Dinner for a Dollar With Shelly Longenecker
June 1, 2021
What if it was possible to make dinner for a dollar per person in your home? Wouldn't that be amazing?! Well, don’t look any further. This week we’ll learn from the amazing Shelly Longenecker about how to make healthy, allergy-friendly meals inexpensively and delicious.
Dinner for a Dollar with Shelly Longenecker
The Mom Training Podcast with Diana Ballard
Diana: Hey ladies, welcome to The Mom Training Podcast. So excited to have Shelly Longenecker here with us today. She has an amazing story, and some amazing tips to share with us. We’re actually going to have two podcasts from her, so this week and then next week. She’s going to be sharing today about feeding your family for $1 per person, per meal, which I am excited to learn about. And how you can eat with whole food, eat fresh food… They have some allergies in their house, and so, how to eat food that’s allergy-friendly. So, we are so excited, Shelly welcome to the show today.
Shelly: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Diana: That’s so great. Now, tell me your story about… I know that you were diagnosed with some food allergies, so tell us a little bit about your story and where this came from.
Shelly: Yeah. We have four children now. Dinner for a Dollar was kind of born, maybe like 15 years ago, when my second oldest, his name is Toby, he’s 18 now… He was about five years old and he was super sick; throwing up 25 times a day, couldn’t keep any food down, any water down. And then when he would eat, food would get stuck in his esophagus, and we were pulling food out of his throat. It was a fairly dramatic time in our lives.
He had what appeared to be asthma, which we later learned was actually food allergies. And to make a very long story short, we ended up finding out that he had an autoimmune disease of his esophagus, and that was exacerbated by food allergies. By the time we found out what was wrong with him, he had been sick for a couple of years. So, we took out the foods he was allergic to, and he started feeling better immediately.
Shelly: And within probably six months, he was completely normal. Within like a year, he was off all medication, and he’s been on no medication the rest of his life, which is totally rare for his disease. Normally, people are on meds for life.
From that experience, we actually learned… We were pretty healthy eaters before that. But we learned the power of food. We learned that food can hurt and food can heal. And by changing our diet, his life completely changed, and ours did too. We actually felt better because he was young so we changed our diet too because we didn’t want our… This was a personal decision we made – we didn’t want to have food in our home that our kid couldn’t eat.
So, we just changed everything over, and with zero thought to how much money it cost. We were like, “Our kid is sick, we need to feed him what we need to feed him.” And we went with whole food, we went with allergy-friendly, we went with produce rich.
When he was diagnosed, my husband said, “You know what, Shelly… “ He goes, “I guess I need to go make more money to accommodate our new food bill.” And from the beginning, we believed the myth, that in order to eat well, you have to spend a lot of money. And I never tried to even save money. I just mentally thought, “My kid needs this diet, my husband needs to go out and make more money, and it is what it is. It’s just going to be really expensive.” We lived like that for probably seven years.
Diana: Oh, wow.
Shelly: Never looking at our food bill. Okay?... So, I’m sure that you can imagine inside your head what that might look like.
Fast forward, we end up with four kids. We’re homeschooling. We’re running two businesses. We’re getting super busy. We’re 100% self-employed, and my husband, his contracts adjusted, like they do in his world. They come; they go. There’s nothing wrong they just are for a certain amount of time and then they leave. And we knew that he was about ready to lose 50% of his income.
Diana: Oh, my goodness.
Shelly: So, we had to cut our entire budget, all the way down the middle, in half… And so, for the first time ever we looked at our bill, and we were spending $2,000 a month on food.
Diana: Holy moly.
Shelly: Holy moly!... And for the longest time, I was really embarrassed about that. But now that I've run dinner for $1 for a couple of years, I've actually learned that isn't as uncommon as you would think, with larger families who have food allergies, who are trying to eat well.
We were spending 1200 a month on groceries and 800 a month eating out. And the reason…
Diana: Yeah. Well, when you don't look at it, then it really adds up.
Shelly: It really adds up… And the 800 a month we’re spending on eating out was because we had four kids, we were homeschooling, running two businesses, and my food system was so complicated that I was spending two to three hours a day in the kitchen. And I didn't have two to three hours a day to spend in the kitchen. So, what would happen, I’d call my husband, and be like, “You've got to pick up some takeout on the way home.” And takeout for a family of six, with food allergies, is - we can’t do like Little Caesars $5 Pizzas.
Shelly: So, it's $50 for us to eat out on a pretty frugal kind of a budget. It doesn't take long to spend $800 a month on eating out when you are a larger family.
