WFP: The real cost of food, and my birthday surprise…

I’ve been making our own ice cream for a while now. We have an ice cream maker, and we just suck the cream off of the top of our raw milk and run it through. Recently, though, we tasted someone else’s raw milk ice cream, and it was AMAZING. The creamiest, richest, healthiest ice cream you could ever imagine. Oh man. So Jeff and I looked at each other and simultaneously asked our friends how they achieved this masterpiece. They said that they buy straight cream. Ah ha! Our ice cream was good, but still had a higher water content than theirs did, explaining the unbelievable creaminess of theirs. The farmers just do a way better job of getting just cream. So we went to order a quart, and realized it was about 14 dollars. Yes. For cream. It seemed crazy at first, but here’s what I’m thinking…

We can’t think about our food in terms of how much it costs, rather we should be thinking about it in terms of quality. Now, I know, we have to consider our finances, but I feel like I have a little bit of insight into this area because Jeff and I are fairly low income. Like, we receive food benefits from the state, so at least they feel like we need a little help in that area. That’s all I’ll really say about our finances- we’re not hurting, but it’s not like we’re rolling in the dough here. Anyway, I am always hearing about how people can’t buy this or that kind of food because it’s just too expensive. Well, I can understand that. But how is it that we’ve been able to do just that on such a limited budget? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • We make real food the only option. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t ever go out to eat or don’t ever make concessions here. We’ve had our fair share of Chinese take-out or whatever. But in general, what we bring into our house is of very high quality. Almost exclusively organic, usually local, and generally whole and unprocessed. When I first started this journey towards real food, I said the same thing- "I can’t afford it". But in doing this for the past several years, I’m finding that there was a lot that I spent my money on that wasn’t really food the way I see it now. Once I cut all the junk out, I wasn’t wasting my money on something that was cheap, but wasn’t doing anything for me. Shopping at places like the farmers market or the local co-op really opened my eyes. Once I started only exposing myself to real food, I only ever bought and ate real food. It was as simple as that. I used to shop at big grocery stores regularly, and now I only go if I have to (usually for something not even food related, like birthday candles or something). Now I know that not everyone can limit their exposure to those places- I’m blessed with lots of options in that area- but you can start thinking about the food you buy in those terms- learning to discern between the food that will nourish you and the food that won’t. My general rule is this- if there is an ingredient list on a box that has more than a couple of ingredients, don’t get it. If I don’t recognize the names of those ingredients as food items, don’t get it. If it tastes good, but makes you feel sluggish, or you feel hungry again soon after you ate it, it’s probably not a good regular food item for you. Anyway, I found that once I started to think about it in those terms, the options were just narrowed, and I just bought what I could. It just so happens to be enough, even on a small income. There’s even free stuff that we are able to get that I won’t settle for. We routinely buy good quality bulk peanut butter over the little tubs of Jif that we could get with one of our cards- it’s loaded with sugar and yucky oils, and we just won’t consider it as a good substitute, even if it is free to us. Also, and this may be a touchy subject for some, but we don’t let our kid dictate what we eat. As much as Vera would like to eat boxed macaroni and cheese every day for lunch, she gets leftover curry or whatever I’m having instead. It’s just the way we eat around here. She’s learned that some things are treats, and she’s always got options here. She chooses to eat, or not, and when she wants a snack I fix her something I’m happy with (usually yogurt). I don’t buy food that is specifically kid friendly, almost ever (if I do it’s a big treat), because it’s generally overpriced and spoils their appetites for good food (if I let her, she’d probably live off of animal crackers, so I just don’t buy them). This, I think, has saved us loads of money and headaches. 
  • We make cooking a priority. Now I know that not everyone has a lot of time to cook big meals all the time. My hands are full a lot, and I’m home with the kids! So, this is where I’ll just say that practice really makes a difference here. We’ve just learned how to whip something together quickly, or to make a big batch of something to feed us on other days when we have less time. There’s loads of prep that we can do to make our lives easier (eg. soaking oats overnight so they’ll cook quickly in the morning, making big batches of soup, sticking a batch of dry beans in the crock pot to cook overnight to use throughout the week, etc.). It takes practice, definitely, but there are a lot of quick things that can be done. Even as simply as just eating a spoonful of peanut butter and a hunk of cheese on your way out the door… 
  • We make our food budget bigger by trimming our excess in other areas. We have a pretty set budget for most everything, but food is the one thing that we allow to be sort of open ended. Now I don’t want to preach about lifestyle and what everyone should spend their money on, but I will say that when eating well became a priority, we did "trim the fat" so to speak. That’s all I’ll say on the subject, but if eating well is something that someone really wants to do, there’s usually something that can get paired down to help them get there. Jeff read somewhere that in the 1950s the average household spent a third of their income on food (and that was generally single-income households). That’s a huge chunk! But, when you think about it, they tended to have one car, no big cable bills or cell phones, no expensive childcare, and they weren’t being held hostage under mountains of credit card debt. Anyway, just food for thought. 
  • We are creative in using cheaper ingredients with more expensive ones. I’ve talked a little about this before, but I try to make our meals stretch and waste as little as possible. So, we often will take our pricier items (meat, dairy, etc.), and strategically place them with other, less expensive, ingredients. We do this by buying more things in bulk- dry beans instead of canned, bulk grains rather than packaged food, etc. We also try to eat more veggies, especially ones that are in season and cheaper. This ends up being pretty fun- we don’t have a "spaghetti night" around here. Meals morph and change with the seasons, with the availability of our meat, with our budget, etc. 
  • We use nutrient dense ingredients, and are better nourished overall. To me, this means that we are less likely to over eat or have cravings because our body has what it needs. So, while perhaps initially spending more money, I figure we’re using it to it’s fullest potential- investing it in our bodies. Examples of nutrient dense foods are: dark leafy greens, pastured meats (and the stocks made from them), coconut oil and milk, eggs, whole raw milk and cheeses, good butter, nuts and legumes, etc.
  • We grow our own food when we can, and support local farmers when we can’t. I know people have limited space and time to do this part, but everyone can grow something. Whether it’s just a little basil plant in your kitchen window, or potted tomato plant on your back porch, this is an easy way to eat something great for almost no money at all. Also, it really pays to seek out local growers. In my experience these people sell really good food, at its actual price- that is to say, I don’t think they’re trying to get away with anything here. If we can find it for cheaper at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or whatever, then I generally think the costs were exported in unethical ways, and you’re not really seeing the true cost of that food. I don’t know, the more I learn about it, the more I think "small price to pay for knowing it was brought to me in an honest and ethical way." You can also save money by buying seasonal food and storing what you can.

