Shoestring Meals - Why Is Healthier Food, Also More Expensive Food?

12-19-2009, 03:48 AM
Alright, 3fc. This may sound like an excuse to eat non-healthy foods, but I am at a complete loss here.

I am considered low-income. I receive foodstamps. (if you don't know what those are, basically I get a card from the government with a set amount of money on it that I can only spend on food)

I spent almost all of my foodstamps on health foods for groceries. It is now the 19th, and I don't get foodstamps refilled until the 7th. I have barely anything in my house to eat. As a matter of fact, even after I went grocery shopping I had barely anything!

Part of the reason "poor" people are so obese/overweight, is because we can't afford to be healthy!

Someone here has to have been in my position, right? You must know what I can do? The only solution I have come up with is to buy what I can afford (to keep my house stocked with food), and just eat much less of it, and exercise more. (not going dangerously below my calorie intake level, mind you)


12-19-2009, 05:56 AM
so, I don't receive food stamps, but I got myself into a pretty bad financial situation a few years ago, plus my husband paying a huge chunk of money for child support (which, I totally agree with, don't get me wrong!!), we have very little money to spend on groceries.

we buy a lot of things in bulk or on sale like pasta, rice, couscous or a couple pounds of chicken breasts at a time to be frozen or fish (a kilo of salmon or tilapia is way cheaper than just buying a few fillets) or a huge lot of eggs. Some veggies and fruits that are more expensive than when in season we buy frozen. The things we only buy fresh are veggies and fruits when necessary and we change what we need based on season.

I have no idea how much you receive or what you buy as "healthy" foods. Pre-prepared and packaged is always going to cost more so we prepare almost everything ourselves. You are right with smaller portions and more exercise but obviously you want to get your fruits and veggies in too.

Do you cook? Making soups yourself and freezing portions for when you want them are much cheaper and healthier than pre-made soups (assuming you don't dump as much sodium in or use preservatives), finding ways to use up leftovers (I use leftover pasta in salads with tuna or eggs or even cottage cheese) means you can make things in bulk and then have them on hand to make lunches or even dinners. Making your own pasta sauce is easy and can also be done in bulk (and tinned tomatoes are more than perfect to use and can be cheaper than buying fresh). That way you could take a Sunday for example and then just cook and pre-make and portion things out for when you need them during the week.

Like I said, I don't know what your amount is, but we really also have limited funds for food. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and wish I could have a treat or something extra, but honestly? Living this way has also helped me to lose the weight this time around. There have been no take-outs or calls for pizza - making my own chinese is healthier and I just whipped up some pizza bread the other day that was diet and wallet friendly.

I hope you find a solution or that I could help you just a little bit :)

12-19-2009, 07:04 AM
We're OK now but there have been some times in my life ... And old habits die hard!

Yesterday we were in WalMart and little hams were $5 each. I bought 3 and put them in the freezer. I'll slice them later and take then with my salad in my lunch.

Actually, I'm going to back waaay up here and ask for a few more personal details. Are you buying groceries for just you or are you feeding a family? Do you have a freezer? Crockpot?

Of course you can just eat smaller portions of whatever you have! That's the beauty of calorie counting, WW points or just plain old fashioned portion control.

While a lot of us assume that whole, organic and fresh are important, you may just have to do the best you can. A lot of us do. There are perfectly good green beans out there that aren't Weight Watchers brand or Milly Slimly's organic specialty ;) Pork tenderloin isn't near as expensive as I had assumed.

You also have a few weeks to plan and scheme. Read lots. Ask questions (like this one :)) Wander through stores where you might not normally buy food. I've found perfectly good tuna in the weirdest places. Do you get sales flyers?

Hang in there. You'll get some good advice here.

12-19-2009, 07:14 AM
I've had to figure out how to buy better foods while on a budget, a tight budget.

I make a menu every week out of the sale ads.

I buy fruit once a week, whatever is on sale. (this way it doesn't go bad).

FROZEN VEGGIES! I buy a lot of frozen veggies, when it is on sale I buy it.

Hmmm, I will think more about it.

12-19-2009, 07:42 AM
You may simply be buying more food, and more protein foods.

When figuring out how much you spend, be sure to consider how much you spent each week on fast foods at McDs, BK, Taco B, Pizza Whatever...

Also, a box of Mac & Cheese is always going to be cheaper than chicken breasts. They are just different foods.

Canned tuna (water packed) is a fairly inexpensive protein source if you shop for buys. Eggs are good also--you can usually get a dozen eggs for under $4, even if you shop free-range.

As the other posters have said, buy in bulk and with foods like meats, freeze what you won't use immediately.

It will take some time and planning on your part, but you can do it. And you will be eating better. It's not uncommon for obese people to be undernourished at the same time.

Good luck!


12-19-2009, 07:49 AM
I get around the high cost of produce by buying frozen, when I'm making the stuff where texture in the final dish doesn't matter. I make a lot of soup and veggie curries, and honestly, with much of that stuff, you want the veg to be pretty soft. It also almost begs to be cooked in bulk and frozen for later meals. I also have the advantage of having the time to cook just about everything from scratch, so I'm not spending money on packaged food. Again, not pushing the vegetarian thing, because that's just me, but replacing some of the animal protein in your diet with pulses and beans can really knock some money off your grocery bills, and those things can stretch smaller amounts of meat, while adding fibre and plenty of protein to your meal. (I'm thinking chili, as an example. Load it with beans and frozen veggies, and a fairly small amount of meat, and you've got a lot of food for a fairly reasonable price.)

12-19-2009, 09:30 AM
I'm with the previous poster. We spend $50 on groceries every week. No chips, no soda, no processed foods. Everything is green or a fruit or ... tofu. ;) I am not employed, so we're living on one income. Every Saturday, we go to the walmart supercenter and Costco. We get great deals on fruits at costco and we're both major fruit eaters. The Costco membership pays for itself in a year, but it's not absolutely required to save money. At Walmart, we get bell peppers, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes (in season), baby carrots, plain NF yogurt, part-skim mozzarella cheese (some weeks), 1 doz eggs, 1/2 gal skim milk, bananas and maybe a pomegranate or two. We also get our frozen veggies here as well. Granted, different parts of the US have different price ranges for the same foods. I would put most of your grocery bill into frozen foods. You can buy in bulk (saving some money).

