Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Monthly Grocery Shopping January 2, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:16 pm
Tags: , ,

A few years ago, we would do a once a month grocery shopping trip.  It was great.  I would plan out the menu for the entire month and write out the grocery list accordingly.  Life happened and we got out of that habit.  I am amazed at how our grocery bill has risen since that time.  Not only have prices gone up, but I was not as well planned as I needed to be in order to get the best use from our budget.

We are going back to that method of shopping.  In part to lower our grocery costs, but also to save me the extra trips to the city.  The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and over-priced.  Being the only grocery store within 20 miles of their location, the store can pretty much charge whatever they want and people are stuck paying it.  The produce quality is the topic of a long running joke.  Its quality is what most stores would be weeding out of their displays, yet this store charges full price.  We learned quickly to buy only fresh produce if we planned to use it that day.  If you wait much longer than the day of purchase and you will run a high risk of the produce spoiling.  To get good quality produce, we have to travel about 45 miles or more from home.  If we want good deals on the prices we pay for our groceries, we have to go to the larger cities 80 miles from home.  Needless to say, making a monthly shopping run is much more cost effective than weekly trips.

The first step in setting the shopping trip up is to write out a menu.  Some people like to make a monthly menu but I prefer to write up weekly menus.  I plan up to 8 menus for each season (warm and cold weather) which I can choose from.  For any given month, I simply pick out 4 weekly menus and put them in the order I want to use them.  For your convenience, I have a printable Weekly Menu Planner with the shopping list form for free download.

As I write up each menu, I keep a list of the ingredients needed for each meal.  I write each ingredient on a sheet of notebook paper and keep a tally of each item.  I don’t record each individual seasoning or spice unless it is a seldom used one that I would need to purchase.  Once I have tallied all the ingredients for the menu, I write the grocery list for that week on the weekly menu grocery list form.  I keep the menu with its shopping list in a sheet protector in my household binder.  Recipes that are in cookbooks are noted on the menu with the cookbook name and page number.  Recipe cards for my own recipes are placed in the sheet protectors as well.  This keeps it all well-organized for me later on.

When I am ready to plan a monthly menu, I choose 4 of the weekly menus.  Each is placed in the order in which I plan to use them.  I then write up a monthly grocery list by copying the grocery lists on the back of the weekly menus.  I add up how much of each item is needed.  This gives me an idea of what bulk size package to buy.  For example, instead of buying a couple packs of boneless chicken breasts, I would buy a large bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts and break it down into the amounts needed once I got it home.

Now, you may be wondering how I manage buying bulk packages of meat when we don’t use a freezer.  I home can the meat once I get it home.  Let’s say I needed 4 meals with chicken.  I would buy 2 bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts.  From that, I can parboil the bags of chicken until nearly done and slightly pink in the center.  I would cut or shred up some of the chicken and pack meal size portions into canning jars.  You could also place whole boneless chicken breasts into quart size canning jars.  I love to cut up a chicken breast into a canning jar and pour the broth over it.  This makes a great soup base.  Another idea is to shred some chicken and mix with BBQ sauce before canning.

For ground beef, I have browned it until nearly done before draining and rinsing the meat to remove the fats.  I spoon the ground meat into canning jars and fill to about ¾ full.  Add sautéed diced bell peppers, onion, and minced garlic for a great meal starter.  Often, I will can the meat up plain so that I can use it in any recipe.  For beef stew meat, I brown it well, then place into canning jars.  You can use broth over the meat or not.  It all depends on how you plan to use the meat later.

If you have access to a freezer, you would simply break down your packages of meat into meal size portions, wrap well, and freeze.  The main idea is that through purchasing the bulk packages, you save money over the month.

One of the blessings of shopping this way is that we make less trips into the city.  Not only is it costly for fuel, but it always ends up being an all-day event.  Shopping alone with two young children, especially when one is a special needs child who cannot walk the distance of the store, can be a real challenge.  We plan the shopping trips for when my husband is home.  We go as a family and load up the back of our vehicle with groceries. By going together, we have plenty of hands to help make the shopping easier.  I can push our son in his medical stroller/wheelchair while my husband handles the shopping cart.

The only drawback to our way of shopping is that it requires self-discipline.  You can’t go into the pantry and make anything you want, whenever you want it.  For example, a package of tortilla chips may look like a fun snack, but if eaten as a snack, you now don’t have any for that Nachos dinner later on.

I always plan out snacks as well as the meals.  The kids have learned that they have a free shelf in the pantry.  Anything placed on that shelf is for them to eat whenever they need a snack.  Items there usually include granola bars, trail mix, popcorn for me to help them pop on the stove, or some type of sweet like a fruit filled breakfast bar or cookies.  I buy the large boxes of granola bars from Sam’s Club and then place only a few on their shelf at a time.  Trail mix is measured out into snack size baggies.  This limits the amount they get out at a time. Like many kids, if given their choice, they would pick their favorite items out of the trail mix and leave the rest.  By making up the little bags for them, they are limited.  The small packages are great for a grab-n-go snack when we are going on an outing or they are going outdoors to play.

