How To Make Nutritious Meals for $1 – $2/Day Per Person

by J. Money -

cooking from scratch

Happy Friday y’all!

Had a blast from the past when this AWESOME comment popped up, and thought it was helpful to share in case anyone else is struggling with keeping their food costs down :)

If you were around last year, you might remember a post we shared on how my friend Dan budgets for his family of 8 (2 parents and 6 kids!!), and one of the sections that exploded was how he feeds his family on less than $1.00/meal.

It was pretty hilarious to see all the opinions and naysayers come out basically calling him a liar (that’s the internet for ya, eh?) so we ended up running one of these views with hopes it would spark even more convo and people would then share how they themselves eat so well on the cheap.

It worked (200+ people chimed in!) and you can find that one here: How in GOD’s NAME do you spend so little on food??

Then Dan gave a rebuttal and that only fueled the ideas and opinions even more, turning into another epic convo (180+ comments): How to Eat on Less Than $1.00/meal

Which brings us to today’s comment…

While people shared a lot of insight and you should totally check them out if you have the interest (and time!), this person here really stood out with her own set of “rules,” and offered a slew of real-life examples to boot. Even though I couldn’t follow half of them myself, particularly #2 (I love meat!), #5 (I suck at cooking) and #6 (don’t take away my cereals!!). We’re all different though, so I’m sure you’ll find something to take away from this :)

Oh! She also came back to drop some great recipes too! So look for that at the end of the post… Talk about some quality comments, boy. Hope this helps!!

*** Janet’s Tips on Making (Healthy) Meals on The Cheap! ***

My goal is making nutritious meals for $1 to $2 a day per person…

RULES:

  1. Choose nutritionally dense foods
  2. Use meat and cheese sparingly
  3. Buy food on sale only, and in bulk when price is right
  4. Keep meals more to the simple side
  5. Cook from scratch and make own bread
  6. Give up cold cereal for breakfast, it’s very expensive and not much on nutrition
  7. Snacks are fruit, vegetables, pretzels, tortilla chips or nachos (we don’t buy potato chips, cheetos, crackers, ice cream, etc.)

Here’s what some of our meals look like following these rules:

Breakfast:

  • Brown rice n’ raisins / milk / boiled egg
  • Blender whole wheat pancakes / fruit
  • Oven pancake / fruit or juice
  • Oatmeal pancakes with applesauce
  • Oatmeal with craisins / milk / boiled egg
  • Cooked blender cracked wheat with butter n’ honey / fruit / boiled egg
  • Scrambled eggs / whole wheat toast / juice
  • Hash browns / fried eggs / fruit
  • Green smoothies / toast
  • Blueberry muffins / yogurt / banana

Main Meals:

(We often include homemade whole wheat/whole grain bread, rolls, or muffins (our favorite are oatmeal muffins). Every so often I’ll bake french bread or make homemade refrigerator crescent rolls or even popovers, and for cornbread and corn muffins we use stone ground cornmeal medium grind.)

  • Homemade pepperoni pizza / veggie tray with homemade ranch dressing OR salad (romaine, shredded red cabbage, homemade cream italian dressing)
  • “Chicken-Fried” dinner patties / mashed potatoes / creamy gravy / green peas (the pattie is made from oatmeal and eggs, tastes like a chicken pattie)
  • Baked yams / siraccha deviled eggs
  • Siraccha egg salad sandwiches / green salad
  • Frittata (eggs, potatoes, spinach, green onions, cheese)
  • Lentils n’ eggs / sous vide carrots
  • Italian sausage stew (has lentils, cracked wheat, sausage, onions, garlic, tomatoes)
  • Lentil tacos with lime, cilantro, sour cream, salsa (family fave, sometimes we add chorizo purchased at a local store where they make their own, not the awful junk found at grocery stores)
  • Tuna salad on whole wheat / roasted potato chunks with kale
  • Crusty tuna patties / garlic mashed potatoes / green beans
  • Chicken noodle (homemade) soup with vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, potatoes, kale)
  • Mom’s chicken tortilla soup with crushed tortilla chips and cheese
  • Italian tomato bread soup (cubed leftover homemade french bread croutons) The soup is made of home canned tomatoes, garlic, onion, home grown basil (grown year indoors)
  • Chili (with ground beef) / corn muffins / salad or celery sticks
  • Southern pinto beans / cornbread / carrot sticks
  • Burritos / mexican rice or cilantro-lime rice / radishes or cucumbers
  • Creamy mac n’ cheese / steamed broccoli n’ carrots
  • Spaghetti (has ground beef) with homemade oven sauce / steamed broccoli / homemade french bread
  • Bacon fried rice / steamed carrots and peas
  • Black beans over rice with cheese (black beans, sausage, onion, oregano, tomato sauce)

So, if we have spaghetti, sauce, broccoli, and bread, here is the cost breakdown for 5 adult servings:

  • Extra fiber noodles, yearly sale: 50 cents for 14 oz.
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef (on sale for $1.99 lb)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced, 3 cents
  • 1 yellow onion on sale, 8 cents (every fall 25 lb. for $4.00, some of them we dice and freeze)
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes, 40 cents per can on case lot sale
  • 1 can tomato sauce, 20 cents per can on case lot sale
  • Dried Italian seasoning / fresh basil, 2 cents
  • Fresh broccoli on sale, 1 and 1/2 lb. 89 cents
  • French bread made with unbleached flour, 36 cents per loaf

Total: $3.48 / about 70 cents per each of 5 servings

OKAY….

