Sunday, January 23, 2011

Grocery budget and food allergies

As any allergy sufferer knows, allergy friendly foods don't come cheap.  The more varied your avoidance list, and the stronger your sensitivity, the more brand loyal you become.  And the most allergy friendly companies are often the ones rarely on sale. 
Luckily, whole foods are healthy foods, and many are relatively the cheap.  Labor intensive, but bank book friendly.  Most people who have dietary restrictions try to balance their diets with fun, packaged preprepared safe foods that might cost exponentially more than the safe counterpart and cheap, healthy, labor intensive ingredients.  Many find themselves "stuck" following a healthier diet that way.
And others are completely price tag blind when it comes to food.
In our house, food is an ongoing struggle. 
There are 4 individuals.  One needs to lose weight, and has no will power.  (well, very little anyways.  But I love him anyway.)  He's the one often taking over food prep or presentation, when I'm not up for it.  One has very few food restrictions; is exceptionally picky, and is a perfect weight.  Two are avoiding gluten (among other things) and need to gain.  One of them is also avoiding corn, in charge of all cooking and budget keeping...and dealing with stomach issues on an ongoing basis. 
Hopefully you can visualize the bones of the problem here...variety and options.  When Bumblebee wants to live off of toast and jam, not only is that not healthy but it takes an extra layer of thought to keep her happy, fed, and the rest of us safe. 
Now, we've done fairly well with budgeting so far.  It's hard...but we figure the trade off is that our expensive meals come to under $15...and for a family our size to eat out is probably at least twice that, depending on where we went and whether the kids drink juice, soda or water. 
However, lately we've slipped a bit.  Mr Violets has been packing more lunches, and picking up odds and ends from the grocery store.  And I've been blissfully ignorant of the potential ramifications.  Until the credit card bill arrived and knocked me off my feet.
This opened a dialogue on what exactly the kids have been finding in their lunches.
And wait a many loaves of gluten free bread are you buying a week?
It's a miracle we can still make rent.
(Getting angry at your husband for helping out around the house isn't always a good move, by the way.  It raises his hackles and hurts his feelings.) 
Mr Violets' response was that we needed groceries.  He's been running to the store every time Penguin ran out of bread or bagels, he's been making sure we have enough squeezy applesauce in the cupboard (Which, he might add, I don't even buy enough to get through a full week!), he's been the one tossing crackers and green beans and bars into lunch bags.  I should be grateful. 
(Girls?  What happens to those bars?  Wide eyes.  Gulp.  Shift weight from one foot to the other.  Whispers.  "Well, X really likes them.  And so, um, sometimes I take a bite and's already open.  So I don't want to throw it away..." That's enough.  That's okay.  You're not in trouble.) the end, we've been spending expensive bagged lunches to school with the girls so they could give away the good stuff.  Grumble. 
I had to take a few steps back to see why Mr. Violets was getting so defensive.  Why couldn't he see that spending a fortune on food was a huge problem? 
"It's just money," he said, "I'll make more." 
And later "If that's what it costs, that's what it costs.  It's a sacrifice we have to make.  We can't let her starve." 
This is where I began to realize we were fighting two different fights. 
To him, the grocery budget is not a budget.  We need food, we buy food.  We buy what the kids will eat, what they want, what we want.  We splurge on candy or cookies.  But basics?  Protein, beans, grains?  Those are free foods.  We buy as many as we "need".  For me to put a limit on something as basic as bread (and casein free cheese) is akin to attacking his ability to provide. 
I was having trouble explaining that I look at the prepackaged options.  I break the meals down into dollars and cents.  Sure, applesauce in a squeeze is fun.  But at a dollar a pop, it isn't an everyday snack food.  It goes into lunches once a week.  So that there are room for other once a week snack foods.  Potato chips, protein bars, yoghurt.  (Coconut yoghurt may taste better than soy but it's nearly twice as much.  Making it a yummy TREAT that happens to be healthy.  Not a necessity.)  We can't consume the cheap calories half their friends are spilling across the lunchtables.  That doesn't mean we can afford the look alike comparisons for our kids to *spill across the lunch table*.  We can afford plenty of options.  Plenty of calories.  Plenty of safe, delicious, healthy food. 
Just not a lot of "normal" cheap and easy fundamentals. 
I may not be expressing myself well.  But the next few months we are tightening the grocery reins, Bumblebee will fuss and scream and our guilt mode will be on high alert as the neighbors tsk and tut about the "poor child whose evil mother starves her" (I feed her.  Food is on the table.  Snacks are in the cupboard.  Even on a budget, there will be appropriate food available to the tearful, tantruming, heartbreaking child who has everyone she meets enchanted.)  Penguin will happily scarf down whatever bits and pieces I come up with, giving vivid descriptions of what's right and wrong with my cooking.  (most of it boiling down to 'a little bit of real cheese and corn...I'm sorry Mommy, but I think something with corn in it would maybe help')  Mr. Violets will endeavor to learn the difference between "fun healthy food" and cheap basics. 
And me...well, I'm going to have to work even harder on this whole meal planning thing.  We have a bit of a plan with tuna casserole on Fridays, and chicken and rice on Tuesdays.  Leftovers Saturday and Wednesday.  But that leaves 3 days.  And a hungry Bumblebee.  (Who will stare at either meal and wait patiently until we're ready to serve her something different.) 

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