Another way to decrease spending is to cook your own food. I cook for my hubby and myself and I have made a wide variety of dishes so we have at least 4-5 dishes throughout the week. That's about a new dish everyday, which means we don't get bored easily. We eat out once a week because I want a break and so does hubby.

Everyone's budget is different. You might end up combining some of the ideas mentioned here to make your own plan. It is a process of trial and error. I used to buy veggies neither my hubby or I liked and it would end up going to waste. So now, I really think about what I'm going to make during the week before I buy. Basically, I have a weekly plan for food.

Good luck - it is frustrating but you do get the hang of it eventually.


12-19-2009, 09:40 AM
I try to eat fairly cheaply and I've read some basic ideas of those who do live very cheaply. Some of the things they cite eating are oatmeal, rice (and other grains) and beans/legumes. I tend to eat a lot of those things naturally because of my chosen diet. I also bought a book called "More with less" and someone here recommended it. You might want to see if your library happens to have it. It talks a lot about how to eat fairly healthy but doing it cheaply.

I know other people here have mentioned hillbilly housewife

and I've mentioned before my favorite blog of a woman who feeds her family (her and her two sons) on $3.33/day. She doesn't always include recipes but it is good to see what type of stuff she is eating:

12-19-2009, 09:43 AM
I totally feel for you. Overall, healthy food IS expensive, and food in low income neighborhoods is usually een MORE expensive. I'm starting out in my career and in a kinda expensive area, so I've gotten really cheap with food.
It becomes like a hunt! I used to shop at an Aldi when I lived near one. Maybe you hae a discount store like that in your area.

Another poster mentioned looking at the adds. Be flexible with what you eat. I base my meals for the week on what's on sale. I eat a lot more beans and less animal protein. I also cook meals that can stretch the meat a lot farther. Like right now I stirfry chicken with frozen broccoli (because the stirfry mix is like 3x more expensive!). And you have to cook from scratch a lot more. It's just a lot cheaper. Casseroles and soup are great too, because you can get away with throwing in whatever you have.

I like this site, because she gives prices AND calories:

We don't know how many people you're feeding or dietary restrictions or how much your budget is or even what you like to eat but we definitely have ideas if you're looking for some. Feel free to message me! :hug:

12-19-2009, 10:00 AM
Lot of useful tips here.

To answer to original question, I think healthier food is more expensive because of the natural producing processes involved. (Such as using organic fertilizer etc)

Try buying in bulk when you can. Also cut down on unnecessary snacks and drinks.

12-19-2009, 10:19 AM
I (respectfully) disagree. I think it's more of a social issue. It takes a lot more to process junk than to harvest whole foods.

Sugar is addictive, and they know it. They make it affordable, because they know you'll keep buying it. It's also supply and demand. Healthy foods are WAY more expensive in lower-income neighborhoods where people may not have been educated on healthy eating- if they're avaliable at all. So maybe even if I wanted healthy foods, who wants to ride a bus way out of the way to get to affordable veggies.

I'm not implying that the OP may live in a lower income neighborhood. Please don't take it that way. I'm just passionate about ALL communities having access to healthy foods.

12-19-2009, 10:54 AM
There definitely is a social issue involved in getting healthy foods and it does depend where you live. In urban areas, there have been some studies that certain neighborhoods may not have grocery stores because the grocers don't want to be there. So in order to get groceries, the people of those neighborhoods either have to rely on convenience food or they have to travel outside of their neighborhood.

All things being equal though there are some certain issues in the US that make certain things cheap (corn products) and other things not so cheap. It is because corn is heavily subsidized in the US so everything from pop tarts to coke to beef industry benefits from that. It would be nice if all farming was subsidized so that it would create a more even playing field but certain industries lobby heavily to keep corn subsidized.

That being said, I do think that most people can find means to eat healthier on a limited budget but it definitely takes work.

12-19-2009, 10:57 AM
I have a friend who receives food stamps and there is not even enough for her to spend 50 bucks a week on's more like 20 bucks. Of course benefits range greatly depending on your situation. But how can one eat healthy on 20 bucks a week?

My suggestion would be to look into Angel Food Ministries(google it) they provide a lot of food for little money and they always have a fresh fruit and veggie box, they do indeed take food stamps and it's a good way to stretch your dollar. You can get well over a months worth of healthy food for about 100 bucks. BTW there is no income requirement all you have to do is order and go pick up your food.

12-19-2009, 01:18 PM
Does your town or city have a Farmer's Market? Although I am unfamiliar with the availability of farmer's market in the wintertime in cold climates, I do know that, when the weather is nice, the price of produce at these farmer's markets can't be beat. And the produce is fresher than at your grocery stores. Probably less pesticides too.

Also, I have taken to baking bread in my bread maker. I just bought several pounds of whole wheat flour and a few pounds of 9 grain cereal, and that, combined with yeast and a few other staples, will make a lot of loaves of healthy whole-grain bread. The bread maker I found at a thrift store for less than $10 - the best investment I ever made. Works perfectly too.

I found whole chickens, about 4 lbs each, for $2.50 at a local Wal-Mart. They were "Manager's Special," whatever that means. Those chickens went a long way - I shredded one, and had chicken tacos that fed 5 adults, then had enough left over for chicken salad for 4 adults and had enough left over for soup.

Speaking of soup, that is a fabulous thing too. Beans are pretty inexpensive when you buy them dried, and they bulk up a soup very well and provide lots of fiber and protein, and make any soup hearty. Use a base of stewed tomatoes, also cheap, and add in whatever you want. That soup will last a long time. Lentils are an excellent choice too.

Oatmeal is another great low cost choice. I put xylitol on mine to sweeten it, but that might not be available to you. Maybe put a bit of sugar on it, not a lot and add milk. I think that oatmeal is beyond yummy, and you can get those big containers of it for next to nothing.

