photo by Ken Bosma

photo by Ken Bosma

Grass-fed beef may be more expensive than a supermarket meat special, but it doesn’t have to give you sticker shock. Whether you’ve decided to buy grass-fed, pasture-raised beef for environmental, health, or ethical reasons, there are ways to make it more affordable for your family.

    It doesn’t get any more local than craigslist. Try searching for grass-fed or pasture-raised beef. Local farmers use craigslist to get in touch with consumers, and you can ask all the questions you want. You will need to invest in a deep freezer for most quantities, but buying beef by the side, half, or quarter is a budget-friendly way to purchase a variety of beef. You can also get it custom packaged to what you use. For example, one family uses ground beef in 1 ½ lb. quantities, so they have the processor package it accordingly.
  • Meat CSA
    Community supported agriculture is usually associated with fruits and vegetables, but meat CSAs, also called buying clubs, are becoming more common.
    In a CSA, you get a variety of cuts of what the farmer has available. Some meat buying clubs allow you to choose the cuts ahead of time. Farmers often pass on a discount in exchange for your commitment to purchase meat from them for a certain amount of time. Either way, it’s a good way to get a mix of expensive and inexpensive cuts of meat for a lower price.
    Check for CSAs and buying clubs in your area, or even a simple google search to locate a farm near you.
  • Package pricing
    Many farmers offer package pricing, where you average the cost per pound across the expensive and inexpensive cuts. For example, one farm near me offers packages of 22 lbs. or 54 lbs., including roasts, steaks and ground beef. This is a great way to get to know a farmer and discover what kind and how much meat your family will use. If you don’t see package pricing, you can always ask the farmer to put one together for you, and they may offer you a discount over buying individual cuts.

My family is currently buying meat by the package. I asked an area farm that offered a meat CSA if they would put together packages of whatever the CSA families were getting. We’ve enjoyed a large variety of cuts, and we plan on joining.

What tricks have you found to purchase grass-fed beef for your budget?

photo by Abhijit Tembhekar

photo by Abhijit Tembhekar

Ah, those convenient little servings of fruit and applesauce…already diced, pre-portioned, shrink-wrapped, swimming in a sweet syrup, where they keep indefinitely…

Unfortunately, those perfect little servings of fruit are not so perfect after all.

  • They often contain high fructose corn syrup, turning what I believed to be a healthy serving of fruit into a dessert. When I began reading labels, I found small cans of fruit made with pear juice concentrate instead. I would also look for unsweetened applesauce, ones where the ingredients read simply, “apples, water.”
  • They’re expensive. At local grocery stores, I usually paid around $3 for a package of 4. My two children would finish the package each day, if not each meal.
  • And speaking of package…How much packaging can fruit have? A lot. There’s the outer whiteboard container, which in many communities is not recyclable, followed by a plastic film over the top of each cup. Finally, there’s the plastic cup container, also not recyclable.

Make your own reusable fruit cups

I wanted something more reusable and less expensive.

  • I bought a variety of small plastic containers with lids. They seal tightly enough to put in my son’s lunch. I opted for the inexpensive kind in case they “disappeared.”
  • I buy a large jar of unsweetened applesauce. Buying a large jar is less expensive and it’s recyclable. If you like, you can always add a teaspoon of sugar. Add cinnamon or a small amount of fruit jam for a treat.
  • Try a large container of raisins, or other dried fruit such as cherries or blueberries. Dried fruit is a little more costly, but it keeps well. My son enjoys dried cherries from nearby Door County.
  • Another option is cut up apples or pears tossed with a small amount of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Cut up 3 or 4 at a time and keep in the refrigerator.
  • A portion of grapes works well, as the plastic container keeps them from being crushed. Again, you could prepare several cups at a time and keep them in the refrigerator ready to go.

Of course, fruit in its pure form is always an option. My son usually requested an apple for his lunch. No package needed.

What fruit do you pack for your kids?

photo by Roman Pavlyuk

photo by Roman Pavlyuk

Even though I realize that soda has no nutritional value and it’s made from an unappealing chemical cocktail, I could never find an alternative beverage to enjoy during the long afternoon. I’ve tried fruit juice, seltzer, or even plain water, but nothing else satisfied my need for caffeine, and juice added calories I didn’t want.

Back when I worked in an office, I would buy and drink at least two 20 oz. bottles of Diet Coke every day from the vending machine. Once I added it up, I realized I was spending between $40 and $60 a month on Diet Coke! Rather than quit, I just packed my own in a small cooler.

Then, as a stay-at-home mom, I continued my soda habit, but chasing after my two small children meant that I often wouldn’t finish the can. It would get warm and flat, and at the end of the day, I would pour it down the drain.

I felt guilty spending so much money on soda and wasting resources, even though I recycled the cans. A two-liter bottle just doesn’t taste as good after a few days, so I purchased 20 oz. bottles in a package. Then I could cap a bottle and return it to the refrigerator.

What finally worked

I like making chai tea in the winter, so I recently tried an iced version.

Here’s how:

  • Boil water.
  • Pour water into a one quart mason jar, filling it halfway (that’s approximately 2 cups.)
  • Steep with 4 Good Earth chai tea bags for 5-10 minutes.
  • Fill the remainder of the jar with cool tap water. Cover and store in refrigerator.

Whenever I want a drink, I pour a glass ¾ full, add ice and splash of milk. It works! I finally found something that satisfies my afternoon desire for caffeine. No cans, no bottles, no chemicals. How have you kicked the habit?

Have you ever been to a potluck? Here’s how it works: a potluck is a festive gathering, held someplace like a park, someone’s yard, or church hall, and everyone brings a dish to pass. Imagine a colorful spread of homemade dishes made from farm fresh ingredients, creating surprising, delicious combinations. It’s casual, old-fashioned, and definitely frugal.

Here at Mom’s Potluck, I hope we can share meals and ideas that are Sustainable, Frugal, and Practical, such as:

  • Meal ideas featuring simple, wholesome food made from real ingredients
  • Ways to find and prepare moderately priced grass-fed, humanely raised beef, pork, and chicken
  • Ideas using fruits and vegetables grown locally without pesticides
  • Thrifty tips and tricks that reduce waste or reuse items
  • Practical ways to eat sustainable, organic, local, and ethical on a budget
  • Creative, inexpensive ways to furnish your home or take care of your family
  • Non-toxic cleaners made from common ingredients you can find in your home
  • Whatever else is of interest – hey, it’s a potluck! You never know what you’ll find!

About me
My name is Karla Wotruba. I’m a married mom of two young children, and we live in Appleton, a small town in Northeastern Wisconsin. I’m also a freelance writer, and I’ve previously covered topics like healthy food and family nutrition.

I’ve always been interested in food and environmental issues, but after reading books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jane Goodall’s Harvest for Hope, I felt compelled to research food issues and change how I thought about food. I’ve tried to prepare sustainable food on a budget without sacrificing a lot of time. I thought I would share what’s worked for me and my family, and I hope I can learn from you as well. Please share your thoughts, but be respectful. A potluck may be casual, but you should still use your manners.

Again, welcome to Mom’s Potluck! Bring a dish, find a seat, and enjoy!