Resolving to Share

Shopping cart of food for food shelf

This is a little bit different direction than what I usually write about, but I thought it made such a great story, I wanted to share it.  Plus, in its way, it is a story about our gluten-free life.

My kids (Ellie, 11, and Jonah, 7) have been saving a portion of their allowance over the past several months in their “Share” banks, and we recently had our first experience of deciding how to use that money. 

Now, before you give me way too much credit for doing such a cool parent thing, I’ll tell you that we totally stole this idea from some friends (who DO deserve credit for doing such a cool thing—thank you Sunny and Kath!), and the kids have really embraced the plan.  The agreement is that all allowance money is split into thirds:  1/3 is to keep or spend, 1/3 is to save (this goes in the bank), and 1/3 is to share.  While this set-up may be challenging for ME financially (I have to actually come through with allowance!), I’m optimistic that my children will be ahead of me in the money management department, having learned early to set aside savings, as well as to think of other places where money might be useful, beyond new video games or CDs.  Not to mention, they are actually a little more attentive to their chores.

Over the winter break from school, we counted how much they had amassed, pooled it, and had a conversation about how they wanted to use this money, at least for this time around.  They came up with a good list of options, including a really creative one of Ellie’s that involved getting a large amount of tacos and giving them out to people who stand at corners with signs, waiting for donated change from passing cars.  (Maybe we’ll do this next time.)  Both kids agreed they wanted to do something local, something for people who were struggling financially, and something to do with food (hmm, wonder where they got that last part…?).  I wanted for them to have a more hands-on experience than simply giving money to an organization.  Eventually, we settled on buying as much food as we could and donating it to a local food shelf. 

This turned out to be a great experience for all of us.  I explained to them as we entered the grocery store that we would not be able to get anything from the produce, refrigerated, or frozen sections (pretty much where we generally shop), but would have to find things from the ‘middle’ of the store.  We had set as our goal that we would purchase nutritious food, imagining that we were shopping for a family like us.  We decided also to make everything we got be gluten-free, as we felt we shouldn’t get anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. 

I tagged along with them through the store, but after I made some initial suggestions, Ellie asked me to let them figure out what to get.  She and Jonah grappled with the complications I face every day, such as what’s the difference between this jar of salsa for $2.00 and this other one for $3.50?  They read labels, compared package sizes, opted for things without sugar or chemicals (or gluten), and balanced food groups to make sure full meals could be made.  In addition, they came up with some themes, putting things together as they themselves would want to eat, incorporating also the things I told them the food shelf would supplement with, like cheese. 

In the end, our tally was $49.92, and I think they did a magnificent job of choosing quality foods on a budget, while also getting maximum bang for every non-perishable buck.  Here’s what we ended up with:

• 5 lbs brown rice                                           $5.99
• 36-count corn tortillas (2 bags)                   1.59
                                                                            1.59
• 16 oz. corn tortilla chips                               2.00
• 2 lbs black beans (2 bags)                          2.99
                                                                            2.99
• 5 lbs lentils/Dal                                              5.29
• 4-pack tuna (6 oz cans)                               3.89 
• 32 oz. organic chicken broth (asceptic)    2.99
• mild salsa (2 16-oz jars)                            2.00
                                                                            2.00
• canned diced tomatoes (2 cans)                  .89
                                                                              .89
• canned sliced carrots (2 cans)                   1.09
                                                                            1.09 
• canned sweet peas (2 cans)                         .79
                                                                              .79
• canned green beans (2 cans)                       .89
                                                                               .89
• canned corn with peppers (2 cans)            1.08
                                                                             1.08
• canned peaches in pear juice (2 cans)     1.59
                                                                             1.59
• canned pineapple in 100% juice (1 can)  1.59 
• 32 oz natural applesauce                          2.35
  TOTAL                                                        $49.12

If I was shopping for myself, with the understanding that I have access to refrigeration, I would swap out most of the canned veggies for frozen or fresh, and I would likely trade peaches and pineapple for a bag each of apples and oranges.  I would also assume some extras, like cooking oil, onion and garlic, maybe some cheese, eggs or potatoes.  But overall, if pushed into the dire circumstances that would require me to eat from the food shelf stores, I would feel pretty good about getting along on what my kids have put together.  I like to think there is some mirror-image family out there who will receive our offerings with relief (“finally--whole grains!”).

This was a great exercise in many things, and I myself learned way more than I ever expected, including an eye-opening lesson in how much less we really could spend on our food (which I have heretofore deemed the Most Important category of our spending, and therefore ‘acceptably’ excessive).  My mind is spinning with all kinds of ideas about trimming the food budget, working with kids on nutrition and food cost projects, and getting more involved with my local food shelf.  Not bad for $49.12!

And finally, for the gluten-free hook that brings this back to belonging on Cooqi’s website, a lesson also in how eating GF doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, either.  Note that there is nothing in our cart that is really a processed food (OK, we can debate a few of these items, but essentially what I mean is everything is made from a few basic ingredients we can all pronounce), which means there is nothing to have to find a processed GF substitute for.    The corn and rice are both gluten-free whole grains that anyone can eat (assuming, of course, that you don’t have an additional corn sensitivity—which we do not).  And you only have to add a few things to punch up this food list into a well-rounded shopping cart to last you through the week.  Maybe not the most glamorous or varied, but so much better than fast food!

Food for thought, indeed!

Here’s where we brought our food:  Second Harvest Heartland