Now let’s say we have oatmeal n’ craisins for breakfast, and baked yam/deviled eggs for lunch:

  • Oatmeal per serve, 4 cents
  • Craisins, 1 T. , 8 cents
  • Milk, 1/2 cup, 8 cents

Total: 20 cents/serving

  • Yam, 1 person, on sale, 38 cents
  • Butter, 2 T., 4 cents
  • 3 halves deviled eggs, 21 cents

Total: 68 cents/serving

[Editor’s note: I would have to eat two bowls of oatmeal to fill me up at breakfast + orange juice (I take it her family drinks a lot of water?), and then probably 3x yams & deviled eggs for lunch, haha… But yeah, would def. still be cheap! And just something to keep in mind too – that these are all things that work for *her and her family*, so we’d have to adjust as needed/wanted.]

DAILY Food Total for that menu would be: 88 cents/person. Add in 70 cents for dinner and you’re looking at $1.58 for the day.

This is of course based on prices/sales/bulk that I bought recently. But shows you the idea in action. If we chose… brown rice n’ raisins / lentil tacos / chicken noodle soup – the total for one person that day would be: $1.10

Again, my goal is for the meals to be one day/per person, under $2.00 and to get daily cost as close to $1.00 per person as possible.

*** Some Good Recipes to Use! ***

cooking ingredients

[Legend for those non-cookers like me: c. = cup, T. = tablespoon, tsp. = teaspoon]

PATTIES:

I make my patties a bit different, but wanted you to see this site: http://theprudenthomemaker.com/chicken-fried-steak. She has some frugal recipes that might help a few people, although I think there’s a lack of protein to address in some of them.

BLENDER WHEAT PANCAKES:

  • 1 and 1/4 c. dry whole wheat kernels (also called berries)
  • 1 and 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt or sea salt

Put dry wheat, milk, eggs, oil, vanilla in a blender.  Blend on low until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Put mixture into a bowl, add baking powder and salt; stir until mixed.  Cook pancakes on medium high.  Makes 12 to 16 pancakes.

OATMEAL PANCAKES:

This is the only way some of my family will eat oatmeal for breakfast… I like that these pancakes have very little flour, just mostly oatmeal, yet they turn out light. Can easily double or triple this recipe.

Mix in a bowl, let sit, covered, about 30 minutes or longer:

  • 1 c. quick oatmeal
  • 1 c. buttermilk
    ________________
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T. oil
  • 1/4 c. unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt or table salt

Add egg, oil, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well, adding some water as needed for batter consistency (it usually takes up to about 1/2 c. water).  Cook smallish pancakes, 3 or 4 at a time: spoon batter onto heated (medium heat), oiled, fry pan or skillet. When top is bubbly and puffed up, and underside golden, turn pancake, cook until done.  Serves up to 4.  Top with syrup or applesauce.

LENTIL TACOS:

This is where our first lentil tacos came from, but we ended up adding more seasonings after we tried these: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/tasty-lentil-tacos

FAVORITE OATMEAL MUFFINS:

These muffins are great with soups, salads, or for breakfast… Our family favorite!

  • 1 c. dry quick oatmeal
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • 1 and 1/4 c. unbleached flour**
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a 12-muffin tin. In large bowl: mix oatmeal and milk; let sit a few minutes. Then add egg, sugar, oil; stir. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Stir all with a fork JUST to moisten. DO NOT over-mix. Spoon batter evenly in greased muffin tins. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Done when tops bounce back to touch. Makes one dozen.

**I like to use 1 c. unbleached flour + 1/4 c. whole wheat flour for more grains/nutrition.

DESSERTS:

Desserts for us are not everyday, but when we go for them I like to base them on fruits or vegetables: http://www.goodenessgracious.com/2013/09/easy-peach-cobbler.html

PUMPKIN BARS:

Low fat and delish!  My most requested recipe…

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 c. flour (or 1 c. flour + 1 c. whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves or ginger (or 1/4 tsp. of each)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a 15x11x1 pan. Mix eggs, brown sugar, sugar, oil, milk, pumpkin, vanilla. Add flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, spices.  Mix until smooth. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes,
until bounces back when touched.

Let cool after baking until *****COMPLETELY***** cooled, not even a bit warmish!

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:

  • 6 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 T. butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  • Milk to dilute (as needed, 1 T. at a time)

Mix ingredients on low speed until smooth; add milk if needed, then beat on high to fluff, for 30 seconds. Cut into small bars.

*****Make sure to COMPLETELY cool the bars before frosting***** (If they are frosted when even a little bit warm, the frosting will slide). Also, these are moist bars, so when putting on the frosting, be gentle and drop in dollops, the moist top can make it tear easily, but if you use a light hand, it will not tear.

Lastly, THE BEST FRENCH BREAD I have ever found:

I think most people could learn to make this: http://www.itsalwaysautumn.com/2012/04/26/cook-soft-and-chewy-french-bread-with-garlic-spread.html [Have not made the spread so can’t comment on that part, but the french bread itself we’ve made 4 times in the last few months, one time for company and they raved about it!]

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THANK YOU SO MUCH, JANET!!! This is so incredibly helpful!

UPDATE: Janet has listed all the food and ingredients in her household down in the comments too, for anyone who’s interested… Pretty incredible what she makes from scratch – including tootsie rolls?!!!

Really appreciate the time you spent writing this all up for us – especially for slackers like me ;)

The door’s now open for comments/ideas/more sharing! Just please keep it civil so we can make this as productive as our past posts on this stuff…

Here’s the quick list of articles again from this series if you missed any:

Happy eating.

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UPDATE: A friend of mine recently launched a meal plan service that helps with planning cheap meals if anyone’s interested… It’s called “$5.00 Meal Plan” and they’ll email you a weekly meal plan that contains ten recipes to make each week. The plans are easy to prepare, don’t use exotic ingredients, and will cost you less than $5 a meal if you plan and use coupons. More info here: 5DollarMealPlan.com.

Jay loves talking about money, experimenting, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his two beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!

