Shoestring Meals - Cheapest complete diets




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vassock
08-04-2011, 06:20 PM
I want to know about some of the cheapest, yet healthy diets. The primary obstacle here is money. It has to be relatively cheap ($5 per day or less preferably). It also has to be relatively easy to prepare, but that goes hand-in-hand with being cheap since high preparation costs affect the cost of the diet. Besides cost, it is extremely important that this diet is healthy nutrition and vitamin-wise. Many cheap diets omit important nutrients and vitamins. This can lead to nutrient deficiency disorders and other problems. I want a complete diet that is cheap and easy to prepare. It does not have to be tasty, just complete and cheap.

I'm assuming that rice and beans will be mentioned numerous times. I prefer rice.


mandalinn82
08-04-2011, 06:33 PM
The problem is, I have found that a diet can only be two of the following at the same time: Cheap, Fast, and Healthy. You can have a cheap, fast/easy to prepare diet, but it won't be healthy (fast food and junk foods). You can have a fast and healthy diet, but it won't be cheap (meal delivery services, pre-chopped/prepared foods). You can have a cheap and healthy diet, but typically, it won't be fast/easy (cooking from scratch does take some time, and the cheaper ingredients - dried beans, bulk whole grains, cheap veggies - take time to prep and cook). You're looking for all three, which in my experience, just doesn't exist out there.

Can you spare a weekend afternoon or evening to batch cook (or even get some meals into a crockpot)? If you do that, you can use cheap, bulk ingredients (brown rice, lean proteins purchased in bulk packages, cheaper veggies like onion, celery, carrots, or veggies that are abundant and in season) to make meals for the week which can be refrigerated or frozen. Cook once, eat many times, and move on with your life.

Procuring the best prices on healthy ingredients can also take time. I took time to find the lowest priced farmer's market in my area. It's 30 min away, but I can get all of my produce and some of my lean proteins for the week for about half of grocery store or local farmer's market prices. It takes me time to go there, but I get my ingredients cheaply and in bulk, so it is worth it to me. I could pay more in exchange for my time by shopping somewhere closer, but I choose to exchange my time for some monetary savings.

vassock
08-04-2011, 07:29 PM
Yes, I can sacrifice some time. However, with gas prices being what they are, I don't think it makes sense to drive a long distance to save some money on food that is already cheap. So yes, I can give up "fast" if it means the food can be "cheap and healthy." Do you have any examples? Energy is a concern for me, by the way. Cooking does require electricity and pots and pans do deteriorate. That said, if it is at all possible, I can consume food in the raw form if it still has the same or similar nutritional value.


kelly315
08-04-2011, 07:35 PM
Amanda's suggestion is excellent (as always). I would definitely recommend calorie counting. You don't have to buy anything special or pay any program fees- you just have to count what you eat. That plus Amanda's suggestion sounds like a perfect plan.

mandalinn82
08-04-2011, 07:43 PM
Batch cooking with help you with the cooking energy and wear and tear, too, since you're cooking one time and making a lot of meals.

So for example, you can make yourself 6 breakfasts fairly easily, by cooking once:
-1 dozen eggs, beaten (2.00/dozen - I can usually find them cheaper, but not sure where you are located...this is what I pay for the free range eggs at my farmer's market)

-1-2 boxes of frozen veggies (I get these on supersale, usually, and use coupons if possible, so my cost can be 50 cents for the boxed kind, then I stock up as much as possible at that price). You just want to squeeze out whatever excess water there is before adding to your eggs - broccoli and spinach are both good. (50 cents to 1 dollar)

-Salt and Pepper

-If your budget allows and/or sales are good, you can add some more protein (a small amount of bacon, sausage, or ham, chopped up fine can go a long way) or some cheese you grate yourself. ($1 or so, depending on what you use).

