Shoestring Meals - Healthy eating on $25 a week

View Full Version : Healthy eating on $25 a week

12-31-2009, 12:37 AM
having a healthy diet on a budget is important to many people, especially since convenience foods have been getting cheaper and cheaper. although getting started was a little rough, i have found ways of cutting costs. I buy whole grains in bulk...only what i plan on eating in a week, in the off season i buy frozen veggies, and freeze fresh fruit when it is in season (or on sale:D). the nice thing about freezing is that there is minimal nutrient loss, and you can eat your food when you get ready to do so.

a disadvantage that those who rely on public transportation may have is that to get the best deals you will have to go to a couple of different stores. i am fortunate to have 3 different natural food stores in town and each store has things cheaper than other stores. i am also not ashamed to go to kroger, meijer or even walmart if i have to to save a buck.

to those who have a small food budget, what do you do to get more bang for youe buck?

12-31-2009, 01:24 AM
I am working on budgeting more and more as money gets tighter. I find the freezer to be a good friend. I go to costco and buy the big packs of ground turkey, chicken breast, etc. and I always have them on hand. I pack my own lunches at home instead of buying prepared foods at the store (at least during the week). I try to use "bento" style- preparing foods in an organized container.

12-31-2009, 01:32 AM
I live in a tiny apartment with a tiny freezer (enough room for 2 packs of frozen veggies...), and no car to transport stuff either, so I usually stop by the store once a day to shop for the essentials. I do however never go into the store hungry, because that will make me go for the unhealthy choices and spend more money on that than would normally. I also never go there without a plan; I know what's for dinner, and usually I get dinner to last me two days (portion control means that I don't have to throw things out - I live alone).

12-31-2009, 12:41 PM
299, I hear you. I don't think my freezer is as small as yours, I can definitely keep a week's worth of things and more, but there's not room for really stocking up on specials. I don't have the cupboard space for a lot of stocking up either.

I love the idea of daily shopping, just haven't ever quite implemented it. It seems to maybe suit urban living more than suburban. Still, I should at least give it a trial. I have a grocery store between my apartment and work, and it's close enough to walk. It's just that I don't prefer shopping at Albertson's everyday - I'd rather go weekly to Trader Joe's. But since the daily stuff would be mostly produce, it might be fine. Albertson's has more things in bins - TJ tends to package up produce so you have to buy a certain quantity.

Acutally, I've just gotten out of the habit of cooking almost all my own food. Just getting back to that should save a whole lot ;)

Suzanne 3FC
01-01-2010, 10:51 PM
I stumbled upon a budget food blog yesterday at that looks great. She's feeding two people for 30 bucks a week in NY, which sounds pretty impossible! They are vegetarian, so that helps. They aren't dieting, but most of their recipes look very healthy.

01-01-2010, 11:07 PM
Actually, my freezer has limited space as well. All I can say it is filled so much it is kind of difficult to find what I need.

01-03-2010, 01:01 AM
When I am forced to tighten the belt in more ways than one (haha! I'm funny!), like I am now, I start relying on beans and bulk veggies like carrots and parsnips and onions, oh my. I had good results recently with some white beans, soak and boiled off in low-sodium chicken stock, with roasted vegetahmahbulls added in near the end (except the onions, oh they went right in yum yum). Add that to a roasted chicken, and you are eating for daaaaaays, girl! Beans, brown rice, bulk lean meats... um, ok, bulk leans meats and a pernil. Pernil is lean I tell you. And cheap veggies. I look in the circular online before I shop, and make some choices about 3 main meals that will make left-unders (as hubs calls them), and then a pack of turkey, a hunk of cheese, some whole wheat bread, oatmeal and skim milk for breakfast.
My $.02 (which doesn't go far anymore).
Good luck with the budget, and the diet. :hug:

01-03-2010, 08:06 PM
i have fond memories of buying frozen chicken breast...eating half of one for dinner and using the other half of the breast in a salad the next day. I also remember that ground chicken(or was it turkey) was very cheap.

01-03-2010, 09:37 PM
As far as meats go, you can find some of the best bargains with pork and dark-meat chicken.