{ 91 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt @ The Resume Gap July 22, 2016 at 5:13 am

These are good tips and ideas that we’ll think about incorporating into our cooking. We tend to spend a lot on food in general (it’s usually our biggest spending category), even when we’re cooking at home. We could save money by skimping on some of the ingredients, but I enjoy it a lot more when we use a variety of fresh vegetables and meats and cheeses. I figure that spending a little more on those things makes dining at home a more appealing option versus dining out, which costs far more. But then again, we’re also not trying to feed a family of eight!

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2 Fiscally Free July 22, 2016 at 10:53 am

I think the key to not spending too much on food is rule #3 – “Buy food on sale only, and in bulk when price is right.”
It’s amazing how much you can save just by shopping the sales. It’s easy to save 50% or more.
If you see something on sale for a good price, stock up. The potential savings are biggest with meat. When the price is right, buy lots and freeze it for later. It’s also very handy to always have meat on hand.

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3 Roy Largo @ Band of Savers July 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

Wow! Awesome list. I’m glad that there are other believers out there. When we were in college we started eating a large bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every morning and now that is all that out kids want to eat in the morning, which is awesome since it is so nutritious. We had calculated out that it was between $0.07 – $0.09 per serving. We were eating breakfast for less than a quarter for three of us.

We follow most of these rules and a few others and have budgeted $175 for ALL food purchases for a family of 4, that’s just under $0.50 per meal per person (and I can pack down food like I’m never going to get a second chance to eat).

Here’s a post that I did on the once shopping decision we made that saved us 40% on our groceries: http://www.bandofsavers.com/2016/04/save-40-on-your-groceries-with-one.html

And some of our other techniques can be found here: http://www.bandofsavers.com/p/saving-tips.html

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4 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 9:59 am

Damn – you guys are killing it!

Really want to check out all this oatmeal y’all are eating as it seems to be a popular idea among savers/nutritionalists. I just had a bowl of Quaker Oats apples & cinnamon and I’m pretty sure it was packed with sugar and 30x the cost haha…

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5 superbien July 25, 2016 at 11:48 am

J, try oatmeal with a half banana cooked in (it dissolves completely, but leaves it naturally sweet), topped with a few chocolate chips melting, or coconut flakes. You can microwave it.

You may also want to stir in some peanut butter – 1 tsp is plenty for flavor if you’re watching your diet, 1 Tbsp is even better if you need more calories.

Up the nutrition with chia seeds sprinkled on, or cook with ground flaxseed.

Check out Kath Eats Real Food for her oatmeal tribute. http://www.katheats.com/kaths-tribute-to-oatmeal

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6 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Holy crap, wow – wouldn’t have ever thought to try any of those!! Getting so hungry!!! :)

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7 Roy Largo @ Band of Savers July 29, 2016 at 7:14 am

We go through a lot of oatmeal. The little Quaker packets are super expensive and it would take a least 4-5 of them to make an actual meal. We even thought that buying the 2 lb. canisters was too expensive for us. Instead we found a place that we can get a 50 lb. bag of rolled oats, sometimes quick oats, for $31 (in college we could get it anywhere from $18-$24 for 50 lbs.). My wife also uses it as a filler for a ton of her baked goods. I think that we have probably consumed over 1,000 lbs. of oatmeal over the past 6 years of marriage since a 50 lb. bag tends to last us a little over 6 months.

We just boil it with a small amount of salt. Add a little sugar and milk when we plate it up. Sometimes we have a piece of toast with it.

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8 J. Money July 29, 2016 at 10:03 am

haha yeah – I eat 3 packets at a time :)

I think there’s a Trader Joes near where we moved so gonna see if they sell in bulk! I’ve never even seen it for sale before anywhere, but really haven’t looked either…

I like the idea of getting down to the basics like that – sounds so manly! haha…

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9 Josh @MoneyBuffalo July 22, 2016 at 7:11 am

We eat a lot like this too. My wife & I read the book called “Wheatbelly” and how the grain we are eating is different than pre-WWII grain. The gluten in it leaves us hungry still. We do our best to keep wheat from our diet & I thought we would starve.

As Janet said, get nutrient dense food and it makes a world of difference. We have eggs or green smoothies in the morning (putting chia seeds in it helps you not get hungry till lunch). We don’t eat much meat because of the price but still have it once a day. If not, you get hungry and lack energy.

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10 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:06 am

Interesting! I have no idea about any of this stuff so always so fascinated anytime we get into food stuff here.

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11 Matt @ Distilled Dollar July 22, 2016 at 7:12 am

Bookmarked this page! Thanks for all of this.

We recently cut our grocery and restaurant spend in more than half. Sorry to say it, but a large driver of that was #2. We also switched away from cereal in the mornings (the lazy man’s breakfast, but so good) and I started making eggs and a green smoothie.

The end result is we are actually eating healthier. Thanks again for sharing this!

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12 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:07 am

Can I borrow you in the mornings??? :)

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13 Matt @ Distilled Dollar July 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Hah!

Mrs. Distilled Dollar gave that a hard no! :)

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14 Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions July 22, 2016 at 7:18 am

This is awesome and so detailed! We find this to be the one category that fluctuates like crazy. If you aren’t careful, it is so easy to go overboard and spend hundreds beyond what you planned (and watch taking kids with you to the store – whoa!) With the push for organic we really struggle sometimes on what to buy now too. I appreciate their simple take on things and the focus on homemade!

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15 Alex July 22, 2016 at 7:26 am

Great post. While some of these recepes are unappealing to me it does show how anyone can trim their grocery bill with a little effort.

Having recently moved from the city to the burbs we’ve cut so much from our food budget just by buying in bulk, focusing on sales, doing a weeks worth of cooking on Sunday night (to avoid The temptation of takeout).