Overall, by using this planning method, we end up saving at least 50% each month off of our grocery costs.  I estimate the cost of each week’s menu and we budget accordingly each week.  The money is set aside in a bank account until it is time to go shopping.

The hardest month to do this is always the first one.  Luckily, I have always been good about keeping a somewhat well-stocked pantry.  Even at its worst levels, I have had a month’s supply of food.  We may be eating a lot of dried beans and lentils through that month, but we eat well.  Once we start buying for the monthly menu, the pantry can begin being built back up again.  I simply budget an extra $25 or more a month to be used strictly for building the pantry.

Some food items bought for the monthly menu may carry over into subsequent months.  One good example is dry active yeast.  I buy it from Sam’s Club for about $4.00 for a twin pack of 1 pound bags.  Those 2-pounds of dry active yeast will last the average family about a year if they bake all of their own breads, rolls, pizza crusts, etc.  Just a quick note:  I did a price comparison 4 years ago of what it would cost for that same volume of yeast if I had bought the little jars or packets from the grocery store.  The savings added up to $196 for a year’s supply through buying at Sam’s Club.  Other purchases that will likely carry over from one month to another are corn meal, sea salt and seasonings, rice, pasta, and dried beans & lentils.

I hope that this helps to explain the monthly shopping a bit better.  It takes a little practice, but the time spent is well worth the effort.  Allow your family to get involved.  Have each person think of some of their favorite meals and include those on the menus.  Maybe have a theme night menu.  If you have a night that is especially busy each week, consider always having a crockpot meal that night.  One fun tradition we have had is homemade pizza & family game night on Fridays.  If you enjoy the once a month cooking style of meals, this shopping method lends itself to that as well.

If you do bulk meal planning and shopping, I would love to read your ideas and thoughts.  Feel free to leave a comment.  If you have blogged about this topic and how you implement it in your family, share the link in the comments as well.


Emergency Ingredient Substitutions December 20, 2013

Filed under: family,off grid,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:10 am
Tags: , , ,

Living off-grid, you learn new ways of doing things.  I have quickly realized that simply eating a primarily vegan or vegetarian diet can significantly reduce the need for refrigeration.  Only 2 types of items need refrigeration.  The first is animal products.  Eggs, milk, cheeses, yogurt, meats, and other food items that we get from animals all need to be kept cold to slow down the process of the food spoiling.  The second group of items that require refrigeration are leftovers.  This can be eliminated very easily by being more careful in the amount of food that you prepare.

With winter storms coming more frequently, I wanted to share some ideas.  These are things that I do on a regular basis but are great for others to learn in case of power outages.  There are substitutions that you can make in place of the perishable ingredients.  Here are a few of my favorites.


1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp. warm water, let set a minute to thicken

1/2 of a banana, mashed

1/4 cup of applesauce



almond milk, I buy cartons that are not refrigerated until opened

Butter:  substitute with 1/2 the amount of butter with applesauce. I keep a pack of the individual size serving cups on hand as they are 1/2 cup each.


Ground meat:  TVP (textured vegetable protein)

seitan (gluten powder mixed with water to make a very stiff mix)

homemade veggie burger made from beans and finely chopped veggies


All of the items mention above are things that can be stored on a pantry shelf.  No refrigeration is needed for the base ingredients until you use them.  The almond milk needs refrigeration once the quart sized box carton is opened.  The remaining items only need refrigeration if you make too much and have leftovers.

Just these few things can help to lessen the stress of trying to keep perishables cold enough in a power outage.  Pick a couple of them and learn to use them before a situation comes up and you are forced to rely on them.  Testing them in recipes also will allow you a chance to see which options your family enjoys and which ones you do not.






Pantry Building October 20, 2013

Filed under: cooking,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 1:22 am
Tags: , ,

This week, I have made serious dent in my pantry building efforts.   I gave myself budget of $70  to spend on the pantry. Here is the results.

First stop was to a store called Warehouse Market. I love buying canned veggies there because they always have the lowest prices.  I loaded up the cart with 6 flats of vegetables.  These included 2 flays each of whole kernel corn, green beans, and green peas.  A single flat holds 12 cans.  In other words, I bought 72 cans of vegetables at 58 cents each, totaling $41.76 for the veggies.  Next, I went to the produce area and bought a 50# sack of russet potatoes for $11.99.  The temperature is cold enough now in our unheated pantry that the potatoes will last the winter without sprouting or going bad.  Total cost at Warehouse Market was $53.75.

