Really Broke but Really Hungry (AKA How to Still Eat Well When Money is Tight)

Photo by Most of you reading this probably shop on a budget. You probably spend a good amount of time trying to shrink that budget as much as possible and stretch the money you do spend as far as you can.

Various periods of my life have left me with very little money and lots of people to feed, usually unexpectedly. And while I build up my home “stockpile” every week, little by little, there have been times where I didn’t have the luxury of a full pantry to ride me through these unexpected hungry stomachs.

I want to start by saying that the biggest thing you can do to save money on food is to spend more time – more time planning, shopping, prepping and cooking.

Here’s a sample meal plan from when I was really broke. My husband and I ate off $100/month. I cooked all of our food from scratch while working full time. But the most important part? We still ate healthy food.

Another thing I want to say when you need to stretch your budget. Stretch your meals with cheap carbohydrates – double the pasta in a recipe, serve bread on the side, add stewed beans to everything you can stomach, double your serving of rice, etc. Then stretch them even further with cheap vegetables and fruit – anything under $1/pound will work. Right now for me that’s bananas, Fuji apples, watermelon, lettuce heads, bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions, radishes and zucchini. To succesfully stretch, serve small amounts of everything. If you want seconds, you get more side dishes rather than the main entree.

To give your budget an even bigger boost, drink water and cut all other beverages out of your diet. If you desperately need a caffeine fix, black tea is cheaper than coffee. Don’t eat dessert – look at it like a fitness challenge instead of a budget.

We did not use coupons because the cheapest foods never even get them – fresh produce, whole grains, meat, etc. When things were tight, and we qualified, however there is no shame in taking advantage of Fresh Food programs (they get donations from grocery stores of items that would otherwise be thrown away), food banks, church relief programs and other services as you can find them. Check with your local DHS for a list of services and programs. Also, depending on your area, you can forage. I once got 15 lbs. of plums off a tree in front of a laundromat. Dandelion greens are good – just make sure you don’t get anything sprayed. And when in absolute desperation, just eat rice, beans and Top Ramen. I know, it’s not healthy, but sometimes it comes down to just getting the calories you need.

To save as much time as possible, make it less stressful, and to help you stick to the meal plan you should also meal prep as much as possible. Slice your cucumbers, peppers, carrots, etc. as soon as you get home from the market/store. Cook your ground beef on Sunday and freeze it. Roast and shred your chicken, beef and pork, too. Soak and cook your beans. Bake your bread, fry tortillas, cook rice, boil eggs, soak the oats. Do it all in advance when you can. Then store properly and pull out what you need, when you need it.

The $100/Month Meal Plan

This will feed two people for a month at $100.

Week One:

Breakfast – 2 fried eggs, 2 slices of homemade bread, 1 banana.
Lunch – PB & banana sandwich with watermelon and cucumber slices.
Dinner – Roasted chicken and carrots with bread, rice, and stewed beans; Southwest chicken and rice bowls with corn, roasted peppers, black beans and homemade tortillas on the side; White chicken chili with tortillas; Leftovers; Roast beef sandwiches with salad; Beef stew with bread and salad.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Two:

Breakfast – Oatmeal with sugar and milk, 2 slices of homemade bread.
Lunch – Chili macaroni with apples.
Dinner – Beef pot pie with bread and salad; Leftovers; Pork pot roast with bread and salad; BBQ pork sandwiches with roasted peppers, onions, baked beans and rice; Pozole with homemade tortillas, rice, and re-fried beans; Leftovers; Roast chicken with potatoes, carrots, onion and zucchini.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Three:

Breakfast – Pancakes from scratch with peanut butter and 1 banana.
Lunch – Grilled cheese with roasted onions and peppers.
Dinner – Garlic chicken pasta with bread and salad; Chicken and rice soup with bread and salad; Leftovers; Carne Asada with tortillas, rice, re-fried beans, roasted peppers and onions; Shredded beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes, gravy, caramelized onions, and baked beans; Beef and barley soup with bread and salad; Leftovers; Pork and vegetable stir fry over rice with stewed beans.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Four:

Breakfast – Rice pudding with bread.
Lunch – Egg salad sandwiches with sliced watermelon and cucumber.
Dinner – Shredded pork burritos with beans, rice, homemade tortillas, roasted peppers and onions; Pork and potato stew with bread and salad; Leftovers; Roasted chicken with rice, stewed beans, and roasted zucchini; Chicken spaghetti with garlic bread and salad; Lemon chicken over rice; Leftovers.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

How have you survived a tight budget?

