bread bags and skinny chickens

As we all know, the cost of living has gone up.  Way up.  Grocery shopping is a grim chore, even though we no longer have to wear a mask.  People are experiencing “price shock” in every aisle.

Gas is almost $5.00 a gallon.

Yesterday morning the host of my local radio station asked how listeners used to save money, you know, back in the old days (I think he was referencing the 1970’s and the gas crisis).  One man texted that his mother used to put bread bags over his socks to keep his feet dry.

The radio host and his producer were aghast.  There were jokes about wagon trains.

I was taken aback.  When my kids were in elementary school, bread bags were part of life.  If boots were wearing out in March there was no way I was going to buy new ones that would be outgrown by next winter.  So bread bags saved the day, keeping socks and feet dry in case the boots leaked.

Okay, that was forty years ago.  In a remote mountain town where kids didn’t care about what they wore.  Bread bags got the kids through mud season.  And then?  Sunshine and new sneakers!

I told my friend Ruth about this.  She lives in RI, but once married a Wisconsin man and learned how to cook raccoons and squirrels, can everything she grew and drive in three feet of snow.  A sparse existence, to say the least, but she and I agreed that we had learned a lot about survival when we were in our twenties.

We worried about how families today are going to make it through this crisis of inflation when everything costs so much more than it used to.

My friend Retired Mountain Lady wrote about our Idaho lives together, when we were young and poor and making do with what we had.  You can read about it here:

Check out the February 15 post.  And yes, we poached a deer.  And butchered it on her kitchen table.

I asked Ruth what advice she would give young families today about how to save money on food and make ends meet.  What a discussion we had…and then we poured ourselves another cup of coffee and made a list.

First of all, if you can, buy a freezer.  Take advantage of sales.  Cook casseroles and freeze them (therefore avoiding last minute takeout meals when you’re too tired to cook).  Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones.

Shop in the cheapest stores you can find.  And/or shop the sales in all of the local supermarkets (Banjo Man is good at this, but I’m not).  Keep a list and only go once a week.  Or every two weeks.  Make a two-week meal plan and stick to it.

Be creative with what you have on hand.  Don’t waste anything.  I freeze little bags of leftover rice and use them in soups.  In fact, I save a lot of little things for soup.  And I make a lot of soup–and then I freeze it in 4 cup containers.

Forget buying paper towels.  Buy a dishrag or use a washcloth.  Paper napkins?  Nope.  Use cloth ones and give each person in the family their own color so they can reuse them.  You’re doing laundry anyway so don’t waste your money on paper.  And–don’t hate me for this one–use cloth diapers when you and the baby are at home.

I used to use half powdered milk and half real milk for the kids.  And put an extra can of water in the orange juice pitcher.  Generic cereal or oatmeal for breakfast.

(When I sold my first book and cashed the advance, I took the kids to the grocery store and let them each pick out a Name Brand Cereal as part of the celebration.  They were ecstatic and it took a long time for them to decide.)

Grow what you can.  If you can.  Ruth had a vegetable garden–and still does–but I’m not a gardener.  We had fruit trees, though, so I had plenty to barter with.

Plan one or two meatless meals a week.  Dried beans are your friend.

Make soup in the crock pot.  A ham bone is a gift from the gods.

Breakfast for dinner!  Eggs and pancakes are cheap enough.

In the bread bag days, I bought whole chickens for 12 cents a pound at a discount warehouse market.  They were the oldest, skinniest chickens that ever arrived on a grocery shelf.  I would boil one, pick it clean, use the meat in two casseroles (plenty of rice and broccoli in those casseroles!) and wind up with a pot of chicken soup.  Now I buy large packs of chicken breasts and cook them–covered in water– in the crock pot, which gives me a ton of shredded chicken to freeze for future casseroles, soups and salads.

Those store-roasted chickens are often two-for-one on certain days of the week or certain times of the day.

Ruth swears by her new Hot Pot, which turns cheap cuts of meat into tender morsels of goodness in less than half an hour.

None of these suggestions are revolutionary, but a lot of little savings does add up.  And right now every little bit helps.

Share what you do–or did–to feed the family in difficult times!!!




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6 Responses to bread bags and skinny chickens

  1. Judy Matson says:

    What’s old is new again! We learned these lessons during hard, sometimes borrowing from the kids’ piggy banks to help pay bills, times. Our moms and grandmas learned them when growing it, preserving it, and keep serving it in different ways till it’s gone was where meals came from. Thanks for putting out these new ideas so today’s moms and dads can navigate living in our modern world.

  2. Marge Fridrich says:

    Been there and did all of that and still do. Not the plastic in shoes now but did that. So good to share.
    Some of my friends seem to have so much time to read. Their husbands cook or they go out a lot.
    Seems I am always in the kitchen for us and some for daughter and boys as she has such a load. They will be gone too soon so I don’t mind. Just made some sweet soda bread. 2 loaves. I ate 3/4 of one , gave the other to Jenna with an early corned beef and cabbage dinner and she and Ben ate the other one last night. Now I will make 2 for that family so Graham gets a taste. He was working.
    No food is wasted! Ken is not fond of left overs but they are very disguised the next time they appear.
    I remember when we saved every inch of foil and used it over and over. Still do.
    Concerned that young people don’t know how to cook and stretch their food budget.

  3. Tom F says:

    As a youngster living in Missouri, there were 5 of us kids, plus parents. I remember powdered milk, chickens raised in the back yard and Mom buying large chunks of cheese that were cut into smaller sizes and stored in the freezer. We also had a garden for raising vegetables – we ate a lot of those, including canned fruits and vegetables for the winter. Hey, and we didn’t even live on a farm.

    • I wonder if more people will start raising chickens and growing gardens now that prices are so high. It’s so much work and people just don’t have the time, but these crazy food costs might make it worth it.

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