And so, my $14 quart of real, beautiful, raw cream is going to make some awesome ice cream- and if you are lucky enough to get a scoop of it, you’ll know that I really love you.



As for my birthday surprise, check this out! Those of you who think that a kitchen appliance makes for a crappy present- well, think again! Behold…

This is the real deal, folks. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time, and yet I never thought I’d get one. They are a tad on the pricey side. But my lovely and resourceful partner decided to pool together the funds with his side of the family and they got it for me. I opened it up on Sunday at our little family dinner, and barely knew what to say… This is all very exciting. I decided to give you an action shot- here is my shnazzy new KitchenAid kneading bread dough for me… MAGIC! Oh the things I will do. I’ve got to get some of the attachments- namely the sausage stufffer, grain mill, and food grinder. This is one of those things that we actually are okay with buying new. It was made here in Michigan (although I’m not fooling myself into thinking it was made sustainably or anything, just glad it stimulated our economy), and it will last me a long, long time. Jeff initially asked his mom if she would hand hers down to me, to which he received a stern "No way!"- apparently the thing has last her decades and will continue to last, even if she doesn’t use it often anymore. It’s just a really good piece of equipment. So. I’m excited about that. 

As for what this handy thing is mixing? Sourdough. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things. I’m not thrilled with the fact that every loaf I bake is a sour brick, but I’m not giving up. I saw this site and realized that my starter never builds volume like that, it only ever looks slightly bubbly and gets the liquid on the top. So, I’m trying to feed the culture a little more and get it super active, then I’ll try again. With the dough that is just NOT going to rise sitting on my counter? Tonight we’re making savory Asian dumplings with it, with sautéed greens on the side. Oh yeah, and for dessert, a fabulous scoop of homemade ice cream on top of warm peaches. 

Eat well!


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Comments (17)

  1. pagangoat

    wow, lucky you! that’s definitely a dream gift, I’ve been coveting a kitchenaid for years.
    I haven’t even attempted sourdough bread in ages, partly because it’s been so hot, partly because it takes so long…but I have made pancakes, and I feed it regularly. When the weather cools off I’m sure I’ll get back into it.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      You’re like my sourdough buddy! I love it. Someday we’ll get this! Don’t give up!

