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Book Review: Family Feasts for $75 a Week

Recently, my friend Bianca (a mother of four like me) said something that gave me a good chuckle: “It seems that half my life is spent dealing with food -- planning for it, shopping for it, fixing it and cleaning up after it.”

I laughed. And then I stopped laughing. Because, wow, she’s right.

In fact, I think the only thing she left off her insightful statement was the other big one: budgeting for it.

I’ve always thought of myself as a frugal shopper. I buy generic whenever possible, and I steer clear of expensive cuts of meat. While I think the idea of organic vegetables is a nice one, in reality, the price tag is too hefty for this family of six. I plan ahead on meals, and I even make special trips to Aldi when I have the chance.

But especially as my kids (and their appetites) are growing, I find myself operating with a nagging sense that I’m not maximizing my grocery budget. I feel like I’m missing something -- surely there must be a more economical way to feed this family.

(Please do not suggest coupon clipping. I occasionally browse at coupon-clipping blogs, and I tremble in reverence. Then I curl up in a fetal position, entirely overwhelmed, sure that if I ever took on mega-coupon clipping, I’d come home with bags full of air freshener refills and diced anchovies and no bread or milk).

When I heard that Mary Ostyn of Owlhaven was writing a book called Family Feasts for $75 a Week, I could hardly wait to get my hands on a review copy. Mary has written another parenting book I loved (and reviewed here), and she is regularly full of practical advice that makes me feel empowered, not overwhelmed. She had mentioned on her blog that she feeds her family of 12 for only $75 a week.   

Let me repeat those numbers: that’s SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS. For a family of TWELVE. I won’t say what my weekly grocery number is for a family of six, but I’ll tell you that passed up $75 many moons ago. Mary’s book was so full of practical advice I had a hard time putting it down. The most compelling tip she gives was the creation of a “price book” -- a simple notebook with each page listing a regularly-purchased grocery item. Mary suggests recording what you pay for each item (and where, and on what date), keeping the book with you on every shopping trip so you can always know where to find items the most cheaply.

The last two-thirds of the book offers recipes, including several ethnic ones. Most helpfully, Mary offers advice on making your own pantry staples, such as homemade hot chocolate mix and homemade cream of mushroom soup. (I didn’t know that was even possible, but the instructions are so simple, I’m game to give it a try.) The section on vegetable gardening and canning has nearly won me over to the idea of trying it myself. And the homemade granola recipe (page 82)? Completely do-able and delicious.

At the heart of the author’s methods is her positive outlook on the issue of frugality: “Frugality is not about deprivation,” she writes. “It’s about taking control of your resources.” I already see the benefit in my family’s budget from this book’s tips, even though I’m admittedly adopting them slowly (as the author advised). I’m planning to implement a few new methods each week. I’m feeling empowered to make some positive changes in my family’s grocery budget, and thanks to Mary, I even expect to have some fun doing it!