April 14, 2024

A question that came up recently in conversation with friends and family, is how in the world can a person provide food for their families without relying on processed foods? – every day of the year, 3x or more a day? It’s actually a really good question. And in doing so, how can one afford it? Where does this food preparation time come from? These are practical questions that modern families face daily. I honestly would much rather solve a problem I can solve than worry about all the big problems in the world. Are we going into a civil war or world war 3? I have no idea! But, I can make a mean chili. No matter what horrible thing comes our way, a full belly of nourishing food will help us cope a whole lot better. Here’s my strategy for three square meals a day, plus snacks, of healthy, nourishing, non-GMO or adulterated foods, without breaking the bank or spending all day cooking every day.

There are two major components of my strategy:

  • Bulk food
  • Batch cooking
Bulk Food

Having a full pantry makes scratch cooking possible, so that is why I prioritize it. I rarely go to a grocery store for food once I’m stocked up. How to stock up has been covered here before, so I won’t go into that topic in depth. If you grow your own food, that is ideal, but not everyone can do that.

Whether you grow it yourself or buy it, you can obtain quality food (organic or nonGMO) at very affordable prices if you are willing to buy in bulk. The Amish live near me, and I’ve found that they are masters at growing food. When my cucumber and tomato crop failed last year due to excessive heat and me falling ill, I was able to pick up cases of both from the Amish very cheaply. I then processed them for the pantry and freezer (pickles and marinara sauce). In addition to growing my own food, I use Costco, Azure Standard, Walmart, and growers in my community for bulk purchases, depending upon where I can find the best quality and pricing. I don’t just buy a little bag of rice or flour, I buy 20-to-50lbs (high quality!) at a time. Those are two things I cannot grow, as an example.

The problem with bulk purchasing is you must have a way to store things. I probably have 60 or more 5 gallon food grade buckets that I’ve purchased over time. They are easy to use, stack, and you can seal them for long term storage if you desire. Storage space needs to be designated for bulk purchases. The initial investment for storage containers is not that expensive if you can get buckets and lids for a good price. I used to pay $3-4 for a food grade bucket, and now they are selling for $7-8, not including the lids. Buckets have a vast number of uses and last a long time. I’ve used them to transport water or feed, made mouse traps out of them, used them to collect rain water, as trash bins, etc. My opinion is you can’t have too many buckets, so your investment will not be wasted.

Learning to process fresh bulk foods is important. You can dehydrate or pressure can or freeze dry, or freeze, depending upon what it is. I did invest in a second large freezer and second refrigerator. Some people have numerous freezers and refrigerators. Do you have room for that and can you afford to do that? It’s extremely helpful, but subject to power grid failures. I have a pressure canner and a food dehydrator, but can’t afford a freeze dryer. I stock up on canning supplies throughout the year. Everyone does food storage differently, but the main thing is a commitment to space and supplies however you decide to do it. “Putting food away” is an age old practice.

And money – what about money? Shifting to purchasing in bulk takes time unless money is no object for your family. I don’t know many people in that situation. Start small. This month maybe you could purchase 25 or 50lbs of organic oatmeal from Azure Standard. Store it properly, label it, then look up recipes for everything you can do with oatmeal. I make oatmeal muffins, granola, cookies, energy bars, and enjoy just a bowl of hot oatmeal in the mornings. Oatmeal is very nutritious and fills the belly. Top a bowl of hot oatmeal with real butter and some pure maple syrup and it’s to die for. Maybe next month buy 25lbs of organic cane sugar or 25-50lbs of organic flour.

Focus on pantry staples first and just do one new thing each month or every other month depending upon your circumstances. For example, as I write this, you can buy a 25lb bag of regular rolled oats from Azure Standard for $18.31. Can you spare $18.31 this month? If you can’t, check with some friends who are interested in the same things and go in together on one 25-lb bag of regular oats. If you can get a group of friends together, and learn how to purchase in bulk and cook from scratch, that might be fun! Once you start cooking with oats, you will be surprised how quickly you go through a large bag, and at 73 cents a pound you can’t go wrong.

And so on. Once you have built up a pantry with nutritious basic foods, and have learned how to store, and use them, you’re on your way to “scratch cooking”. You will also, happily, realize that you rarely have to go to the grocery store. But, it takes a while to get to that level. I buy beef by the side, which is half a cow, once a year. In the near future, I will be sending my own cattle to the butcher, but up until now, I’ve purchased from other ranchers. This year I purchased fantastic Angus beef from a neighboring rancher at $5/lb. Try to find that at Costco! You can’t. The particular cow that was butchered wasn’t enormous, so my half of the packaged beef weighed about 200 lbs. For about $1,000 I have a freezer full of prime beef. (You can do the same with pork). You don’t have to buy a side, or half, of beef. You can buy a quarter or a package, but it costs more per pound to do so. Unless… you shop the meat sales, in which case, you could probably meet the same goal in a different way. I find that shopping the sales takes time and gas, so if I can save up to buy a side of beef, I will. Currently, I raise my own chicken because purchasing organic “pastured chicken” is very expensive. I just picked up a couple of large bags full of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (my favorite) at the Amish market for $1.99/lb. I spent $40 for 20 lbs. Some went into the freezer raw, and some were cooked, then repackaged, for the freezer.

Buying in bulk saves you a lot of money over time. It just takes some getting used to. Work on your transition slowly by focusing on the pantry first, then filling the freezers, or vice versa. A way to start the transition is to keep a food diary for your family. What does your family like? Keep the receipts from your shopping trips. Spend time analyzing both, and then determine where unnecessary expenditures are (you were exhausted so you bought quick frozen meals for the kids, and then there was the birthday party, so you bought a lot of soda and candy, and then there was the church gathering so you bought a couple frozen lasagnas, and you ran out of time so you ordered takeout pizza, etc.). I’m not judging you, and by the way, Chocolate is an important food group. Hopefully, in the future, you will be pulling those items out of your own food storage (except for that sugary stuff!), and those foods will not be filled with unpronounceable names. Avoid processed foods like the plague. Processed foods will make you fat, undernourished, and sick.

Something to be aware of in your scratch cooking journey – your family may not appreciate it at first. LOL. And the reason is not just about taste. Processed foods are highly addictive due to some of their ingredients. Sugar is one such culprit. Processed foods can leave you feeling hungry only an hour after eating. One of the reasons for that is the types of oils/fats that are used in the manufacturing process (and there are many other reasons). The right kinds of fats (such as derived from animals) are critical to a sense of well-being, and give the body a sense of fullness. Getting your fats right is a longer topic I won’t address here. Suffice it to say, if you transition your family off of processed foods entirely, they will feel a whole lot better. There will be withdrawals! I think getting educated about healthy foods (not “diets”: keto, carnivore, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) can be a family activity. You want this journey to be successful.

Tomorrow, I will discuss batch cooking.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)