Many people avoid pork and dark meat poultry because they're assumed to be fattier than other choices, but this isn't always the case.

Skinless chicken thighs are leaner than skin-on chicken breasts - and are much cheaper. Bone-in thighs, legs and leg quarters are generally the most economical cuts of poultry, but boneless thighs are often cheaper (per pound of edible portion) than bone-in breast.

It can be hard to comparison shop when you're trying to compare the prices of boneless, skinless pieces and bone-in, skin-on pieces. I've often thought of trying to measure how much weight is (on average) in the skin and/or bone of the different cuts, but instead I developed a sort of gut-reaction sense.

Whole chickens I will never pay more than $1.00 per pound
Boneless breasts, I buy only when they're under $2 per pound.
Bone-in breasts, I buy only when they're under $1.50 per pound.
Boneless thighs, I buy only when they're around $1.00 per pound.
Bone-in, skin-on thighs, legs, or leg quarters I buy only when they're under 80 cents per pound (and buy whichever is lowest in price - in the past year, I've found bargains as low as 39 cent per pound).

Pork I try to buy when it is less that $1.50 per pound.

Beef, I try to buy when it is less than $2.00 per pound. Since other meats are generally available cheaper and lower in fat, I don't buy much beef - except for ground beef to brown with tvp (soy protein)

Fish we usually don't buy, because we sometimes go fishing, and hubby's father is an obsessive fisherman who fishes all year round, so we get pan-fish, walleye, and catfish free (if you don't count the cost of our anual fishing licenses).

I only buy it when it's under $5 per pound. And only buy bacon when it's under $2.50 per pound.

(This makes cheese and bacon appear to be more expensive options than other proteins, but we can't judge them that way, because we don't use them in the same way as other meats - and if we did, they wouldn't be healthy options. We use them more as seasonings or toppings for salads, pasta dishes, and other foods and recipes).

We can't save the most money by buying everything at any one store. Though if I had to shop only one store - it would be Walmart during off-hours like at 3 am. We don't shop at 3 am, but we do try to go during off-peak hours so it's easier to take our time and make comparisons, and not have to wait in line for hours to check-out.

There is no way around bargain shopping if you're on a tight budget. There are no universal rules that are always true. Dried beans are very cheap, but only if you buy them when you find them very cheap. Because "health-foods" are very popular, you might pay $5 for a pound of dried black beans packed in a box or bag with a trendy or health-food brand in the health food department. The same type of beans, you might find in a plastic one pound bag for $2 in the rice and bean aisle. A store or unknown brand may be $1 for the same size bag. Or, you could go to an ethnic (say mexican) grocery and find them in hand-sorted in a slightly-larger-than-a-lunch-bag brown paper bag for $2 for a 5 lb bag. You might get them even cheaper if you can buy them in larger bags. Or you might find them in a Big Lot's style store for 39 cents for 1 lb plastic trendy-brand bags along with a variety of other "gourmet" beans (These are all prices I've paid in the last year for beans).

Savings really add up. The best way to eat as cheaply as you can is to pay attention to the minute details and comparison shop (and use those math skills to determine the best price). Whenever I hear a child say "I hate math - when am I ever going to use it?" the grocery store is the FIRST place I now think of.

I think I've used more math, including algebra, in the grocery store (or at home planning for a trip to the grocery store) than any place else.

01-05-2010, 09:37 PM
Well...I really spend $30. per week on food...but I think I am doing very well with that. I buy meats, seafood, fruit and veggies on sale. Get store brand olives, roasted peppers, and yogurt, and so I finally learned how to make (really easy) no- knead bread, make my own seasoned breadcumbs with that, or slice it very thin and toast (like meba toast) to have with home-made humus (very cheap and easy to make).Another good good item... non-fat yogurt... You can drain the liquid off in a colander lined with a paper towel over night, and in the morning you have a very nice spread. Beans, whole grains, vegetable and/or bean soups rock.
Today I made 8 jars of jam and marmalade for less than a dollar a jar. There are lots of recipes and how-tos on line ....if you have the time, and like doing it, you can eat very well for not too much cash.

