Lenten Project 2009

dsc014781Then we were led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Oreos…

Now that a week has passed since Easter, I look back upon our experience with our social assistance food budget and have a compelling need to share frugal wisdom!

 I will never look at grocery shopping the same way again.  The planning and organizing that went into feeding a family of five on $14.66 every day was painful yet enlightening.  I was dangerously close to obsession during Lent in making sure my family was well fed, but have learned a lot about waste, frugality and generosity.  Yet in completing such an exercise, I also firmly believe there is no need to feel guilty about having worked hard to reach a certain pinnacle in your life and enjoying the benefits of your pot of gold at the end of your rainbow (aka strawberries with your breakfast!). 

 The comments we’ve all received about the article and the conversations it has generated have been truly gratifying to say the least.  Thank you all.

What leftovers do I have for you now?  How will this change my life?  I pledge the following:

  • I will create a weekly menu on Thursday evenings after the food flyers are out (you can actually get some delivered to your email Inbox!).
  • Though I will invite my family’s suggestions for dinners and try something new once in a while, I will give them only choices from what is on sale that week rather than a free-for-all smorgasbord of options.
  • I will shop only for what is on my shopping list for my menu – creating a stockpile of snacks for the pantry leads to unnecessary spending and over-eating.
  • Something “On Sale!” is still a waste of money if it will never be eaten.
  • Canned foods are not as repulsive as my kids would suggest – I will try to buy in season and expose my kids to some canned or frozen fruit and vegetables.
  • I will watch what gets scanned at the cash:  many cashiers are part-timers and don’t always know the right code (and don’t often care) – I never realized how often I was being over charged.
  • I will plan my shopping trips around my work schedule or errands – it is not against the law to shop at more than one grocery store (but it is a waste of gas and not so green to travel 40k to save a dollar on ground beef).
  • I will try to buy in bulk and cook in batches – see my note on communal cooking below (are you interested?)!
  • I will no longer buy salad or lettuce kits – a head of leaf and a head of romaine do not take that long to wash and stay fresh a lot longer.
  • I will make more of my own salad dressings (but not my own ketchup)!
  • I will buy tubs of yoghurt for at home consumption and save the individual yoghurts for school or picnics.
  • We will not buy store bought cookies any more – homemade cookies are way better (my kids suggested this one themselves!) (check back with me on this one).
  • I will always add finely chopped carrots, celery, onion, zucchini to my spaghetti sauce and chili (no one knew and gobbled up the extra vegetables without complaint – and it stretched my kilo of ground beef a little further).
  • One good-sized whole chicken feeds my family twice – once for dinner and again with soup made from the chicken stock and leftover chicken.
  • We will have homemade soup and homemade bread for dinner more often.
  • I will give money to the Food Bank – canned food drives are awesome but what I found most challenging was providing perishables to my family (fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and bread).  The Food Bank need regular donations to accomplish this:  http://www.theottawafoodbank.ca/donate.php

and, last but not least …
  • It won’t kill me to pick up a broom and dust cloth once in a while (but then I would have to rename my blog…so forget that!)

 ….please stay logged to my blog!

I am about to embark on some new challenging projects so come back soon and read about them:

  •  The astonishing benefits and amazing side effects of having regular family meals
  •  The economic, social and nutritional benefits of communal cooking
  •  . ..and more!



These are my 8 year-old daughter’s thoughts on our project:

I thought the project was kind of bad and kind of good.  It was actually horrible.  There were no barbeque chips and no Smart food (popcorn).  I didn’t like it at all.  I’m grateful that I don’t have to live on this kind of thing my whole life.  I will try to save more money though….




Here are my 11 year-old’s thoughts on this project: 

I thought the project was good and bad. Good because it was cool being in the paper and to be recognized at school. Bad because I did not get my liter of milk a day and no Baconaters. I learned that if you lose your job it’s a hard life and to be grateful of what you have. If you think it’s hard with a job, think of the life without one!

My idea of an Easter bunny
My idea of an Easter bunny

Things didn’t go so well for Jesus on Holy Friday, I know.  However, aside from its solemn implications, Good Friday also marks the last day to which my budget has to be stretched.  By tomorrow afternoon, the five of us will all be safely installed at the bountiful table of my in-laws for the Easter weekend.  I’m confident my remaining $18.40 shall see us through the 6-hour drive.


Be sure to check back next week each of my family members will post their own reflections on this project to commemorate their sacrifice this Lent.


