Thursday, July 28, 2022

How My Frugality and Cooking Changed Because of Picky Kids with Sensory Issues

My, how times change. You never know what curveballs life will throw at you. My life now and how I live frugally is drastically different from how I did in the past.

I remember when I lived an extremely frugal life by necessity, and I tried to find out what the absolute cheapest foods were, and tried to eat them, because we were barely scraping by (if even) despite living frugally and even more extremely frugal. I did all sorts of calculations to find out the true cost of food, once you include final amounts vs what you start off with, and therefore what foods (and in what form) are cheapest to make, like which starches are cheapest to make, which types of beans are cheapest, and what type of meat is cheapest. I still use the meat calculator, or rather what I found out from it, that chicken breast and wings are generally the cheapest types of meat, that whole chickens aren't as good of a deal, and that thighs and drumsticks aren't worth my time at all because you lose half to bone but they are much more expensive than wings. But it was my looking for what is the cheapest things I can feed my family, and then working from there.

I was talking to my friend Daniel the other day, after he posted how much he loves ful medames, an Egyptian broad bean dip, and he was essentially calling it a wonder food and recommended it to other people, because of how wonderful broad beans are. It brought back memories of when I tried to find ways that I could find broad beans palatable. Because I knew beans and rice were some of the cheapest dishes, I tried to serve them, but just beans and rice wasn't cheap enough- I wanted to make the cheapest types of beans to make the absolutely lowest cost meal. And so I tried to force myself to eat broad beans, even though I hated the flavor. I did find 2 recipes where I could eat them- Sicilian broad bean soup which I actually enjoyed, and ful medames that I could tolerate with enough garlic and lemon juice to drown out what I thought was the gross taste of the broad beans. 

I did a lot of that type of thing. Find out what was cheapest or free, and base my meals on that. Pretty much everything, other than soy sauce, mustard, and chocolate, were made from scratch. I foraged a lot of greens and fruit, depending on the season, and cooked many meals using those greens. What I didn't forage I "dumpster dove" (from the trash wagons in the open air market) and to supplement that I bought past prime produce really cheaply. I used food scraps that other people would toss (like banana peels and watermelon rinds). I got free chicken scraps from the open air market and fish scraps, and used those when possible in our meals.

My kids prefered chickpeas and lentils to other legumes, so I made a lot of meals using them as the protein. When I made meat, if it wasn't free, it often was gizzards, which were the cheapest types of meat I could get, since they were basically the same price of wings, the cheapest meat, to begin with, but they included no bones or other waste. 

Breakfasts were porridge or pancakes mainly, but sometimes smoothies made with past prime fruit. Snacks were in season vegetables, fruit we picked, popcorn, or homemade cookies or cakes.

Basically, if I could get it cheaply, I made it. I tried to take my kids preferences into account, but the name of the game was "as cheap as possible" with foods that my family would agree to eat.

Here are a few samples of what we ate over each week back then so you can get an idea of what I actually did.

Over the years my frugality changed for so many reasons. Having more kids, especially ones that were really challenging, needing to go off of gluten and dairy and eventually eggs, having an emotional health "breakdown", getting divorced, among others, but fortunately my income went up to allow more flexibility financially. But a big part, really, was my kids not having it anymore.

I used to think that, if you parent kids properly, and if you raise them with the idea of frugality, they'll go along with it. That you make what you make, and the kids will just agree to eat it, as long as you don't make any foods that you know in advance that they hate.


I was an ignorant young mom who thought I knew better than everyone else. Like those T shirts that say "I was a perfect mom before I had kids." Well, I was a "perfect mom" when my kids were young enough to not express their opinions.

I have kids with sensory issues. And when they were younger they were not as vocal about it, but especially as they get older, it gets even harder. My second son, Ike, was my "picky eater", and didn't eat fish (other than tuna), cooked tomatoes or cooked peppers or zucchini or eggplant, and I found that hard enough. And then my daughters became even more picky. We made a list of what each kid will not eat, and each girl had over 25 things on their list. Most of these were things I relied on in the past as staples in my cooking.

I am pretty sure my sons have some latent trauma from our extremely frugal days, because my sons now detest lentils or things they think "taste like lentils" and do not want to eat any gizzards (I made them so much I even wrote a manifesto on them) because they say they "feel like cartilage" (something my boys detest). And they absolutely refer to eat anything that is like a patty or croquette (other than burgers or pancakes). So those are out of the picture in our house, until those rare times that it's just me alone in the house and I crave lentils and make myself a dish like mujaddara

So many times I make meals and at least some of my kids refuse to eat it. I used to think that "with the right parenting" a kid would eat what was made if they were actually hungry, but with some of my kids, I know they would refuse to eat and just cry and cry that they were hungry and still wouldn't eat, but wouldn't sleep because they were hungry. Forcing a kid to eat something they don't want to eat is a way to cause emotional issues with food, and I won't do that. I was just lucky that when my kids were younger they were flexible enough that they'd agree to eat extra frugal foods when we really were incredibly poor.