01-05-2010, 11:05 PM
Here are some tips that help me save money:
1. make a "menu" of all the meals you are going to cook for, and make note of how much of each ingredient you will need to satisfy your menu. Then when you go to the store, you only buy the healthy foods you need for the menu and it also keeps you from impulse buys.

2. Buy in bulk. There are so many items that you can buy bulk, it's almost ridiculous. I make my own granola, but I buy my seeds, dried fruit and some oats in bulk so I only have to buy exactly what I need.

3. Call local butchers and see if they are running any specials. I got a 14 lb bag of LOCAL ORGANIC chicken breasts for $1.50 a pound only because they hadn't been trimmed. I just trimmed them and portioned them in individual baggies, and they are good to go!

4. Save scraps. All of your chicken and veggie scraps and be put into a big pot, let it simmer for a day, strain it, and it's chicken stock. Add some chicken and noodles and you have a really cheap chicken noodle soup. YUM.

01-06-2010, 12:53 PM
these are all really great ideas, anything else anyone wants to add about dieting on a budget?

01-07-2010, 04:46 PM
These two ideas are longer term, but this is just the time to be thinking about them.

Idea 1. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I get a box of produce a week during the growing season. Pound for pound, it's less than I'd pay at the grocery store. It does, however, have a substantial up front cost. You can find a CSA near you by typing your zip code in the Local Harvest site:
The CSA has me eating more and different produce and cooking more creatively (the question isn't so much "what's for dinner?" as "what needs to be eaten?")

Idea 2. Grow your own food. I firmly believe nearly every one should be growing at least basil -- the plant costs about the same as a package of basil at the store and it keeps growing! Last summer was the first time I grew greens from seeds and I'm astounded at how much food can come from a $2 pack of seeds.

01-08-2010, 09:38 AM
Plan your meals around which fresh produce is on sale at the grocery store, use (where you find recipes based on what you have in your kitchen), eat less meat and more beans and lentils. Share meals with others.

01-08-2010, 09:50 AM
Hi Hyaccinth !
I do love your hat and gloves...and your attitude....

01-10-2010, 04:45 PM
Oh this thread has been really helpful! Especially because I stopped at the store today to pick up a few things and my list:

single Tilapia filet
Green beans

all came to $19 and I even chose the stuff that was on sale, sheesh!

01-10-2010, 05:01 PM
I buy organic soup bones from the meat section of the grocery store. They cost anywhere from fifty cents to three dollars a pound (depending on whether or not they are organic, pasture raised, etc). I then make a soup with a beef bone, all sorts of cheap veggies (carrots, parsnips, broccoli stems, onions, celery), a handful of lentils and seasonings. It always makes a huge pot of soup that lasts all week. Plus, the broth from the soup bones is exceptionally healthy -- full of all sorts of minerals and vitamins.

01-10-2010, 05:27 PM
I didn't even think about bones from the meat dept. I wonder if the Whole Foods Market will sell me bones?

01-10-2010, 05:34 PM
They should -- that's where I get my soup bones from. It's a cheap way to get some of the benefits of eating organic meat...

01-11-2010, 11:06 AM

How do you prepare broccoli stems? I've heard you can eat them, but do you remove the skin?


Bombe, that seems like a lot of money for those items. Where, approximately do you live? And is there a cheaper grocery store nearby?

01-11-2010, 11:53 AM
You don't need to peel the broccoli stems -- just slice them thinly and throw them in a pot of soup (or stirfry them -- they are quite good that way as well). I don't use the toughest part of the stem (i.e., the part at the very bottom of the stalk), but the rest of it cooks up quite tender and yummy. I always save my broccoli stalks now after using the florets... It's a great way to get the most from you buck (or two, or three...).

01-11-2010, 09:11 PM
I love broccoli stems. I steam them. I just trim off the leaves and stuff.

Or I put them in soup, they make a very creamy broccoli soup with no flowers to stick to your teeth.

