Days of Plenty on a Minimum Food Budget

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I don't have to tell any of you now much the price of food has gone up.  What we spend at the grocers on a weekly basis (which doesn't factor in canned items and food/grains/staples bought in bulk) is up 20% over this time last year if we just grab what's easy.  So it's even more important that we all learn how to make do without a lot of prepackaged, pre-made items which are out of control expensive.  
Banana bread

This week's spending at the grocery  - $62 for the two of us.  We had meat and veggies and salads, no Raman or boxes of Kraft Dinner.   I do the bread baking on Saturday and make cookies or some other baked treat.  I make soup or stew on Sunday and chop and Tupperware extra veggies so there's little time to prepare them on a work night. Several meals are meat-free, with beans and grain for complete protein. Nothing is wasted, so there are always little bits of peppers or chilis or such in the freezer to add to soup and beans dishes as well as some bones with a little meat on them for soups. Any leftovers not immediately eaten are frozen for lunches the following week
We have brewed iced tea, not pop, and I'll make an "energy drink" out of a splash of fruit juice mixed with 2 Tablespoons of Braggs apple cider vinegar and lots of water and carried in a recycled glass beverage bottle.
Neither of us eat out for lunch, we have a water jug AND a thermos and do not buy expensive coffee drinks at work or on the way to or from. I'll make muffins to have as a mid-morning treat for coffee or tea. Plus - when a local Sears went south, we picked up a deep freezer for $100 for the basement.

So total food and treats if one is closely watching the budget and has essentials on hand in bulk already -  About $250 for the month for two adults for weekly grocery and another $80 a month on average for eating out and wild salmon which we can't get here (sorry, but even the "fresh" salmon in Chicago tastes like cat food to me after growing up eating only stuff caught that day).

We are blessed with a good education (not paid for by the taxpayer but ourselves) and have good jobs. But being raised by parents that understood a budget, mine growing up in the Great Depression, we are fine eating on a budget so that there is money available for unexpected expenses, giving to our church, and helping family members and charities, including sales of all of my books to animal rescue and a couple groups that help with support dogs for Veterans with disabilities. That's important to us.
Yes, we splurge on some Wild Caught Salmon from Alaskan Salmon Co, and some good Bacon, and we eat out about every 3 months, usually Chick Fil-a or Thai.  But we also know that if money was really tight we could eat VERY well, with adequate protein and minerals with a little planning and some time in the kitchen.  Even with these treats, an IPA for Partner on the weekends, and sometimes goodies from the Farmer's Market we average about $350 a month on food and beverages, that extra money going through the years to help my Dad or others in need.  I've stood in line at Walmart and watched someone with a cart full of prepared and prepackaged meals and junk food spend that in a week for a small family.

There have been years we've gone in with others for a 4-H cow, the cost per pound being really low.
Range "MackMuffin" with whole wheat sourdough bread rounds.

But it takes planning - don't wait until you lose your job before establishing a larder of bulk supplies. Do it when times are plentiful, and you'll have less to worry about later because it's vital that you have certain items stored up to make a super cheap meal plan work.  You will need to spend a month's worth of food budget minimum, laying in supplies if you want the absolute minimum cost on dried and bulk items, not something that's practical once the emergency strikes.

Bread - I make it from scratch, often using a sourdough starter made out of wild yeast in place of commercial yeast and a food processor, it takes minutes to prep, then just the rise and bake time for a couple of loaves and a batch of muffins or rolls. An hour of prep, time to rise, and a couple of hours to bake up everything, and I've got bread products for the week for a couple of bucks.
Wild yeast sourdough starter

Shopping - I used to hit 3 stores if it saved me 3 or 4 bucks, but with gas about $5 a gallon here, I just watch for specials and hit the grocer that has the best deals.  I regularly check ads to see what's on sale and where and I'm not afraid to clip a coupon. Make sure you look at your receipt - I've been charged other than the sale price at a couple of the big chain grocers.  I make a list.  If I see something super cheap not on the list, I will pick it up to add to the larder. I will NOT buy something just because "it looks good!" if it's not on the list.

Bartering:  Yes, it still goes on.  We have a heavily forested property (large Spruce) so there isn't enough light for a big garden.  So I trade homemade bread/rolls with one neighbor for fresh veggies and with another neighbor for fresh eggs (they have chickens).  I also got about 100 pounds of grain/sugar/flour vacuum stored in exchange for some flight instruction a few years ago.  Don't discount this concept as old as time.

