How on Earth do I Feed All These BOYS?!

Anybody with kids know they eat a TON.  Anybody with boys know they literally can eat you out of house and home.  Our food budget TRIPLED when the boys started really eating (around 2 years old).  Now, I am a frugal shopper.  I shop sales, I am a frequent aisle walker at Ollies and I use coupons on occasion.  Food bill?  Still tripled. 

The thing is - we HAVE to buy fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, MILK, eggs, nuts and yogurt.
Those things can be prohibitively expensive, but I wanted my kids to have healthy food -- nevermind finding locally sourced or organic options.  It is enough to simply get apples in their hands every morning.

So how does an everyday family with a bunch of boys make this work on an everyday budget?

 I've found a few solutions.  They allow our boys to get the nutrition they need, and keep our budget in check.  If you are looking for an easy solution -- this ain't it!  These strategies are difficult and a lot of work, but I find them ridiculously rewarding.  Ready to jump on the bandwagon?  Let's go!

#1 Chickens

You've heard me talk about the chickens before, and I realize it is not possible for everyone to raise them, but if you can, they are wonderful!  They cost between $2.50 and $10 each as chicks.  They require feed and chicken scratch which cost about $15 per 6 months for 3 chickens.  You end up with 20 or so eggs a week.  I have modified a lot of recipes to include more egg and less flour (like these awesome 3-2-1 pancakes!) and boil a batch of eggs every other week or so.  They are a poewr punch of protein and save for a much longer time than you think.  Eggs are awesome!  If you cannot raise your own chickens, you can pick up eggs when they go on clearance, crack them all into a batter and freeze the whole shebang.   (Just don't freeze eggs whole -- it isn't pretty when they thaw!)

...and I know I'm a chicken advocate, but I just can't leave the subject before reminding you about the fertilizer they provide free of charge, the weeding they can do and the general awesomeness of chicken clucking.

More: How I Order Chicks Online

#2 A Dehydrator

This year for Christmas, I asked for a dehydrator.  I was thinking a counter top model, but my husband surprised me by crafting a giant, industrial sized dehydrator that works solely off solar power (post still to come!)  Now when I have a bumper crop of fruit, or there is a giant sale at the store, I can dry my own and save the fruit through the winter.  Providing my sons with blueberries in November is now possible at an affordable price.  If you want a countertop dehydrator, THIS ONE has really great reviews.  If you are really going to jump on the dehydrating bandwagon, you want a dehydrator that can handle the work.  If you buy the $20 machines, you'll end up replacing them quickly, but the $60-70 machines will last a good long time for ya!

#3  Veggie Garden

If you've been following along this past year, you've noticed a lot of pantry planting and a whole lot of effort being put into my veggie garden.  Why?  These babies are eating us out of house and home!  I decided to grow items we eat a lot of and items that will keep for along time.  The bulk of our veggie garden this year include:
  • Red, Yellow and White Onions (grown from SETS (Learn more about how I grow onions HERE)
  • Garlic (Grown from Cloves and ROASTED)
  • Red, Yellow and Mini Potatoes (grown from SETS) (Learn more about how I grow potatoes HERE)
  • Pumpkins (from seed) (Learn more about how I grow pumpkins HERE)
  • Butternut Squash (from seed(Get the soup recipe HERE!)
  • Beets, Turnips and Radishes (yes, I eat these....many people don't! Don't grow them if you don't like them!)
  • Spinach (from seed)
  • Kale (from plant)
  • Tomatoes (plants from the nursery and some seed)
The first 5 keep well on their own in a cool, dark place.  The spinach, kale and beet leaves can be frozen (though we eat it all up in daily Dinosaur Smoothies) and the tomatoes can be dried (though they are gone before they make it indoors).

In addition to those basics, we are also growing some veggies for fun.  They include:

  • Asparagus (perennial from crowns)
  • Brussel Sprouts (from seed)
  • Chives (one plant spawns a whole bed)
  • Sweet Peas (seed)
  • Ginger (grown from grocery store roots) (Learn more about how I grow ginger HERE!)
  • Cilantro and Coriander (from plant and seed(Learn more about how I grow cilantro HERE!)
  • Flat Leaf Parsley (plant)
  • Peppermint and Spearmint (plants...they SPREAD!)
  • Popping Corn and Sweet Corn (needs full sun)

** Items in red are grown in full sun, items in blue are grown in partial shade and items in green are grown among other ornamentals, light shade.

#4 Perennial Fruit

You might have noticed that I didn't mention any fruit in the veggie garden.  That is because I have been stocking our yard and gardens with perennial fruits.  The fruit I choose has to produce fruit we actually EAT, fruit that can be dried or frozen, and fruit that is produced year after year.  By stocking up on plants when the boys are young, I am preparing for the teenage years when they are shoveling down raspberries by the bucket.  The fruit bushes we grow include:

Blueberries  (Jersey and a miniature)
Raspberry Canes
Thornless Blackberry Canes (Navajo - pictured)
Grapevines (Concord)
Mulberry trees (these were already established - yay!)
Lemon Tree and Lime Tree
Plum Trees
Apple Trees

An exception to the perennial standard?  Watermelons!

Navajo Thornless Blackberry Cane

  #5 Nut Trees

When we first moved in our home, the first thing I ordered were nut trees.  They will grow big and strong and will provide us with years of easy protein.  Each tree costs about $10 up front, but will quickly pay that back once they start producing.  Nut trees can grow HUGE, so make sure you leave adequate space.  If you are on a small lot, consider hazelnuts.  They grow on small bushes that can be worked into any garden.  The Arbor Day Foundation has produced a Hazelnut bush that grows very well and they sell them for $5-6.  The nut trees we grow include:

Hazelnut Bushes (American and Arbor Day)
Pecan Trees (2 --give LOTS of room)
Chestnut Trees (Lets bring them back y'all!)