On the way home, I had an idea. Since I was under budget, I stopped at the Dollar General store and bought 8 bottles of tomato juice for a total cost of $14.80. 

Once I got home, I used the bottles of juice to make a doubled size batch of my homemade tomato soup.  Once put into jars for canning, I had 8 pints for my husband to take on the truck for meals on the road and 8 quarts for the pantry.

After all the food was purchased, the ending total was $68.55.  I was $1.45 under budget. Just the vegetable purchases alone gives me several months of meals for my family of four. The point that I am trying to make is that anyone, even those on a meager budget, can afford to stock their pantry.  Add to this a supply of pasta, rice, dried lentils and beans to really expands your pantry storage.

There is only one downside to having this type of pantry… have to be willing to actually cook and not simply heat up convenience foods. 


Our Home Pantry September 17, 2013

Filed under: home canning,homesteading,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:16 pm
Tags: ,

I have been receiving questions lately about the home pantry.  The main focus of the questions has been on what I stock up on and how much I store for our family.  First, let me state that we eat a predominately vegetarian diet.  Most of the time our diet resembles more of a vegan style, but we do use eggs, cheese and yogurt from time to time.  My husband is definitely a meat eater.  He eats meals containing meat when he is out on the truck away from home and sometimes here at home as well.  So, this brings it back around to what we store.  Most of the food stores are vegan in nature.  By not storing animal products, I eliminate the need for a freezer or refrigeration.  I am careful to not make extras of any meal unless it can be home canned into jars for another meal later on.  This also eliminates refrigeration.  In fact, on any given day, the only items we keep cold are drinks, opened jar of jam, salads in the summer and the rare times I buy eggs, cheese, or butter.  As I write this, my chilled items are eggs, jam, and a small container of milk.  For this reason, I am looking for a small propane refrigerator such as what you might find in an RV.  Using a large refrigerator is a waste of energy in our home.  The only time it is actually coming close to being full is during the holidays.

The following is a basic listing.  The amounts that I have beside each will last our family of 4 for about 8 months unless otherwise specified.

Baking Items:

White flour (30 lbs per month)

White sugar (10 lbs per month)

Dry Active Yeast (I buy a twin pack of 2 – 1 lb bags at Sam’s Club for $4.00 which lasts over a year)

Flax Seed Meal (2 quart jars will last nearly a year, use as egg substitute in baking)

Cornmeal (2 gallon size jars will last about 6 months)

Sea Salt (a quart jar will last about a year and costs only $1.65 at the health food store bulk bin)

Baking Powder, 60 oz tin

Baking Soda, 13.5 lb box (use for cooking and making cleaners)

Cornstarch, 35 oz. container

Brown sugar, 14 lbs. (nearly a year’s supply)

Powdered Sugar, 7 lb., (year’s supply)

Powdered Milk, 10 lbs.


Seasonings: I purchase all of the seasonings at Whole Foods health food store in their bulk bins.  The cost is far less than a grocery or other store.  I use the clear plastic deli containers to store the dried herbs in.  One reason for using the deli containers is due to the easy stacking for storage.   I have never had any problems regarding quality of the herb by storing them in this way.


Quart size containers:


Cinnamon sticks


Pint size containers:





Sweet Basil

Herb de Province

Italian Seasoning

Ground allspice

Ground Nutmeg

Ground cinnamon

Ground cloves

Whole peppercorns

Cream of Tartar


There are other herbs and spices that I use less frequently, which I do buy in much smaller amounts, such as a baby food jar size container.  Some of the small jars also contain my own spice mixtures marked with an (*).


Red Pepper Flakes

Ground Cardamom


Pumpkin Pie Spice*

Taco Seasoning*

Onion Powder*

Onion Salt*

Garlic Powder*

Garlic Salt*

Vanilla* (this I am making in a larger bottle, but less than a pint)



This is the largest portion of my pantry.  We eat grains daily in one form or another.  Nearly every day, we eat some type of bean, lentil, or legume.  Note: a gallon jar (free from a sandwich shop) will hold 6 pounds of dried beans.


Pinto Beans, a 5 gallon bucket will last one year

Northern White Beans, 2 gallon jars

Black Beans, 1 gallon jar

Garbanzo Beans, 1 gallon

Lentils, 2 gallons

Dried Split Peas, 2 gallons

Kidney Beans, 2 gallons

Navy Beans, 2 gallons

Barley, 1 gallon

White Rice, 5 gallon bucket

Quinoa, 2 gallons

TVP (Textured vegetable Protein), 1 gallon

Egg Noodles, 14 pounds (2 lg bags from Sam’s Club)


Grain Mixes

Falafel Mix, 1 gallon

Hummus Mix, 1 gallon

Nature Burger mix, 2 gallons

Dried Soup Mix, 1 gallon


#10 cans of various items

Crushed Tomatoes, 4 cans

Tomato Sauce, 6 cans

Tomato Paste, 2 cans

Spaghetti Sauce, 4 cans (I use as a base, adding veggies to make my own)