Shelly: So, I looked at my husband and I said, “Okay, I've got to cut our bill in half.” And I told him, “I'm going to do that, but I cannot compromise on our food standards, we have to eat whole foods, we have to eat produce rich, we have to eat allergy-friendly.” And so, I did what… I'm a really good researcher. Actually, I'm now a really good home economist. I don't mind being frugal. It doesn't bother me. So, I said I'm just going to dive in, and I'm going to take this on.
Well, there was nothing that existed at the time. This was several years ago. There was nothing that existed, on how to cut your food bill while eating whole food, lots of produce, and allergy-free. At that time, everything was like coupons, and couponing doesn't work for our family, because it's mostly… You know this… Like, mostly processed…
Diana: Food you really don't want to eat.
Shelly: Exactly. And typically, they're brands that are more expensive and you can buy the store brand version for less than not having the coupon.
Shelly: So, there just wasn't anything. So, I sat down and I created my own system. And I sat down at the table and I prayed. I have a personal faith and I believe that God could give me wisdom. And so, I sat there, and I prayed and I asked God for wisdom about how to cut my bill in half and still meet my family's needs.
We had medical needs that had to be met through our diet, and we had these real financial needs. And then I just sat there at the table with my notebook and a pen. I always say now, that I sat there with my big girl panties on. Like I pulled on my big girl panties, and I was honest with myself. I honestly evaluated what habits led me to this outrageous food bill. Why was I spending $2,000 a month?...
I didn't mention, I have my Master's in Counseling, so I'm a therapist. I'm really all about, evaluating behavior and making change. And so, I kind of therapized on myself. I was like, “Okay Shelly, what behaviors, what habits led you to this situation?” And then I was really honest about it. I made this huge list of just really bad habits that we were in, that led us to spending $2000 a month, and then I reverse engineered it. I'm like, “Okay, I'm now going to build a system that will pull me out of this ditch, and set me on the path to eating well on a very tight budget.” And that's what I did.
I never planned on turning it into a business. I never planned on writing a book. I never planned on turning it into a course and teaching people. I was just solving our family's problem and we lived like that for three to five years before I ever turned it into a system to sell to people.
Diana: You explaining what you did, it's like music to my ears. That's how I think too.
Diana: I’m like, “Ah…” And the same thing with my Mom Training. I never expected… I didn't create that for anyone but myself. And then, it's like, “Oh, actually, this might help other people, right?”
Diana: So, I love that you had an experience that pushed you that… I mean, it's not a fun experience, right?
Diana: But I can see that you took that moment and utilized it for your best interest. And created something amazing for your family, and also something you can share with other people.
Diana: I love that. You got to tell me though, how do you do it?... Tell us some of your wisdom because that is… I try to be really frugal with my food budget but I've never actually calculated. Maybe I should. But dinner for a dollar, that's amazing. So, I'd love to hear, how you do that?
Shelly: Yeah. Well, calculating per meal pricing is actually a really helpful tool, because you'll quickly realize, this isn't at all answer your question, but you brought that up and it made me think of it… Because I'll be in the store, and I'll mentally put the meal together in my mind. And I'll write out those prices, and I'll quickly realize, “Oh my goodness, that's a $15 meal.” Because, you know, broccoli wasn't on sale, or I really wanted pesto and basil’s not on sale, all of a sudden… The basil for the pesto is $8, and when you calculate per meal, you quickly learn cheaper ways to get to your budget. By like, “Oh, if I take this $7 item out of this, and substitute it with this $2 item, that just brought my per meal price down by $5.
Anyway, that was not your question. But actually, the way that I do that is exactly what you teach in your training, and that is intentionally making choices. Like, you are not going to accidentally end up eating a whole food, produce rich, allergy-friendly diet for $1 per person per meal. You're not just going to show up in the store with your grocery cart, and a general loose idea, putting things in, coming home, cooking, and making it and be like, “Oh, I just did it.”
No, it's going to be intentional, and you have to have a strategy and a plan, and a system. I share all the time, that you don't need more recipes, you need a system. Because more recipes are just more noise in our food thing. You need a new way to handle your food.
The first step that I did, which is exactly what I taught in my story. My story is actually a teaching lesson for how to do it, is the first thing you have to do is you have to honestly evaluate yourself.
Shelly: Like, where are you at? What are your habits? What are your goals? What are you hoping to have your family eat? What's important to you? And then you have to look at what the holes in your boat are. So, if I’m trying to eat, for my grocery bill for $720 a month and I'm throwing $200 of food a month away, every month, well, I'm not going to hit that goal. Because I'm throwing $200 in the trash.
The average American family is throwing $225 a month of food in the trashcan.
Diana: Oh my gosh.
Shelly: Every single month, 31% of the food and beverages that we buy, we throw away.
