Merlot Mudpies

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Family Feasts for $75 a Week – A Review July 8, 2009


Author: Mary Ostyn

Release Date: September 2009

Price: $17.95 US

I was all set last night to sit down and write my thorough praises of Mary Ostyn’s new book, Family Feasts for $75 a Week, when my husband blithely reviewed the book better than I could have in pages with one sentence:

As I sat cackling over the money I’ve saved since reading a pre-publication copy of this book a month ago I said to Ryan, “I can’t believe how much money we’ve saved this month!  I’ve cut our budget by 50% and I think I could easily go lower if we needed to.” To which he replied, “That’s insane, because we have been eating really well recently, too!”  High praise coming from a man whose own mother (an amazing cook) dubbed him The Food Diva several years back when he commented on the amount of carrots she’d used in a favorite dish of his when we were home visiting for Christmas.

In case you aren’t already heading out to pre-order a copy of the book based just on that, let me elaborate just a little.  Because if you’re anything like me you might be thinking, “Come on, seriously.  Do we really need another book on how to save money on groceries and inexpensive recipes to feed our families?  How many tater-tot casseroles with cheese whiz and Ritz cracker toppings can a girl try?”

If that’s you, I’m with yah sister.  But let me just mention a couple of things.

  1. Delicious Recipes Suited to Any Skill Level: While Mary DOES mention tater tots once in her book it is only to tell you how much better homemade fries are.  Not only that, but she upgrades the oven fries with her own homemade Ethiopian seasoning mix (and provides several other easy suggestions for seasonings if a mouth on fire is not your particular version of tasty).  And all joking about those spuds aside, her recipes are seriously good, seriously easy and seriously cost effective.
    In particular I must recommend her Thai chicken curry dish for which you can make your own curry paste and even your own coconut milk if you don’t have a can on hand but do have some shaved coconut in the freezer.  Another favorite already is her suggested recipe for making your own granola cereal.  (As I stood at the counter breaking up my first batch, chest swelled with pride, my husband gave me a smooch and seriously appreciative squeeze and raved about how amazing it was that I could make something like that all on my own.  Sorry, Mary, I took that compliment for my own and didn’t re-mention the fact that I’d learned it from the book.)
  2. Flexible Ideas on Cost Cutting that Allow You to Create Your Own Plan: One of the frustrating things about many books like these is that, in order for the system to work, you have to change a million things all at once and after about two weeks (for the very strong and enduring, perhaps three), the whole thing goes out the window because it’s just too hard to maintain so much change all at once.  Mary, however, is very clear about her desire for readers not to make this mistake.  Instead you’re given four areas in which you can assess your strengths and weaknesses and then a ton of ideas to choose from in each of those areas to begin the process.  This book’s plan is laid out like an a la carte menu of great ideas that you can tailor fit to your needs and your money-saving goals.
    I hate to admit it but I’m the queen of starting strong, getting over my head, and fizzling out completely on things.  This is something I dislike about myself and have been working hard to overcome.  But ladies, this process has been seriously painless so far and the benefits have far outweighed the effort.  Oh and another thing?  You don’t have to use coupons!  (But you can if you need to do penance or something.)
  3. An Easy and Interesting Read that Gets Right Down to the Issues and Lets You Start Saving Almost Immediately: I got this book on a Sunday.  Inspired, I refused to go to the grocery store until Wednesday because I could see in my own kitchen several different great meals I could already make with things I had in the house.  During that time I was able to use small portions of my time each day to figure out what changes I could make, lay out my plan, and embark.  Holding on to just a few of the ideas I’d found in the book I set out my first week and was delighted with every grocery receipt I collected because I knew I was making wiser decisions already.

