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Challenge: feed two for a week on $80 in nyc

So...maybe this isn't a challenge outside of take out crazy new york. Im sure there are many that are scoffing at the question. But alas! My husband and I are trying to eliminate take out once and for all and eat soley from what we (I) :) cook from home.

But we've run into problems menu planning for the week- he doesnt like eating the same thing twice, unless its a turkey sandwich or a whole chicken, which i dont eat (i'm a pescetarian).

Ive been buying 2 filets of fish eating with a side veg, but sole has gotten boring and everything else is not budget friendly. I seem to always have leftover herbs that go to waste, or if I make a panini, extra bread that goes to waste....

In general, I try to stay away from processed food- ie i prefer to make my own pasta sauces, but on the cheap. I dont mind food shopping every day if thats what it takes! Just trying to stay away from Rice-a-roni type stuff.

So, what are your "left-over-proof-week-menus" that are also budget friendly? let me into your heads for your week of menu planning!!

Thanks, and best,

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  1. I cook for two also, and on a similar budget. I buy fruits and veggies according to what's in season and on sale or cheap. If I have leftover mushrooms or eggplant, I add it to baked ziti. The same with bread- if I buy a loaf to make sandwiches, I make the rest into crostini rounds or croutons.

    Do you cook meat and poultry for your husband? If you do, you can always make yourself a piece of fish and him a piece of chicken. Lots of people like Chinatown for seafood. In my area of Brooklyn, the Chinese supermarkets have the cheapest and freshest fish.

    Pasta is always cheap, and it can be dressed up a million different ways. Homemade pizza is also a great idea and very quick to prepare. For sides.. don't totally rule out more expensive salad greens. A few handfuls of arugula isn't so expensive and is really satisfying with a great dressing.

    Presentation is also important.. if it's just thrown onto the plate as opposed to arranged, the food just doesn't look as tasty. I try to take a minute to two to arrange the asparagus, or fan out the potato slices.

    You didn't mention if $80 covers the two of you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or only some meals...

    1 Reply
    1. re: cheesecake17

      Cheesecake, good point.. this is $80-100 basically for lunch and dinner for one week. we mostly skip breakfast aside from cart coffee and a piece of fruit monday through friday. but if fruit and cheese works as a leftover for breakfast...

    2. Ok, this is what my cheap vegetarian supper consisted of: a small stack of an experimental dosa / socca pancake hydrid and a can of lentils jazzed up with masala.

      So basically, soak overnight in water
      1 cup of rice (white or brown or a mix)
      1/4 cup of peeled lentils (see your India store for Urad Dal)

      The next day, drain and grind in your food pro with a bit of water (maybe a 1/2 cup for starters). Let the batter sit on a warmish overnight (put it to 350F for 30 secs, and then turn off) so it ferments (it didn't happen for me: too cool in my house). Anyhow, you can leave that in the fridge for a few days if you're not about to use it.

      When ready to use, thin the batter out and add a half cup of chickpea flour, a tablespoon of oil, some ground cumin & coriander, salt and pepper.

      Heat a teflon pan, use a tiny bit of oil, and make yourself a little stack of thin and golden savoury pancakes. Sprinkle some lemon juice over each pancake before slipping it into a warmed oven (I just happened to have a half lemon sitting on the counter).

      While that’s cooking, quickly chop up one onion and one small red pepper, sauté them with cumin seed and a masala or curry mix. Add a drained can of lentils. Serve the lot with Indian pickles and chutneys, and a raita if you are inspired to make one.

      The husband and I scarfed this down in happy surprise: I was not expecting this experiment to turn out very well.

      Ingredients: Rice, dried lentils or dal, chickpea flour, onion, red bell pepper, 1 can of lentils (even cheaper if you prep from dry)... super cheap and no leftovers whatsover.

      But about leftovers in general: they will great lunches for you, even if he’s turning his nose up (what a silly billy!)

      2 Replies
      1. re: TheSnowpea

        wow... that sounds DELICIOUS. lentils are a budgets friend for sure!! although its a bit time consuming, I will definately try this recipe, thanks!

        1. re: arugala

          It takes a bit of planning, obviously, but the hands-on time was super short.

          I love Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; lots of cheap, easy, fast ideas, and loads of variations to inspire you.

          I like paging through it, picking out a few recipes and planning my shopping around them over the weekend. I actually write down the recipe titles and page numbers and put it on the fridge. I'll cook maybe one or two dishes, along with a soup, on Sunday to get us started and have a few lunches ready to go.

          And then when I get home from work, tired and cranky and liable to phone in an order of something, I force myself to look at my list and go, "Oh yeah, that looked so good and fast, and ordering in would take longer!"

      2. I am currently trying to feed myself on $100 per MONTH! Don't always make it but I've become a bit of an expert on economizing.

        I try not to shop more than every two weeks -- since I live in a small city and have a car and all, I can buy in larger quantities but in NYC that might not be possible! I find that shopping any more often than that (except to buy the occasional jug of milk or carton of eggs if I've run out) automatically increases my overall grocery expenditures. I still eat plenty of fresh food, and I definitely do shop the farmers' markets in season more often than every two weeks.

        My menu plan goes a little like this: I plan around starches and preparations (i.e., Monday: pasta, Tuesday: risotto, Wednesday: something in the Crock Pot, Thursday: soup, Friday: dough-based like pizza, for instance). A bunch of reasons. Starches are everyday bargains with fairly consistent, predictable prices. They're infinitely adaptable -- as cheesecake17 said, there are a million ways to make pasta. A flexible plan allows you to get the best bargains on the freshest ingredients, to adapt meals based on your time constraints, and to have consistency without feeling like you're stuck with whatever's on the menu that particular day. It's actually much easier to be creative within certain parameters!

        It's great that you avoid processed food -- not only will it probably kill you ;) but it's almost always more expensive than homemade. So you're already saving yourself money there.

        Regarding leftovers, my advice is twofold: tell your husband (gently and sweetly) that if you want to save money, it would be lovely if he'd make an effort to conquer his aversion the idea of eating leftovers. (hehe) But secondly, there's no reason you have to eat EXACTLY the same thing twice! Make risotto one night and have lovely crisp risotto cakes on a big salad a couple nights later! Or take the leftover bread from panini and turn it into a savory bread pudding with spinach and sundried tomatoes and boconcini. Learning what freezes well goes a long way toward avoiding the trap of pitching food (example: cooked rice! I got this tip from no less legit a source than Masaharu Morimoto -- not in person, obviously, but in Food and Wine mag).

        I could go ON and ON. Saving money in the kitchen is a hobby of mine... ;) Food is basically my only variable expense (everything else is pretty fixed) so I'm working out how to indulge my foodieness on a shoestring. It's an adventure!

        2 Replies
        1. re: LauraGrace

          LauraGrace, Please do go On and On!!

          I'd love to hear more of what meals you turn into other meals. I get what you say in theory, but my reality always falls short and Im not sure why! I The risotto is and risotto cakes sound great.. you dont find aborio rice pricey? how do you do your risotto cakes? This is just what im looking for. How, specifically do you feed yourself for $100 a month? (is this creepy? dont mean to creep you out! :) )

          1. re: arugala

            Hehe... not creepy at all. I love sharing what I've learned with other folks.

            I FIENDED on frugal-living/cooking blogs for weeks (hell, I still do) when I realized that private school teachers do not, in fact, make more money than public school teachers. :) I even started a frugal living blog!

            Specific suggestions for meals that morph into other meals (incidentally, this is another reason why having starch-focused menu plans is a great idea):

            -leftover pasta becomes spaghetti frittata, one of my favorite egg preparations
            -leftover rice becomes... anything. Faux-risotto. Crispy rice and veggie patties. Fried rice. Filler in middle-eastern meatballs. Filler in homemade veggie burgers. Etc.
            -leftover bread becomes bread crumbs, savory bread pudding, grilled cheese sandwiches to go with tomato bisque which freezes beautifully

            Risotto cakes: take leftover, cold risotto, pat into cakes, flour, and fry in shallow oil until crispy and lovely and delicious. Serve with poached eggs or on a salad or both, for heaven's sake. Regarding arborio rice, yes it's a bit pricey, isn't it? I find it MUCH less so at Whole Foods in the bulk section. I buy most of my rice and other grains, as well as most of my beans and legumes, in bulk. So much less expensive!!!

            How I feed myself for $100 per month (like I said, I don't always make it -- usually it's probably closer to $120 or $130) is not eating meat very often (maybe once a week), never buying processed food, baking my own bread, making basically everything from scratch, and having what I call "calculated indulgences." If I feel deprived, I'm that much more likely to say, "Screw the budget! I'm buying champagne AND a ribeye AND fancy cheese AND these three boxes of cookies and I'm getting takeout on the way home! So there!!" So once a month or so I get one really lovely thing. A bag of meyer lemons, or a wedge of really gorgeous cheese, or some incredibly over-priced gourmet ice cream or something. Keeps me sane. Beer also keeps me sane, so I have that in the (ahem, non-grocery) budget as well.