Shelly: And if people are being honest… I when I was being honest with myself, I realized that I was absolutely throwing away $200 a month of food… Okay, so I'm evaluating myself and I realized, “Wow I'm throwing away a lot of food.” So, I'm throwing away a lot of food, what am I going to do about that? How do I plug that hole in my boat? I've got this hole of food waste, how do I plug that hole.
So, I sit down and I asked myself, “Okay, why am I throwing away food?” Well, I'm throwing it away because I'm not paying attention to it. Okay. So then, I developed a system for paying attention to my food. I call it a fridge check, every two to three days, I take two to three minutes, check my fridge and see if anything needs to be used up. Simple habit, right? And then if you see, “Oh, this broccoli is looking wilted. I'm going to throw it into my stir-fry tonight.” “I'm going to roast it and serve it along with our other things.”
The lack of checking in on our food is actually a huge reason we throw away. People joke all the time, about the produce on the bottom, just turning into mush. Simply checking…
Diana: Or being professional mold creators.
Shelly: Yes, exactly.
Diana: Which I used to be when I was single.
Shelly: Oh, yeah.
Diana: I find it all the time. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.”
Shelly: Right. Probably because you weren't paying attention. You were just living your life and you were never stopping to look at what was going on there.
Shelly: And then another huge reason for me, I was buying too much. I was buying… Because I love good food, I’d see it and I’d buy it. And then if you have too much, you can't see it well, you can't organize it well, so stuff gets pushed to the back. Maybe you can't even consume the sheer amount…
So, that was me sitting at my table with my big girl panties on, evaluating my problem, seeing where I was messing up, and then making changes. So, if anyone who's listening to this, if you want to lower your food bill, I really encourage you - sit down at the table. Sit with your notebook. Sit with your pens. Sit with your big girl panties. If you've got a faith and you believe that God will give you wisdom, pray about it, ask for wisdom. If that isn't your thing, then just think about yourself like think inside your own mind. Ask your husband, if you're married, “Hey, what do you think we're doing wrong here that we can improve? Why do you think we're spending so much? And then just start making changes.
Diana: This is all so beautiful to me. It just … (overlap talk)
Diana: I’m listening gave me like, “Oh my gosh, this is just so good to hear.” I don't know just like another strategy to help save money, help to be more efficient, to utilize what we have, just awesome, the fridge check. Because even now, like trying real hard to work on not wasting food, there's always something that gets forgotten somewhere.
And I'm going be honest, I've justified, “Oh, I can give it to my dog or to my chickens.”
Diana: I'm like, “Okay. Well, I forgot that in the back of the fridge, it's not molding but I don't think I’d eat it still, so I’m going to give that to the animals.” Right?
Diana: Still, like that's an expensive snack for my animals too. Like I really need to do that fridge check to make sure that I'm not missing anything.
Shelly: Yes. The fridge check is like major game-changer. I can't believe how much it changes. And I actually give away a free chapter from my book, that teaches how to cook without recipes, how to do it, and why it's important. And it's super important to know how to cook without recipes, or how to use recipes as a suggestion rather than a rule for these fridge check moments. That way when you're looking in the fridge and you're seeing these random things that need to get used up before going bad if you know how to think about recipes as a suggestion, rather than a rule or if you know how to even go off-book and cool without them, that one skill will help you waste less food because you can use what was already in there.
Diana: Like substitute things…
Diana: And say, “I don’t have sour cream but I have plain yogurt.” Like being able to
adjust things. “Oh, it'll be fine…” Because it really will.
Shelly: It really will.
Diana: Most things will be fine if you, adjust certain things. It really does work out.
Shelly: It does, and we're not trying to be Bobby Flay. I mean we're feeding our families. And if we remember what our goal is, which is to nourish our families, to love our families, just serve them the food that they need for their bodies on a budget that we can afford. And that means that our lives are not going to look like a Pinterest ad, all of the time. Sometimes we're just going to eat, and everybody isn't going to love it but that's okay. We don't have to have flavor bombs in our mouths, three to five times a day.
And I think shifting our focus from food wants to fit needs, also helps us lower our food bill. We need to meet the needs of our family, but we don't need to meet the wants all the time. And that's a hard thing as a mom who loves food and loves to use food as a way to bless my family like I want to give them all the things they want. But that doesn't always work in my budget.
So, anyway… Yes, we've got to feed our families, and if we remember what our goal is, which is to love and feed them, and serve them with the budget that we have, we can get our subconscious mind creating a system. That's really the next step for people is to sit down and make a plan. Make a plan for how you're going to create change in your food life. And that's what I did 10 years ago, or seven… I don't even know how many… Many, many years ago now.
And each one of your listeners can do that on their own. They also can utilize the plan that I have already laid out, which would…
Diana: Yeah, tell us about that. Tell us where we could find that.
