100 lb. Club - Huge income cut...cheap healthy food ideas?

05-21-2010, 11:14 AM
Hi friends...my finances have been hit pretty hard the last few months and I'm looking for some cheap recipes or food ideas for healthy eating. I have discovered this ethnic market right up the street from my house that really reasonable prices on vegetables and things like pita bread, grains, beans, etc.

I had been buying a huge bag of frozen chicken breast, cooking it all up on the weekend and portioning it out for lunches for the week. Buying bags of prepared salads and spinach but lately the grocery bill is getting out of hand.

I'm in a rut and broke! Tell me how you eat cheap and still lose weight! Too bad the yucky food is so inexpensive. I could eat at McD's every day for lunch for about $3.50 which is much cheaper than buying whole foods but that is what got me into this mess!

05-21-2010, 11:30 AM
Buy dried beans and legumes as a protein source. You can get a pound for under a dollar, then just soak and cook them all and portion out and freeze. Pintos, black beans, white beans, limas, split peas, lentils are all great! Also brown rice is cheap.

Buy whatever veggies/fruits are on sale for the week and freeze them in batches when they are super cheap.

That alone will save you a ton... you can go a long ways on simple meals. Not as fun as eating out but if you eat this way 5 days a week you can splurge a little the other days on healthy but more expensive items.

05-21-2010, 11:32 AM
you can check out the Shoestring Meals forum for lots of good ideas. http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/shoestring-meals-235/

But in general, the more prep you do yourself, the cheaper the cost. I buy all of my veggies in the least expensive version and then do the prep myself, like I peel and cut up whole carrots instead of buying baby carrots. Instead of buying prepared salads, I buy heads of leaf lettuce (on sale this week for 88 cents per head) and wash them myself and then layer the washed leaves in between half sheets of paper towels. That keeps them fresh and crispy for several days so I can prep enough to last me for about a week.

I prefer boneless chicken thighs to the breasts. They are a little higher in calories but I like the taste better and they have the advantage of being less expensive. I usually buy them at Costco where they come in giant packs that are already pre-portioned into vacuum sealed bags with 5 thighs in each bag. Or I watch for them on sale at the market and then portion them myself into baggies and cook them up as I need them.

Gourmet Bean
05-21-2010, 11:36 AM
For lunch, as boring as this sounds, I eat pb&j sandwiches with Smucker's sugar free jam (Walmart - $2.18) and pb of choice. There are some fairly inexpensive breads out there that go a long way like the Sarah Lee one that are like 45 cals/slice (haven't tried it since I eat some very grainy more expensive bread, but heard it's good) and then I have carrots (2lb bag for about $2.25 when not on sale) and strawberries ($1-1.50/lb) to get some excess fill and help with my daily veggie/fruit intake. I love it. Most people would probably get tired of that day after day but I'm never hungry afterward and it takes me forever to go through everything since I do follow the serving size. Meh, might not be the greatest choice, that's just an idea.

What about buying a head of lettuce, or even romaine, and using that to make salads? You can always shred up some carrot or whatever else you'd like to put in there.

I live in a fairly pricey area without the really well paying job, but I'm 37lbs down and still going strong. I know you're not just buying groceries for you either, which makes things a bit different.

05-21-2010, 11:44 AM
Is your cleaning stuff part of your grocery bill? If so, consider switching to less products or making products do more fore you. For example...

I use Dr Bronner's and diliute 1 tbs to 32 oz water for all purpose cleaning spray. That alone is a big savings because then you aren't paying $3-4 per bottle. If you put a squirt into water inside a foaming dispenser, there's your bathroom hand soap too. If you need to, it can be used to wash clothes, floors, and more.

What you save ont he cleaning stuff can then be used on the food part.

Google your area for farmer market and produce stand/stores. That's often cheaper than supermarket.

Are you talking about just cheaper lunches? Or all the meals?