On hand:
Home-canned: salsas, applesauce (I've traded bread/cookies for a bushel of apples each Fall with a non-baking colleague who has a bunch of trees), veggies, barbecue sauce, stock for soup.
frozen soup bones from previous roasts
sourdough starter
powdered milk (both cow and goat) for cereal and baking, vegetable oil, peanut butter, pasta
vinegar and spices in bulk
rice and dried beans - in bulk
flour and sugar - in bulk
water - we take refillable thermoses to work, the tap water here tastes good and frankly, half of the bottled water is from a tap in some other city plus we keep a minimum of  3 months of bleach-treated water, per person (including the dog) with prepping supplies.
4-H cow burgers with homemade "buncuit" a cross between a big biscuit and a bun

Daily Goal  - 3 servings of protein
5 servings of fruits and veggies
A treat (usually a cookie, sometimes a piece of pie when fruit is plentiful and cheap)
3 servings of whole grain carbs (my husband may eat more, the bread is super cheap to make)
2 servings dairy (for my husband - cow dairy makes my eczema go nuts so I do goat  milk and we have salmon once a week from Alaska, probably the most expensive item in our budget. for extra calcium)

Cost in one week by hitting sales and using coupons or buy one/get one.

Use of the bulk items for the week (spices, flour, bones, powdered milk, dried beans, oil, vinegar) $5.00
coffee or tea for the week (made at home and carried to work)  $1
Canned veggies/salsas/sauces $0  Homegrown and canned
Oatmeal (clearance sale) $1
One small package chicken thighs (sale)   $3
package of boneless breasts (for sandwiches)  (free - this was a buy one get one from the previous week)
1 pound ground turkey (actually $1 less than beef on sale, but if really watching pennies I replace the ground meat with lentils in pasta dishes) $4.
Ham Shank .99
1/2 pound cheese for sandwiches (sale) $1.99
Lentil bolognese

Romaine  - 1 head  - $3
Fresh squash  - $2
2 Cucumbers (great with rice vinegar and a dash of honey as a salad)  $1.50
Bell Pepper and 2 onions $3
2 bags of apples (Aldi)  $5
Veggies: a number of cans purchased on  scratch and dent clearance  $3 total
Carrots:  2 bags on sale for $1.50
Frozen Broccoli 1/3 of ginormous bag I got for $8 - $2.50
4 pounds oranges (sale)  $6
eggs - free - bartered 
bananas  .50 cents for a bunch on sale
1/2 pound cheese for sandwiches $1.99
Tibetan curried lentils

Potatoes 8 pound bag on sale 2.99 
Canned mushrooms (sale) .99
Big tub of plain yogurt) $5
Bag of frozen dried berries (for oatmeal and/or muffins)  $4
Butter (free with $25 grocery purchase)
Italian pizzella cookies (clearance)  $1.99
Ham and Bean soup

Even better,  there will be some soup and leftovers to be frozen for a lunch the next week
Any leftover cheese  or chicken will be mixed with leftover pasta for a casserole or stuffed baked potatoes the following week.

Menu for the week:
Breakfast - work day oatmeal (with some powdered milk and cinnamon mixed in)  and tea or coffee or egg with toast or a homemade muffin
sourdough raspberry muffin

weekend - hash-browns with any leftover onions and scrambled eggs or omelette  or  paneakes/waffles/french toast with leftover bread.

Lunch ideas - Peanut butter or chicken sandwich (sliced or chicken salad with veggie or fruit bits left from the previous weekend) with Swiss and homemade mayo and an apple
Homemade baked potato chips (400 F. oven, lightly coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with non stick spray.  Slice potatoes super thin with food processor and place 1/4 inch apart on sheet.  Season and bake, rotating halfway trough until golden brown - about 30 minutes)
extra fruit or leftover almonds from another week for an afternoon snack
homemade peanut butter or oatmeal cookie

baked potato with a bit of salsa and greek yogurt with some carrots, applesauce for dessert

leftover soup or casserole from the freezer with a slice of bread and a small apple
canned fruit or applesauce as a snack
Lebanese herbed rice - with homegrown herbs and bulk cow, less than $1 a serving

Dinners ideas:

(1) Split Pea Soup (from Scratch) with potatoes and onions (beef bone to add seasoning)
Cornbread from scratch

(2) Meat Sauce and Pasta (made from scratch sauce from previous week, adding peppers and ground meat or lentils).
Canned corn
Garlic toast (homemade bread, a little oil and garlic powder toasted in a pan)
Lasagna bread

(3) Baked potatoes stuffed with meat sauce with a sprinkle of cheese or lasagne bread (meat sauce with leftover cheeses on bread getting old)
canned carrots
Fresh sauteed squash

(4) Homemade lentil soup (beef bone and spices for seasoning)
leftover cornbread
carrot sticks

(5) Chicken with  homemade canned barbecue sauce
Steamed rice
Canned corn
Remainder of fresh green beans

(6)   Pizza Night - deep dish this time, homemade. topped with  homemade Canadian bacon (much cheaper than the store-bought), leftover veggies bits  and cheese
Romaine salad with cucumber and homemade vinaigrette.  Croutons made out of older bread.

(7) White beans with ham shank and spices
Garlic toast made with homemade bread, sprinkled with a little cheese
Carrots or canned veggies of choice.
Cookies for dessert and some sweet tea sitting out on the front porch

So whether you are budgeting or just learning to be more prepared, start getting creative in the kitchen and with your meal prep and prepping.  It might save you more than a little money some day.


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