We’ve gone from $80-100 a week for our family of three down to $45-50 a week and still eat tasty well balanced meals and don’t really feel like we’ve had to sacrifice much. We still go out for dinner 2x a week but the extra money in our pocket will go a long way towards saving/vacations/paying down a mortgage/whatever.

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16 Miss Mazuma July 22, 2016 at 7:28 am

This post is so up my alley and, for those silly naysayers, totally doable!!

I agree with Matt – food costs are one of the three top spots in most people’s budgets. Eating whole unprocessed foods is how our bodies were meant to operate and, when buying in bulk, it can be very cost effective. Though I no longer meat (my Italian family still hasn’t gotten over it 8 years later ) buying fresh fish is a huge budget blower for me but one I do occasionally splurge on. :)

Definitely bookmarking this post for later use. You have some great recipes here!!

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17 superbien July 25, 2016 at 11:54 am

Yeah, eating anything animal related gets costly if you are taking any kind of a stand. Our family eats humane, as a modern form of kosher, so we get a locally sourced meat delivery for $80/month, frozen and delivered to our door. That’s an expense, but it reflects our values (which is the whole point of mindful spending) and promotes home cooking.

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18 The Green Swan July 22, 2016 at 7:29 am

Great tips and I appreciate the recipes. I look forward to giving them a try. You really dispelled a myth for me too, I always thought cooks breakfast cereal had good nutrition… I’ll need to try and reform some old eating habits! Thanks!

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19 Apathy Ends July 22, 2016 at 7:38 am

We have tried the meal prepping thing where you make a week or 2 weeks worth of meals and freeze them – one thing I found is some of the chopped vegetables get a different texture (almost rubbery?) when they thaw from being frozen. Onions specifically – do you know if there is any way around that?

Some of these recipes sounds great – my wife is trending to the less meat side already – will bookmark abd share with her!

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20 Sue Braun July 26, 2016 at 1:33 am

Try cooking frozen vegetables like onion that retains so much water from it’s frozen state. I take peppers that I freeze from the garden and stuff them frozen and shove in the oven while they are still frozen. If I let them thaw, they would be flat and mushy.

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21 Jon July 22, 2016 at 7:48 am

Wow, great advice in this one! I’ve been thinking that we need to try and cut our food spending a bit and these are great tips. I may need to brush up on my food prep skills a little first! It’s interesting that these are also good tips for healthier eating.

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22 Janet July 26, 2016 at 7:42 am

Jon, I have found that healthier eating isn’t really expensive as I stick to the rules I shared. We strive each day to think “nutritionally dense” when planning our meals.

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23 Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor July 22, 2016 at 7:49 am

This topic is right up my alley! If you count our two little ones as one “eater,” we come in at $1/meal average. And we eat like kings–not “simple,” and eat meat (though not everyday). We make food from a lot of different cuisines; get spices and special ingredients at the ethnic markets, NOT supermarkets.

I also think in terms of price per serving from each food group, especially protein. Here’s my comparisons of price per serving for common protein sources: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/meat/. And 20 frugal food hacks, including recipes: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/food-hacks/.

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24 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:10 am

Rock on! Thx for dropping them over :)

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25 Janet July 26, 2016 at 7:45 am

Kalie, we also love food from different cuisines, although I didn’t share any of those recipes. We especially like Indian cuisine.

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26 Paul July 22, 2016 at 8:47 am

You know what they say: “Meat is the treat”.

Buying meat in bulk also works. We buy half a cow at a time. Usually ends up being about the price of 80/20 ground beef like in the low 3 dollar range per/lb. When you take into account the sea of roasts and steaks we get the price is actually excellent albeit requires like $1400 dollars initial buy in. So I’ll do my own breakdown. Using the info from above it looks like I could probably do a baked potato for about 50-75 cents with all the fixins (probably minus bacon to be fair). Take into account an 8 oz filet mignon @ we will say $3.50 lb we are talking $1.75 for the filet. Total would be $2.50 tops for a delicious meat filled meal.

Not only that but when eating plant based protein sources you really need to be careful to mix and match complimenting sources. The main problem is that many plant based protein sources are not complete amino chains and therefore are unusable to the body unless consumed with other sources which complete the chain.Not saying your friend doesn’t know that but it may not be apparent to some readers. Take rice and beans for example…separate they are not that great, together the can provide as much complete protein as 2 eggs.

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27 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:13 am

What? Really?? I’ve literally never thought of “complete amino chains” ever, haha… Y’all are killing me in this department but I’m learning!

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28 superbien July 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm
29 Lisa O July 22, 2016 at 8:49 am

It sure doesn’t sound like they go hungry to keep the budget down. I think it looks like healthy food and I am learning that meat really isn’t always needed. I might make a few of the recipes :)

I though I did pretty good turning old apples and brown banana’s into a cake last night to help my food budget. I love the internet for that purpose….put your item(s) in a cooking section and see what you can come up with. The cake by the way made my house smell great and tasted delish!

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30 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:13 am

Ooooh what type of cake is that???

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31 AMW July 22, 2016 at 8:53 am

This is totally doableI have done it before but have eased up on the meat a bit. Even if you don’t want to eat like they do, how much lower could you get your food bill if you followed most of those rules? Even just one rule…how much would you save if you just cut out the cereal?

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32 Janet July 26, 2016 at 7:49 am

So true, AMW………
It took me a year to get my family off cold cereal and onto the ideas I listed for breakfast. We actually have a list of 30 breakfasts that we rotate, none being cereal. That change all started years ago when I read that many cereals have less nutrition than the box they come in :)

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33 Chris @ Flipping A Dollar July 22, 2016 at 8:53 am

Goes to show you that planning and preparing the food yourself can save you a lot of money. It does come at a cost of time, but if you’re good you can make it a family event!

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34 Janet July 26, 2016 at 8:01 am

Yes, Chris, you are so right, it does come with a cost of time….but for my family, we haven’t been to a doctor for illnesses for many years now, and none of us take any meds/pharma, so we don’t have that time at the doctor’s thus far.

