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?

Crockpot Deep-Dish Lasagna

Deep-Dish Lasagna in the CrockpotI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like pasta and cheese. This is one of my favorite recipes to satisfy said craving because it can feed me and my hubby for days. This recipe provides about 8 servings, 12 if you stretch it with salad and garlic bread.

I also really love this recipe because it takes 15 minutes of prep and it’s in my Crockpot cooking, and then it’s done in 4 hours. And in the summer this is a godsend because baking a lasagna would make my house downright sweltering. Like obscenely hot as in I can’t be inside until the sun goes down.

So if you need to feed a crowd, have a tiny kitchen, no access to an oven, don’t want to heat your house up to make comfort food, or otherwise just want easy delicious pasta and cheese this is the recipe for you!

Crockpot Deep-Dish Lasagna

This fills a 7.5qt Crockpot about 2 inches from the top. It feeds 8 people comfortably.

Thick & Chunky Marinara SauceYou Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan/Romano cheese blend
  • 16 ounces ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 1/2 batch thick and chunky marinara sauce
  • 12 lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese (~8 ounces)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley

Making the Delicious Food:

Grease your Crockpot with a light coating of olive oil or bacon grease.

In a small bowl combine egg, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, Parmesan/Romano and ricotta. Mix until fluffy and thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Cover the bottom with two cups of sauce. Top with 3 noodles, broken to fit. Then 1/3 the ricotta mixture spread across the top (it doesn’t need to be perfect the other toppings will squish it all together). Top with 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Repeat this layering of sauce, noodles, ricotta and mozzarella 3 times.

Now top with one last layer of sauce, noodles and only mozzarella for the top layer. Sprinkle with dried parsley so it looks pretty.

Cook on high 4 hours.

Serve warm with garlic bread and an Italian salad for maximum pleasure and budget.

Costs $10.40 – $1.30/serving OR $0.87/serving if stretched with salad and bread.

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.

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!

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?