The Ottawa Citizen printed an article I wrote today.  Here is the link:  http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/food/Back+basics+with+dose+humility/1478500/story.html


May you all be blessed this Easter!





When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…


No amore here.  Our Lent project very nearly reduced me to tears on Friday night.  Pizza night is somewhat habitual in our family on Fridays but during Lent we had to be content with homemade pizzas versus take-out/delivery or a dinner out at Boston Pizza.  Just before heading off to various music lessons, teen social obligations and errands, I set the bread machine to churn its beautiful messy contents into delectable dough, as I’d been doing almost every Friday night during Lent.

Upon our return, I set to putting the pizzas together for a hungry crowd of 4 kids (one extra for Friday night sleepover).  Something was terribly wrong.  This dough was a gooey mess.  Looked like a new prototype for the new movie “Monsters vs Aliens”.  I must have mis-measured or something but it was awful!  Already 7:30pm with a hungry pack at my heels, I knew starting from scratch was not an option (dough in the bread machine is awesome but it takes 1:40h). I was totally stressed but one of my kids calmly quipped, “Guess we’ll just have to order in.”   Normally I would have agreed and happily acquiesced, but Easter is next weekend -we are so close to our goal.  I could not cheat!  I haul myself out of my pit of misery and gooey dough, and rushed to the grocery store to buy some pizza kits.  Sadly, waste is not a good companion to a food budget such as ours.  Found an old Bacardi cooler in the basement to console me though.

Dinner was recreated and we alll settled into watching PeeWee’s Great Adventure (yes, the gem from 1985) to which the kids laughed hysterically.  I suddenly had a hankering for Tequila.  That scene just added insult to injury.


…just a few more days.

olive-oylWith a new week started and another $102.66 to spend, I am off to the grocery store for my last FULL week of shopping on our Lent Project budget.  I am faced with yet another quandary.  I have a guest coming for dinner Saturday evening.  The menu is rather simple, spaghetti, bread and salad.  My guest has graciously offered to bring the wine (“YES!” says I) and dessert (“YES!” say my kids).  I am, however, completely out of all manners of salad dressing.  Make my own is easy enough, but I am also out of olive oil.  Have you seen the price of olive oil?  I need olive oil.  I have two choices:

  1. Buy the olive oil.  I simply cannot make her bring the olive oil too.  Yet buying olive oil would diminish my budget for the remainder of the week to about $15 (for 4 days).  Dicey but doable (Behold!  The tuna casserole!).
  2. Buy an extra bottle of wine for the same price or cheaper and use vegetable oil…. After this and the bottle she brings, neither of us will be the wiser.  The wobblier, perhaps. 

Option 2 it is.  I’m so glad I thought this one out.

Did you see the articles published recently in The Citizen that highlighted the findings of The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Annual Report on Canadians’ Health?  This report revealed substantial discrepancies between basic healthy food items within our provinces and across the county.  For example, while 6 applies might cost you $5.49 in Dryden, Ontario, you would only pay $0.90 in Peterborough.  I appreciate why apples (or any perishable food for that matter) cost $7.64 in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, but please explain why 1 kg of lean ground beef averages $13.21 in Ottawa while it only cost $11.99 in Rankin Inlet?  The report goes on to suggest that these price discrepancies help explain why almost half of Canadian adults and 70% of Canadian children (yikes!) don’t eat the minimum recommended servings of fruits and vegetables and one third of Canadian children aren’t drinking enough milk.  See more from this report at: 


As I am now go out in search of the best food bargains for my family, I’m beginning to take note of some price discrepancies within my own community.  I have kept my food shopping to the following stores (all within walking distance or an easy 15 minute drive of my home):  Your Independent Grocer, Loeb, Sobey’s and Giant Tiger (Farm Boy and Food Basics to a lesser extent).  Weekly pickings are pretty good from these.  There is also a Loblaws not far away, though few bargains there.

Without giving any consideration to advertised sale items, I found it interesting that Red Delicious apples were 1.69/kg at Loeb while $3.28/kg at The Independent. However lean ground beef put me back 8.80/kg at Loeb but would have only cost 8.13/kg at the Independent.  $7.99 is what a 2kg of indispensable peanut butter cost at Loeb while only $6.99 at The Independent.  The one that always gets me:  4 litres of 2% milk cost 3.97 at Giant Tiger, 3.95 at Cosco but 4.69 pretty much every where else I shop.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but on 8 litres of milk a week, I’m out roughly $75 a year on milk alone.

