The things that influence how I plan and how I shop for my family's food:
- The Season
- Our budget
- Our schedules
- Specific health/dietary needs of family members
Four items - that's not too much in the way of a list, is it? Well, each item contains complexities of it's own. For example - Seasonality. It not only influences what is available for purchase, but the quality and price of the item. It also greatly influences our family's tastes - Fall and Winter call for roasts, casseroles and soups, whereas Spring and Summer are barbecue, salads and stir-fries.
A few of the staple Fall & Winter menu items for our family are things like shepherd's pie, beans with ham hocks and cornbread, green chicken curry, tikka masala, pot roast and potato soup. Basically, hearty fare that is meat and root vegetable intensive.
The Spring and Summer would typically be lighter and fresher - garden salad with roasted salmon or grilled steak, chicken stir-fry with brown rice, baked bone-in chicken with pasta salad, fresh spring rolls, carne asada tacos.
Then you throw the budget in the mix.
As loyal adherents to organic and sustainable farming practices, both on our own farm and in the products that we purchase from other sources, we spend a fair chunk of change on groceries - especially meat and seafood - to support environmentally-friendly and sustainable ranches and fisheries. That translates to us eating less meat and seafood than a typical American family.
As such, I try to be very thoughtful in my meal planning, choosing quality over quantity, without forgoing taste or nutrition in my meals. It complicates my life a little, but I recognize that it is the best choice for all concerned in the equation.
So this means that while I plan my meals around the "protein" element, it doesn't represent the bulk of a given meal. I try to balance the relative expense of the piece of meat or fish with a lower cost, but still healthy and well balanced side dish/dishes. A small portion of steak with a lot of green salad, nuts and veggies on top, or a pound of ground beef with potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms and onions in a shepherd's pie. With ravenous teenagers in the mix, stretching a pound of hamburger to feed and satisfy a family of four can present a challenge. Buying meat in bulk from local buying clubs (mine sources its beef/pork/chicken & seafood from local sustainable ranches, farms & fisheries) or growing your own are both fair ways to trim the grocery budget, but both involve fairly substantial upfront costs. Below is the spreadsheet I made for tracking "Pig Expenses" last year.
Like a ding-dong, I didn't note anywhere on my spreadsheet what the final hanging and the cut/wrapped weights were for our pork, but suffice it to say that the take-home cut & wrapped weight was in the neighborhood of 150-200#. Based on that guesstimate, our homegrown pork cost us roughly $6 to $8 per pound, which is on par (and maybe a little cheaper, considering you get the full spectrum of cuts) with sustainably, non-medicated, non CAFO pork sold in farmers markets and butcher shops. It ends up being a fairly intense and expensive six months raising the pigs from weaners to the freezer, but the pork lasts our family of four for a year, eating it 3+ meals per week.
*At the time that I started this post, all four of us were still at home full-time. Now the big kiddo is away at college for 8ish months out of the year. When she is home though, she still eats like a viking. ;)