This web-site also has an amazing thread about slow-cooker ideas. You can probably make yummy slow-cooker meals for next to nothing, and they are very convenient.

12-19-2009, 03:03 PM
If you are receiving food stamps and healthy eating is a priority, I'm not sure what kind of health store you are buying from. Are you buying organic, fair-trade? That can seriously limit your budget. You can still get healthy food that is, although not organic, still nutritious and wholesome.

There IS a huge social issue with affordability and accessibility to healthy food for lower income people, and yes, if it's cheap we're gonna buy it. And when so many people buy their product, they can afford to decrease prices and still make profit. My neighborhood has a McDonalds, Subway, Quiznos, Starbucks, fried chicken joint, pizzeria and a fish and chip place, all within a block of my house. If I want to go to a grocery store I have to take a bus. There is OBVIOUSLY a problem with that. And I really feel for you, it's very hard to try and get healthy when you hardly have the resources to do it.

There's a way around it, kinda, and I learned that while in college with virtually no $$ for food most of the time and working closely with people who were running the student food bank. This wasn't decades ago, I'm talking 2008.

My grocery list would include things like dried legumes, brown rice, buckwheat pasta, peanut oil, herbal teas (instead of juice), yogurt, frozen peas, canned corn (unless in season), rolled oats, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, because they're cheap when in season. Potatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, mushrooms, leeks, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, peaches and plums are usually good choices around this time of year, and most don't spoil quickly. It changes year-round though, so you can vary what you eat too.

There was a lot of good advice on this thread, I hope you find what works for you

12-19-2009, 03:23 PM
waste nothing!

Food lifecycle in my house

A)Whole chicken - roast it --->>

Chicken carcass in pot with (wilty carrots, carrot tops, celery ends, onion bits) salvaged as I find them and toss them into a bag in the freezer. Add water and boil forever strain and defat ---->>

Use defatted chicken broth to cook my potatoes so they have so much flavor on their own they dont need hardly any salt or butter or anything. SAVE the drained potato broth and toss in freezer. -->>

broth for soup to use up all the leftover veggies I have. The potato starch thickens the soup slightly and gives a blended veggie soup a bit more creaminess.

I keep a soup bag in the freezer for all the little bits of food that we dont use. Veggies that are getting just a little past their prime. Cooked veggies that I dont see myself putting on my salad or in my omelet. The little bit of meat that isnt enough for anything but is good for flavor. Soup baby soup.

And dont underestimate the power of beans! Cheap filling and healthy.

12-20-2009, 03:13 AM
I appreciate this so much, ladies! Please, keep it coming!

I do live in the poorest part of my town. (My state in general is low-income, I believe)

I have a few different grocers here, and I try to go where the bargains are. What seems to be killing us is buying the fresh fruits and veggies, along with opting for the whole wheat/grain instead of white. Also, fruit juices are so much more expensive than soda! Some half gallons of fruit juice cost more than a 12pack of name brand soda!

We receive $239 a month, and that feeds me, my fiancee, and our niece when we babysit her, at least 2 days a week.

I hope that info helps!

12-20-2009, 06:58 AM
I'm a bad one to ask about fruits. They were always the first things to go. I did buy frozen juice when it was on sale and canned fruit. But I have to admit that we did not eat fresh fruit everyday.
As for vegetables ... frozen is not bad and canned is OK. Sometimes, you just have to do the best you can. (Did I already say that?)
And bread? I clench my teeth and buy good grain bread. For me, it's about cutting down the portions. I don't need four slices of any kind of bread. But that didn't stop DH and the kids from scarfing the expensive stuff down :(

I'm a firm believer in shopping the sales. I don't care if we don't eat beef for weeks on end. If it's not a good deal, we don't buy it.

You can toss up a fry pan full of almost anything and roll it into a tortilla (which are super cheap to make).

It's be kinda fun to start a thread for folks to post their cheapest healthiest recipes. Hint, hint ...

12-20-2009, 07:30 AM
Someone mentioned Angel Food Ministries (google them). They do participate in food stamp programs, and host sites are all over the country in urban and rural communities.

They helped me and my husband immensely when we were both in college and afterwards with struggling to pay off student loan debt.

The Signature boxes they do include enough food to feed 4 people for a week including meat and sides (note sometimes they include fish sticks or chicken nuggets). They also have fruit and vegetable boxes that you can buy or meat or poultry boxes. We were able to stretch out a box pretty far (seriously, it's hard for me to eat soup to this day).

Currently for $22 you get 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, 4 russet potatoes, 2 lbs of yellow onion, 1 head of cabbage, a pound of carrots, celery, 4 lemons, 6 oranges, 4 grapefruit, a mango, an avocado, and a lb of kiwi.

I don't mean to sound like an Angel Food Ministries commercial, but they really were helpful to us during a harder time. I volunteer at a local host site when I can and buy boxes for local shelters.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that there's no requirements or qualifications; anyone of any income can purchase a box.

12-20-2009, 08:16 AM
Another recommendation for Angel Food Ministries! They provide healthy, and fresh, food at an incredible price - and they have no income limitations, so you don't have to justify why you are using their service. They provide food at cost - so you are not taking resources away from other people when you use them.

Do you have a bakery outlet in your area? That's a great way to stock up on whole wheat bread, and store it in the freezer.

I don't buy processed stuff with unhealthy ingredients. That is the one decision that's saved us the most money, and freed up dollars for healthy food. For the price of one package of cookies, I can buy a bag of apples (and they keep well for a long time in the frig.)

Seasonal fruit and vegetables tend to be a bargain. We eat them when they are in season. We almost always have bananas and iceberg lettuce in the house, because they're generally inexpensive.

A whole chicken bought on sale is a bargain, and can be used for several meals. Roast in the oven (I often do 2 at a time) or even in the crockpot.

I agree about frozen and canned vegetables - tests have shown them to be as healthy as fresh (in some cases, more so, because they're picked and processed immediately after harvesting).

