I received a phone call this week from a TV news reporter who wanted to do a story on feeding a family for $40 a week. She asked if I could help her out. I explained that most of my clients were not very concerned with the amount of money that they spend at the store but that because I shop all of the time at lots of different stores I can feed my family on $40. She said then I was the person she wanted to talk to.
OK, so now I need to come up with a plan because I KNOW I could spend $40 per week, I just don’t. Granted, I am very thrifty and am always watching the price of food, I have never limited us to $40 per week. I prefer to eat with very low carbohydrates and no sugar which is VERY hard to do on $40 per week. If I wasn’t so concerned about health, I could easily do it.
Breakfast: We both love oatmeal so that would be good for a couple of times per week. Eggs and toast also fit the bill. We don’t eat sugary cereal and I have found some bran types for $1.30 per box on sale at some stores. Pancakes are also cheap, especially if you buy a large box of generic pancake mix. Buying large quantities of some things pays off for us. Pancake mix will keep a long time so that is another way to cut costs. Grits is another low-cost breakfast staple. Some people may not see grits as a main breakfast dish but a large bowl will satisfy us all morning. I do think it is wise to also have fresh fruit first thing in the morning. I have found bags of oranges (about 12 oranges) for $1.48 per bag! With fruit, you just have to go with what is in season and which stores are having sales. Fresh fruit is something you can’t stock up on so it will always be changing. Recently I found a bag of apples (10 Gala apples) for $1.68 per bag. It is hard to find fresh fruit any cheaper than this. Remember, what is in season and what is on sale.
Some other breakfast items that are within the $40 per week range are: fruit and grain cereal bars (8 count for $1.49), eggs & toast (using homemade bread), cinnamon toast, homemade biscuits, flavored breads or muffins are always a nice change of pace.
Lunch: We are both pretty easy at lunch. We like Mac & Cheese, hot dogs, soup, etc. It is cheaper to make your own mac & cheese than to buy the pre-packaged boxes even though they are pretty cheap. This just requires buying the cheese in bulk to make it cost-effective. Hot dogs can often times be found on sale for $1.00 per pack. When they are, we stock up on them and freeze them. We do buy the turkey dogs so they are a little ‘less bad’. We will take two hot dogs and wrap them up in one tortilla instead of a bun. Besides being cheaper it is also less carbohydrates. When it comes to soup, I prefer to make mine homemade. A couple of times a year when we have a turkey I will get as many slices of turkey for sandwiches as I can. The rest of the turkey is for soups and casseroles. I make the soups up using the stock I make from the turkey and using whatever vegetables I have lying around. Adding pasta or rice is a great filler and makes a healthy meal. I usually freeze the larger bits of turkey to make casseroles at a later date. Grilled cheese sandwiches are easy and relatively cheap. For a hardier meal we will sometimes have grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. If you aren’t prone to making your own soup, Bear Creek has soup mixes that are about $3.00 for 8 servings found in the grocery store.
Dinner: I have found quite a few items that would definitely work for the $40.00 per week meals, but I must say they are not the healthiest! Fish sticks, corn dogs, canned vegetables are very cheap. You can get 48 fish sticks for $4.29! That is about .09 each! Or 16 corn dogs for $5.49, or .34 each. Canned veggies can usually be found on sale for .50. Buy in quantity when you see these and stock up.
We like to eat meat with our dinner meals so I try to buy in bulk and when meat has been marked down. Meat that has been marked down is still good it just needs to be used that day or put in the freezer. Our freezer is often full of a variety of meat. If you look closely as you shop you will find some affordable meats. Wal-Mart has a selection of ribs of all different varieties. Once when digging a little deeper in the meat case I found a rack of pork ribs for under $8.00. I thought it was just a special or a mark down price but it wasn’t marked as special. The next time I went I found the same ribs at the same cost. I have since realized that it is the regular price for these ribs. There are other much more expensive ribs right by them but for some reason these are priced low. I usually buy a few at a time and put them in the freezer. I have also found some pre marinated small pork roasts that are similarly priced. I bought one to try, and we were very happy with the taste. I have since bought more and stuck them in the freezer.
As a child, my parents always purchased half a cow at a time. We don’t have that kind of freezer space but if you do it would be a good idea to do this or at least split part of a cow with some friends as you can get a much better rate.
When it comes to chicken the price really varies depending on what you like. If you like dark meat, like we do, then it is much more affordable to buy chicken legs and thighs than it is to by the breasts. Boneless skinless breasts are nice for a lot of different meals but thighs work just as well if you like dark meat. Buying a whole chicken is always much cheaper and then you have the benefit of using the ‘leftovers’ for soups.
Pasta, potatoes and rice are good ‘fillers’ that make meat go much farther. Casseroles can be so much more than the ones your Great Aunt Mabel used to make. You can use a pound of ground beef to make 8 very small hamburgers or you can use that same pound of beef to make a casserole with 10 servings. No one will miss the amount of meat per serving if the casserole is filling! Lately we have been trying to use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Just keep an eye out at the grocery store as the prices are similar but sometimes one is on sale.