You just mix it all together, put into a slightly greased 12-cup muffin tin, and bake until they're set/firm. 2 is a serving, and the total cost (even with a dollar of extras in the form of cheese, meat, and two boxes of veggies) is 66 cents/serving. If you just use eggs and veggies, it goes even lower per serving. It's also a great way to get veggies, with all of their nutrients and fiber, and protein, AND you've got the whole week ready to go at once so it'll be quick once you do it, so you can grab and go.

mandalinn82
08-04-2011, 07:56 PM
Lunches and dinners would be great either in a crockpot (which uses marginally less energy than a cooktop, even when cooking for 8 hours) or on the stovetop, and again, I'd go in batches so you only use your pots and the amount of energy used to cook one time. You can do all kinds of things with a crockpot, using all kinds of cheap ingredients:

-Red beans and rice with carrots, zucchini, celery, onion, canned tomatoes if you can obtain them cheaply, and spices. You don't have to use all of those veggies - go with what you can get cheaply, chop it up, and add it in. Fiber, protein, and veggies.

-Chicken pieces (I can find whole chickens for 79 cents a lb when they go on sale. When they do, I bring them home, cut them up, and freeze) with whatever seasonings and liquids you have on hand, and again, more veggies (canned tomatoes can be bought on sale and make a great base for crockpot meals). Serve the chicken (remove the skin before serving to cut the calories) and veggies over brown rice (which you can also cook in bulk and freeze in individual portions). You can use frozen veggies too - just add them closer to the end of cooking, so they don't get mushy.

-Corn tortillas, black beans cooked in your crockpot or on the stove from dry and then stored in your freezer until you're ready to eat them, shredded lettuce or iceberg, salsa and lowfat sour cream if you can find it on sale - cheap, fast to cook on a busy night, lots of fiber from the beans, whole grain from the corn, and vitamins from the salsa.

Whatever you make, make a lot, then freeze in individual portions. Every meal you cook on your batch cooking day is a meal you don't have to spend time on during the week.

kaplods
08-04-2011, 08:25 PM
I'd recommend exchange plan dieting, because some balance is already built in. But you still have to know what you mean by complete (or balanced), because even dietitians don't all agree on the best diet (or if there even is one).

I like exchange plans, because they're easy to adapt to almost any style of eating - so when my idea of "balance" changes, so can my diet. I have done exchange plan "versions" of South Beach, Atkins, Primal Blueprint, Volumetrics, Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories....

Exchange plans are almost as flexible as calorie counting (which is another good choice - but you have to understand and create the balance yourself).

The Shoestring Meals forum has many great tips, recipes, and techniques.

There are also a lot of great books (check out amazon.com by searching healthy eating on a budget - and when you look at the books' pages look at the other books recommended on that page).

Suzanne 3FC
08-28-2011, 11:53 PM
The cheapest diet I ever tried was the first phase of the Fat Smash Diet. It was very filling because you ate a lot of oatmeal and brown rice, but you also were allowed unlimited amounts of all veggies except potatoes and avocados, as well as unlimited fruit. You could also eat cooked beans and egg whites. You cooked with very little oil. You could eat a small amount of dairy - up to 2 cups of skim milk or 2 servings of yogurt. However, you could not eat cheese. Phase 2 added small amounts of other foods, but you could stay on phase 1 as long as you wanted. If you ate the full amount of oats, rice, dairy, and a reasonable amount of veggies and fruits, the diet came to about 1300 to 1500 calories per day.

You were allowed 1 cup cooked oatmeal and 2 cups of cooked brown rice or other grain, so you get full on very cheap food, then surround it with whatever veggies and fruits you can afford to add to it.

Our Fat Smash forum is closed, but I think you can still access it directly at http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/fat-smash-diet-211/ If you are interested, you can browse the threads for sample menus, etc. I would suggest starting from the last page as there are more menus and ideas there.

vassock
08-30-2011, 11:18 PM
The cheapest diet I ever tried was the first phase of the Fat Smash Diet. It was very filling because you ate a lot of oatmeal and brown rice, but you also were allowed unlimited amounts of all veggies except potatoes and avocados, as well as unlimited fruit. You could also eat cooked beans and egg whites. You cooked with very little oil. You could eat a small amount of dairy - up to 2 cups of skim milk or 2 servings of yogurt. However, you could not eat cheese. Phase 2 added small amounts of other foods, but you could stay on phase 1 as long as you wanted. If you ate the full amount of oats, rice, dairy, and a reasonable amount of veggies and fruits, the diet came to about 1300 to 1500 calories per day.