Fruit juice may cost more than colas - I don't really know. It's kind of irrelevant, because colas aren't food, and fruit juice is. In our house, they aren't in competition with each other. I buy healthy food first, and only buy the luxuries (like diet cola) if there is money left over.

12-20-2009, 08:48 AM
Other than the niece, why not drop juice? I have coffee in the am, and water the rest of the day. I haven't had anything to drink but water (and coffee) in over a year and a half. I did have one glass of unsweetened tea ;), but that's also very inexpensive to make.

Most juices have a lot of sugar, and not many nutrients.

(my kids get apple juice, but it's watered down by at least 50% to keep sugars down)

Here's a great, simple recipe. Get the hamburger lean in bulk (our 'fancy' grocery has lean ground beef inexpensive in bulk), then utilize rest of veggies in other meals. I think this is tasty for being so easy. My kids ate it too!

12-20-2009, 09:16 AM
I don't know what part of Indiana you're in, but Angel Food Ministries has several locations around. And if your town is pretty low income, you can talk to a local church about becoming a host site if there's not one close to you.

Also, depending on what part of the state you're in, Aldi's usually has good produce for a good price. I don't think they're everywhere, but there are some around, there's one not too far from me.

There's a new co-op being built on the east side of Indy that should be done by spring. There's a really great one near Ft Wayne. Trader Joe's on the north side has really great prices. Bloomingfoods in Bloomington is a great co-op too.

Kroger's whole grain wheat bread, under the Private Selection brand, is no more expensive than their white bread. I also make bread for us, not enough to own a bread machine yet, but it's much better than store bought bread. The initial cost of ingredients is higher than a loaf of bread, but the cost per loaf is amazingly low. My favorite recipe right now is a whole wheat version of the infamous "no-knead" bread, with rosemary in it. Yum.

If you buy produce in season and buy frozen when not in season, it's going to be much cheaper for you. Bulk grains and beans are inexpensive ways to stretch your budget, and if you're a meat eater you can stretch ground meat by adding beans or tvp.

DH doesn't want to give up Mt Dew, so we still buy that for him, but I drink coffee, water, and tea, all very inexpensive. If the juice is for your niece, you may want to consider concentrated juices from the freezer case. There may be some brands with less sugar, etc. I don't know personally, because we don't drink juice, but it's worth a shot.

12-20-2009, 09:34 AM
I live in a different area but our food budget is $200-$300 month and that gets us lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains etc and a lot of that is organic.

We don't drink juice but we do drink tea or water. We find it (tea) on sale. I really don't consider juice to be healthy but I know a lot of people like it.

We buy fruits/veggies that are in season. Like we have been buying apples and some persimmons. I found organic apples the other day at 88 cents/lb. We also don't eat salads during the winter because salad veggies are too expensive. We do eat some frozen vegetables and whatever vegetables we can find cheap/on sale.

I imagine you don't have many (any?) ethnic type markets in Indiana although it depends where you live but if you do happen to have any, I recommend going and looking at them. You might be able to find some deals.

12-20-2009, 09:37 AM
Nelie, depending on the area of course, there are quite a few REALLY good ethnic groceries in Indy. It's not that they don't exist, they're just more like a hole in the wall that doesn't advertise. They don't have websites, and several I've been to around me don't even have phone numbers. But they do exist, and we do a good portion of our shopping at them, when we can find them. :D

12-20-2009, 10:00 AM
That doesn't surprise me but from others I've talked to that live/have lived in Indiana, it doesn't seem as culturally diverse as other areas in the country so I really don't know :)

Like for me, I have 5 ethnic markets within a mile of my house.

12-20-2009, 01:28 PM
Thanks for telling us about Angel Food ministries. I wonder if my grocery bill would be better getting my produce from them?

12-20-2009, 03:02 PM
I don't really consider fruit juice "real food," but rather a more natural equivalent of soda or Kool-Aid (Just as I think of dried fruit as a more natural equivalent of candy). I'm not saying that they should never be ingested - just that they need to be treated like soda and candy (at least should be) - optional treats rather than diet mainstays. If you have the calories and cash to use on them as "extras" after you've taken care of the basic nutrition, that's great, but fruit juice is rarely a good substitute for the whole fruit.

Juice is really only marginally more nutritious than Kool-Aid and soda. The sugar content/calorie count is about the same, and perhaps the best part of the fruit (the fiber) is missing.

I also agree that frozen and canned vegetables are good compromises. Cabbage, carrots, celery, and onion are generally the cheapest fresh options (and you'll pay less if you're willing to wash, peel, and trim yourself).

Hubby and I shop on a very tight budget, as we're on disability (though we had a much tighter budget when I first got too sick to work), but we keep many of the habits we learned from leaner times.

Read all the frugal living books, cookbooks, websites and recipe websites you can find. I started my searc at (The Complete Tightwad Gazette was the first book I bought). I wrote down the title of every book I could find, and borrowed them from the library (if I liked it enough to want to own it, I wrote the title down and looked for it at garage sales, thrift stores, Freecycle, and Amazon).

The Hillbilly Housewife has a lot of good information on dieting/eating healthy on a tight budget. There are a lot of other great money saving websites too - search on terms like frugal, cheapskate, tightwad, budget, cheap, saving money....

A technique I learned (and modified) from the Tightwad Gazette is using dry tvp to extend ground beef. I buy cheap hamburger and brown it with dried tvp granules (a meat substitite made from soy - looks like grape nuts cereal), and onions, celery and other seasonings and water or broth. By combining the fatty hamburger with the fat-free tvp I can have the eqivalent of 95% lean ground beef or ground turkey for about half the price per serving of the cheap hamburger (about 1/4 to 1/3 the price of the premium extra lean ground meats).

Tvp can be used alone as a meat substitute - but it doesn't have much flavor. Browning it with ground beef, pork, or turkey will absorb the meat flavor. For an entirely vegetarian option, you can boost the flavor with seasonings (but it takes a little more practice to get a flavor you'll enjoy - in my experience).

After browning, I then freeze the mixture (tossing/stirring until it freezes in "crumbles" so I can take out what I need to use in recipes as I would ground beef - tacos, spaghetti, sloppy joes...).