01-21-2010, 03:28 AM
i too try to keep my weekly food budget under $25. i find great deals on canned goods, slightly damaged produce, and bulk beans/seeds/etc. i typically have a general skeleton of a plan for the week, but i also allow whatever is fresh or on special influence me. i typically make one or two "dinner-like" items to eat for lunch at work, oatmeal or other grain for BF, and then veg for snacking. i also try really hard to not waste leftovers.. so i freeze or upcycle a soup or veg into something new.

01-21-2010, 01:04 PM
Hi Hyaccinth !
I do love your hat and gloves...and your attitude....

Hyaccinth is a character on a Brittish tv sitcom called Keeping up Appearances. It's a really funny show. All of her sisters have flower names.

01-22-2010, 08:10 PM
Wendy, (lol) I promise I knew that....I watch PBS too !

01-23-2010, 10:30 PM
I love Hyacinth! She always makes me smile.

I regularly scan my grocery store's discounted vegetable section. I often get vegetables that can be prepared and frozen for use later. They had a huge pile of jalapeno peppers the other day for $1 ... if I had the time that day, I would've purchased them and dried or frozen them for use later.

Sanna Maria
01-24-2010, 01:26 PM
I used to just use dried herbs, unti I discovered that I could buy fresh herbs when they're heavily discounted and just freeze them. I always knew about freezing food, but never about freezing rosemary twigs and thyme etc.

Also I've discovered it's so much cheaper to buy a bag of frozen bell peppers instead of fresh ones, they work really well in a stew where they don't need to be too crunchy.

01-30-2010, 09:07 PM
Marking-excellent thread.

01-31-2010, 12:50 PM
Ooooh, I love this new forum. I was a grad student for so many years, I had to learn how to eat very cheaply -- and cook!

I saved a lot of money drawing on my grandma's ethnic cooking (German and Dutch) -- you can eat very cheaply on the traditional "poor people" vegetables, like cabbage, and the root vegetables like beets, turnips, potatoes etc. These also have the benefit that they last FOREVER in the fridge. Like, months. In a cold climate you can keep them in a box in the garage in the winter, like my mom does, although you need to keep them from freezing solid because then they get mushy. You can still make soup from them at that point though.

A lot of people in the younger generations have never eaten them or learned how to cook them, but in the fine dining circles they are very trendy, so you don't even have to be ashamed of them -- there are recipes for them in Martha Stewart magazine and in the nice cooking blogs. I don't know how to post a link but there's one I read a lot called The Kitchn (no "e") that you can Google that has suggestions for them all the time. They can taste really good! The traditional methods often overcooked them, which hurt their reputation. Try stir-frying or roasting them (directions below) or making soup.

These veggies have a lot of fiber and good vitamins in them, so they are also very filling and diet friendly.

If you are totally horrified by the idea of cabbage or beets or things like that, try roasting them. It brings out the sweet flavors and does not produce that traditional "kohl" cooking smell:

1) cut them into chunks (peel first for beets and root veggies) 1/2-3/4" thick; cabbage can be in about 8 wedges.

2) drizzle with a little olive oil (you can get away with just a spray, but they are nicer when you use up to 1 tsp per serving) and salt and pepper. Or you can jazz it up with chipotle powder, or chinese five spice powder, or whatever you have on hand.

If you are feeding a cabbage-phobic person you can also cut up a slice of bacon and mix in -- it is divine and not so many calories if you reduce the oil in compensation.

3) Stick them on a piece of foil or non-stick pan (in the oven or toaster oven or on the grill or whatever you have) at about 450 degrees until they have crispy brown edges. Usually about 30 min. You can turn them over once in between if you need to impress bystanders with how hard you are working, but the nice thing is you can be doing something else this whole time.

4) If they are not soft enough in the middle at that point, reduce the heat a bit and cook them 10 min more more. You can cut them a bit thinner the next time.

5) serve and devour, being sure to mention to any audience about how this was on Rachel Ray or Nigella or the Guardian food column or whatever will suitably impress them.

01-31-2010, 03:06 PM
This is an awesome thread. In addition to the discounted veggie section, many groceries have a discounted meat section where you can buy the things that are really close to the use or freeze by date. I often purchase things there and depending on what it is I either just use it quickly, freeze as is, or cook and then freeze the cooked product.