You were allowed 1 cup cooked oatmeal and 2 cups of cooked brown rice or other grain, so you get full on very cheap food, then surround it with whatever veggies and fruits you can afford to add to it.

Our Fat Smash forum is closed, but I think you can still access it directly at http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/fat-smash-diet-211/ If you are interested, you can browse the threads for sample menus, etc. I would suggest starting from the last page as there are more menus and ideas there.

But can eating it forever lead to illness due to lack of a particular vitamin or mineral or other substance?

BottomFlower
09-13-2011, 08:16 PM
I have found that Lean Cuisine meals taste good & are pretty reasonable if you find them on sale or with coupons. I found them for $1.98. (they have codes in the box where you can earn points for free stuff too)

I have tried almost every prepared diet food out there. Example: medifast & nutrisystem that I sampled from ebay for really cheap (ick). I wanted to try them before I spent a ton of money buying them from the company. Good thing I sampled 'cause I didn't like any of them.

I do my own breakfast & snacks. I eat prepared oatmeal or a protein drink for breakfast. You can get several servings from one box purchased. I have sugar free jello, flavored tea, fruit cups or sugar free pudding for snack. I make the jello/pudding myself and pour them into small 1 serving containers.

All of the above are pretty easy to count the calories too. So far today I still have only eaten 890 calories. I will have a 250 cal lean cuisine for my dinner with some salad and some jello.

I'm very new here but I am not new to dieting and I can stay on my plan when I can pick the food I actually like.

I like the idea of batch cooking too since I only have extra time on the weekends. I am going to try this too.

Serval87
09-20-2011, 10:25 AM
I invested in a chest freezer so I could really stock up on kroger's frozen vegetables when they're 10 for 10. I also stock my pantry full of dry beans, quinoa, and canned fish. Since it's going to be cold weather soon (hopefully) I will be getting fresh deer once my dad goes hunting. Plus I buy bulk bags of chicken breasts. This usually lasts a while, and I'm on food stamps.

Panacea86
09-20-2011, 10:42 AM
I think mandalinn82 has provided really good insight. Cooking in batches saves money, the crock pot is good for your other concerns, and frozen vegetables/stocking up on whole chickens are a great resource.

stellarosa27
01-05-2012, 12:49 PM
Money's been tight recently, so I've been relying on egg whites, chicken breast and frozen vegetables. I really love fresh vegetables, but they're so expensive and if I'm going to "splurge" I'd rather splurge on fresh, seasonal fruit.

I'm fortunate enough to have 3 grocery stores within a mile of my apartment, and 1/3 always has chicken breast on sale. A few weeks ago there was a deal where you got 4 breasts for 3.00, so I stocked up, butterflied them and froze them.

Also, as someone already mentioned, you can usually get frozen vegetables for 10 for $10. Green Giant has started making medley packs that are microwave steam ready, and can often be found for 10 for $10.

I've been making my own vegetable soup in the crock pot using frozen vegetables and whatever broth is on sale (usually the generic is less than $1 for a can, and I add water to dillute the sodium and just add lots of spices).

I also make my own egg white muffins using egg whites, shredded cheese, turkey luncheon meat (usually on sale as well) and spices.

vassock
02-01-2012, 12:24 AM
I think some of the posters here have misunderstood my request. The goal here is not necessarily to reduce weight gain. Rather, it is to avoid vitamin/mineral deficiency conditions such as scurvy. As someone who has little experience in preparing meals and general nutrition, I want to learn how to feed myself on a budget. It's easy to just buy whatever meat you want, but that is a luxury unavailable to me.

Also, the recommendations should not require refrigeration since this is not available, either.

I do like the recommendations listing rice and oatmeal as components, but when someone mentions NOT eating potatoes I feel as though people are avoiding the goal I mentioned above. Potatoes are actually quite cheap and a good source of nutrients.