I buy chicken thighs, legs or quarters (usually even cheaper than whole chickens).

I shop the Dollar Stores (not always cheaper, so you've got to pay attention). In Dollar Tree I found Stor-It brand "green bags" (those bags that are supposed to help veggies and fruits stay fresh longer), at 10 bags for $1. I rinse and reuse the bags. They do significantly slow down spoilage, so I'm very happy with them. Hubby and I do our main grocery shopping only once a month. We eat the fresh stuff first and later in the month rely on the frozen and canned veggies. If mid-month we see a super sale in the grocery store flyers (we don't take the paper - but we get the flyers in the mail or pick up the free community paper), assuming we have the money for it - we'll buy the sale items.

It seems complicated at first, but eventually you get "in the groove," and you develop your own system. It's definitely possible in Northcentral Wisconsin and Central Illinois, WI to eat healthfully on about $200 a month (or even less if you've got the time to do more shopping, prep, and cooking).

It does take being open-minded about food and shopping though. Sometimes you find yourself doing things you would have once considered "crazy." It's why I recommend books like How to Survive Without a Salary: Learning How to Live the Conserver Lifestyle by Charles Long - and Art & Science of Dumpster Diving by John Hoffman.

I didn't find many tips that I could use, but after reading those books, I felt a whole lot less crazy for washing and reusing plastic bags.

12-20-2009, 03:17 PM
i have to say I hate fruit juices...even the healthier versions. I started diliking them...then I started watering them down 50/50. Next thing I new, I was watering them down 80/20--80% water, 20% juice. Occasionaly, if i have it, I use juice as water flavoring and that is it.

although, since now I have tons of pomegranate arils frozen..i use them in water for flavor.

I do like fruit juice from a juicer.

I have been totally freezing everything...and making plans in my head for it, since NO ONE but me does left overs..which aggravates the pee out of me. I have to hide it, then reinvent it.

12-20-2009, 05:25 PM
Brown rice
Tuna cans
Plain oats
Whole chickens diced and skinned at home
Veggie options: what is in season and what is cheaper option (ie. green pepper instead of red)

No juice - really, it's just sugar in a bottle and hardly better than pop. Drink water.

12-20-2009, 07:25 PM
I agree with the others, cut the juice. I have two kids and I don't buy bottled juice of any sort. Wal-mart has their store brand of crystal lite which is sugar free and is less than $2 for I believe enough to make 4 or 6 pitchers of "juice" kids love it and it is sugar free. Another budget stretcher I have found is this:
1lb ground turkey or beef
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 pkgs taco seasoning
2 cans beans, red, kidney, black or?
cup water (give or take)
cook up the meat and rice seperately, then add them together along with the taco seasoning, water and beans let simmer and serve on tortillas add cheese, lettuce tomatoes ect.....
This is tasty and lasts at least two meals for my family of 4.
Cook oatmeal in morning instead of proceed cold cereals, buy a bread maker and make some bread, nothing beats fresh bread. Potatoes can really strech a meal along with pasta and eggs are always good, but $200 isn't going to feed you for the month. I spend around $700/month which includes laundry soap ect..... for 4

12-20-2009, 07:25 PM
Low Cost subforum???

There have been quite a number of threads about eating healthy on very low budgets, and it seems to me like a subject applicable to *large* numbers of 3FC-ers. I kinda think a forum/subforum might be worthwhile for Low Cost Healthy Eating, or something like that. Making it easy for people to find these *very* important ideas that get strung out all over the forum.

Just seems like such a fundamental need to me, especially these days.

12-20-2009, 07:34 PM
agree nix the juice. My kids didnt get any juice until they started preschool, then they get juice there. They get diluted juice occasionally at home as a treat and I will sometimes put a splash of juice in my water. (1/4 cup in a pint glass)

If you must buy it, juice is something to only buy on sale - it can vary so much in price. Apple juice can run from 0.99 to 3.00 for a 1/2 gallon. Frozen is usually cheaper and then you can make it and dilute it ahead of time and the kids will never know. If you are looking for lunch box size juice items buy a refillable container. (Edit: I don't support giving the kids crystal lite or other sugar free stuff - kids dont need artificial sweeteners )

Fresh fruits and veggies rarely have coupons, but if you coupon the other items and stick to the special. Frozen is not a bad way to go for veggies and occasionally you can get coupons, although store brands without coupons are often cheaper. Never use a coupon for anything you cant use or for name brands that are still more expensive than store.

Bread products freeze well so when bread is on special stock up. We have one brand of bread we love that is ~ $4/loaf, but every once in a while the store will have it for $1.50 a loaf and I buy 4 loaves and freeze

One thing to remember is although processed crappy foods seem cheaper, you can sometimes make stuff cheaper if you do a little prep.

Canned chicken noodle soup seems like one of the cheapest foods out there. But take my frozen broth from my whole chicken I bought (free!) and remember that canned soup hardly has any chicken in it so yours doesnt need much to beat it (good place to dice up a little of the dark meat, you use so little it wont be noticed) an on sale bag of frozen veggies - any kind, but the peas/carrots always work and some chopped up whole wheat pasta or cooked brown rice. The equivalent of 8-10 cans of soup for about $1.50 - freeze in individual portions for fast lunches

Many of the diets will lead you to think the dark meat of the chicken is SO bad, but it is still better than processed foods and a whole chicken is so much cheaper than chicken breasts. Use the white meat for a dish that is primarily meat, use the dark meat for stir frys and to stretch beans in a burrito - just enough for flavor.

Learn how to cook dried beans. You can make lowfat refried beans in a crock pot.

Bake your own bread, pizza crusts etc. I know it is tough to start if you have never done it but you can make basic whole wheat bread for cheaper than you can buy it and with fewer preservatives.

