Good food makes me happy. There are only two reasons I have ever sacrificed much in the way of purchasing food -- one being Lent and the other a college food budget. (I once lived almost entirely off of noodles and sauce for 14 days.)
During Lent, I have surrendered everything from Diet Coke to pickles. Last year, however, after hearing about the need for funds at my church's food pantry, I thought my family could get involved and tie it into a Lenten family project. For three weeks, we would attempt to slash our grocery bill and donate the money we saved to charity.
First, I calculated the average amount my family spent monthly on food -- including food purchased at work, ordering in and dining out.
Next, we looked at unnecessary grocery items. Prepackaged foods and snacks were out. Did I really need Pop-Tarts?
We also stuck to menus created as a family. My Depression-era grandparents would have been proud to see that we were finally using all of the food lurking in the recesses of our pantry.
Did it work? Yes. We were able to cut our food budget in half, sending checks to three separate charities. In total, we donated $170.
This new project had surprising benefits. Even my kids were a part of the project; they did not ask for extra snacks at the store and incorporated their ideas into family menus. Besides, they enjoyed eating the cheaper breakfast-style dinners and avoiding the more experimental foods their parents kept cooking up.
My husband loved the project because it cleaned out both the freezer and the pantry. Embarrassingly, while other people starve, we often allow meats to become freezer-burned, and dry goods to accumulate. We found eight kinds of pasta! By just making good use of the food in our house, we were able to shave a fair share off of our food budget and feed a small country for a month.
In addition, my husband is a marvel. He enjoys the challenge of cutting up his own chicken and baking his own bread. Anyone who has been at our house for potato gnocchi knows that this cheap, fresh pasta dish is one of life's greatest pleasures. Some of the best meals are also the simplest.
Why am I writing about my family food project? I'm hoping that others might follow our new family tradition. If those of us who are more fortunate can change our ways for just a few weeks, the food pantries in Western New York might be able to provide a bit more to ease the situation for those who struggle to put food on the table every day.
Best of all, there are so many ways to participate. If you dine in restaurants a great deal, eat at home instead and donate the money. Pack your lunch for a month or make your morning coffee, so you can add to your contribution. You can participate for a week or for the entire Lenten season.
With all of the economic difficulties occurring this year, we can each make a difference. Let us share our blessings with those around us. My family has decided to participate in the food budget project again this year, and I challenge all of you to join us.