That said, maybe this would be a better approach. What do you see as wrong with the following diet, expense/nutrition wise?

1. Brown rice (packed in plastic, soaked in water before consuming)
2. White rice (packed in plastic, soaked in water before consuming)
3. Potatoes (microwaved)
4. Canned pork and beans (microwaved)
5. Raw tomatoes
6. Microwaved noodles/pasta
7. White bread

What can I add/remove to make this diet complete and without nutrient deficiencies/diseases/disorders?

I also like the idea of buying prepared meals that only need a microwave, but I am a little worried about the effects of its sodium content if that's ALL I ever eat.

MARLA26
02-01-2012, 12:47 AM
Add a few strawberries to your diet every day and you won't get scurvey.

Or you could add 1/2 a lime to a very large glass of water daily. Limes are very high in vitamin C and other nutrients.
:smug:

Desert Rat
02-04-2012, 08:51 PM
I cook both oatmeal and cornmeal (polenta) in the microwave. You can stir nonfat dry milk powder into either one for calcium and protein. Potatoes, onions and winter squash will keep several days in a cool, dry place. Apples, oranges, bananas and raisins are good fruit choices and will last a while without refrigeration. Dried beans are the cheapest protein, but unless you have a hot plate to cook them canned are a good second choice. Most are a bit bland, but they might make good cold salads with a little garlic, oil and vinegar or lemon. Don't forget peanut butter! I like it on store-brand whole-wheat crackers.

Desert Rat
02-04-2012, 09:02 PM
Also check this website out - recipefinder.nal.usda.gov. You can search for recipes by the type of cooking equipment you have. It's designed for SNAP recipients, so most of the recipes are inexpensive and nutritious.

kaplods
02-04-2012, 10:01 PM
I think some of the posters here have misunderstood my request. The goal here is not necessarily to reduce weight gain. Rather, it is to avoid vitamin/mineral deficiency conditions such as scurvy. As someone who has little experience in preparing meals and general nutrition, I want to learn how to feed myself on a budget. It's easy to just buy whatever meat you want, but that is a luxury unavailable to me.

Also, the recommendations should not require refrigeration since this is not available, either.

I do like the recommendations listing rice and oatmeal as components, but when someone mentions NOT eating potatoes I feel as though people are avoiding the goal I mentioned above. Potatoes are actually quite cheap and a good source of nutrients.

That said, maybe this would be a better approach. What do you see as wrong with the following diet, expense/nutrition wise?

1. Brown rice (packed in plastic, soaked in water before consuming)
2. White rice (packed in plastic, soaked in water before consuming)
3. Potatoes (microwaved)
4. Canned pork and beans (microwaved)
5. Raw tomatoes
6. Microwaved noodles/pasta
7. White bread

What can I add/remove to make this diet complete and without nutrient deficiencies/diseases/disorders?

I also like the idea of buying prepared meals that only need a microwave, but I am a little worried about the effects of its sodium content if that's ALL I ever eat.

No balanced diet is going to contain only 7 kinds of food - especially since 5.5 of the 7 are really coming from only one food group (grain/starch). You only list one veggie.

Now I know you probably don't mean only eating these 7 foods - but it's why none of us can "give" you a balanced diet - we'd have to include a list of too many foods to fit in one small paragraph.

This is why I suggested exchange plan diets, because they will include servings of fat, starch/grain, protein, fruits, veggies, and dairy - and you can then choose the most econonmical options from those categories. The best way to insure balance, is to eat the widest variety of foods you can (and for fruits and veggies - the widest number of colors).

You can buy variety on a very low budget, because there are many inexpensive options in each food exchange category.

You can't give a list of a dozen or even 100 foods and ensure a balanced diet. But the more variety you eat, the better odds you'll have. Exchange plans are helpful, because you do get foods from six different "food groups" but you still want to eat more than one or two foods from each group, you want to eat dozens of foods from each group, and for the plant-based foods you want as much color variation as possible (all your veggies shouldn't be green - you shouch get fruits and veggies in all colors oranges, reds, purple-reds, greens, whites and yellows, greens).