I like to have fresh veggies or salad with dinner each night. Some tips on fresh produce to follow. Making your own salad dressing is a lot cheaper than buying ready-made dressings. We prefer just plain balsamic vinegar and oil which is quick and easy and we always have it on hand. Just be aware of what vegetables are in season and buy accordingly. Last summer I noticed a “new to me” vegetable. Calabactias is a “Mexican Zucchini. It looks very similar to zucchini and tastes the same to me. Our garden had a very rough time last year like many gardens in Arkansas. We got very few zucchini from our own garden so ended up having to purchase them. Since produce was ridiculous last summer, zucchini, even though in season, was way above the normal price. I found Calabactias to be half the price. I had never heard of this veggie before but since it looked so much like zucchini I bought one and took it home and we cooked it just like we would zucchini. Voila, it tasted just the same!
Desserts/Snacks: homemade brownies, homemade cookies, baked apples, cobbler, etc. Popcorn made the old-fashioned way is fun for the family and very cheap per serving! Homemade yogurt is relatively inexpensive. Homemade popsicles are a fun summer treat. Always be on the lookout at the grocery store for mark-downs. Fresh bakery items are often marked down in a certain area of the store. BEWARE of the name brand items that are 2 for $. You often see 2 packs of name brand chocolate chip cookies for $4.00. If you look you will find store brand chocolate chip cookies for much less than $2.00 per bag. If you have a discount bakery (sometimes called day old) nearby that is always a good place to find some bargains. You might even find good deals on hotdog/hamburger buns.
Fresh produce: The best/cheapest way to have fresh produce is to grow it yourself. We have an ever-growing garden – it gets bigger each year! We use raised beds and add additional beds each year. Lettuce for salads can be grown almost year round in Arkansas. There are many good books out there that will help you plan and figure it out. The next best way to find great fresh produce is at your local farmer’s market. It is wise to get there early to get the best pickings, but if you are looking for mark downs it is more likely you will find them right before closing time. Fresh produce in the grocery stores varies widely. We eat a lot of cauliflower. Cauliflower has been $2.48 per head at our local grocery stores all winter and spring. Aldi’s, which is a name brand store has had their cauliflower for $1.68 all winter and this spring it has been UNDER $1.00 per head. That to me is a huge difference! Aldi’s produce is always cheaper than the regular grocery stores. Some people say the quality is not as good. If it doesn’t look good I don’t buy it, otherwise I think it is comparable.
Coupons: Personally, I am not a coupon clipper. I find that often people buy items they would never buy just because they have a coupon and it is a ‘good deal’. Other times you purchase the item because you have the coupon but don’t bother to look at the prices of the similar items. I have one client who wants me to use her coupons. I have noticed that the coupons are usually for ‘new’ products. For example, I bought her some dishwashing liquid with a coupon. I think it was for Joy. It was a ‘new’ type of Joy soap that is supposed to clean better. It was a smaller size than the usual bottles of Joy that I bought for her and it was more expensive even with the coupon! That is not a bargain to me.
Pre-packaged foods: This is where a lot of people waste a lot of money. People think of it as ‘convenience’ food therefore they buy it. If money is a concern which it should be to all and time is precious then try setting aside one weekend a month to make your own ‘fast food’. Yes, it will take some time and a lot of planning but in the end you will be saving a lot of money and possibly your life since it is much healthier. Yes, fast food is fast and convenient but it does not stay with you long so you are hungrier sooner and the nutritional value is gone.
Some suggestions for your monthly cook fest
*6 of your family’s favorite casseroles – make double batches and freeze singly.
*Make a huge pot of tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes and spices from your garden. Freeze in containers for quick pull out meals in minutes.
*Make 4 batches of pancakes and freeze in bags of individual servings. These are easy to pull out and heat up for a quick breakfast.
*Make as many loaves of bread that you might need for the month. Pre-slice before you freeze for easy toasting.
*Make a couple of pizza crusts to put in the freezer.
*You can even cook up some brown rice or pasta and put it in individual serving containers in the freezer.
*Buy cheese in bulk and divide into portions that you like (shredded, sliced, block, etc.) and freeze them.
*You can even make up a huge pot of mashed potatoes and freeze in serving sizes appropriate for your family.
*Soup, soup, soup! Make different varieties. Chili, broccoli cheese, stew, ham & bean, etc. So easy to freeze and pull out for a quick meal.
*Make some cornbread up and freeze it to go along with those soup meals.
*In the summer when you have those excess fresh veggies cook them up different ways and freeze them. Or if you are into canning go for it.
Green bean casserole
Stewed zucchini & tomatoes
Whole tomatoes (cut out the core and freeze in bags with the skins on. When ready to use just run under water and the skins peel right off)
Peas & carrots
Corn off the cob (conserves space)
*Be sure to utilize your crock pot during the weekend.
Chicken & dumplings
You see the possibilities are endless!
Two hours before our scheduled ‘interview’ the reporter sent me an email letting me know that her “superiors decided to take the story in a different direction”. I was ok with that because I got a nice blog post out of this! I hope some of you will find a benefit from some of the information.