12-20-2009, 08:07 PM
I routinely shop in the cheap, and my mainstays are:
cereal (nothing sugared, I like cornflakes if on sale)
oatmeal (not the single serve, the big container)
12 grain bread
frozen blueberries
strawberries (only when in season priced around 2 quarts for $4)
broccoli (fresh or frozen, whatever is cheaper that day)
sweet potatoes
cottage cheese
canned tuna or sardines
chicken breasts (bulk)
whole chicken (if priced under .69 cents a pound)
soy milk (my single "luxury" item, I don't drink regular milk)

If I have money left over after those items, I will buy other stuff (such as my favorite english muffins, pineapple, or a nice steak). I make a lot of soups or one dish meals that I freeze for later meals. I never by prepackaged meals. I can get at least 14 single serve soup lunches/dinners out of a 4 pound chicken, 4 large carrots, 4 large potatoes, 1 stalk of celery, and 1 onion. I drink water or green tea at at work since they pay for it. I budget only $30 a week for groceries (it's just me eating, and I don't mind not having a huge variety day to day).

12-20-2009, 08:12 PM
I'm curious, but have you thought about growing your own veg? Even if you live in a tiny apartment with no garden, you can still grow lots of veggies in buckets and small window planters; you can even keep herbs in the small containers they're already planted in as long as you keep them watered and give them sun.,,4tm2,00.html

This one is geared towards the Americans out there (I live in New Zealand, so different gardening weather down here now!). Yes, there is an initial outlay, but if you can, buy seeds rather than seedlings.

We buy whole chickens and carve them up and keep the carcasses for stock.
If your veggies are JUST about finished, you can still use them in soups and stock.
Never buy more than you are going to eat.

And the most important- plan your meals out for a week, look at what's in your pantry and make meals from there. Economy Gastronomy is a BBC series showing British families how to save money by shopping differently. If you can, find the series on youtube- it will be well worth the download.

12-20-2009, 09:12 PM
but $200 isn't going to feed you for the month. I spend around $700/month which includes laundry soap ect..... for 4

I would disagree. I mentioned before that we spend $200-$300/month for the 2 of us and that includes quite a bit of organics and some splurge items too. I also mentioned the blog where a lady feeds herself and 2 (part time) teenage sons on $100/month. It is definitely doable to eat cheaply if it is your goal.

12-21-2009, 05:03 AM
Lots of great ideas here!

When I was pinching pennies while working and going to school (no loans!), I used to buy frozen veggies, chicken, and pasta in bulk. It was a nice change from the terribly unhealthy Top Ramen I was eating every other day...but then, those were like 6 cents a pack or something ridiculously cheap at the the time!

I agree, access to healthy food is a social issue. Some articles refer to it as the "health tax." I live pretty far north and have some Canadian friends, and one of them told me that their government subsidizes groceries nationwide so that everyone can afford decent food. Gas and just about everything else is more expensive there, but apparently not the groceries. I'm sure the system isn't perfect, but I wish the US would make healthy food access a priority like that.

12-21-2009, 12:09 PM
I thought this was a good link because all of these items can be stocked up on when on sale or with coupons and then at the end of the month when the foodstamps or budget is getting lean....

20 dishes from 10 pantry items (

12-21-2009, 12:22 PM
I would disagree. I mentioned before that we spend $200-$300/month for the 2 of us and that includes quite a bit of organics and some splurge items too. I also mentioned the blog where a lady feeds herself and 2 (part time) teenage sons on $100/month. It is definitely doable to eat cheaply if it is your goal.

Hubby and I also spend between $200 and $300 a month (including personal hygeine items, cat food, kitty litter (and cat's glucosamine/chondroitin treats for her arthritis) and household cleaning products.

Most months it's closer to $200, and when we run out of pantry staples (which always seems to happen all at once) it's closer to $300 (about every 3 months). So that averages to about $233 a month for the year.

We do have a Sam's Club membership (you will not save money at Sam's Club if you're not very careful, but we're very careful). We buy organic baby spring mix lettuce regularly. It's about 1/4 the cost per serving of the same mix at Walmart (which is a lot cheaper than in other grocery stores).

12-21-2009, 12:58 PM
+1 on the spring mix. I get it at costco and not always but at certain times of the year it is cheaper per pound for the organic spring mix than for whole heads of decent non organic lettuce (ie NOT iceberg).

12-21-2009, 01:12 PM
+1 on the spring mix. I get it at costco and not always but at certain times of the year it is cheaper per pound for the organic spring mix than for whole heads of decent non organic lettuce (ie NOT iceberg).

I think I'm going to have to ask my sister to start picking me up a bag every week at Sam's Club. I'll pay her a month in advance ;)

12-21-2009, 01:22 PM
Sorry you are in this situation.....I agree with the above poster about frozen least you can get some nutrition from them. I hope things get better for you soon.

12-21-2009, 01:24 PM
I think I'm going to have to ask my sister to start picking me up a bag every week at Sam's Club. I'll pay her a month in advance ;)

They have two types. One is just the varieties of baby lettuce and spinache (my favorite). The other is a "salad kit" it's a dollar more (and a smaller amount of lettuce) and contains craisins, feta cheese (I believe), and some kind of nut (I don't know if dressing is included - everything is kept separate in little compartments).

The just lettuce is a better buy in my opinion. Both are in plastic clamshells about the size of a shoebox (the bag of lettuce is inside the plastic box).

It's vacuum packed, so when you open the bag it seems like there's more lettuce than the bag can hold (which is why the plastic box comes in handy for storage).

I almost never finish the bag before it gets slimy - but it's so much cheaper than the smaller bags in other stores, a little waste isn't so horrible.

At the first sign of wilting, I can prevent waste by cooking the wilted lettuce.
At the point that it's not slimy yet, but is starting to look wilted and not quite great for salads, I'll saute the remainder - or throw it into soups (yes cooked lettuce sounds a bit odd, but the leaf lettuces cook up just like spinach, for the most part).

12-21-2009, 01:33 PM
Thanks, kaplods. I definitely just want the lettuce. I add the other stuff on my own when I want it, because what they use isn't exactly what I would use.

Do you remember the size of the bag?

12-21-2009, 01:57 PM
Thanks, kaplods. I definitely just want the lettuce. I add the other stuff on my own when I want it, because what they use isn't exactly what I would use.

Do you remember the size of the bag?