05-21-2010, 11:48 AM
One of our favorite meals is burrito bowls - a good way to use the leftover beans you've cooked up earlier in a week. I season some chicken (and also use it on a fresh salad another day), and I start with lettuce and then put salsa, black beans, diced onion, a little corn, hot chili beans, diced tomato, a bit more lettuce and the chicken and a little bit of cheese (but really, I've left it off before and never missed the taste). It's SO filling and this makes enough for a few meals. It IS a lot of bowls for the heating process (!), but the per-meal cost is pretty low since the chicken is just a small part of it.

GOOD luck!

I see there's a Trader Joe's in Seattle - if it's anywhere near you, their peanut butter is SUPERB. All natural - no hydrogenated oils. We skim off a little bit of the oil and then stir it up just to cut that fat a bit and don't miss it at all... it's pretty runny anyway - and mine is under $1.75 a jar. I'll take generic spoonsize plain shredded wheat and a serving of peanut butter and dip it in that for a breakfast.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone ideas, as well! :)

05-21-2010, 11:56 AM
i used to love the bagged salads too, until i realized they were costing me $3 dollars for about half a head of lettuce, buy whole heads of lettuce for about a $1.50 each and then tear them (not cut) apart and save in airtight containers (ziploc bags, ziploc containers, etc) at the beginning of the week and use throughout the week. also, freezing fruits after stocking up on them while they are on sale, and then later using them for smoothies has been a favorite money saver of mine :)

also, idk if you have this in your neighborhood, but if you research around for some farmer's markets or less "popular" grocery stores (ones that aren't chains) you can usually get all of your gorceries for much cheaper. I know that I would get a ton of veggies and fruits for my family of 3 (who are big eaters) for about $50 a week! at a normal chain store, that would cost me about $80

05-21-2010, 11:58 AM
Are you talking about just cheaper lunches? Or all the meals?


It seems that my biggest food expense is my lunch but ideas for lunch and dinner are much appreciated!

05-21-2010, 11:59 AM
Start a garden. All you need is seeds and water, the weather is perfect for it. Grow your own veggies or fruit. Pickle some stuff to have during the winter even. This will save you a ton of money, on it's own.

My parents grow tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, squash and strawberries in their garden. Then whatever money you have for groceries can go towards the things you can't just grow on your own.

05-21-2010, 12:08 PM
Start a garden. All you need is seeds and water, the weather is perfect for it. Grow your own veggies or fruit. Pickle some stuff to have during the winter even. This will save you a ton of money, on it's own.

My parents grow tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, squash and strawberries in their garden. Then whatever money you have for groceries can go towards the things you can't just grow on your own.

I grew up with a garden and while this is a great idea...I live in a Condo with -0- yard. It's too bad. I'd love to grow my own food.

05-21-2010, 12:47 PM
One of my favorite websites ever- http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com/

They have awesome recipes featured under their recipe link at the top and have lots of good articles on healthy foods, keeping costs down, etc. They also have a lot of vegetarian and even vegan meals.

I've only made a few recipes from there... but they've all been really good! (mmm red lentil soup with lemon!) There's a big variety and it's encouraged me to try new ingredients and foods I hadn't thought of before.
They list out the nutrition information and the cost per serving of each meal too.

05-21-2010, 01:16 PM
I make the bread that my family eats, which is far cheaper than buying bread. I have a breadmaker, so that makes the process a little easier, but making bread fully by hand is still not that difficult or time-consuming.

Frozen veggies and fruit are sometimes cheaper than fresh. They also usually come pre-chopped, so that helps with prep time on meals.

Seasonal veggies and fruit are often cheap.

Milk and eggs are generally pretty cheap.

If you buy the cheapest ground beef, fry it up, and then rinse it in hot water--you will get a result that has less fat than the best ground beef but is much cheaper.

If there's a Trader Joe's near you, they have good prices on things like nuts, baking supplies...do compare them to your usual grocery store on everything. We also get their pre-made Thai or Indian sauces when we want to have a "treat" meal but don't want to pay the massive price of getting takeout for a family of 5.

