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?

Top 20 Dairy Free Recipes

Disclaimer: All off-site recipes linked to may not be mine, but I have personally tested and enjoyed the recipes myself. Some my husband even likes. 
After a month of “maternity leave” from the website, I’m back and with all sorts of new content for you guys. Keep an eye out for baby DIY projects, more freezer meals and breastfeeding-friendly recipes.
Speaking of breastfeeding recipes – we discovered in the first two weeks that my little Pudge is highly allergic to dairy. So I have had to remove dairy from my diet for the foreseeable future so that I can continue to provide him with the best nutrition.
And while I have a history of this lifestyle – I was actually vegan for four years – the transition to just dairy free is extremely easy. You probably already eat quite a few foods that meet the requirement and others that can be converted with little to no effort.
For a little inspiration and community support to all ya’ll lacto-avoiders out there, here’s my top 20 favorite dairy free recipes.

Dinner Recipes

Lunch Recipes

Breakfast Recipes

Dessert and Snack Recipes

What are your favorite dairy free recipes? Comment below!

Vegan Spiced Strawberry Oatmeal

I’m a huge morning person if you haven’t noticed yet. Which for me includes eating a gigantic, filling breakfast. As a result of my budget, oatmeal has become my crutch. Not only is it healthy, convenient, easy and packed with protein (11 grams in each cup) – but it’s also sweet, luxurious and pretty! Everyone else thinks oatmeal is pretty, too, right?

I discovered this particularly awesome combination while scrounging for food in our under-stocked pantry. It’s crazy how much I procrastinate shopping when I work at the grocery store! Anyways, I was impressed enough to share this with you all. This recipe provides two servings of about 1 1/2 cups very thick cooked oatmeal. I could eat the whole batch to be honest ._.

But for normal people – it will feed two hugry adults.

Ingredients

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup water

1 cup rice/almond milk (or more if you like thin oatmeal)

1 pinch of salt

2-4 tbsp pumpkin pie spice (to taste)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tbsp honey

2 cups chopped fresh or frozen strawberries (the riper the better; feel free to experiment with other berries)

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

The Oatmeal

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, except rolled oats. Cook until boiling, stirring occasionally.

When water is at a rolling boil add oats. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and serve warm for best taste.

 

As I always say in my recipes, I encourage you to play around with the spices and maybe try some cool toppings. Whipped cashew cream would be phenomenal on this. So would an extra kick of grated fresh ginger with sliced almonds. Ooh. Or walnuts!

Experiment on!

The Ideal Morning + Tropical Chia Breakfast “Pudding”

You know those super organized people who pack their lunch, prepare breakfast and clean the house before bed so that the morning goes as smoothly as possible? I deeply desire to be one of those people.

Unfortunately I’m a morning person – which means when bedtime is coming up I’m already exhausted.

I am a firm believer in the power of starting your day off right. But you gotta work with what you got. And I would much rather wake up at 5am and cook breakfast than stay up until 11pm prepping it. I know – I’m weird.

On a few rare occasions, especially as I’ve fallen more and more in love with meal prep and freezer meals (zero waste as often as possible), I manage to get breakfast ready ahead of time. Sometimes.

This cool recipe you can make 24 hours ahead of time (I haven’t waited longer than that, let me know if you can resist the deliciousness that long). Or the night before. But it needs to refrigerate for at least four hours so please plan ahead appropriately.

This also makes for a good “dessert”. But come on – you’re supposed to eat dessert for breakfast anyways, right?

 

Ingredients

1 cup coconut milk

1/4 cup chia seeds

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp melted coconut oil

Chopped mango, kiwi, pineapple and sliced almonds for topping. Flaked coconut would be good too. Mix and match as you please.

 

The Pudding

Mix all ingredients, including your toppings, in a jar.

Let sit un-refrigerated for about an hour.

Shake it really good than refrigerate for 4+ hours.

When ready to eat just shake it and dig in.

 

See, wasn’t that easy?

Chia pudding is a total cheater breakfast. 🙂

$50 Meal Plan #2

*UPDATE: This was originally posted in January on the old blog*

A meal plan, if it’s going to work, isn’t broken down into weekly measured portions and their associated costs. It’s a mix of this week’s purchases, what’s in your pantry, gifts and ground-scores.

So, following this format, I’m pitching in my budget. I spend $50-$75 a week on me and my husband (plus the weekly family dinner of 6 people, my younger siblings’ weekly visit, and all of the friends that come and devour my muffins. Every. Freaking. Day.)

But we have no other sources of food beyond our budget. No garden, herbs in the window sill – nothing. I use coupons sparingly – the store ad for wherever I’m shopping and coupons.com. Nothing complex. About 10 minutes a week and I save about $5 each shopping trip.

This hasn’t been the healthiest week for us. I’ve been working late nights so when I come home dinner is the last thing I want to do, and I can’t prep it in the morning because I’m doing homework in the mornings.

 

This week we bought:

Boneless skinless chicken breast (4 lbs.), ground turkey (2lbs.), mushroom-chicken sausage (1lbs.), beef ramen, coffee creamer, kale, lettuce, green onions, asparagus, bananas, 3lbs. bag of onions, yogurt, 2 boxes of cereal, and 1 jar of pasta sauce.

Meal-share Benefits with Family: 1 whole turkey and 3 goose eggs. My husband’s boss cleaned out his freezer.

From the Garden (and some Foraging): Morel mushrooms(!!) and dandelion greens from our yard (because I know they weren’t sprayed).

