Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Turkey meatballs and sauce

There have been a number of people posting about eating off the equivalent money they'd get on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) to highlight how hard it is to eat healthy and economically on public assistance.

This post isn't about the habits of those on public assistance, as it's easy to criticize.  But I wanted simply to give an example of how, with a little planning, you can feed a family nutritious food for much LESS than the amount of money normally allocated in such programs (about $194 per person per month) even assuming you contribute nothing of your own money towards your family meals.
Low Fat Banana bread (the stunt butter was for the photo)

This weeks food  - $50 for the two of us, including a sweet bread and some cookies.   I've rounded everything up to the nearest half dollar.  I do the bread baking on Saturday and make cookies or some other baked treat.  I make soup or stew on Sunday and chopped and Tupperware the veggies so there's little time to prepare them on a work night. Many meals are meat free, with beans and grain for complete protein. Nothing is wasted, so there's always little bits of peppers or chilis or such in the freezer to add to soup and beans dishes as well as some bones with a little meat on them for soups. Any leftovers not immediately eaten are frozen for lunches the following week. We have  brewed iced tea, not pop, and I'll make an "energy drink" out of a splash of fruit juice mixed with 2 Tablespoons of Braggs apple cider vinegar and lots of water and carried in a recycled glass beverage bottle.
Fans of the TV Show Firefly will so get this mug

Both of us pack our lunches and have a water jug AND a thermos and do not buy coffee or soft drinks at work or on the way to or from. I'll make muffins to have as a mid morning treat for coffee or tea. Plus - when a local Sears went south, we picked up a deep freezer for $100 for the basement.

So total food and treats if one is closely watching the budget and has essentials on hand in bulk already -  $200 for the month for two adults.

We are blessed with a good education (I paid for mine 100% on my own, my husband was blessed with parents, who having done so themselves, were able to help him significantly). With that, we have jobs that pay very well  But being raised by parents that understood a budget, mine growing up in the Great Depression, we are quite fine eating on a budget so that there is money available for unexpected expenses, helping family members and charities, including 100% of all the sales of the Book of Barkley and Saving Grace to animal rescue. That's important to us.
Yes, we have some extra splurge meals with more expensive ingredients (Chocolate Truffles!  Single Malt Scotch!) I'ts because we are blessed to where we  can and we usually eat out once a month, someplace cheap and fun like Thai.  But we also know that if money was really tight we could eat VERY well, with adequate protein and minerals with a little planning and some time in the kitchen. Even with treats, an adult beverage on the weekends and sometimes extra dairy from a local dairy farm we spend less than $300 a month on food, that extra money going to help my Dad or others in need.  I've stood in line at Walmart and watched someone with a cart full of prepared and prepackaged meals and junk food spend that in a week for a small family.

There have been years we've gone in with others for a 4-H cow, the cost per pound being really low, but this year, with a move, and remodeling, we just watch for sales.
 "MackMuffin" with whole wheat sourdough bread rounds and "veggie" sausage

But it takes planning - don't wait until you lose your job before establishing a larder of bulk supplies. Do it when times are plentiful, and you'll have less to worry about later, because it's vital that you have certain items stored up to make a super cheap meal plan work.  You will need to spend a months worth of food budget minimum, laying in supplies if you want the absolutely minimum cost on dried and bulk items, not something that's practical once the emergency strikes.

Bread - I make it from scratch, using a sourdough starter made out of wild yeast in place of commercial yeast and a food processor, it takes minutes to prep, then just the rise and bake time for a couple of loafs and a batch of muffins or rolls. An hour of prep, time to rise, and a couple of hours to bake up everything, and I've got bread products for the week for a couple of bucks.
Wild yeast sourdough starter

Shopping - I will hit 3 stores if it saves me 3 or 4 bucks, as long as the gas to go there doesn't eat up the difference. I regularly check ads to see what's on sale where and I'm not afraid to clip a coupon. Make sure you look at your receipt - I've been charged other than the sale price at a couple of the big chain grocers.  I make a list.  If I see something super cheap not on the list, I will pick it up to add to the larder. I will NOT buy something just because "it looks good!" if it's not on the list,

On hand:
Home canned: salsas, applesauce (I trade bread/cookies for huge bag of apples each Fall with non baking colleague who has a bunch of trees), some veggies, barbecue sauce
frozen soup bones from previous roasts, frozen vegetable stock to make soups
sourdough starter
powdered milk, vegetable oil, peanut butter, pasta
vinegar and spices in bulk
rice and dried beans - in bulk
flour and sugar - in bulk
water - we take refillable thermoses to work, the tap water here tastes good and frankly, half of the bottled water is from a tap in some other city plus we keep a minimum of  3 months of bleach treated water, per person (including the dog) with prepping supplies.
4-H cow burgers with homemade buns

Cost - About $50 for the week for my husband and I and that included a number of meals with meat and eggs.

