as dough for pizza, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, and pretzels. I make tortillas by hand and my family loves them so much that, even if they go on sale for $1 per package, they won’t let me buy them. The fresh, homemade version is so much better and I found a recipe that uses olive oil, one of my pantry staples, which means I don’t have to buy anything unique to make them at a moment’s notice.
One more item I started making at home is peanut butter. I am not sure why the big companies have decided that peanut butter needs to have sugar in it, but I personally don’t like sweet peanut butter and the kids don’t need the extra sugar. I imagine the market research done by these companies showed that more people enjoyed the sweetened peanut butter, but I just want the basic, run-of-the-mill, ground-up-peanut flavored peanut butter. Not only did it seem to get harder and harder to find peanut butter without extra sugar, but when I did, it was about double the price of the sugary kinds because it was deemed “natural.” You can insert an eye roll there because that is exactly what I did when I saw a jar of peanut butter going for $5 because it was “all-natural.” Enter my food processor and the bulk bin at my local grocery store. I bought as many pounds of peanuts as I thought I would need both for peanut butter and hand-to-mouth snacking. In my particular food processor I can fit about 2 cups of peanuts in the bowl fitted with the “S” blade and whirl it up in about 7 minutes or less. Even though peanuts can get expensive, I’m still staying way under $5 for a jar of peanut butter.
As you start to make more items from scratch, you will find that there will be entire aisles of the grocery store that you won’t even go down because you don’t need to anymore. As I started making more things at home, I stayed on the outside aisles of the grocery store and wasn’t as tempted to buy the cute packages of snacks that I had become accustomed to buying. I soon realized that this “unthoughtful” habit had been driving up my food budget astronomically. Another advantage of avoiding the middle aisles at the store is that you are more likely to stick to your list. Let’s face it…the perimeter of the store isn’t nearly as interesting as the inner aisles, but I would be willing to bet that you will save money by shopping this way.
The more we do to take care of our family in a simple and natural way, the more we can be like the Proverbs 31 lady: “She watches over the affairs of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” ~Proverbs 31:27
The Simple Steward