If lunches are a specific issue for you, why not just make extra at dinner and then have leftovers for lunch?

05-21-2010, 01:49 PM
I am sorry to hear of your income reduction. That's hard.

Do you have an Aldi's store near where you live? Their prices are low on most things. They even have a Fit and Active brand that is for more healthful varieties of things.

The Aldi's near me is very nice and has great prices on produce.

05-21-2010, 02:07 PM
I second Beverly's Aldi idea -- I get 1lb ground turkey for $2.50. CHEAP! Also, if you buy whole chickens vs just the chicken breast you can save a lot of money. It's less than $2 a pound VS chicken breast which is around $4+. If it's just you, you can cut up a whole chicken for just about a week's worth of meals, or just bake the whole thing in some water/chicken stock with vegetables and make some soup with some of the leftovers.

05-21-2010, 02:15 PM
Look into Angel Food Ministries - https://www.angelfoodministries.com/. It is like a food coop. I know several people that use it and are very happy. They say they provide enough food to feed a family of 4 for about $30 a week. Some of the food is healthy and some is not.

05-21-2010, 02:45 PM
Look into Angel Food Ministries - https://www.angelfoodministries.com/. It is like a food coop. I know several people that use it and are very happy. They say they provide enough food to feed a family of 4 for about $30 a week. Some of the food is healthy and some is not.

Angel Food Ministries is a wonderful organization! This is a great organization to either seek support or to provide support.

05-22-2010, 12:01 AM
Chiming in here on shredding/prepping vegetables yourself, and how much money it can save. Whole veggies also last longer until you cut them than the pre-cut ones do. To some people I think it seems like a tedious job but I enjoy it. Set aside some time -- maybe you can make it "family time" -- or play some nice music, clear your space, put out your plastic tubs and set to work and think about what healthy things you are making for your family! It takes me maybe a half hour a week at the most, probably a bit more if you are doing it for a whole family.

For salads, cabbage is even cheaper than lettuce, and lasts forever in the fridge, so you might consider using that to switch up your salads. The secret to great salad cabbage is shredding it really fine. I have a cheap plastic mandoline cutter which does a great job, and spend about 10minutes once a week shredding into a big gladware tub, usually with some carrot and cucumber at the same time. I only go through about a quarter of a cabbage a week (living by myself) so shred that amount. Then I wrap the other pieces in saran wrap in the crisper. Sometimes the edges turn color after a while but if that happens I just cut it off.

I usually make it with a soy-sesame oil-rice vinegar dressing but it's also great with some lemon squeezed over it and a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

apple or clementine sections
mixed with shredded green salad, berry viniagrette, pomegranate seeds

My newest discovery is roasted squash soup from one of the recipe threads here. You roast sections of butternut squash in the oven, and then puree them with some chicken broth, and salt and pepper. (Some recipes on the web add sugar but it doesn't even need it.) I also added red peppers and onions, roasting them right along with the squash. It is FANTASTIC and costs pennies a serving. It might not work for you right now because butternut squash is not in peak season in the US until fall-winter, but check the prices, they do store well and even out of season they are usually pretty cheap.

05-22-2010, 12:07 PM
:hug: Sorry to hear about the income reduction...that sucks.

