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?

$75 Meal Plan #5 – Sugar Free Edition

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. I’m currently breastfeeding so I eat twice as much as I previously did.

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, the occasional newspaper and coupons.com. When I get the mood I also use Ibotta, Grocery 51 and MobiSave. But these aren’t included in my grocery budget; they pay for date night.

THIS WEEK WE BOUGHT:

 Bananas, eggs, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, 1 romaine head, milk, sugar free salad dressing, 3lbs. apples, honey, angel hair pasta, 8oz salad shrimp, 1 cabbage head, red onion, celery, 2 lbs. Bag of carrots, 1 corned beef roast, 8oz. saltwater salmon, asparagus, cilantro, 2 tomatoes.

BREAKFAST OPTIONS:

Fruit

Oatmeal with honey

Banana Peanut Butter Smoothies

Scrambled eggs and hashbrowns

Baked sweet potato

LUNCH OPTIONS:

Burritos

Tuna salad

Leftovers

SNACK OPTIONS:

Popcorn

Fresh fruit

Vegetables

Boiled eggs

Pickles

Tea

Coffee

DINNER MENU:

Thursday  – creamy garlic chicken with rice.

Friday – shrimp pasta.

Saturday – chicken stir fry.

Sunday – corned beef with cabbage and potatoes.

Monday – southwest chicken salad.

Tuesday – grilled salmon with asparagus and quinoa.

Wednesday – corned beef hash (using leftover corned beef).

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.

  • Crockpot beans
  • Boiled eggs
  • Baked sweet potatoes
  • Chopped cabbage in thin slices.
  • Shredded 2 carrots; roughly chopped 1; sliced 4 into sticks.
  • Diced small red onion.
  • Diced 5 sweet onions.
  • Quartered 1 yellow onion.
  • Cubed 2 lbs. Chicken breasts
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Celery sticks
  • Minced cilantro
  • Diced tomato

THIS WEEK’S TOTAL SPENT: 

How do you spend your grocery budget?

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 🙂

The Pre-Baby Dinner Stock Up Event

Taco mix, Frito casserole mix and onions for Swedish meatballs.

Taco mix, Frito casserole mix and onions for Swedish meatballs.

As we prepare to have our baby (He’s due in just 5 days!!) I realized that to save my housemates from shouldering all the cooking, to protect our health and wallets from the late night taco bell runs, and to satisfy my insane nesting urges it was time to do my first major freezer meal prep session. I’ve done it here and there before but this is my first time doing 6 week’s worth of dinners at once. If you are responsible for cooking every night I recommend doubling up on several of these recipes/plans. All recipes and meal plans here are for feeding a family of 6 twice a week, which works out to 12 servings a week plus some leftovers. Yum leftovers…

I’ll be going shopping later this week to finalize everything we need for Christmas and for the newborn to be, Mr. Sora Papineau. I’ll update this post with my actual costs and shopping and such when I do that, as well as what I did to save even more money. Ideally everything would be organic, local and homemade from scratch but realistically as two full time, working students preparing to have a baby on an extremely limited budget- we compromised on the things where the savings were minute. Frozen lasagna is my perfect example – It costs me just a tiny bit more to buy it ready made than to make it and it saves me a crap ton of time to just buy it. Yes we could eat something cheaper – but we love lasagna and enjoying your food is something that’s important to us. Plus it will help us keep our sanity with the new baby.

Anyways, here’s the plan for dinners. Next week, after shopping, I’ll post the entire month’s meal plan, budget, and how shopping went. Because we live with another family we don’t have the space to stock up for the entire month. But planning ahead and creating a very specific, easy to follow list means I can send someone else to the store part way through the month without risking blowing the budget or starving to death.

Freezer Meal Prep: Dinner

Store-bought items in the Freezer:

  • Pot pies x2 meals ($
  • Frozen lasagna x2
  • Frozen broccoli x2
  • Shredded cheddar (8oz) x3
  • Sliced provolone (8oz)
  • Sliced Swiss cheese (8oz)
  • Tortillas x24
  • Sliced olives
  • Frozen green beans
Philly Cheese Steak Freezer Meal

Philly Cheese Steak Freezer Meal

Home-Prepped Items:

BBQ Chicken Ingredients

BBQ Chicken Ingredients

Pantry Items to Accompany the Plan:

  • Cornbread mix x2
  • Egg noodles
  • Frito’s
  • Hoagie rolls (8 pack)
  • Red potatoes (2.5 lbs)
  • Hamburger buns (8 pack)

In Summary:

This plan provides for 12 meals for my family of 6 (not including baby-to-be), which since my husband and I only cook 2 nights a week, is actually over an entire month of dinners for us. All of these are foods I can easily cook, I can easily instruct the husband on (he’s a great cook he just likes clear instructions) or we can easily do together.

Cranberry-Orange Chicken Freezer Meal

Cranberry-Orange Chicken Freezer Meal

Here’s what the month will look like…

Week 1 – Chicken chili with cornbread; chicken burritos with cheddar cheese.

Week 2 – Frozen lasagna with broccoli; BBQ chicken sandwiches with provolone.

Week 3 – Cranberry-orange chicken with green beans and red potatoes; beef pot pies.

Week 4 – Frozen lasagna with broccoli; crock pot tacos with olives and cheddar cheese.

Week 5 – Swedish meatballs over egg noodles; Frito casserole.

Week 6 – Philly cheese steak hoagies with Swiss cheese; chicken pot pies.

The Shopping

I had very few ingredients in my pantry already for this, but there were a few like basic seasonings, olive oil, salt, pepper, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. I spent $62.13 at the grocery store on items for these 12 meals. I got $7.50 in cashback from iBotta to be cashed out later this month, saved $3 with coupons from the paper, and saved $4.35 with WIC. Before these savings the grand total was $76.98.

That means, after savings, I spent $5.18 per meal and $0.87 per serving. That’s amazing!!