I am torn between a desire to be completely honest about improvements to our grocery budget because it’s so amazing and wanting to hide from shame about how easily I have saved so much in my first month of using Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  I have literally saved several hundred dollars this month.  I thought at first that I was unique in how much waste was happening in our home but a few conversations with friends let me know that I am certainly not alone.  Some of my joking, if I’m honest, is to distract from the fact that it was painful to realize just how much room for improvement there was.  I found myself in tears at one point as I worked through my new budgeting plan and list of easy changes – it was a mixture of regret over the waste I could now see over the last 5 years of my marriage and relief to have found in Mary’s advice a workable, helpful and thorough means by which to improve so drastically.

In Titus 2, Paul admonishes older women to come alongside younger women and, among many other important things, train them in the ways of their home. Mary has shared the resulting wisdom of years of experience, trial, error and success in this new book and it’s a fantastic boon to those of us who still have a lot of learning to do. In future I plan on giving this book for wedding shower presents so that my friends can start out ahead of the game in feeding their families well on a frugal but flexible budget.

I could not recommend Family Feasts for $75 a Week more highly.  

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16 Responses to “Family Feasts for $75 a Week – A Review”

  1. […] it more. So stay tuned! And if you’d like to read the very first review of the book, visit Merlot Mudpies. Share and […]

  2. Here is a question for you about the cookbook… Are most of the recipes ethnic with lots of seasoning? Or are there also lots of recipes of the ‘western’ variation? You see, it would be disadvantageous of me to try and save all this money if I am cooking food that my family simply won’t eat (they are a very non-adventurous bunch). Thanks!

  3. merlotmudpies Says:

    You know, that is a GREAT question and I’m so glad you asked. I focused on the ethnic stuff in the recipes I mentioned in this review because my family are really adventurous eaters and so it was surprising to find so much variety in a book like this. (My 3-year-old son consistently chooses sushi over ice cream when asked for a preference.) I’m looking through the recipes right now, though, and while there are a lot more ethnic food ideas than I expected to find, the wealth of recipes are ones that families with “western” palates would find delicious in general.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that this is not *just* a cook book. The first four chapters are about assessing what you’re already doing, what strategies you can use for buying food you already eat, preparing it and planning for it, etc. and how to make a plan that’s workable for you according to your family’s specific needs. Most of my changes were process changes as I’ve worked in great new recipes but kept many of my own as I’ve cooked these last four weeks.

    Mary also focuses on building a pantry — making mixes and seasonings that you’d normally buy prepared. Case in point: my new home made granola. We eat that anyway but I’ve now found that I can make it VERY easily and at a fraction of the cost for a box of granola cereal. AND my husband likes it better. She has recipes for your own poultry seasoning, taco seasoning, pancake syrup, pancake and biscuit mix, ranch dressing mix and etc. So one of the ways I’ve been saving money is not in new recipes, but in rethinking how I buy and process the ingredients for things I already make.

    I hope that helps in your thinking about whether or not this book would be a valuable tool for you in your home. I think it would be even for the more ah…DISCERNING tastes in food! 🙂 I know that making wise decisions with what books to buy is a big consideration and that was at the forefront of my mind when I recommended this one.

    I had a lot of room for improvement and this book helped me see how to handle some of that. Others might have less work to do than I did but I still think even they’ll find a wealth of ways to save.

    Thank you so much for asking me to clarify!

  4. Gypsie Says:

    Question: Does the book primarily focus on large families?? Right now we are a family of two…

    • merlotmudpies Says:

      Another great question. We’re a family of three! And my third person is a three-year-old. So we’re sort of 2 and a 1/2 when it comes to how many I’m serving. The recipes in this book are scaled to make usually 4 to 6 servings. I think the $75.00 a week is actually based on a four person family but I’m not positive on that. I do know, however, that Mary mentions how much she spends a week for her family of 12 and it’s higher than $75.00 a week because it’s for more people.

      Lastly, many of the casserole and some of the other recipes are ones that you can make and freeze. So, for instance, two weeks ago I doubled a lasagna florentine recipe when we had guests over and put two single-meal size lasagnas in the freezer for use at a later date. Come to think of it, that means we’ve been eating at even less than I’ve been shopping for these four weeks, so my costs will likely go down further as I go along and my savings have included food served to guests on several occasions as well as contributing to community meals at church. I hope that helps!