I do the bulk buying to save some dough. I know the prices seem high but compared to buying it in the smaller portions it saves me a ton. I go to Sam's Club and get the Tyson's Chicken Breast in the freezer section. I also buy my rice there. The brown rice isn't instant (which can be a pain) but it is SOOOO much cheapier that way. Also, I don't know about where you're at but here, the milk, eggs, cheese, is always cheaper to buy as our local Sam's than any other store. Milk alone we can save almost $1 a gallon, as skim at Krogers could be anywhere from $2.70 to almost $4 depending if its on sale and at Sam's it was $2.28. I also buy the Sara Lee flat sandwhich breads in multigrain there. They're a lil pricey ($4.50 for 16 sandwichs worth) but they also sell the regular bread for decent prices...but honestly, when I really really have to cut the bill, I go with Kroger's store brand bead. I get the wheat and its $.88 a loaf, way cheaper than even wal-mart. Big store chains (like Kroger, Food Lion, City Market) have pretty cheap generic stand ins.
I buy the generic frozen veggies at wal-mart, which is under $1.20 a package depending on the type of veggie you purchase. And take the advertisements from other stores (Kroger, Shop'n'Save, etc) cause they will price match and if its a generic item, you can quickly check the other ads to see if the other store brands are going to be cheaper. Also, ALWAYS have a calculator handy in a grocery store. You can compare different brands price per unit. I'm big on this because, just because brand might cost less, it may have less qauntity, so I carry a calculator and always find price per unit. You'd be suprised...the few cents you save here an add up!!
I know it may sound nuts but when shopping I end up running to a minimum of 2 stores. I want our $$ t5o stretch as far as possible and if it saves me $10, its $10 extra.

So, I know your looking for recipes, so here's mine to contribute:
Paprika chicken with Cream of Mushroom Rice- This feeds my family of 4 and its pretty cheap.
-3-Defrosted Chicken breasts (adjust according to the sizes of the breasts of course)
-2 Cups uncooked rice
-1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup (depending on the amount you can add more)
-Garlic, paprika, salt, peper
In a bake dish mix the rice, water and cream of mushroom. Season the mixture with the garlic powder, salt and peper. Place the chicken ontop the mixture, and sprinkle liberally with the paprika.
Cover and bake on 375 for 30 to 45 minutes.
We use instant rice generally, but occassionaly I've used the non-instant, and if you do, I've found that it works best to cook the rice first, and mix the cooked rice with 1 cup of water and 1 can of cream of mushroom.

I actually got this off of Campbell's online recipe thingy... they have a section for healthy recipes that are pretty okay price wise.... Hope this helps and I hope more that things get easier for you :)

05-22-2010, 01:18 PM
I have a pressure canner, and I look for deep sales on beef, lean burger, pork, and chicken, and then I can a bunch of pints of meat. We have one pantry shelf just of canned meat. We can easily saute a bunch of veg and add a can of cubed pork, add sauce, and have a lovely, inexpensive dinner. It's been a real life-saver.

05-22-2010, 02:01 PM
Sorry to hear about your income reduction. Sadly, I know lots of people going through is right now. Hope things turn around for you quickly :hug:

This is an awesome site: http://thirtyaweek.wordpress.com/

The folks there shop for $30 or less a week, and they post recipes. Most if it is already super healthy, but the meals can be tweaked if need be.

When the purse strings are tight, I like to make fritattas. Eggs, lots of veggies, and whatever else you may want to throw in. They last refrigerated for a few days and can be reheated for lunches or dinners with a salad on the side. Good, cheap stuff.

I also can't say enough about dried beans and on sale frozen vegetables...they go a long way. Also, hearty homemade soups rock. I made a potato leek soup last weekend that provided us 3 days of dinners -- we picked up all the ingredients for a steal at the farmer's market.

Hang in there, and good luck :)

05-22-2010, 03:24 PM
I bring salads for lunch. I buy head lettuce not the prepackaged stuff. I put meat or seafood on the salad and do not use dressing but rather a bit of the cooking juices from the meat on the salad. I buy the meat/seafood in bulk when it is on sale and freeze it in my chest freezer. Every Sunday I prepare the weekly lunches and stack them in the fridge so they are ready to grab and go. Bulk up the salad with whatever veggies are in season or on sale. Shopping the local farmers market supports your local economy and saves $$ too. I love this book for frugal ideas across all areas, not just food - http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/05/14/an-interview-with-amy-dacyczyn-the-author-of-the-tightwad-gazette/.