I didn't, so I went to the Sams Club website and searched on spring mix (both came up).

The just lettuce mix is 16 ounces. You can type in your zipcode and they'll quote the price (it's $3.98 in our area).

Here's the link to it (you can see what the package looks like)

12-21-2009, 02:23 PM
Just saying: we don't buy juice. Drink water! Juice is high in calories and sugar. If you get bored with water, go ahead and by juice, but water it down and stretch it that way. Fresca is about the only diet soda I like, so I will buy that every once in awhile when it is on sale.

12-21-2009, 03:22 PM
Thanks Kaplods, I just thought you might remember. It's $3.98 here too.

12-21-2009, 04:47 PM
I agree with what others have said that while the amount may seem low, a little over $200 a month is definitely doable for groceries. I live in an area of Illinois that is part suburbs/part farmland. You drive past a subdivision of $500K townhomes behind a large piece of farm equipment. It's a bit of a paradox, and our grocery prices definitely reflect it.

For my family of 6, I spend roughly $300 per month on groceries. This includes formula for my 6 month old. It is definitely doable, but it seems impossible because of all the hoop-jumping you have to do if you aren't used to eating "this way."

I do not shop circulars. I may glance at them once, to see if there are any phenomenal deals, but I will never rely on them for making my list. There is a whole host of psychology that goes into flier circulation. For example, you're more likely to "stock up" on milk if it's cheap. You're also more likely to purchase cookies, cereal and other things that go with the milk. Companies know this and use it against you. These deals involve products that compel consumers to buy the high-margin junk food. The deals on healthy foods (unadvertised sales of strawberries for $1 per package) are not usually found in circulars, unless accompanying junk food is on sale.

Of course, the usual solution is to make a strict list and stick to it. But lists leave no room for adjustments. You can't snatch up the great deal on whole chickens if it's not on your list. Otherwise, you begin looking at all the other "good deals" and you're right back at the marketing psychology.

So, here's what I do. I've shopped at every store in my area (and there are a lot of them). Most, like Jewel, Meijer and Domick's have roughly the same prices and those are higher than everyone else. The local grocer has good deals, but their quality is terrible. 30 minutes away, I discovered a great little grocer who has AMAZING prices and AMAZING quality AND a "discounted" section for old/bruised/imperfect produce.

Now that I know where is usually good, I develop a sense of how much I'm willing to pay. I will not pay more than $.79 per pound for grapes. They're usually $1.50 to $2.00 per pound, so they usually aren't on the menu. Squash? Never more than $.50 per pound. Whole chickens? $.60 per pound. Cheese? $3 per pound. Cold cereal? $.10 per ounce. This is a quick metric that lets me decide if I should buy something or shouldn't.

Staples are purchased in such copious quantities that I don't need to buy them more than once every three or four months. I just bought a 25 pound bag of Jasmine rice (for $15 at Sam's Club). That will last us for at least three months, but probably four or five. Same with flour, sugar, oatmeal and other raw goods. I wait until a good sale and buy a huge amount. If you have freezer space, use this for frozen vegetables! From time to time, Meijer puts their frozen veggies on super-special: 4 bags for $1. Frozen broccoli, carrots, potatoes, onions, peas, beans, brussel sprouts...they're all just as good as fresh and cost far less.

If the label contains the words "hydrogenized," "high fructose," "hydrolyzed" or "aspartame/sucralose" (NutraSweet/Splenda), I do not buy it. Ever. It's not food. It's chemistry pretending to be food. Lunch meat? Don't buy it. Juice? Don't buy it. Baking mixes? Nope. Chicken breasts/pork chops? Very very rarely buy it - it has to be 75% off the regular price, otherwise I buy the whole chicken/pork loin.

Most of all, you need - NEED - to learn to be inventive with food. I had a box of Japanese curry (uses potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and 2 pounds of pork/chicken). I had no pork or potatoes. I dropped those and used lentils. It required that I change the preparation to prevent squishy lentils, but it worked. I've made cookies with whole wheat flour and bread with oatmeal I turned into flour in my coffee maker.

OK, I'm done rambling now... :)

12-21-2009, 05:02 PM
Im not sure if anyone has mentioned this or not but do you have a produce junction near you? They sell fruits and veggies much cheaper then grocery stores and I have never gotten anything bad out of there.

12-21-2009, 05:30 PM
Oh, the stuff at costco doesnt have the bag inside and stays fresh forever. I never ever buy the stuff in the bags because that stuff goes bad fast. When you get it home take it out of the bag, put a 1/2 paper towel (a whole one of the selectasize is perfect) on the bottom of the clamshell, then put the lettuce back in and put the other half of the paper towel on top. Pick any wilty leaves out right away and everything else will stay fresh longer.

KEEP 1-2 of the clamshells. During the times of year when lettuce is cheaper in the head these clamshells with paper towels keep the lettuce fresher longer than anything else I have ever tried. I keep 2 around for my CSA lettuce in the summer.

12-21-2009, 06:44 PM
ennay, thanks for the tips.

12-21-2009, 07:16 PM
Oh, the stuff at costco doesnt have the bag inside and stays fresh forever. I never ever buy the stuff in the bags because that stuff goes bad fast. When you get it home take it out of the bag, put a 1/2 paper towel (a whole one of the selectasize is perfect) on the bottom of the clamshell, then put the lettuce back in and put the other half of the paper towel on top. Pick any wilty leaves out right away and everything else will stay fresh longer.

KEEP 1-2 of the clamshells. During the times of year when lettuce is cheaper in the head these clamshells with paper towels keep the lettuce fresher longer than anything else I have ever tried. I keep 2 around for my CSA lettuce in the summer.

That's how the Sam's Club spring mix used to come. But the bag isn't like the bags that other lettuces come in though. The air has been squeezed out and it smells good and fresh (I hate the smell of most bagged lettuces).

I also don't keep the lettuce in the bag. The moment I get it home I take it out of the bag - pick out anything that doesn't look as fresh as it should be (usually it's all good), and do what you suggest. I put the paper towel in the bottom of the clamshell and add the lettuce back in (without the plastic bag). I've never put a paper towel on the top, but I'll try that next time.