02-01-2010, 12:28 PM
Oatmeal! the 42 ounce, 30 serving container of store-brand oatmeal is around 2.00 - 2.50 at most of the grocery stores in my area, and I live in the pricey Northeast.

Bulk oatmeal, even at Whole Foods, is pretty cheap, probably one of the most economical things you can find at WF. That, and the popcorn kernels.

And a half cup, 150 calorie serving of oatmeal with a splash of milk is sooooo much healthier and so much more filling than a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal or (god forbid) Special K which is like air to me.

I put a sweet and low in mine or throw in a few raisins or dried cranberries from Trader Joes for sweetness. Also a dash of cinammon is great or even sugar free maple syrup which I found really cheap at a Food Basics store.

02-10-2010, 05:40 PM
This is an awesome thread! I used to get shocked looks from people 15 years ago when I told them I could feed a family of 4 on $40 a month. I guess I've been doing this type of cooking for a while!

02-20-2010, 03:20 AM
This is wonderful! I'm going to try some of these suggestions next month. :) I keep seeing all these different store names. I guess my town must just be "hick" or something, because the only places we have to shop for groceries are: Walmart, Kroger, Food lion, Save-a-lot, and Aldies (sp?).

02-20-2010, 03:40 AM
Aldi is a great place for discounted is brought up a LOT in this forum. We don't have one here, but if you do have one, it can be a good place to find bargains.

For me it's less about going to a particular store and more about finding the cheapest sources for the things you buy in your area. For example, the Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings in the central park of the suburban, college town near me is really, REALLY expensive. The one on SUNDAY mornings, in the inner city (underneath a freeway overpass, actually), costs about 1/3 as much (and it has some of the same vendors, just selling their stuff a LOT cheaper). We also have a produce market about 30 min away that sells bulk fruits and tomatoes (great for canning projects), veggies, dried beans and grains, and dried fruit at amazing prices (because their business model allows them to get away with almost no waste...anything they don't sell that's getting close to the end of shelf-life gets dehydrated and sold as dried fruit, plus they use almost all local vendors with no middlemen). There's a great meat market an hour and a half away that sells really high quality meats at lower prices than my grocery store, and they can add oil-free marinades to the packages for you, saving on spices, herbs, and oils...they sell frozen, so we go once a month, fill up a cooler, and stock the freezer. And we have learned which grocery stores are more likely to have sales on the grocery staples (peanut butter, no sugar added ice cream, cheeses, etc) and which are more expensive.

Now that we have our "spots", we save a ton of money. And as a bonus, the food is often better quality, local/more environmentally friendly, and tastes better.

08-15-2010, 12:05 AM
I don't know if you all have a WinCO around but this store is amazing!!! I usually throw anything I want in the cart and its like 40 dollars! i buy lots of goodies :) I recommend it

10-10-2010, 05:46 AM
I know that Whole Foods can be expensive, but not everything is, I've said it many times in different threads, but I love their bulk bins. I am on Food Stamps, I receive a little over two hundred dollars a month. I went today and spent thirty-six dollars on about two weeks worth of bulk items such as granola, lentils, nuts, seeds and soup mix, part of that also bought me several containers of yogurt and energy bars. I eat very little meat, but then I went to Kroger's and got some deli meat and cheese on sale and some frozen veggies and eggs for about fifteen more dollars. I understand that not everyone is like me, I use the money solely for me while others have to spend their budgets on family as well, I guess the best way that I save is to go to different stores for different items.

10-10-2010, 06:05 AM
We eat all whole foods at our house and my grocery bill is insanely low.

Typically each week I get Bananas for the kids plus whatever additional fruit is cheapest. Right now it's grapes.

Lettuce, cucumbers, celery + 1 or 2 in season cheap veggies

Kids eat Oatmeal for breakfast with a small handfull of raisons and a drizzle of honey.

Chicken breast, lean beef, occasionally ground turkey breast.

Whole grain bread for them, no sugar jam, natural PB

Milk, cheese, cream cheese..

Frozen veg and frozen berries...

Typically that's pretty much it unless I'm making a special recipe or meal.

We save lots of money by not buying prepackaged and junk food!