 

Breakfast Options:

Yogurt and granola

Frogs in a Hole

Oatmeal

 

Lunch Options:

Vegan Chili Verde

Cornbread

Turkey wraps

Sausage pasta with spinach (sausage+pasta+spinach+milk)

Leftovers

 

Snack Options:

Crackers

Granola bars

Fresh fruit

Crunchy roasted chickpeas

Quesadillas

Green salad

Pickled eggs (just throw boiled eggs in an empty pickle jar with leftover juice. One batch per pickle jar – refrigerate please)

French bread (homemade) and butter

Peanut butter edible cookie dough

Tea

Hot Cocoa

 

Dinner Menu:

Thursday  – Chicken curry with brown rice

Friday – Enchiladas

Saturday – Turkey and kale soup

Sunday – Ground beef ramen (ground beef+ramen+green onions) and salad

Monday – Turkey gravy over potatoes

Tuesday – Steak, garlic creamed pasta and asparagus

Wednesday – Turkey meatballs with marinara and fresh bread

 

Meal Prepping I did this week:

These foods were prepared over the course of the weekend. Some was stashed away for later and some was consumed this week.

  • 3 loaves of french bread
  • Turkey meatballs
  • 2 cups brown rice

This week’s total spent: $46.00 

 

How do you spend your grocery budget?

Meal Prep: Breakfast Jars 2 Ways

Not everyone has the time for a serious meal prep session. A great alternative I’ve found is when I make the time to cook a real breakfast I just make doubles – I set the uneaten portion aside for tomorrow or later in the week. Some things, like pancakes, can be frozen. If you don’t mind eating the same thing a lot you could make a whole week of breakfasts with just one morning and one recipe.

Below are two of my favorite breakfast prep recipes, husband approved!

Peaches and cream oatmeal

Makes 4 jars:

1 29oz can peaches (I used canned in syrup; if you don’t you might need to add more sweetener) – save the juices

2 cups of heavy cream or cashew milk/coconut cream

2 cups of rolled oats

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tsp ginger (ground)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup honey or 1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp butter or coconut oil

Preparation:

You’ll notice there’s a lot of choices on the ingredients. You can make these clean and vegan or cheap and wholesome. Or just make use of what you have on hand. I like to keep my food flexible because my cupboards never quite look the same.

In a saucepan bring milk and a pinch of salt to a quick boil. Toss in oats immediately and remove from heat.

In a small saucepan pour whole can of peaches, juices and all, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and butter. Cook on medium high until it starts to form a sweet, thick syrup. Taste – it should be a little bit too sweet and strong. Remove from heat. Stir in cooked oats and vanilla extract.

Eat and Store:

Separate into four jars while still hot. Refrigerate immediately until ready to eat – or eat it hot.

 

Blueberry Banana Parfaits

Makes 4:

24oz blueberry greek yogurt

1 cup cranberry-almond granola (or your favorite)

1 cup blueberries, fresh

2 bananas, cut into cubes

Preparation:

Layer ingredients equally among 4 jars. I suggest starting with a granola layer but that’s just because I like my granola soft.

If you want your granola crunchy, layer the yogurt on the bottom, the banana chunks, the blueberries, then the granola.

Eat and Store:

Refrigerate until ready to eat.

For a lower calorie/carbohydrate version:

To save on calories, use plain yogurt and replace the granola with a muesli blend.

I hope you enjoy these recipes. What’s your favorite breakfast on the go?

Roasted Maple Pecan Granola

maple pecan granolaNote: This was originally posted in 2013 on the first website. This is still one of my favorite recipes, and yes, it was my first recipe ever published. That was the good old days when I was still learning how to cook – I couldn’t even make an omelet!

Hi, guys. Yesterday was awesome, in a crazy sort of way. This week I’ve made chicken noodle soup completely from scratch, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Last night I turned out two different batches of granola, and some lovely yogurt.

I’ve got a treat for you today: my very first recipe (that I’ve shared with the public)! It’s based off of Alana‘s book The Homemade Pantry, but I’ve changed it around a bit. I highly recommend the book. It’s awesome.

This is a very sweet granola. If you want a little less sugar, just add about 1/2 cup less syrup. If you only have one rimmed baking sheet, halve this recipe and you’ll be fine. Also, given the amount of time this takes, I suggest making it in the morning, or leaving it to cool in the oven overnight.

Now for the granola…

You will need:

  • 10 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 rounded tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (or more maple syrup)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff is best)

Prepwork:

Preheat oven to 250 F. Put oven racks in top 2/3 of oven. Chop nuts.  

Mix:

Combine the oats, pecans, salt and cinnamon in a really big bowl. Mix thoroughly. In a separate, 4-cup bowl whisk together oil, syrup and vanilla extract until uniform. Pour syrup mixture into the oats mixture, and stir until everything’s coated. Don’t leave any dry or wet pockets.  

Bake:

Line two (or one, if you’re doing half a batch) 18 x 13″ rimmed baking sheets with wax or parchment paper. Spread the granola evenly on the pans. Put the pans in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Take pans out, shuffle/stir granola, turn pan, and put back in oven for another 30 minutes. Take out the granola again, stir it, and put it back in the oven, but turn the oven off. Let granola cool for at least 6 hours or overnight in your oven (but leave the oven off).

Enjoy:

After your granola is done cooling, package some up and share it with your neighbors. Put the rest in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. Raisins or chocolate chips can be added, if you like. Have it in your yogurt, or with milk. This makes a great breakfast cereal. 

What was your first original recipe?