The time it takes to do this actually became less as we learned the ins and outs of food preparation, and found ways such as cooking enough beans or lentils for several meals and freezing in amount to be used for a particular recipe. Then we actually have ‘fast food’ meals from home.

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35 J. Money July 26, 2016 at 9:35 am

Wowww – that’s incredible! Effects so much in life, jeez.

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36 Rebecca July 22, 2016 at 9:02 am

This is very similar to how my family eats. We add nuts and seeds to our snack list, which increases our cost. The only rule I’d add to the list (and I bet Janet is also doing this) is waste as little as possible. Old bread becomes bread crumbs, old fruit becomes fruit sauce for fruit leather or spooning over yogurt. The giant jar of mayo you bought at Costco, that you are not sure why you bought and plan to never buy again ;) becomes Chocolate Mayo Cake – yep, itsa thing http://bellewest925.blogspot.com/2014/04/chocolate-mayonnaise-cake-with-peanut.html and it is really good.

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37 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:14 am

Haha… brilliant.

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38 Stacking Dollars July 22, 2016 at 9:10 am

I’ve been looking for a way to reduce my grocery bill. I’ve got a family of four and we tend to get $1,000 worth of food every month.

My wife and I have gotten ourselves into shape over the last couple of years and we now eat much healthier foods, but our grocery bill is still the same more or less.

Thanks for this post because it gives me a few ideas to trim this area of my budget. Although some of the suggestions will require some adjustments in taste, I’m always willing to give new things a try.

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39 Janet July 26, 2016 at 8:06 am

Speaking of taste as you did is very wise indeed.
TASTES can be changed, I used to hate hate brown rice, but just kept trying a spoonful now and then. Now I love it. My daughter in law used to think beans were disgusting, so I asked her, will you just choose one kind and try it a few times, just a taste? So she chose black beans, then pretty soon she liked those. Then she chose lentils, pretty soon she liked those.

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40 Linda@Frugal Turtle July 22, 2016 at 9:50 am

I’ve been trying to eat more oatmeal for breakfast. I know it’s healthier and cheaper than bagels and cereal, but I just don’t like it as much!

I’ve never had lentils in my tacos, I’ll have to try that. And I will be making those pumpkin bars. Those sound really good!

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41 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:16 am

Only if you mail me some so I can check them out :)

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42 Janet July 26, 2016 at 8:10 am

Linda, I know what you mean!!
I couldn’t get one son to even touch oatmeal. So when I made the oatmeal pancakes for the first time, he couldn’t believe he even liked them. It is a favorite breakfast of his now!!

I hope you like the pumpkin bars…..everytime I take them to a potluck, I come home with an empty pan :)

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43 EL July 22, 2016 at 10:15 am

Oatmeal muffins and pancakes, I’m hungry now thanks. It goes to show If you focus on cost and get creative you can whip up some good meals. Will try a few of the recipes soon, good luck.

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44 Latoya @ Femme Frugality July 22, 2016 at 10:46 am

Ha! Naysayers usually are the ones who don’t want to put much effort into figuring out how people who manage to eat on less themselves. When you eliminate half of the stuff the grocery store pushes to consumers and stick to the basics as our great grandparents did, you’ll find that its not that incredibly tough. We pay a lot for convenience.

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45 Janet July 26, 2016 at 8:12 am

Latoya, you are very wise. One of the reasons I started my journey in this area was that I wanted to stick to basic foods. It’s easy now, though took time to get to easy!!

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46 Fiscally Free July 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

Great post. Along the same lines as one I wrote: http://www.fiscallyfree.com/2016/04/how-to-save-money-on-food.html

I’m not sure I agree with the rule on cereal. If you buy something like bran flakes on sale, they are pretty cheap healthy.

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47 Free to Pursue July 22, 2016 at 11:14 am

As someone who doesn’t eat flour or sugar, I offer the following:

1. Any fruit or veggies on sale that week are the staple for that week. Squash are decent substitutes for noodles and they tend to last, so we load up when they’re on sale.
2. Near-expired dairy is a bargain, which means cheese and other high protein options can be “in” more often than not. (30-50% off)
3. Breakfast Japanese style: dinner leftovers are great for breakfast.
4. Water and coffee/tea brewed at home are the only thing that makes sense to drink. Everything else is too expensive and bad for our health.
5. My personal favourite: changing some of a yard’s landscaping to include fruit trees and berry bushes and growing a small herb pot garden on the kitchen window sill can help anyone save a lot of money. Herbs and fresh produce are expensive and grass is a royal pain to maintain. Right now, all our fruits are coming from our apple tree and our various berry bushes (hundreds of pounds’ worth and much of it already frozen to enjoy in the offseason).

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48 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:19 am

So beautiful!!! I want to visit!!! :)

Do you not eat flour or sugar for health/cost reasons, or is it an allergy type of thing?

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49 Michelle July 22, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Great post! I recently bought the book “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day”. It’s based on the premise that SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) give you approximately $4/day/person. Like you, I’m not a vegetarian, but could stand to cut on my meat intake a little. So between this book and some of the suggestions in this post and the original ones, I should be able to reduce my grocery expenses to at least $2-3 a day, which will help my budget a lot. What would be awesome is if all of this info was on allrecipes.com so that I could easily build my meal plans and grocery lists.

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50 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:20 am

We’ll just have to make our own – allSexyrecipes.com ;)

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51 superbien July 25, 2016 at 12:06 pm

I freakin love that cookbook. Gorgeous pictures of affordable delicious simple healthy food, mostly meatless. It’s a great cookbook for a beginner cook, too.

Even better, it’s available free on the Web for people who actually are on foodstamps or have tight budgets, but if you buy it they will donate a copy to someone in need.