  2. david_anderson

    Wow! Such a good post! I suspect this is going to be a long comment, and I’ll still forget things.

    Real homemade raw milk ice cream – incredible, and worth the price of the cream. I just eat it less often. And if you think about people getting $5 cups of coffee a couple of times a day, is $5 a serving for heaven in a bowl really that out of line.

    At school, I hear a lot about not having the money or the time to eat well, but there really are very few students that are so limited. In most cases they would have plenty of money and time, if they would change their priorities. They have unlimited calling/text/data on their cell phones, and they make it out to the bars every night, but they can’t afford the money or the time to eat right? They just haven’t made it a priority.

    Congrats on the mixer! I love my kitchen-aid mixer, but I will give you a little warning: they use more plastic parts than when they built their reputation, so don’t overload it with really stiff dough. That said, it was easy enough to fix it myself, and the parts were relatively cheap. It sounds like a problem with every stand mixer built for the home market now.

    Before you go nuts on getting the attachments, honestly compare them to stand alone versions of the same thing. Some of them work out well, and others don’t. And make sure you read the reviews. If it is something that I plan to do alot, I’d rather have a purpose built tool, but if I’m only going to grind meat a couple times a year, getting the attachment makes sense.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thank you! Good point, about how much people spend on other things. Plus, ice cream should be a real treat, shouldn’t it?

      Also, thanks for the tip on the attachments. I will definitely think about that when the time comes to take on other projects. πŸ™‚

  3. haurelia

    Happy Birthday!

    You will loooove your Kitchen Aid. We got one as a wedding gift, and I must say, I depend on it (particularly for bread and pizza dough).
    I’m glad you’re not giving up on your sourdough. Just keep researching and tinkering, and you’ll find the alchemy that works with your starter. I used this site a lot when getting started; although she gets a little technical with weights and measures and such. Beware: this website is like bread porn!

    You’ve got me dreaming of ice cream…:)

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks! It’s actually on Saturday, but I’m loving the early birthday love. πŸ™‚

      Also, thank you for that website! It’s great- I’m bookmarking it for later study!

  4. impeccablyme

    I loved this entry! πŸ˜€

    What’s the “trick” for doing beans overnight in the crock pot? I usually soak mine overnight (when I remember to!) and then cook them on the stove, but it sounds like the crock pot could save me some time/effort!

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I actually soak mine too. I soak either all day or overnight, and then pop them in the crock on low for another 8 or so hours (so again either all day or overnight, just depends on when I think of it and what’s going on those days). No trick, I just test them every now and then. πŸ™‚

  5. haurelia

    I also meant to leave this quote for you…

    “Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it.”
    –Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia

  6. decemberthirty

    Happy early birthday! I got a KitchenAid for Christmas a few years ago, and I love it. They’re great tools.

    I like the rest of this post too–you’ve got some really good advice here. One of the main things that help me stretch my food budget is planning. Once I got into the habit of sitting down once a week and planning out that week’s meals, I found I wasted a lot less food–no more half-used ingredients going moldy in the fridge. My current goal is to get better at using my freezer as productively as I can, and I’m hoping that will help me economize as well.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thank you!

      Yes! Good call on the menu planning tip- that has definitely helped me with fridge waste… I’ll be interested in hearing more about your freezer, too!

  7. unicorntapestry

    I wonder if you really love me… Will you send me a scoop of ice cream across Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Jersey?
    Also, hooray for your birthday! I love you, darlin’!

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’d do it in a minute! You want a sticky box? Just say the word…

      1. unicorntapestry

        Have I told you lately that I just love you?

  8. yayhappens

    The cream looks heavenly! I wish I could taste just how awesome that ice cream is. In a tall frosty glass of Stewart’s root beer or something, a float with that kind of ice cream must be really dreamy!!!

    Congratulations on your mixer. What an awesome gift!!! May it work well for you. You’ll get that sourdough to work sooner or later, don’t give up! πŸ˜‰

    Happy early birthday!!!

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      It was heavenly! Turned out exactly like we hoped! I wish you could have a taste… Ohio isn’t that far! haha. πŸ™‚

  9. moondaughter20

    Awesome post hon!
    I really loved this and I admire the way you guys are living your lives.

    The other thing about whole and real food is it tastes so muh better, it’s hard to go back to crap!

    What a great present!! My mom lives by hers. πŸ™‚


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