    • merlotmudpies Says:

      Gypsie — forgive me being even wordier here. But I want to simply encourage you. I am so delighted to see that, even before you have more people to serve, you’re thinking so carefully about the purchase of this book and whether it will be a good use of your resources. On that front you are way ahead of the game to where I was when I got married and when we started having kids (I’m hoping for more, Lord willing!) Good going, girl! Your family will be blessed by your consideration and planning.

  5. Liz P Says:

    I don’t live in the US – I live in Australia. Most of the food tips from the US centre around coupon-ing etc. Could you still do it on $75 without coupons?

    • merlotmudpies Says:

      Hi Liz! I only devoted about one line to this, but yes. You could because Mary’s plan does not rely on coupons at all. She does mention them as an aside for those who really want to use them. But this takes up perhaps one page of the book at the very most.

  6. owlhaven Says:

    Yes, the $75 a week is for a family of 4. I feed 11 people on $200-$225 a week, which is a comparable dollars per person ratio.

    Mary, mom to 10

  7. owlhaven Says:

    HI Mary,
    Just saw the book is now available on amazon. If you have time and it is not too much hassle, would you be game to paste your review over there too?

    Thanks so much!!

    Mary

  8. merlotmudpies Says:

    No problem at all, Mary! We’re just home from camping but I’ll do it as soon as I have a hand free.

  9. Julie Says:

    Thanks for your well-thought-out review! I have this in my shopping cart and about to order, but I have one question.

    I am trying to get all of our produce from a local organic farm (and my own garden), our beef/poultry from another local organic farm or Whole Foods (where I can buy grass-fed), and our beans and grains from a bulk food source.

    Because of this (and a desire to buy NO packaged/processed foods), I haven’t set foot into a grocery store in months. (Therefore I don’t do coupons since they tend to be for packaged/brand name items in grocery stores)

    Given this, would the tips in the book be relevant to me?

    Thanks again for such a thorough review!

    • merlotmudpies Says:

      Mary doesn’t focus at all on coupons. They barely get a passing mention actually! You won’t be able to benefit from ALL of her saving tips if you are also doing organics and farm stores. However, I do think that much of the book will still benefit you. She can help in process and also making things from scratch. She makes her own seasoning mixes, for instance, as well as her own salad dressings, etc. She does very little with pre-packaged items and this is where I think you would find the value in the book. In addition, for things like flour, baking soda, etc, you would benefit from her strategies on buying well in bulk and price comparison etc. I hope this helps you make a good decision about the book! And good luck!

  10. Julie Says:

    THANK YOU for such a quick reply — you have just helped me make up my mind (my next project was already going to be to make my own salad dressings as well as yogurt, cheese, and bread)! 🙂 btw I gave you a “helpful” rating for this review on Amazon… many thanks again for such a helpful review!

    • merlotmudpies Says:

      You are so welcome! And if you’re interested in making yogurt, Mary just posted a recipe for that on her blog at http://www.owlhaven.net. I tried it for the first time this week and could not believe how easy it was. My son and I have been eating the yogurt every morning with honey and he’s loved it. I was worried because he adores the little cups of yogurt, but he didn’t even bat an eye at the transition and asks for it every morning. I hope you enjoy the book! And good luck with your bread and cheese. I’ve done mozzarella myself and used Ricki the “Cheese Queen”‘s kit which sells for about $25 — it includes her book, rennet and other supplies that would be much more expensive bought separately. The first bread I ever made was this white bread: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/11/04/homemade-bread-cheap-delicious-healthy-and-easier-than-you-think/ and a whole wheat method I love is one using a whole wheat soaker you make about 12 hours in advance (i do it the night before). I can’t remember the link to the one I use right now, but if you want it please let me know and I’ll happily dig it up.

  11. Julie Says:

    GREAT links; thank you!! I’ve ordered some cultures and supplies from http://www.culturesforhealth.com and have tried a couple of recipes from there, but I will definitely look into these too… thank you again!!


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