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?

One Pot Smokey Sausage and Cheddar Pasta

One pot dishes are my favorite thing right now. I live in a budget-friendly apartment. I like it here. However my kitchen is very tiny. I have a 12 inch sink. A 10 inch toaster oven. 1 working range burner. Virtually no counter space. And the pies de la resistance? Only one outlet that can’t run two appliances at the same time without flipping a breaker.

So one-pot dinners have saved my life when it comes to feeding bigger groups of people healthy, home-cooked, budget friendly meals.

It helps that I like carbs. And cheese. Anything with white carbs and cheese is my friend. I would happily live off of baked ziti and take-out pizza for the rest of my life if I wasn’t afraid it would kill me.

So if you like carbs and cheese this is for you. With added delicious vegetables and the smokey flavour of kielbasa to make it healthy, filling and rich. The pasta will melt and the cheese will ooze and everyone will want more.

Enjoy.

Smokey Sausage and Cheddar Pasta

Comfortably feeds four very-hungry teenagers. Costs $1.77/serving if you get organic kielbasa. Which is like $8+ saved compared to eating out!

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp bacon grease (or olive oil)
  • 1 sweet onion, diced (~1 cup’s worth)
  • 3 vine-ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced or juliened
  • 4 four-inch kielbasa links, sliced (~12oz.)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 16oz. macaroni
  • 1/2 tsp salt (more if you use olive oil)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes

The Delicious Food

In a heavy-bottomed soup pan warm oil over medium high heat. Add onions, tomatoes, bell pepper and kielbasa. Saute until onions are fragrant and translucent. Toss garlic in and saute another minute, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add chicken broth, milk, pasta and salt. Bring to a low boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how al dente you like it..

Check pasta for desired consistency. If it’s good, stir in cheddar and pepper flakes.

Serve warm and enjoy.

Preserving Fresh Garlic

Fresh garlic

Note: This post was originally published, on the previous website, in 2013.

I recently found myself with a fairly large amount of fresh garlic and realized that it wouldn’t last long enough for me to use all of it. I quite often buy garlic, dried, from the grocery store but I’ve never dealt with fresh garlic. And let me tell you, the smell alone of fresh garlic is simply sublime. But the taste… ooh baby~

So I’ve got a whole bunch of delicious, local, organic garlic and I don’t want it to go bad. The logical solution? Preserve it. Dry it, in this case.

Here’s how you can dry your own fresh garlic (from your own garden or the farmers market) yourself. It’s ridiculously easy. See how short this post is?

  1. Take a bunch of fresh garlic.
  2. Tie it up and hang it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Pantries are great for this.
  3. Let the garlic bundle dry there for a couple weeks (elephant garlic needs four weeks or more).
  4. When it’s dry store it in a cool, dry place. I keep mine in a basket on the counter (away from the stove). It’ll keep like that for months. Don’t put it in sunlight unless you want it to sprout.
  5. If your garlic does end up sprouting, plant it!

I think this is one of my favorite parts of gardening: preserving the harvest. It reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun