Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guest Post: How I've Raised the Quality of My Family's Food Without Raising the Budget

Ashley doing some canning with help from her son, Ethan.

Today's guest post comes from Ashley Clark. I asked Ashley to write this because I was so impressed when I learned how she had improved her family's food WITHOUT increasing the food budget. Ashley is savvy and quick to learn and I am glad she is willing to tell us all how she does it. Ashley is married to my brother, Reid, and they live in Austin, Texas with their two kids.
My husband and I have been married for nearly five years now.  When we got married, all I knew how to cook was boxed macaroni & cheese and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.  When I was growing up, my sweet mother often asked me if I would like to cook with her, but I always refused because “I’m never going to need to know how to do that.”  

It turns out I was wrong. Apparently everyone needs to know how to cook, especially a mother of small children. So I began to learn how to cook simple meals, and progressed to making several meals at home every week.  Around that time, Reid and I were both in college and money was tight, so I always bought the cheapest of everything: giant bags of chicken breasts, store brand canned food, apples (whichever one was on sale that week), frozen pizza, milk, etc.  

Nearly every meal I cooked centered on meat, and that was how I learned. It was easy to defrost a couple of chicken breasts, cook some noodles or rice, and make a simple sauce. It was simple, quick, and easy. However, once we started having children I started to think more and more about the food we ate. As a mother it was my responsibility to feed my children wholesome and nutritious meals. Additionally, they are 100% reliant on what I give them.  If I give them Oreos for every meal, they would eat it. I am responsible for establishing their food habits and maintaining their weight. That responsibility weighed heavily on me and I tried to provide them with a variety of options. Around the same time, my husband came down with a good case of salmonella from an undercooked egg.  He was quite ill and ended up in an urgent care clinic to treat severe dehydration.  He lost 10 pounds in a week and it took a month for him to fully recover. I started to wonder about our food and realized that salmonella outbreaks are increasingly common these days.  

I decided to start learning more about our food system. I watched Food Revolution and picked up Food Matters, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation.  By the end I was convinced and wanted to change our eating lifestyle. My husband was supportive of my decisions, but suggested 3 guidelines for my journey: 
1) The meals we eat must be delicious.
2) We will never be vegetarians. 
3) Our food budget should stay the same as it was before. 
I agreed, and off we went.

By using recipes from Section 89,  I slowly began to decrease the amount and increase the quality of the meat that we ate.  Then I began buying more vegetables, only I tried to buy organic.  Finally in the past couple months I have started attending local farmers markets – which I really enjoy and like supporting the local agricultural economy. I have found that our food tastes better, it is more nutritious, and I have lost a little weight.  I feel happy serving my kids lunch knowing that the food they eat makes them healthy.
bulk storage
Now, I am still cheap at heart, so in order to keep our grocery budget balanced I have started buying and cooking a few things in bulk.
Here are some of the things I am doing:

Canned Beans
-cost $.80 cents per can (save around $9.00 a month)
-Now I cook 4 cups of dried beans in the pressure cooker and froze them in “can” sized freezer bags – 8 “cans”

Packaged Cereals 
 – $2.75 per box (save around $20.00 a month)-Cooked Wheat berries with milk and sugar or oatmeal with fruit – I think this is yummier anyways!

-Store-bought bread-2.49 a loaf (Save around $12.00 a month)
-Grind wheat and bake bread

Pantry Staples
Store-bought Unbleached Wheat/Flour/Sugar – 2.50-5.00 (Save around $24.00 a month)
25 pound bulk bag from cannery

Kid Snacks

-Buy granola bars and fruit snacks- (Save around 20.00 a month)
-Make my own granola or use dried fruit as Ethan’s snacks

Ashley's homemade bread and jam
These small changes save me around $50 a month, leaving more room to invest in higher quality items. Yes, it does take time to make beans instead of buying them but if I do it once a month it takes about 45 minutes. It takes longer for me to drive to Costco and back!I am by no means a gourmet cook but I am on a journey to keep my family healthy and take care of them.  If I can do that, then I have succeeded.  

Here are some of my favorite breakfasts: 

Breakfast Yogurt
  • 3/4 cup- 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup oatmeal or Museli
  • 1 tbs freshly ground flax with some whole ones for crunch
  • 1 cup – 1  ½  cups  frozen or fresh fruit
  • Sweeten to  taste

Green Smoothie 

  • 4 oz orange juice
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 5-6 handfuls of spinach or green leafy vegetable
  • 1 cup peaches
  • 1 cup water or Ice cubes
  • 2 tbs whole flax seeds
  •  Place ingredients in a high quality blender and blend until creamy. 
Thanks, Ashley.
Do you have great ideas that are working for you? Ideas and insights about the Word of Wisdom? Please share them. I would love to include them as a guest post if possible. Email ideas to sandrajergensen[at]


  1. What excellent ideas. I am very impressed!

  2. Thanks for the great ideas. Ashley, you are awesome! - V. Fulmer

  3. Oh, beans... they continue to challenge me. I hope you'll share how you learned to make them.

  4. this was very inspiring! Thank you for sharing!


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