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52 Lindy July 29, 2016 at 9:52 am

YES! I’m so happy some other people use this book. I bought myself and a friend a copy…just to have them donate two copies. I could afford it, since I’m now saving money on food! ;-)
Plus – everything I’ve made so far has been tasty.

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53 Adam July 22, 2016 at 2:10 pm

This is a great foundation for cutting grocery costs that I think people should tailor to their own preferences and ethics. We have a similar approach, although we choose to buy organic/free-range/grass-fed for things like animal products and some produce. We spend about $7/person/day (including probably way too much beer and eating meet once every day or two). We could probably reduce this to $4-5 while still buying the same quality ingredients but just eating meat less often (and boozing less).

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54 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:21 am

Have you ever tried home brewing? People say it’s fun/easy, but always seems like it ends up costing you more vs less? Unless you’re building a small brewery in your basement? Haha…

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55 Tawcan July 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Great tips we can incorporate into our every day cooking. Cooking yourself typically is cheaper than eating out already but there’s definitely ways to make home-cooking even cheaper.

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56 Beth July 22, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Okay – I’m not a naysayer because clearly this can be done and kudos to every single person who does this for their family.
A negative aspect that I deal with is that I am picky and both of my kids are pretty picky too, although they would probably try more food than I would. The recipes here scare me! I have always been this way and I don’t foresee myself drastically changing. Although as I have gotten older I have acquired a taste for some new foods but nothing crazy.

My spaghetti meal for my family consists of a jar of spaghetti sauce, noodles and ground beef…which I always try to buy everything on sale too.

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57 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:22 am

I waited until I was in my mid-20s to try Indian food :) Now I freakin’ LOVE IT!

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58 superbien July 25, 2016 at 12:18 pm

One thing you might try is grating or grinding up zucchini. It’s magic – it melts away when cooking. I love it in meatloaf or meatballs (no, really). I love it in spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti sauce has such a strong flavor, you can mix in all kinds of minced veggies (I do frozen veggies – minced onions, peas, carrots, kale etc). If someone has a texture issue, microwave-steam* and blenderize the veggies before stirring them in, so they don’t have to deal with distressing chunks.

It’s hard though – sometimes ‘picky eaters’ are the result of not being exposed to habitual veggies, cooked well (which you can fix); sometimes it’s due to being a super taster; sometimes it’s a medical or developmental issue. So take my thoughts with a grain of salt – what works for some may be wrong for your family.

*Mug, water, handful o’veggies, cook 3-5 mins on 50% power.

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59 Janet July 26, 2016 at 8:20 am

Beth, you aren’t alone, a lot of people feel the same way.
I have a child that ate hardly anything, but we just kept trying by asking him to eat a spoonful of something new now and then. On a few things he’d actually gag, bless his heart. Now he eats so much more variety than he used to. We really wanted him to be able to enjoy many kinds of foods.

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60 Mariana July 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Thanks for mentioning Brandy, The Prudent Homemaker. She is absolutely amazing feeding her beautiful family of 10 on $300 a month. Plus whatever she grows in her garden. She is an inspiration not just by spending so little still making nutritious and delicious meals but by doing it gracefully and with pride.

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61 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:23 am

10??? That’s pretty incredible.

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62 superbien July 30, 2016 at 6:46 pm

I just checked her out – what gorgeous photos (I’m uber visual so I have a hard time sometimes when things look unappealing – but her things are gorgeous. I appreciated her recipes and outline of things to cut out, as that she updated her food costs as her kids grew up.

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63 ZJ Thorne July 22, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Homemade bread is so cheap and filling and delicious. Red lentil tacos are darn tasty, too. (I still love meat though)

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64 Justin July 22, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Pretty awesome stuff. We spend around $500-600/mo on groceries and rarely eat out. That’s for a family of 5 that eats 30x3x5 meals per month (=450 meals, right?). So we spend just over $1 per meal. And that includes our beer/wine, toiletries, paper products, cleaning supplies, etc. So probably under $1/meal for just food.

Health we do okay, but not as well as these guys! Mostly fresh, from scratch stuff though.

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65 Staci @Streamline365 July 23, 2016 at 11:18 am

This is EXACTLY how my mother-in-law cooks and it is healthy as well as much cheaper than what we eat!. She doesn’t buy chicken nuggets for my kids, she makes these deliciously hand-battered strips, everything she makes tastes fantastic and is budget-friendly. But, it takes serious time. She loves to cook. She wants to spend all day in the kitchen. Me=no. Torture for me. I’ve picked up some of her habits, but for the most part convenience wins out-and I just wait until she visits and I can enjoy her cheap trips to the grocery store and slow-cooked foods! Also, I remember the original post and how people got so defensive and crazy about it, haha it was entertaining! (I remember a post from a guy who said he was heavy and there was no way he could survive on a few dollars of food day-that one was really funny). Can’t we all just eat and be happy!

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66 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:24 am

Haha yeah – it was a hilarious few days when it was all going down :)

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67 Sandy July 23, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Another good nutritious, healthy and inexpensive meal is Falafel waffles! Yes, Falafel batter made crispy in a waffle maker with very little or no oil rather than in a ton of frying oil. Just google Falafel waffle and you will see tons of recipes for it. Eat Falafel waffles on top of a garden salad with tzatsiki sauce. Costs very little if you soak dry Garbanzo beans and make it from scratch. This is my go to meal for hot summer days that I don’t feel like cooking over a hot stove. I feed two adults 3 meals a day, every day, plus a couple of healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt (home made with organic milk) and home made bread and cheese for $130 a month. Thanks for the great article. I will be using some of the recipes.

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68 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:25 am

Neat!! I want to come over and taste :)

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69 Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank July 23, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Those are really delicious meals. What I always have is smoothies. My meal wouldn’t be complete without it. I always have banana mango smoothies or water melon avocado smoothies. And, I think I’m gonna start having brown rice instead of the conventional rice.

