Balancing the food budget with a changing lifestyle

As a home economist I find managing the family budget a great balancing act. Economies that worked well a few years ago are not saving us money today because of the ever-changing family's life-style.

Our family just went through a change which prompted rejuggling a routine that has worked beautifully for several years but isn't practical anymore.

Our routine centered mainly around the freezer and here are some of the things we've done to adapt.

We have had a full-size freezer for food storage for many years since both my husband and I have worked full time for 16 of the 20 years that we have had children. It is frost-free, for easy maintenance; is a timesaver because it allows once a month shopping and we can take advantage of specials, especially on meat.

It was not uncommon until recently, to find several roasts, eight or 10 whole chickens, many one pound packages of hamburger, pork chops packed four to a package, enough steak for four in each package, 10 or 12 loaves of bread, and many packages of frozen vegetables and orange juice in our freezer.

All of a sudden we found that our well-oiled strategies were not working so well anymore. A trip to the freezer to get meat for a meal would yield limited choices because of the sizes available. Perhaps only two would be home for dinner or maybe three, and only once in a while four.

Our family has been in a somewhat transitional state in the family life cycle during the past two years. The youngest of our two graduated from high school last June, and planning for food consumption in the household has become somewhat different.

It was the time to reassess, not only because of changes in the family, but also because the frost-free freezer was becoming more and more expensive to run. Estimates are that they consume about 1800 to 2000 kilowatt hours a year. At our current rate of around eight to nine cents per kilowatt hour it appeared it would cost us at least $150.00 next year to run the freezer, a questionable convenience at this point.

Since we also have about two or three cubic feet of freezer space across the top of our refrigerator we decided to empty and turn off the full-sized freezer and get by with just the refrigerator-freezer.

This means more frequent trips to the grocery store although since we are now feeding just two with an occasional three or four. It is not necessary to keep so much food on hand and with careful planning we can get by with shopping twice a month with quick stops in between to pick up milk, bread and meat on special sales.

Our storage of meat has changed the most drastically. Instead of meal-size portions, we now divide practically all of our meat into one-serving portions and put each portion into a plastic sandwich bag. Since it is advisable to double wrap meat to be frozen (to prevent freezer burn) we put several of the one-serving bags into a large quart sized bag.

A piece of paper with the name of the meat and the date is also slipped inside the larger bag since it is very difficult to tell what the meat is once it has been frozen.

These one-serving portions are then removed as needed with the larger bag reclosed with one of the wrapped wire "twisties" provided with the plastic bags.

This can be done with cooked meat as well as fresh meat. We practically always keep cooked turkey and cooked ham packaged this way both of which are very convenient to use for sandwichs, salads, and casseroles. Without the big freezer there isn't the space for uncooked ham and turkey so we buy a ham or a turkey at special sales and cook it within a day or two, enjoying a meal, then freezing the rest.

This system has several advantages for our present life-style. It's easy to pull out just the right amount of food. Very little goes to waste. The thawing time is quicker. In fact with this system and a microwave oven we are able to have chicken for two in a half hour --

The one-serving to a sandwich bag works well for baked items, too. Recently, for example, I made a double batch of blueberry muffins and packaged the leftovers individually in small bags and collectively in a large bag. A muffin taken from the freezer and popped directly into the microwave for less than a minute yields what is very close to a fresh baked muffin.

By the way, would anyone like to buy a good used 17 cubic foot frost-free freezer?

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