#6  A Goat

Yeah...we don't have one and I would love a cow too, but we aren't zoned as a farm property.  (I might decide to get one anyways....keep checking back!).  If you can raise a goat, I hear they are fabulous for taking care of grass as well as providing milk, cheese and yogurt.

With the 5 things I am able to produce, I can provide our family with many of our fresh fruits, vegetables and (someday) nuts, as well as our main protein source (eggs!).  Our grocery budget is a bit closer to normal and I am providing seriously local food fertilized only by our chickens.  Now THAT feels right.  Even with all of this time and effort, we still buy quite a lot from the grocery store.  Here are some of the pantry items we stock up on to feed those hungry boy tummies:

From the Bulk Food Store: (once a year)

Pepper Berries (Black, Pink and White) Pink can sometimes be hard to find, but you can buy them online HERE
Citrus Pepper (usually lemon pepper; includes zest and pepper -- perfect for fish) Should be cheap - like $2!
Other dried Herbs and Spices  (I haven't used many since growing my own)
Baking Items (like sprinkles, colored sugars, etc)

From the Grocery Store: (once a week)

Cans and Bags of Beans (white, black, canary, kidney, anything in a Goya can)
Bags of Grains (Jasmine Rice, Brown Rice, Sushi Rice, Lentils)
Flour on Sale (I buy all Ollies has when the flour is 99 cents and freeze it)
Kosher Salt (Always kosher -- the thicker grains are a DELIGHT on the tongue!)
Supplemental fresh veggies and fruit when needed.

From Costco:  (once or twice a month)

Olive Oil
Bananas (Many, many bananas to eat fresh and also to freeze for Dinosaur Smoothies!)
Whichever tropical fruit is on sale and seasonal -- pineapple, oranges, etc.
Club Crackers (especially good with Squash and Ginger Soup!)
Strawberry Jelly
Maple Syrup
Applesauce (we CANNOT grow enough apples to supply our need :)

More: Want more on Costco?  HERE is the full low down on our shopping trips!

From IKEA: (once every few months)

Lingonberry Jelly
Gooseberry Jelly

From Ollies: (once every few months)

Flour on Sale
Individual Snacks for School
Spices sometimes
Sparkling Cider
Random Interesting Marinades and such

...and THAT my friend is how I feed by babies.  Those boys eat a LOT.  The basic premise I work off of is that if it is expensive and we can grow it with a reasonable amount of work, I try.  Otherwise, we find the best taste for the best price with as little processing as possible (hard to do!)

How do YOU feed your family?  Share your best tips, tricks and supply sources! 
Feel free to link any amazing posts you have on the subject on the Nest for All Seasons Facebook Page!


Laura said…
Amy - I find this extremely interesting! Thanks for sharing :). I am really impressed you go to all of that effort and are already planning ahead for those teen years. You rock. Oh, and I was impressed enough to tell my sister some of your plants. She was wowed, too.
Jenny Piirto said…
Love it Amy! My friend and I are starting veggie gardens this year. (like the real deal...the kind that require summer-long care. fingers crossed!) I'm sharing this!
What a great post, Amy! I'm going to have to show this to my husband since I'm trying desperately to convince him that we need our own chickens to meet the needs of our egg-obsessed boys!
Amy Renea said…
You tell him Heidi!! ;) They can be dirty, but they are so worth it!
Jenny -- you must share all of the details! I can't wait to see what you grow this year!

...and Laura -- you shouldn't be too impressed -- I didn't list the things that failed miserably! (like radicchio -- the groundhog apparently has VERY high class lettuce preferences :)
Shannon Fox said…
Dang girl! Come run my household. Please :) So much great info. WOW!
I seriously loved this post! You're the mom I want to be one day when I grow up. :) I didn't really realize chickens were so inexpensive. I'll have to nag Chris about building me that coop a little sooner than I thought I guess!
LiveLoveDIY said…
This was fascinating to me Amy! I want to be you when I grow up!!! xo
Wow.. I need to bookmark this for my clan - no doubt!
Fantastic article Amy! I have three boys and am going to take a lot of this advice, I've been trying to decide what to plant around our home we just built last year as well! Thanks!!
This is amazing...I am actually in awe. Very interesting where you buy everything too. Organization is definitely the secret. :o)
Mary Beth said…
Wonderful tips, Amy. I grew up with a big garden and a Grandma who canned and cured every ill with herbs. I wish I remember all that she and my dad did ~ I used to have a big veggie garden but then when I was a single parent all that awesome stuff stopped because of working so much but I hope to have a little extra time this summer and I think I will start planning and dreaming of my garden once again. Thanks so much for the inspiration!
LindseySmith said…
I just found this blog, love it and I think will love this whole thing. Are you a vegetarian? I notice no meat listed here...
Amy Renea said…
Awww Mary Beth -- that sounds magical!! I do hope you will be able to get digging again :)
Amy Renea said…
Hi Lindsey! Welcome! We have one son who has decided to be vegetarian by choice, but the rest of us are not. We DO get a lot of relatively inexpensive protein from milk, beans and yogurt. When we go out to eat, my husband and I will often order a nice steak or piece of salmon because they can cook it better than we do and the cost of nice meat in the store is really high. We do make some ground beef/chicken dishes and try to find grocery store "use by" sales (we often freeze it right away), Costco sales or by stocking up at Super Saver.

In a perfect world, we would use our chickens for meat (but I can't) and perhaps have a goat/cow/pig, but to be honest, that will most likely not happen. (A goat or two to eat poison ivy/make milk/cheese is still in the plans though!)



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