Daily Goal  - 3 servings of protein
5 servings of fruits and veggies
A treat (usually a cookie, sometimes a piece of pie when fruit is plentiful and cheap)
3 servings of whole grain carbs (my husband may eat more, the bread is super cheap to make)
2 servings dairy


Use of the bulk items for the week (spices, flour, bones, powdered milk, dried beans, oil, vinegar) $6.00
coffee or tea for the week (made at home and carried to work)  $2
Oatmeal $1
One small package chicken thighs (sale)   $2
package of boneless breasts (for sandwiches)  (free - this was a buy one get one from the previous week)
1 pound ground beef  $4 (if money was extra tight, I would replace with lentils for meat sauce or sloppy joes on the homemade bread)
Fresh Green Beans - $2
Fresh squash  - $2
2 Cucumbers (great with rice vinegar and a dash of honey as a salad)  $1.50
2 bags of apples (Aldi)  $5
Veggies: a number of cans purchased on  scratch and dent clearance  $4 total
Carrots:  2 bags on sale for $1.50
3 pounds oranges (sale)  $2
eggs - free - bartered with homemade bread for someone that has chickens but doesn't bake
bananas  .50 cents for a bunch on sale
Tibetan curried lentils

Potatoes 5 pound bag on sale .99 cents
2 onions   $1.50
package of  whole romaine for sandwiches and salad  $1
1/4 deli pound Swiss (sale)  $1
1/2 pound mozzarella  $2
Canned mushrooms (sale).50
Bag of peppers  (Aldi sale) $2
Big tub of cottage cheese (or plain yogurt) $5
Bag of frozen dried berries (for oatmeal and/or muffins)  $2
Generic  boxed mac and cheese  .50
Butter (free with $25 grocery purchase)
Ham and Bean soup

Even better,  there will be some soup and beans to be frozen for a lunch the next week
Any leftover cheese  or chicken will be mixed with leftover pasta for a casserole or stuffed baked potatoes the following week.

Menu for the week:
Breakfast - work day oatmeal (with some powdered milk and cinnamon mixed in)  and tea or coffee or egg with toast or a homemade muffin
sourdough raspberry muffin

weekend - hash-browns with any leftover onions and scrambled eggs or omelette  or pancakes made with leftover plain yogurt and a fried egg

Lunch - For my husband:  peanut butter or chicken sandwich (sliced or chicken salad with veggie or fruit bits left from the previous weekend) with Swiss and homemade mayo and an apple
Homemade baked potato chips (400 F. oven, lightly coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with non stick spray.  Slice potatoes super thin with food processor and place 1/4 inch apart on sheet.  Season and bake, rotating halfway trough until golden brown - about 30 minutes)
extra fruit for afternoon snack
homemade peanut butter or oatmeal cookie

For me:  baked potato with a bit of salsa and cottage cheese with some carrots,  applesauce for dessert


Cottage cheese or leftover soup or casserole from the freezer with a slice of bread and a small apple
an extra fruit for a snack
Lebanese herbed rice - with homegrown herbs and bulk beef or TVP, less than .75 cents a serving

weekend lunches - boxed  mac and cheese to which I've added a little leftover corn, a little leftover protein, a little pepper and salsa, topped with buttered bread crumbs and baked
canned green beans

Leftover barbecue shredded chicken served on homemade rolls with extra sauce and canned corn.

Baked potato stuffed with  leftover veggies, salsa, cheeses, whatever bits are in the fridge.

leftover soups or stews (frozen)

leftover pizza


(1) Split Pea Soup (from Scratch) with potatoes and onions (beef bone to add seasoning)
Cornbread from scratch

(2) Meat Sauce and Pasta (made with  from scratch sauce from previous week, adding peppers and ground beef).
Canned corn
Garlic toast (homemade bread, a little oil and garlic powder toasted in a pan)
Lasagna bread

(3) Baked potatoes stuffed with meat sauce with a sprinkle of cheese or lasagna bread (meatsauce, 3 cheese stuffed day old rolls)
Can of peas and carrots
Fresh green beans

(4) Homemade lentil soup (beef bone and spices for seasoning)
leftover cornbread
carrot sticks

(5) Chicken with  homemade canned barbecue sauce
Steamed rice
Canned corn
Remainder of fresh green beans

(6)   Pizza Night - deep dish this time, homemade. topped with  homemade Canadian bacon (much cheaper than the store bought), leftover veggies bits  and cheese
Romaine salad with cucumber and homemade vinaigrette.  Croutons made out of older bread.

(7) White beans with ham shank and spices
Garlic toast made with homemade bread, sprinkled with a little cheese
Carrots or canned veggies of choice.
Cookies for dessert and some sweet tea sitting out on the front porch

So whether you are trying to eat less processed food or just wanting to save some money - take some time to prepare a plan.  A couple hours in the kitchen on weekends can make for some wonderfully inexpensive meals during the week.


  1. Great post! We laughed at the "stunt butter"! It is amazing if you think about it, how eating/cooking has changed for the average American over the past few decades. And the way it affects family and other social aspects in rather interesting too!


  2. Hari OM
    couldn't agree more that, with a little judicious preparation, eating can be one of the more economical aspects of life. My budget, as a single person and including the staples is around gbp80/month - that's about $120......come to think of it that is my entire grocery bill and includes non-edibles too, like toilet rolls and such. Happy with that!
    Eyes-on... YAM xx


Thanks for visiting. Having been fortunate enough not to have to diet as a young woman - hitting middle age to find my Metabolism moved to Aruba and didn't even send a postcard was a rude awakening. Thanks for sharing the fun and the pain of getting back in shape. Note: If you are a stranger and include a link in your comment - it will not be posted, to ensure no SPAM or viruses are shared. Any link I post is tested first.