As I flip the calendar to April, I’m relieved we’re entering the home stretch to Easter now.  I’m also relieved I successfully stretched our food budget through the end of March.  I can head to the store tomorrow with my $102.62 for another week’s worth of food.

lightbulb-flowerI recently stumbled upon a very interesting blog:   http://theworkingpoordiet.blogspot.com/


The fundamental purpose of this blog is to raise money for the Edmonton Food Bank.  These 3 or 4 individuals each survived 30 days with a food budget of only $80 while attempting to adhere to Canada’s Food Guide.  The point they hammer home is that Alberta’s minimum wage is inadequate to allow for proper nutritional choices and portion sizes.  They conclude that while they did not physically starve on the working poor diet, they certainly were not able to consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.   I can tell you as a mom, that even when I effortlessly spent $38 a day on food, my 3 kids did not actually consumed their daily 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables (although it was made available to them).    I was, however, very inspired by some of their posts and comments from those who followed their 30-day odyssey.  Check it out.


I’m now also further convinced of the economical, social and nutritional benefits of communal kitchens.  Money, food and fun can really be stretched when you pool your resources and talents.   Some months ago my Gourmet Club went to one of the many meal preparation sites that are springing up across town (Google Dinner Essentials if you wish to learn more).  A variety of stations are set up according to a pre-established monthly menu.  You assemble several meals, pay for them and store them in your freezer or refrigerator at home until ready to make and enjoy.  The meals cost more than what they would to make at home but certainly less than a restaurant meal.  Furthermore if you consider the cost of additional ingredients you may not have handy at home, it is also a great way to try new meals.  Aside from the convenience of having some fairly epicurean weeknight meals ready-to-go at home, it was a pretty fun evening with wine at the ready and great deal of laughter and light-hearted conversation. 


With BBQ season coming up, imagine the cost savings of buying a significant amount of meat and/or vegetables, preparing huge quantities of marinade, assembling, dividing among a group of families and storing for future use. 

A-ha! I sense a new project in the making!  This time I may subject my Gourmet Club to my social awareness program as opposed to my family!

I asked the kids today what they were looking forward to the most when this project is over.  I realize that’s actually kind of cruel with over a week to go but I was kind of curious.  My eldest is longing for Oreo cookies , my middle one want a great big bag of Ruffles All Dressed potato chips and my daughter wants Ranch Crispers.   Even with concerted effort at baking homemade cookies, clearly they are pining for that which I I truly cannot replicate at home.

Our March Break indulgences are really hitting home now.  With only $15 to month-end, here are some great grocery bargains I found yesterday:

Oranges @ .89¢/lb
English cucumbers @ 99¢ ea
Pepperoni (for homemade pizza!) @ 99¢/100g
Strawberries – yes – strawberries @ 2.97 for a 2lb tray

Food Basics:
Broccoli @ $1 ea
Celery stalks @ $1 ea
Sliced mushrooms @ $1 ea
Black Diamond cheese slices $2/24
W/W bread @ $1.49 loaf
Schneiders bologna $1
Minute Maid concentrated OJ @ 99¢ ea
Yogurt @ $2/650g tub

Butter @ $2.99 ea
Grapes @ 99¢/lb

That’s about all the grocery store-hopping my wallet and I can handle.  Pantry pickings are pretty slim.  I am officially out of rice, almost out of flour and really stretching out those 4 eggs, 1/4 lb of butter and 4L of milk!  Yet, there is still a whole chicken in the freezer for dinner Sunday night.

There was an article on mcleans.ca recently written by Chris Johns. 




Chris and his girlfriend normally spent $300 a week on food and they decided to budget themselves to $50 a week as an experiment.  That’s roughly the same budget we are currently tackling, however, in reading his article, I had to ask myself, “Who would actually eat this?”  Crispy skin sardines with arugula and tomato fondue???  Marrow on toast with root vegetable and chickpea salad??  You want me to try these little tidbits on a 13 year-old, 12 year-old and 8 year-old????  He seemed pretty proud of himself that his total grocery bill totaled $49.72 for 7 dinners, which included one meal at friends.  What about breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks???


At the end of the article, he mentioned he is writing a book about eating frugally.  Honestly, he better call me first.  At $102.66/week for a family of 5, I think he should take notes from a pro before he pens that cookbook!

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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