Pizza Sauce, 2 cans

Apple sauce, 4 cans


14 oz cans of Vegetables

Whole Kernel Corn, 4 flats

Creamed Corn, 2 flats

Green Peas, 4 flats

Green beans, 4 flats

Waxed beans, 2 flats


Extra Food Items

Tahini, 2 jars

Peanut Butter, 12 jars

Jams of various flavors, 12 or more jars

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 6 quarts

Butter flavor Crisco, 2 lg cans

Vegetable Oil, 1 gallon

White vinegar, 1 gallon

Apple Cider Vinegar, 2 bottles

White Wine vinegar, 1 bottle

Red Wine vinegar, 1 bottle

Farina Cereal, 4 lg boxes

Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, 5 gallon bucket



This is the bulk of what I am working towards. It does not include the home canned soups, stews, fruits and veggies that I put up in jars,  which are based upon cost and availability.  I home can items such as the following:

Ground beef – plain, as taco meat, in spaghetti sauce, and as sloppy joe mix

Meatballs – various types of meat, canned plain to be added to anything later

Chicken – boned and skinned, shredded in BBQ sauce, or in chunks with some broth for a soup base

Stew Meat – in beef broth, in a stew, in BBQ sauce, or in a soup

Turkey – done the same as chicken

Carrots – both as whole baby carrots or sliced

Potatoes – peeled and cut into chunks

Cabbage – cut into chunks or wedges

Various homemade soups and stews

Baked Beans with lil’ smokies or ground beef

Fruit if price is low enough to make it worth while









Spring Menu Changes March 7, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 1:40 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I love the spring season. After a cold winter, it is so refreshing to have the warmer days. It also brings about changes in our diet. Throughout the winter we eat a lot of soups and stews. These not only are comfort foods but really seem to fit the season. As spring approaches however, I am planning out meals that are lighter. These meals will be a blessing come the hot days of summer!

We are also making a major dietary change for a month or so. Our autistic son is showing signs of having a sensitivity to gluten. Quite simply, everytime he eats foods containing gluten, he has gas issues that are far beyond the normal range. He gets cranky sometimes, especially if he has too many foods containing gluten in one day. Since there is no real test for sensitivity (other than the test for Celiac which is a much more severe reaction to gluten) I am taking the old fashioned approach. We will go without gluten for a month and see if anything changes. If his gas problems are solved, then I will gently start introducing gluten into his diet again. If the gas problems start back up, we know he is sensitive to it and will eliminate it from his diet.

Luckily, I have a lot of vegetarian & vegan recipes to choose from. I also have 2 books on gluten-free cooking. These are the resources I am using to revamp my family’s diet. It is taking me some time to put together a month’s worth of weekly menus, but will be posting them as soon as I am able. I will then give more detail on how to shop in bulk for the month. I had a wonderful response to the previous blog post about my monthly grocery shopping. I am hoping that the upcoming menu will help to explain it even more.


Homemade Seasonings February 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When our Grandma’s were cooking, they didn’t have the convenience of all the various spice blends that can be found today in the grocery store. If they wanted something special, they had to make it themselves. Here are some cheap and easy recipes for making your own too.

Garlic Salt

This happens to be one of my husband’s favorite seasonings. It is ridiculously easy to make and takes just a few minutes of your time. I prefer to make it in small batches so that it is always as fresh as possible. You will need: 1 clove garlic and sea salt.

Finely mince or crush a clove as garlic. I nearly mash the garlic to make a paste consistency. With a knife or fork, work into the garlic about 2-3 teaspoons of sea salt. As you mix them, teh salt will clump due to absorbing the moisture from the garlic. Keep mixing in a little sea salt until the salt no longer clumps together. I spread it out onto the cutting board and allow it to dry for about an hour. that step may not be essential, but it is a habit I am into. Store in an airtight container.

Here is a fun use for the Garlic Salt you just made.

Italian Seasoning

1 Tbsp. Garlic Salt
2 Tbsp ground oregano
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp dried thyme flakes
1/4 tsp dried celery seeds

Mix all ingredients well and store in a jar.

Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

1 cup of dried bread crumbs
3.5 teaspoons of Italian Seasoning

Mix together well and store in a jar.



Today’s Canning July 27, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 6:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Spent $50 at the grocery buying some chicken, ground beef, 2 lbs of dried navy beans, and 4 bottles of tomato juice.  Once finished, I have 8 pints of chicken in broth, 11 pints of baked beans with ground beef added, and 12 pints of tomato soup.  With ingredients from the pantry, such as seasonings, we now have 31 meals for the total cost of $52.00.  Not bad for a morning’s work.