July Featured Recipes

As much as I love making my very own versions of things, thanks to the internet a lot of times there’s already a really incredible recipe out there for something I’m making. When this is the case, I like to collect all of these recipes here to share with you.

Because while there’s lots of incredible recipe’s on the internet, there’s probably 10 times more really terrible ones. So see my reviews here to take the guesswork out of cooking. No worrying if you’ll have to order pizza because the recipe turned out disgusting or had the wrong oven temperature written down.

Dinner Recipes

Best Clam Chowder at Reluctant Entertainer – I used whole milk instead of cream because I’m cheap and it was still delicious enough we made it three times in a row. Seriously.

Side-Dishes

Perfect Cornbread at House of Nash Eats

Paleo Coleslaw at My Natural Family – I added 1/2 cup shredded radishes.

Snacks

7 Homemade Popcorn Seasonings at Swanson Vitamins – I tried the

Beverages

Cucumber Lime Chia Fresca at Onion Rings and Things

Polar Bear (Creamy Vanilla Coke) at White on Rice Couple

Dessert

One-Bowl Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies at FiveHeartHome

(No-Bake) Berry Pretzel Dessert at Barefeet in the Kitchen – hint, there is a small amount of baking for the crust.

Winter Root Beef Stew (in the Crockpot)

If you’ve been reading for long you know I have a passion for teaching sustainability – be that on the farm or a city apartment, every system should be sustainable if not self sufficient.

I did not grow up with that lifestyle. I’ve had to learn the hard way, one lesson at a time. One of my more recent adventures has been learning to cook seasonally – and with local ingredients.

This is my new favorite winter recipe. You can even get locally brewed (or homemade) hard cider.

Shopping locally and in season is more work. So to make it easier on you I’ve got a good recipe for you in winter and it’s super easy to make. And if you want it in the summer? Well it makes a good freezer meal too!

Feeds 4- 6 people

You Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs. Beef roast, cubed
  • 4 medium yellow potatoes
  • 2 parsnips, chopped
  • 1 turnip, chopped
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can hard cider (I used Angry Orchard)
  • 4 – 6 cups beef broth (enough to cover)

Prepare

Put olive oil in the bottom of the crockpot. Then add garlic cloves and worcestershire. Place beef on top. Then add paprika, salt and pepper. Next the vegetables – potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery and onions.

Pour the cider in. Then add broth until all the vegetables are covered.

Cook

Cover the crockpot with lid. Set to cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. All the alcohol will have cooked out.

Serve

Serve hot, with crusty peasant bread and a leafy green salad for best deliciousness.

Freeze It

Put all ingredients except cider and broth in a 2 gallon freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to prepare, dump still frozen in crockpot, top with cider and broth and cook high 8- 10 hours. It will be slightly mushier.

Budget Version

Omit cider. Replace broth with water. Double onion, carrot and celery. Omit parsnips and turnip. Add 1/2 cup applesauce.

I hope you e joy this recipe. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Chicken Pot Pie

I had serious doubts about this recipe at first. I was just throwing things together, trying to come up with something edible and packed full of veggies. And while this definitely isn’t a traditional pot pie, trust me – you’ll never go back to Marie Calendars again.

Makes 6 servings; 1 13×9 casserole dish

You Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp + Bacon grease (or butter)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1.25 lbs chicken meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp + Poultry seasoning blend
  • Handful of celery leaves (or 2 ribs)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 3 cups  1/2 inch diced potatoes
  • 1 ear of corn kernels (or half a can)
  • 1 20oz can condensed cream of chicken
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 pie crust boxes (4 crusts)
  • Garlic salt

In a large pot melt 1 tbsp bacon grease over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic, stirring often, until translucent.

Add cubed chicken, poultry seasoning, celery innards, carrots and potatoes. Stir occassionally, until chicken is cooked all the way through.

Reduce to low heat. Add corn, cream of chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 400.

Grease 13×9 glass pan with bacon grease.

Use two crusts for the bottom – prick with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce oven to 350.

Pour filling over baked crust. Top with remaining two crusts. Poke with a fork.

Sprinkle garlic salt and poultry seasoning over crust. Cover with tinfoil.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove tinfoil. Bake 10-15 minutes until crust is golden.

Serve warm and enjoy 🙂