I’ve been making an effort lately to cut down our grocery store visits, partially out of a desire not to leave the house again once I’ve gotten home for the day but also to get our grocery bill under control.

We’ve had some pretty nasty air quality lately due to the bad forest fires all over the northwest (our clothes that were line drying outside had to be re-washed because they were covered in ash), so it’s been easy to want to stay inside once I’ve gotten home from work. Here’s to hoping the fires get under control soon – we’ve only seen the barest hint of what it’s like for those living right near the fires having to evacuate their homes.

Days of hazy forest fire skies

However, staying home in the afternoon means making do with what ingredients we have on hand, which is a very good thing. Outside of our mortgage, we spend more on food than any other expense. While I won’t compromise on buying high quality, local ingredients, our food costs are pretty ridiculous. Avocado toast has gotten us to love weekend breakfast at home once again and we’ve cut down on ordering out, so I’ve decided it’s time to tackle our dinner costs.

We live less than a ten minute walk from the grocery store, so it’s really easy just to pop in to the store for “just a few items” for dinner, but it seems we never leave without spending at least $20-$30. Meal planning hasn’t worked well for us as we tend to change our minds about what we want to eat more than a few days out, but we can definitely do better on the average cost of our dinner – I’m always impressed when I see dinner recipes under $2/serving! Both my guys eat a LOT of food, so we tend to eat 5-6 “servings” for the three of us, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have some leftovers to take to work the next day.

Since we bought a quarter cow in July from a local farm, our freezer has been quite full of beef, so it is the start of many of our dinners these days.

Checking out the farm where our beef comes from

After getting home Tuesday afternoon, I went straight to the freezer to thaw out some of the ground beef, and then went online to look for recipes. I Googled “ground beef, peppers, onions” to find a recipe that could be made just from ingredients out of the freezer and my garden. I looked at the recipe for a Southwest Beef and Bell Pepper Skillet and decided I could make a similar recipe to the one listed.

Homegrown tomatoes are on a completely different level of taste from store bought

Quick recipe, adapted to the ingredients I had on hand:

  • Brown 2lbs ground beef, drain fat.
  • Add in three chopped small Walla Walla sweet onions and various hot peppers out of the garden and a few cups of tomatoes (assorted cherry and Cherokee Purple).
  • 3 cups beef broth.
  • Bring to a boil and then add 1.5 cups of rice. Simmer until rice is soft. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
  • When everything is cooked, add 1.5 cups of shredded cheese and mixed thoroughly. When the cheese is melted, dinner is ready.
  • Top with freshly picked green onions and serve with hot sauce.
So proud of these green onions – first bunch I’ve ever grown to a real size

This was a quick and simple weeknight meal but it was delicious and both my husband and son went back for seconds – and there was even enough for me to take two lunch portions to work for the rest of the week. Even better, the only ingredient that didn’t either come from my garden, our local beef purchase, or within the northwest was the rice, and nothing was pre-made. Those kinds of meals are always especially satisfying.

We’ve had a really expensive last few months thanks to a bunch of overdue house projects and then had a surprise $2,000 vet bill when we had to rush our dog to the vet with heart trouble so our budget really doesn’t have a lot of room for food expenditures right now.

Thankfully our dog seems to be doing okay for now, but we’ve had some ongoing expenses for her with follow up appointments and all of her daily medications. One thing I CAN control though is how much we spend on food, and meals that don’t involve a shopping trip are very much appreciated right now. While we did previously spend some money on the ingredients that didn’t come out of the garden, we don’t have to spend any this month, and that really helps.

I’ve started considering an “eat from the larder” month to really cut down on our food bill and reset our thinking about how much we need to spend. Thanks to NW Edible for doing this challenge annually – I’ve always been excited to read about this, but then I never follow through. If you’ve done this in the past, what do I need to consider before taking that step? My biggest concern is that we would end up eating a lot of meat and carbs with very little fresh fruits and vegetables – apparently I should have done this at the height of gardening season!

Edited to add: I finally did make the leap and dive headfirst into a No Spend Challenge in November and it was a game changing experience for our family’s budget.

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