I'll probably also try putting some in the green bags to see if that helps.

I love the green bags. The only thing that kept veggies better was when I had a vacuum sealer (a Seal-a-Meal machine that I picked up at a garage sale for $3). They're expensive to buy new, but if you can get a used one cheap, it's a great investment. For crackers and cereals, I'd put the bag in the sealer and suck out the air and seal the package after each use (the bag would get smaller and smaller as the stuff was used up, because I'd always cut the seal to open it).

12-21-2009, 07:41 PM
Just wanted to add, if you have too many baby lettuces to eat raw, you can cook them into a stirfry (no oil needed, cook as you normally would), add them at the last minute, serve hot foods on a bed of the lettuces or make green smoothies with them!

12-21-2009, 08:12 PM
For crackers and cereals, I'd put the bag in the sealer and suck out the air and seal the package after each use (the bag would get smaller and smaller as the stuff was used up, because I'd always cut the seal to open it).

hehe, that probably also helps fight just-one-more-tiny-piece syndrome.

Thighs Be Gone
12-21-2009, 08:59 PM
I am not sure if other supermarkets do it or not BUT my Kroger routinely marks down packaged produce items every single morning. The cut up brocolli, lettuce mixes, bags of spinach, etc. have sale stickers most mornings. They are substantial markdowns too--perhaps the spinach bag is $2.69 or so--they are usually marked $1.29 or so. Perhaps you could inquire at your own market.

I am not a big meat eater but I know the meat dept. at my Kroger does markdowns each morning too--as does (GULP) bakery.

Also, have you ever considered "bulking" your recipes--putting fresh veggies into ground turkey or chicken. Thus, lowering cost.

Not a novel idea at all--but I buy when the sales are on. Sure, it's my preference to have everything fresh but when I come on a good deal I buy and I buy big.

It's been mentioned before but the bulk bins are also my friend. There is nothing in them I cannot use in some way. Some of the items are rock bottom as compared to packaged products--quinoa, millet, brown rice, cous cous, raw almonds, rolled oats, steel cut oats, etc.

12-21-2009, 10:55 PM
Also, have you ever considered "bulking" your recipes--putting fresh veggies into ground turkey or chicken. Thus, lowering cost. .

This is a great tip. Beans are a good way to stretch meat as are mushrooms.

12-22-2009, 08:31 PM
This is embarrassing to admit, but we have a guy who stays with us who was basically living in his car. My bf has a thing about helping underdogs. Anyhow, he dumpster dives and, believe it or not, the food he brings home is pretty good. Bags of salad that are not rotten at all, lots of potatoes, both sweet and russet, romaine hearts, apples, bananas, cole slaw mix, bell peppers, you name it. He brought home these cauliflower and cheese things that were frozen and excellent, really.

Not sure how legal that is, but the way I look at it, it is a shame that the grocery stores throw away perfectly good food when there are so many hungry people in this country, so I really don't have a problem with it. And I am not too proud to eat what he brings home. Now, would I dumpster dive myself? No, that would be too risky and embarrassing. But, as long as the food isn't rotting, I don't have a problem with eating it.

12-22-2009, 09:45 PM
The freegan lifestyle is not that uncommon jillianfan. The amount of perfectly good food that grocery stores throw away is criminal. I dont see why they cant hook up with local food banks.

I actually was going to come back in here to suggest not dumpster diving but when fruit is in season keep an eye out for fruit trees and bushes. Dont take off someone's property, but a lot of times either they will let you pick it and take it away or let you pick it for a share. My friend has about 25 cherry trees on her property and she doesnt want to get in to selling fruit but you can pick all you want for free if you give her 25% of what you pick for her family. There are berry bushes lining public roadways but becareful of those because some areas spray weedkiller and pesticides. Apple trees around here are often unpicked

12-22-2009, 10:21 PM
Thanks, Ennay, I feel a little less embarrassed now. :)

I agree with what you say, too, Ennay. I live in San Diego, where just about everybody has trees that bear fruit - avocado, mangoes, all kinds of citrus, etc. These trees bear hundreds of fruit per season. More than any one person can eat. So it is an excellent idea to pick the fruit - asking first, of course, but they are pretty gracious about it.

12-23-2009, 02:28 AM
On the fruit issue, never ever pick anything growing by the railroad tracks. All sorts of waste gets dumped off the side of the cars.

01-20-2014, 03:11 PM
just eat much less of it, and exercise more. (not going dangerously below my calorie intake level, mind you)

Thats not a bad idea, I think Im gonna do the same

05-13-2014, 05:22 PM
It is possible to eat quality food at a reasonable price if you change your buying habits. I will use France as an exemple, they buy food that is in season and is locally grown. For them to eat strawberries in january is a total foreign concept. Transportation is a large chunk of food price.

I adhere to this principle as much as possible, the food is of higher quality and also encouraging the local economy. I use the service of a local farm that prepare baskets of fruits and vegetable that are in season and they deliver to a store near my home where I can pick it up once a week. 3 days prior to delivery I can review the basket and prepare my meal plan according to the content therefor not wasting produce. Whatever is left from the previous week goes into the soup pot.

We also eat lots of grain and beans instead of meat. I cook lots of middle eastern recipes, like hommos, foul, taboule, vegetable couscous, loubie, koussa a great site to find the recipes is

I do not buy chicken that is cut in pieces but whole chicken, I can then make soup out of the carcass.

I do not buy cereals like raisin bran, but instead old fashion oatmeal.

Yogourt I buy it plain in large container and add different ingredients to make it sweet or savory.

Cookies, bars, etc I just do not buy, first they are expensive and way to processed to bring me anything positive. i will snack of carrot stick and make my own dip using the plain yogourt and spices it is a lot cheaper than dips.

For juices well again I dont buy, might as well take water and put a few spoons of sugar in it since it is mostly what you get. Good old free water from the tap for me.

As far as processed food.....I consumed way to much of it last year and that is the reason why I am back here with 20 more pounds to loose.