Monday, June 8, 2009

Shopping For and Feeding a Big Family

I asked a friend of mine, Amy Menell, if I could feature her as my Market to Mouth guest this week.

Amy and her husband have three children under 13, plus their house is home-base for two young women--the daughters of friends--whom Amy considers part of the family.

So on any given day, there are 6-7 people to feed at the Menell home.

Six times 3 meals a day is 18, multiplied by 7 days is 126 meals a week, and that's at the very least, since I haven't included meals for surrogate daughter number two; apparently, she comes and goes.

Knowing that Amy likes to feed her family well, is gluten-intolerant, and loves to cook, I was curious to see how she grocery shopped for the family, and whether she employed any tricks to help her maintain a budget -- tricks that might be helpful for other large families.

We met at Whole Foods where Amy does one big shop a week. She supplements her WFs shop with a visit to her nearby King Soopers and periodically she goes to Costco to buy smoked salmon, household paper goods, and bulk snack items for the kids like Cliff Twisted Fruit.

Her perception is that WFs is expensive, so first off I introduced her to Good Stuff For Less. You can download this flier online or pick it up in-store -- Amy is reading it in the picture above.

On hand, Amy had a list, and she shared the following strategy for staying on budget:
  1. She writes a shopping list based on the meals she intends making.
  2. Because she works, she has to be organized and so she plans her meals ahead of time.
  3. She doesn't have a big pantry, nor does she have an extra big freezer so she shops 2 -3 times a week, which means she plans meals 2 - 3 days ahead.
  4. She buys mostly whole, unprocessed foods, minimal packaged foods, and thus she collects the bulk of her groceries from the periphery of the store (fresh produce, dairy, meat, some bulk). She tends to avoid the middle aisles where food is packaged and more often than not, contains gluten.
  5. She makes her own gluten-free breakfast granola from items she buys in bulk (I'll post her recipe this week).
  6. Even though she's gluten-intolerant, she buys wheat bread and wheat-based snack items for the kids.
  7. She prepares her kid's school lunches, and she and her husband and the surrogate daughters often eat brown-bag leftover lunches.
  8. She rarely impulse buys, and if she does, it's food she knows her kids eat (no surprise foods since more often than not, the kids won't eat it).
  9. Every day she prepares the family a main meal of meat protein or fish, with a green, and usually a carb or starch.
  10. She loves to use her slow-cooker or crock pot to prepare easy, simple, healthy meals ahead of time.
  11. Food is rarely wasted in the Menell household because Amy buys only what she needs.
  12. Her budget is under $400 a week, which is approximately $3.20 per person per meal.
Amy brought two of her own grocery bags with her, but she didn't bring her own recycled Ziploc bags, which she did tell me she uses, and washes and uses again.

I playfully admonished her several times for using so many plastic bags for her fresh produce. She promised she'd donate all the plastic bags she busily collected to Boulder's open-space dog poop pick-up program.

If you think about it, there really is no need to put your produce in plastic bags, only loose lettuce, actually.

I think we've just become so accustomed to grabbing a bag to put those apples, corn cobs, or potatoes. In that regard, it's nothing more than habit -- a bad habit.

Once home, produce is best stored loose in the fridge and crisper and not in plastic bags (since it will sweat and then deteriorate).

So if you're tossing your plastic bags after a single-use, you might consider doing away with collecting them in the first place; its the earth-friendly thing to do

Tomorrow, I'll continue shopping the periphery of Whole Foods with Amy, noting the choices she made, and discussing the delicious family meals she intends preparing with the ingredients she ultimately purchased.


Dane said...

Wow. This is an excellent post, the kind of real-life information that is genuinely helpful, especially when it involves how working-parents make the time for healthy behaviors. (They don't have the extra time and energy that without-kids do -- so it's inspiring, because I think, if they can do it, so can I!) I'm going to tweet this now! (keep on bloggin')


Louise Ross said...

Thanks, Dane. I'm sure Amy will enjoy your enthusiastic response too, because I know she dedicates a lot of time and energy to ensuring that her family is happy, healthy and well nourished and loved.
And she's also a realtor, like you :)

Amy Menell said...

HI all,
I am the subject of Louise's blog this week. I work a tremendous amount as a Realtor so my focus is almost always on efficiency, planning and having what i need on hand. It was interesting to go thru the store with Louise. I learned a lot from her and it was an exercise in looking at how i shop...she gave me the objectivity to adapt certain choices and of course cut down on my nasty plastic bag habit.
I'm off to make salmon and raw beet salad and something else from yesterday's excursion!

Unknown said...

What an amazing thing too feed so many so healthily(new word).
Way to go Amy. Inspire us all to do away with plastic bags forever.