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70 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:26 am

Seems like smoothies are pretty popular here. I go in phases with them, and then just completely forget until I go over to someone’s house and they make ’em. So I think I’ll start again this week :)

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71 superbien July 30, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Good call. Your post got me re-started with protein smoothies, thanks.

You might also check out farro. It’s an ancient grain, cooks in 12 mins, freezes great (I use an icecube tray).

I like to drop a few cubes of frozen farro and some frozen veggies into a skillet with a small dash of water, cover and steam a bit, scramble in eggs. Top with a bit of cheese, salt, pepper, hot sauce if you like. If you have an avocado, throw some slices on top. Ta-da!

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72 Josh Gwin July 24, 2016 at 1:23 pm

These meals look really good! I too can’t pass on burger night though. Looks like with the ground meat recipes that could be done anyway. I’ve found it’s quite easy to adapt to only two meals a day. We eat a lot of bananas — cheap snack and easy breakfast.

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73 Paul Andrews July 24, 2016 at 3:21 pm

It’s so funny; food is probably one of the most expensive budgeting items on anyones list (especially if you have kids. My Dad used to bitch to anyone he could about how much I ate when I was 14… lol). And yet, it’s the one budgeting item that I’m really not willing to negotiate. I’d rather live in a box than give up my steak.

But there are lots of good tips here, especially about buying meat on sale. I’ve also heard great things about making your bread.

Overall, super inspirational, I’m going to sit down and see how much I can drop my “per meal” cost. Great article!

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74 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:27 am

Be sure to blog about it if it works out well! Or hell – if it doesn’t too! We love a good failing to make us feel better about ourselves, haha…

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75 Hannah July 24, 2016 at 4:25 pm

A system for shopping and a few inexpensive easy to make recipes make a world of difference. My family and I eat a lot of meat and a lot of fruit which are supposed to be the most expensive food groups, but we keep our food to between $300-$400 per month (Which works out to about $3-4 per person per day). Little things like cutting processed foods, and buying lower cost cuts allow us to eat what we like at a lower cost. We would have to change what we eat to get our costs as low as Janet’s, but it would be doable I think.

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76 Eric Bowlin July 25, 2016 at 7:15 am

I didn’t see you include a starbucks coffee in there anywhere…

Just kidding.

Food is one thing i never like to cut expenses on, but recently we’ve been trying to find ways to have the same quality and standard of food without spending as much. It’s actually quite challenging. Thanks for the tips!

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77 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:29 am

I think that’s the key right there, as with anything in life/finances – keeping similar quality of life, but just cheaper! It’s pretty amazing what you find once you start challenging all the areas of your life. We saved over $5,000 last year when we did our Challenge Everything project. And hardly noticed a difference!

http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/challenge-everything/

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78 superbien July 25, 2016 at 10:00 am

J, this is such a great post. I love the ideas from other people on how to cut food costs – my biggest struggle – but found the first post to be inspirational in theory, but not applicable in my life because we’re really working on health and there was too much reliance on white pasta and simple carbs. This post has recipes that I will try – pancakes but with oatmeal, and wheat berries, and brown rice with raisins (duh! Why didn’t I think of this??). I’m still working my way through this post – I read in snatches these days – but it’s really exciting. Bookmarking for me to try out these recipes!

One idea to share with others is an amazing veggie taco: roasted Brussel sprouts, roasted cauliflower, cannelini white bean dip.

*Roast bag or two of frozen Brussel sprouts (olive oil, salt/pepper, 350F, 45 mins, shake pan once) till they are creamy inside, then eat right away like popcorn, serve as a side, or use immediately or as a leftover in these tacos.
*Roast cauliflower (same way, 30 mins).
*White bean dip: open 1 can of cannelini beans, rinse well, mash, sautee garlic 1 min, combine with a generous dollop of olive oil and Italian slices.

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79 J. Money July 25, 2016 at 10:32 am

Thanks for sharing! So glad you found this one helpful! :)

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80 Primal Prosperity July 25, 2016 at 10:52 pm

Forage! Plantain and Dandelion are highly nutritious plants that are growing in everyone’s backyard and make great salad greens. There are tons of other plants to forage in an urban environment as well, but these two are easy to identify and find, and they pack a huge nutritious bang for the foraging buck.

As recommended by my doctor, I personally can’t eat a diet that revolves around high carb meals all day long. I eat a ton of fruit in the summer and a ton of veggies all year round. I personally pay more for better quality, but the farmers markets offer screaming deals this time of year.

We generally like to go out to eat a lot and are trying to cut back for health reasons, so buying anything we want at the grocery store still seems super cheap. We just try to stay away from packaged and processed foods, particlulary name brands… not only are they typically unhealthy, but about 50% of the costs are just for advertising the products! That’s not really something I want to support.

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81 J. Money July 26, 2016 at 6:44 am

I give you foragers so much respect. I love the idea in theory, just haven’t brought myself to try it!

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82 Finance Solver July 25, 2016 at 11:01 pm

YES! I love this post. In college, there was a semester in which I spent $2/day on food but it wasn’t very nutritious nor was it healthy (the unhealthiest you could get, in fact). I’m bookmarking this page to come back to it to be nostalgic in my days and try the Elon Musk challenge again. Thank you for the post!

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83 J. Money July 26, 2016 at 6:42 am

Woah! Had to look up that Elon Musk Challenge – pretty cool!

http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-challenge-food-budget-2016-2

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84 superbien July 31, 2016 at 6:02 am

It’s funny, that reporter ate mostly tortillas, peanut butter, pasta, and peanut butter, with the occasional egg and sweet potato. Not the best Nutrition, but not the worst. She didn’t use any preexisting pantry items (buying butter was a game changer, she said) and she scavenged salt and sugar packets.

