Cheap is small and not too steep
But best of all cheap is cheap
Circumstance has forced my hand
To be a cut price person in a low budget land
Times are hard but we’ll all survive
I just got to learn to economize
(Low Budget by The Kinks)
I recently read an article in my local paper that challenged readers to “Try Surviving on Food Stamps”, or approximately $34.31 per week. The San Diego Hunger Coalition has organized the CalFresh Challenge San Diego to educate people on the realities of living on a “foodstamp budget”.
My first thought was – “Impossible! that’s what I spend on my weekly delivery from Harvest2U“. Then I realized that number is per person, so it’d actually be just under $103 per week for our family of three. Easy, peasy. Ok, maybe not THAT easy, and I’d still have to spend far less on produce. I am in no way stating that people that must use CalFresh have a large budget to work with – they don’t! But, I have lived on a very tight food budget before and I still shop that way more often than not.
As a saavy shopper, I refuse to pay over a certain amount for certain items. For example, I know I do not have to pay more than $3 for the following: breakfast cereal (usually more like $2.50), milk, bread, a pound of cheese, a pound of boneless skinless chicken breast (usually more like $2), or a box of crackers. If it is more than that, I simply do without that week. Do not let the little yellow shelf tags fool you into thinking you are getting a bargain!
So, for the last week I have thought about what I would by and what we would eat for a week on that budget. The best part about it was looking through all of the recipes on the site and realizing there are so many that are budget friendly. I also made it a bit more difficult on myself by trying to pick as many recipes from the site as I could, instead of the normal throw together meals (like stir fries) I normally serve on busy weeknights.
My shopping list contains several items that will not be used up during the week, and “assumes” items like baking soda, cream of tartar and the like are included. If I pro-rate the amount actually used out of the jar of peanut butter, jelly, flour, sugar and oatmeal, I would have more than enough for drinks besides water, milk and juice (like coffee!!!).
My list also includes over $25 for fresh fruits and vegetables, unfortunately I know this is one area that is usually the first to get trimmed on a tight food budget. Which is why I encourage any gardeners with abundant harvests of produce to consider donating to your local food bank (try a search on www.ampleharvests.org) to help those in need stretch their budgets and get the nutrients they need!
So what would I make with the $102 of groceries? A few ideas based on the ingredients available:
- cold cereal and oatmeal (or try leftover rice heated with butter and sugar)
- pancakes (make once on the weekend, and you’ll have at least one quick weekday meal too)
- skillet scramble (scramble eggs then toss in diced leftover baked potatoes, bacon/sausage, eggs, cheese, vegetables)
- biscuits and gravy (toss in a little sausage/bacon and a dash of cayenne or black pepper in the gravy, yum!)
Peanut butter and jelly, luncheon meat or cheese sandwiches on bread (store bought or homemade loaf or pitas)
- Tortilla Roll Ups or quesadillas
- Homemade Pizza (use the grilled bread recipe for the crust)
- Potato Soup, Tortilla Soup (make your own stock and use leftover chicken from dinner) or Cream of Vegetable Soup or Andalusian Beet Gazpacho
Pork or Beef Roast with baked potatoes and gravy (make on the weekend)
- Crockpot roasted chicken (save the bones for stock and use the giblets for Giblet Gravy) and tortillas or Chicken Fricassee
- Texas Chow Mein over angel hair (save a small amount of uncooked noodles for below) or Chicken Curry
- Leftover roast or chicken aded to Rice with Noodles
- Pasta and Meat Sauce and garlic bread
- Red Beans and Rice or Black Eyed Peas (without ham hocks unless you could afford it) or Chasen’s Chili
- French Bread Hamburgers or Meat Loaf or Beef Noodle Casserole or Mezetti
Snacks and Desserts
- crackers and cheese (slice the cheese or melt it on top or make Curry Cheese
- quesadillas or baked tortilla chips (or pita chips or crostini if you made pitas or bread) with homemade salsa or Carmalized Onion Dip
- Peanut Butter Cookies
- Mock Apple Pie, or real apple (or other fruit) pie
- rice pudding
- Fresh fruit and vegetables!
Even though I didn’t type it, each meal will include some fruits and vegetables.
There is not a lot of room for extravagances like coffee (especially not a daily specialty drink at a certain coffee chain), eating out, or things we probably should avoid like chips and sodas. But, it is better for the waistline. Maybe not enough to lose 20 pounds in a week as the individual is quoted in The Californian article, but I am not going to nitpick someone trying to do good.
If you take on the CalFresh Challenge, let us know how it goes. Or if you have other budget stretching ideas or recipes, please share them.
Until next time, happy eating.