When I make food and my kids refuse to eat it, what happens is that either I eat it myself or it goes in the trash. I don't eat gluten or eggs and most dairy, so if I make something with any of those for my kids and they won't eat it, into the trash it goes. Even if some kids will eat it begrudgingly but aren't a fan, they definitely won't eat leftovers, and those go in the trash. It doesn't matter how "cheap" something is if it just ends up in the trash. That has become my motto in the kitchen. It also is a waste of my physical and emotional energy and frustrates me a lot, and no one wants a frustrated mama.

As a result, my frugality today in the kitchen looks very different from how it did before. Instead of looking for frugal foods, I now know what my kids will agree to eat, and I try to find them as cheaply as possible. My girls are definitely the hardest to please (once I found out that my older daughter was autistic just like her younger one, it all made sense why she was that picky of an eater), so I try to cook meals that I know they'll like. 

So now our meals' diversity is much more limited. I make the same meals over and over again that I know my kids like. (And sometimes, even if I make something that I know they like, they "aren't in the mood for that" and I get quite frustrated.) My oldest is my least picky eater and he used to be my only child home with me all the time (other than alternating weekend visits to his dad), so I'd make more variety of meals on the nights that it was just him and me, but now one of my daughters is with me all the time, so that doesn't happen as often because I need to prepare something she'd eat.

These are some meals/foods that they all agree to eat (many of them I can't eat so then when I make them that I need to make other foods for myself):

  • Eggs and toast
  • Tuna fish sandwiches
  • Hot dogs and french fries (yay for frozen ones)
  • Potato borek (yay for frozen ones)
  • Pizza
  • Sushi
  • Meatballs
  • Meat sauce and fake meat sauce made with TVP
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rice
  • Shnitzel
  • Chicken (they prefer breasts but wings are a maybe)
  • Poke bowls
  • Tacos
  • Soups (chicken, vegetable, miso, or most blended soups)
  • Most salads and raw vegetables (at least!!!)
  • Smoothies
  • Pancakes
  • Cereal
  • Rice pudding/porridge
Yea, I think I basically exhausted my list. As a foodie this can get quite frustrating for me. I probably need to make separate food for myself about half the time, so I make myself more varied dishes then, as well as on the weekends when most of my kids are away (my daughter often eats meals with my close friend there so she can play with her kids...)

I don't bother making foods not on this list for them, because, as I said, waste isn't frugal.

So how do I actually keep down costs of foods in my house?

I shop carefully. I make sure to do my shopping at frugal grocery stores. If I know something is cheaper at one store, I stock up on that item at that store when I'm there so I don't need to go back there as often.

I visit scratch and dent stores when possible. Anything bought there, basically, is cheaper than what I can get anywhere else. I look for things that I can get cheaper there that my kids will eat and stock up on those. That is where I generally get cereal, gluten free pasta, soy sauce, lemon juice, basmati rice, sesame oil, canned produce, and snacks. I only buy these things from regular grocery stores when my stock from the scratch and dent store gets used up and they don't have them currently in stock.

Price compare, price compare, price compare. I ignore brands. I nearly never buy name brand groceries. I buy generic and often store brand items. If I need to get something, I find the cheapest version of it. I make sure that its cheapest per pount and not just per package. I look for sales and try to stock up when there is a sale. And I try to buy the cheapest of items that I know my kids will eat. So, for example, they really like yogurts. So I buy the cheapest yogurts that are 40 cents each instead of the ones that are 90 cents each. I stick to seasonal fruit that are cheaper, so even though plums and apricots are in season now, since they are twice the price of peaches and nectarines, I choose to go for the latter over the former. So they are getting things they like, they just aren't necessarily getting the one they like best. I do sometimes get the more expensive ones that they like better as a treat, but they are not staples in our house.

But one of the things I work hardest on is trying to prevent waste of food. This is something I struggle with but am working on improving it. I try to serve leftovers when there are some- sometimes my kids will refuse to eat leftovers and that gets me frustrated, especially when its something with gluten, dairy, or eggs, so I can't eat it before it goes off. I revamp leftovers if I see my kids aren't likely to eat it in that form. Rice is a staple in my house and I make it a lot, and it is one of those things I often have as leftovers- I have a kid that will devour rice one day and so I make more, and then the next time doesn't want to touch rice. So I reuse my rice. I make rice into stir fry, something I will eat, and my sons usually will too. But when I make it into rice pudding that makes everyone happy. (I just can't eat it because it has eggs.) When I see produce starting to get soft, I try to use it up as quickly as possible (I have a blog post planned to write on how I do this). And I try to keep an eye on my fridge so that things don't get buried in the back of the fridge so I don't notice it until it spoils. But unfortunately far too much still gets tossed, mostly raw veggies like cucumbers or zucchini... so I try to remember to use mine or buy less at a time so it gets used up before it goes off.

And that, my friends, is how I do frugal. 

So different than how it used to be. But frugality needs to fit into your life, and at this stage in my life and my kids' lives, that's what works for us. You can't sacrifice your health, your relationship with your kids, or your sanity, on the alter of frugality. Frugality means making sure the money you have is spent in a way that aligns with your values (while still living within your means), and that's what I do, even if younger me would have stood there, mouth agape, that this is what I call frugality. Too bad. Younger me had a lot of learning that she still needed to do.

How has your frugality changed over the years? How do you fit frugality into your life in a way that works for you? Do you have picky kids? How did you handle that in terms of budget?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.