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?

Thick and Chunky Marinara for the Freezer

Thick & Chunky Marinara SauceOne of my favorite things to prep on Saturday’s is a marinara sauce. We eat a lot of pasta here and this saves me a ton of time and dishes for busy weeknights. It takes up very little room in the freezer, since it’s not a complete meal. And I have the comfort of knowing I’m providing nutritious, home-cooked, healthy food for my family.

This sauce is primarily used for spaghetti marinara and lasagna. However it makes a good chili-mac, zucchini Parmesan, eggplant Parmesan and most everything else you might serve with a beef and tomato sauce.

Thick and Chunky Marinara

This makes about 20 cups of sauce, ~5 quarts.

You will need:

  • 2 gallon-sized freezer Ziploc bags or 5 quart sized mason jars.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 lbs. mild Italian sausage (I like the New Yorker’s brand)
  • 3 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cans diced tomatoes
  • 30 ounces tomato sauce
  • pinch of sugar

Making the Delicious Food:

In a heavy-bottomed, large saucepan heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion, ground beef, Italian sausage, Italian seasoning blend, crushed red pepper flakes, pepper and salt. Saute until onions are translucent and meat is thoroughly browned.

Toss in the garlic and saute until fragrant.

Reduce heat to medium. Add diced tomatoes and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Now add tomato sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours, depending on how much time you have and how rich you like your sauce.

Once sauce is done remove from heat and allow to cool. Portion between containers and freeze.

This recipe costs: $10.05. That’s $0.50/serving!

$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?

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!

$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?

$50 Meal Plan: Week One

This week we’re eating…

Dinner:
Monday – Chicken-pesto pasta.
Tuesday – Oven roasted chicken with stuffing and peas.
Wednesday – Baked sausage dogs with sauerkraut and baked asparagus.
Thursday – Dairy-free bacon and onion fritatta (easier/quicker than a quiche).
Friday – Grilled ham sandwiches on rye with caramelized onions and baked carrot fries (mine will be dairy-free).
Saturday – Zupa Toscana soup (just like olive gardens; so freaking amazing).

Lunch: Burritos, ham sandwiches, and baked potatoes. Yum.

Breakfast: Muffins and apples; yogurt and bananas; cereal.

Snacks: Crackers, peaches, bananas, mandarin oranges, carrots, cucumber slices, pickles, yogurt and granola, juice, coffee and tea.

I bought over two week’s worth of groceries this time at an awesome new discount store I hadn’t been to and over-shopped a little. I spent ~$109 (without any coupons!).

Items Purchased: Tortillas (40 ct.), 3 boxes of crackers, 1 whole chicken, red wine vinegar, 2 lbs. Of butter, garlic salt, dairy-free chocolate muffins, cranberry juice, apple juice, granola bars (48 ct), olive oil, spam, 3 jars of peaches, 3 lbs. Of organic yams, dairy-free non-hydrogenated butter spread, 2 lbs of bratwurst, 1 lbs. Of sliced ham, 2 boxes of organic pasta, 1 32 oz jar of mini pickles, sauerkraut in a jar, hot dog buns, 3 lbs. Of mini avocados, 1 lbs. Of baby spinach, 1 lbs. Of chopped kale, 1 lbs. Raw sunflower seeds, half gallon cashew milk, 1 lbs. Of Italian sausage, 2 lbs. Smoked sausages, almond yogurt (dairy free), 2 dairy-free almond coffee creamers, 1 cucumber, 1 bundle of asparagus, 1 lbs. Brown rice, 1 bottle watermelon juice, 3 lbs. Mandarin oranges, 3 lbs. Bananas, 4 lbs. Unbleached cane sugar, 5 lbs. Carrots.

Meal Prep

I ventured way out of my comfort zone with meal prep this week. But I’m really enjoying what I did.

I have 6 days of breakfast – 6 dairy-free chocolate muffins and 6 baggies of apple slices.

6 days of lunch – 4 sweet potato chipotle burritos (vegan), 1 sweet potato bowl with asparagus, and I’ve got a random ham sandwich – because meal prep doesn’t have to be perfect 🙂

On that ham sandwich is homemade sprouted lentils! These were so exciting. A little more time consuming, because I had to rinse them every day (and actually remember they existed) but they were so worth it. Sprouted lentils are like a nutritional bomb, and it cost me $0.15 to make 2 cups worth (about $3 at the grocery store).

Joseph doesn’t work this week so he gets to eat leftovers and ramen (his own choice, mind you).

I would have packed more except I had to throw out most of my Tupperware. So I’ve got like 2 jars and a bento box to my name right now. I bought some jarred peaches though so my jar collection will swing back up quite nicely here shortly.

On a side note, I’m proud to announce I’ve started transitioning to dairy-free. My husband, Joseph, will still have milk with his cereal. But everything else is leaving, unfortunately even the butter for now. I’m hoping to bring it back but I’m slowly eliminating things as I figure out all of my food allergies.

I have really severe eczema and so to isolate the causes of these rashes every two week’s I’m eliminating one potential irritant. I’ve eliminated soda already – which I must say I feel wonderful now and my skin improved within 3 DAYS. But I still have a full rash on my face. Dairy is going to take me at least two week’s before it’s even out of my house, because I refuse to throw food away and I can’t afford to give it away. So next up in May I will be removing soy products (which includes vegetable oil).

I’m also trying to get pregnant so any potential environmental dangers are slowly being removed. As I do my research and eliminate things I’ll post about this as well.

Oh, it’s going to be an adventure.

How are you making your meals healthier?