Shelly: Yeah. You can find me at DinnerForADollar.co… Because .com was taken, and they won't sell it to me. Even though they're not using it, whomever you are out there. So, DinnerForADollar.co and on there, you can find my Dinner for a Dollar System, and also my Dinner in 15 Minutes System which we'll be talking about next week, you and I. Because I also teach how to do exactly what I'm teaching you right now, but in 15 minutes Monday through Friday.
Diana: Oh, my goodness.
Shelly: So, not how to just save money but also, how to save time. You can find all my work there – Dinner for a Dollar products, and Dinner in 15-Minute products. What you'll want to look for is, you can elect to get a free chapter from my book, This Recipe-Free Cooking, and that will help your listeners start saving money right away. That's why I give that chapter away because the minute you learn how to do that, you'll start saving money right away on your groceries, even if you don't buy my book, or buy my course.
Diana: That’s awesome. Because it’s true, like, if you're using a recipe, usually… I very much dislike recipes that are like, “Use half an onion…”
Diana: I’m like, “Put in the whole darn onion.” Like, can we please not have half an onion sit in my fridge, like for no reason. What am I going to make with half an onion? I have to now come up with something else…
Shelly: I know.
Diana: Or “One tablespoon of freshly cut dill.” I'm like, “Well, what am I going to do to the rest of it?... Eat it plain?... Like, you know what I’m saying?”
Shelly: I know.
Diana: And it's challenging. So, there happens to be a lot more dill in my recipes when I cook…
Diana: A lot more onion in certain things. if I do use recipes as a suggestion like you’re saying. Because it really is inconvenient when recipes don't use the full thing, or call for one spoonful of something and then you have a whole jar left. It’s just…
Shelly: I know. And yes, I very much… Which you’ll get when your readers will get, listeners will get when they read that chapter… Because I very much just completely ignore stuff like that. If it calls for half a tablespoon of dill, I'll do one of two things. I either just ditch the dill and use dried, or I plan for meals that week, that all use dill.
And it's the simple adaptations, like that… Of course, doesn't matter one week if I throw out my dill. No, it does not change my life. But what you will find is that your cooking style is a series of all of those mini habits stacked together. If you're always just throwing out the dill, you're not just throwing out the dill, you're also throwing out the cilantro, and the half of the onion, and those two extra chicken breasts that were leftovers from the thing. And then by the end of the month, you’re throwing away $200 of groceries.
Diana: Yup. A whole lot…
Shelly: And it's a series of small habits and small choices intentionally practiced, and they just become a lifestyle. And I don't know if you've read Atomic Habits.
Diana: I haven’t.
Shelly: It's an incredible book about the entire science and research of how to create change in your life. I highly recommend the book. He teaches that the only way to create lasting change is just sequentially, just incrementally. So, he teaches the value of improving your life by 1%, a day. And that as humans, our nature is all or nothing. We think, “I'm going to make all these changes or I’m not going to do anything.” And then when we make all the changes at once, of course, we fail, and then we quit, and then we go back to doing nothing.
And at Dinner for a Dollar, I understand human nature, and I teach people, just make one change at a time. Just start with a fridge check every Wednesday and every Sunday. Just check your fridge, and use up what needs to be, before it goes bad. You're going to save probably $100 a month, just doing that.
Shelly: And then learn how to cook without recipes. Okay. Great… And just slowly make changes. And over time, you're going to create a lot. You're going to create huge savings.
The average reader who goes through my book saves $250 a month on groceries and one hour a day in the kitchen which to me, the time part is probably bigger than the money part, just because of the whole four kids, businesses, and all of that. Time is money for sure. Anyway...
Diana: Oh, that is… Oh, just beautiful. Yeah, I want to go read your book now. That's absolutely amazing. I know, I went through your website and looked at your course and stuff. But that's just… I mean you can't learn enough about something that you do every single day. Like we got to eat. We got to put food on the table. We got to have money. So, it's like, we have to learn how to really pull in that skill set. Like really strategize in that skill set is one of the best things we can learn, especially as moms, wives, and housewives. And just individuals in general, to learn how to take care of their body and use it as fuel.
Diana: And instead of just being always for fun… Like go have fun sometimes with food, enjoy and splurge every once in a while.
Diana: But like on a normal basis, especially with the family, you got to learn how to really be efficient in your kitchen.
Diana: So, I absolutely love that. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm so excited for next week's, about the 15 minutes because I have some things to tell you, about some things I've learned about myself that I'm like, “I do that.”
Diana: All right, well thank you so much Shelly and…
Shelly: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Diana: I will put DinnerForADollar.co in the show notes, ladies; so, you can find her. And we'll see you next Tuesday on The Mom Training Podcast.