It’s an interesting conundrum, that eating $1-2 meals often requires up-front investments that might be beyond one’s means if actually on SNAP benefits ($4/person/day). It’s something that Leann Brown’s awesome recipe book “Good and Cheap” addresses – how to build pantry items over time on such a tight budget. Italian spices one week, oil another, etc. And smaller amounts of bulk items (though I note that in my experience, bulk shopping tends to be something I mostly only see in affluent neighborhoods, though that can be regional; worth calling out privilege to remember that the playing field is seldom level).

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85 lynn ling July 26, 2016 at 1:20 am

Even with currency exchange and meal preps, I am not sure if I can get meals this cheap. I think the lowest I can do is $2/day and that is mostly unhealthy meals. Nevertheless, I will give this a try a week soon.

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86 Janet July 26, 2016 at 10:18 am

Our family’s basic food list might be of interest or help, and some things we make::

Water: we can live about 30 days without food, but only about 5 days without water
We usually drink just water
Herb tea (we aren’t coffee/tea drinkers, but many might add that as a staple item)

quick oatmeal
rice and brown rice
wheat
millet
unbleached flour
pasta
tortilla chips
popcorn (we grind cornmeal from this, but it you don’t
have a grinder: medium grind/stoneground cornmeal
from Bob’s Red is a good choice for cornmeal)

pinto beans
black beans
red beans
white beans
red lentils
brown or green lentils
peanut butter
nuts/seeds

nonfat dry milk
fresh milk on sale
mozzarella cheese
cheddar cheese
sour cream on sale
dry parmesan

eggs
chicken
ground beef or ground turkey
pepperoni (we make our own pizza, this is what family wants on it)
tuna in water / canned salmon
jimmy dean sausage if on sale
bacon if on sale
other meats and roasts when/if on a good sale price

butter
olive oil
vegetable oil

honey
sugar (this lasts a long time in our house as we don’t often use it)
zulka….2 lb. from local mexican market has best price
brown sugar
molasses
raisins

frozen:
broccoli
corn
peas
sometimes orange juice/lemonade

fresh:
potatoes
garlic
cabbage
carrots
celery
yellow onions
yams on sale
kale/greens/spinach
apples
bananas
other fresh veggies and fruits in season/on sale

canned mandarins
canned pineapple, usually crushed, but tidbits when on sale
other fruits or home-bottled, such as applesauce, peaches, pears

green beans
diced green chilis
mushroom stems and pieces
crushed tomatoes, 14.5 oz. cans
tomato sauce, 8 oz. cans
things we bottle from garden….it varies, but we usually have bottled tomatoes at least

yeast
baking powder (Rumford’s in 5 lb. container, we order it from local health food store)
baking soda
vital wheat gluten
vinegar
sea salt
pepper
spices/flavorings/herbs/sauces such as soy and worcestershire

Make Own:
noodles
grind whole wheat flour
low sugar jams/freezer jams
bread / rolls / buns
whole wheat crepes
salsa
yogurt
greek yogurt
ricotta
whole wheat pancake mix
instant oatmeal packets
self -rising flour
granola
“grape nuts”
wheaty flakes
flour tortillas
english muffins
cheese crackers
wheat thins
soda crackers
refried beans
“rice n roni”
broths
soups
egg roll dough
spaghetti sauce
pizza dough / breadsticks
pizza sauce
tartar sauce
chili sauce
enchilada sauce
sweet n’ sour sauce
barbeque sauce
cocktail sauce
“velveeta”
white sauce / gravies
alfredo sauce
cream soups
mayonnaise
whipped butter
curry powder
season salt
dressings for salads such as ranch, poppyseed
hummus
tootsie rolls
fudge
toffee
peaunut brittle
caramel popcorn
donuts
pies/cakes/cookies
“gatorade”
fresh lemonade/limeade
nut milks
barley drink
horchata and rice milk
“bisquick”
cake mixes
flavored whipped cream cheese
ice cream
relishes
pickled beets
syrups
we also bottle convenience foods such as chili, albondigas, spaghetti sauce

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87 J. Money July 27, 2016 at 10:55 am

Wow – so incredible to see, Janet, thank you!!!

I can’t believe you make tootsie rolls from scratch?? Or that you even could? Haha…

All this is so eye opening – been loving this thread :)

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88 superbien July 31, 2016 at 5:48 am

Albóndigas – I had to look it up. Albóndigas soup is a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy meatballs offset by the fresh flavors of vegetables and herbs.

Sounds delicious! I never think of meatballs in soup, even though several cultures do it.

I think I need more soups in my life. I know that an amazing soup can be had with hot spiced broth (with or without cream or coconut milk) poured over rotisserie chicken, veggies, and a starch. I just don’t do that enough. Maybe once it stops being in the high 90s.

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89 Kathryn August 7, 2016 at 3:38 am

One thing I find when people start discussing how to reduce the food bill is that they increase their pasta/rice/bread intake and start putting on weight.

If you eat seasonally it is much cheaper than buying foods out of season, and bulk up your meals with those seasonal vegetables and cut your meat in half (or 3/4) of what you normally have.

Also, I find that having an entree like soup before the main meal fills people up so they aren’t looking for more food later on (have a husband and son that do that) or a healthy dessert. Anyway, having two courses.

If you cook in bulk you take some out and freeze for a later meal and also keep some for lunch the next day which means that you are more likely to be filled up with healthy cheap homemade food. Things like a vege/lentil/less-meat bolonaise with a little pasta is great for this, also a vege soup made of cheap seasonal veges.

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90 J. Money August 8, 2016 at 11:04 am

Thanks for jumping in Kathryn :)

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91 Nick Vail August 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm

People are now spending more on dining out than on groceries…INSANE. These are some great tips, thanks for sharing!

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