You have to do the work to understand nutrition a little better, if you want a well-balanced diet. None of us can balance your diet for you, or give you a list of inexpensive foods that provide ultimate nutrition or even relatively balanced nutrition. The list would be way too long - and even then you could eat from the list and still end up with an unbalanced diet if you're eating too much of one food and not enough of another (which is why I suggested exchange plans, because you're assigned only so many protein, so many fruit, so many veggies.... some of the balance is built in - but if you never eat "orange" foods (just as an example) that's probably not so good.

You are going to have to do most of the work here, and that's going to have to start with learning a little bit about nutrition so you recognize healthy food at a bargain price when you see it.

If you're not willing to do the work, you've got to understand that you're going to be "taking your chances." You can "wing it" by eating as much variety as you can afford, and hoping for the best (and taking a multivitamin to hopefully fill in any gaps) or you can see a professional dietitian.

A dietitian will sit down with you and can help you plan a healthful diet with your preferences, lifestyle, and budget - but none of us can "hand you" a balanced diet. Even if we had the skill set, it would take hours and hours of work - and knowing the food prices in your area. What is cheap in my area is going to be expensive in others (and food in season here, may be out of season elsewhere).

Almost all-year-round I can find some type of cabbage for less than 40 cents per pound (as low as 19 cents). Cheese here is very inexpensive (if you choose local dairies). Food markets here are usually very inexpensive, in some places that's not true. I can't give you a "cheap diet" because what is cheap here may be expensive where you live - so you have to learn strategies - not food lists.

That's why exchange plans are so helpful - some balance is mixed in - but once you learn which foods satisfy which food group, you will choose foods based on your own budget and the prices in your area. So you will buy the ten or more cheapest proteins in your area. You will buy the ten or more cheapest fruits in your area. The ten or more cheapest veggies. Eat as much variety as possible within each of the six groups, and your diet will be better balanced than most.

If you don't have much money, there is no way to do this without doing most of the work yourself - not just the physical work, but the mental work of learning more about nutrition.

flourless
02-04-2012, 11:23 PM
What kaplods said.

There's a huge body of research on nutrition, and attempting to distill it down until a few basic foods is an impossible feat. There are as many ways to have a "healthy" diet as there are posters on this forum, foods vary naturally in nutritional value, prices vary seasonally and from locality to locality.

What resources you have available to you vary as well. I have a friend who can harvest salad from nearly anyone's front lawn, and it's a highly nutritious and free option, but requires that you know local plants and are comfortable foraging. Locally I could get fresh seafood or fish for minimal cost in time/equipment/licensing, but again, you have to have knowledge of the area and the interest in doing so.

allly
08-03-2012, 09:17 PM
The diet you list is not balanced. It is very carb heavy. Vegetable prevent a lot of deficiencies and provide many vitamins and minerals.

I suggest looking at choosemyplate (dot) gov. The whole purpose of the website is to educate people on eating a balanced diet. (Not weight loss focused.) It will give you all sorts of examples of what you should eat based on your height and weight. You can then decide within the general guidelines what your food choices will be.

:-)

ValRock
08-03-2012, 09:27 PM
You need fat and protein to survive. The diet you list is carb heavy, which is not even an essential macronutrient.

You'd get the best bang for your buck from fatty meats and produce, if your only goal is to reduce the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies.

Prim2012
08-03-2012, 10:03 PM
I agree with Val on protein and fat. Since refrigeration is not available, you should consider adding more beans and nuts for protein and fat. Tuna (packed in water) is pretty cheap. There are also a variety of canned vegetables and cheap, healthy soups from Campbell and Progressive that you can add.

IAmTheGlue
08-22-2012, 07:52 PM
You may consider eating peanut butter sandwiches, too. That way you would be getting some protein that does not need to be refrigerated, add a banana rather than jelly and you have a serving a fruit, too. Or you could have an apple on the side.

I know that doesn't really answer your question but I know that peanut butter and apples can go a long way in regards to being budget friendly.