            I also ALWAYS have food enough in my pantry and fridge so I absolutely cannot justify going out or ordering in. I always have eggs, canned tomatoes, onions, milk, pasta, rice, chicken stock in the freezer, frozen fruit and vegetables, fresh garlic, lentils, and spices on hand. With all that? There's no way I can rationalize going out. I mean, if worst comes to worst I can scramble eggs in five minutes, you know? Or have pasta and a quick tomato sauce in fifteen.

        2. I assume you both work, so no elaborate meals with lengthy prep-times, right? Here are a few options I use:

          We have a market close to us that specializes in local, organic meats. They vacuum pack single portions of various wonderful meats, often with a marinade, that make an easy foundation for quick meals. I'm sure you have similar options in Manhattan. Our market also sells interesting fresh caught fish. Its easy enough to come up with a meal based on a mixed grill.

          I'm sure you have access to packaged fresh pasta: ravioli, tortellini, etc. I always have a package of those around for a quick meal. There are so many quick sauces you can make, or just dress with sage butter, or pesto, or olive oil and parm...

          The other idea that we try to do (but only occasionally succeed) is to cook pots of stew, curry, soup, etc. on a Sunday that can be reheated for weekday meals. When you reheat a one-dish meal like that you should always finish it with some fresh herbs, twist of lemon... something to breath some life into it. With that its nice to bake biscuits, muffins, or even some ready-bake breads to have something fresh to go with it. Nothing wrong with Jiff cornbread in my book -- or if you want to spend more there are plenty of more gourmet mixes. Would it be acceptable to make two meals from the same base if the sides are different? Soups can be totally re-invented for a second meal by adding pasta, shrimp, other veggies, etc.

          In a similar vein, we occasionally pull out our crock pot to make simple slow-cook stews or other similar dishes where you toss it all in the crock in the morning and come home to an aromatic, hearty meal. Crock pots are the best way to cook beans too.

          Finally, Trader Joe's business is based on prepped-meals-for-working-couples. Their freezer section has a lot of better-than-rice-a-roni meals. Its also nice to have a bag of frozen blanched shrimp around, either for a quick shrimp cocktail course, or for saute dishes. Right now our freezer has a half-finished bag of pot stickers that make a fun quick course.

          Maybe these ideas will start the pot stirring...

          6 Replies
          1. re: BernalKC

            Yes, the Trader Joes freezer section is an old friend... ! Unfortunately, I find myself shunning the Trader Joes in Manhattan because of the crowds after work. I should get back on that, though I'd prefer cooking it myself from scratch if I can help it.

            I think I overstated my husbands disdain for leftovers, by the way... it would totally be acceptable to make two meals from same base if the sides were different- thats exactly what I would like to know!

            My issue is that if I make for instance, fish with steamed aspargus and brown rice. After the meal, I will have leftover rice and asparagus, what do do with it? (a stir fry). From the stri fry I have left over ginger, .. and on and on. Because im not in the swing of cooking everyday, Im curious what people who have a bit more of a routine make over and over out of the same ingredients.

            BernalKC, what are your favorite soup turned second meals?

            1. re: arugala

              Or... make cream of asparagus soup and freeze the rice. ;)

              Ginger -- keep it in the freezer too. No need to defrost when you use it, just grate it!

              1. re: arugala

                Leftover rice becomes fried rice in our house. Assuming the asparagus was al dente to begin with, in it goes... (Maybe this is as good a place as any to ask the board for frittata ideas. Any time I try frittata is comes out totally boring!)

                Omlettes are another way to use leftover veggies provided they're not totally pooped.

                Favorite re-invented soup? Hard to say because soup recipes are rarely repeated exactly. The general idea is to serve a relatively clear broth soup on day one and add greens, or pasta, or beans to make a minestrone variation on day two. Another approach is to puree the leftover soup, maybe add some milk or dairy, then finish it with a dollop of sour cream, pesto, or drizzle some nice oil, croutons, crushed nuts, herbs, green onion... to top it off.

                1. re: BernalKC

                  my mouth actually just watered after reading the good live oil, crushed nuts, herbs, and green onion to top a soup off. Good tip!
                  I
                  think Im going to have to spend Sunday as a bulk cooking day of soups, etc. and freeze them.

                  I suppose asking people for their specific shopping lists for the week is a bit much, im going to have to hit the books!! I guess Im asking how to think like a chef, but that will come with time =!

                  1. re: arugala

                    Indeed it takes time.

                    So don't aim too high to start. If you take out 5 days a week, aim to reduce that to 3, then when that is the norm go down to 1, then none. Just learning to bank a few meals per week is enough of a challenge. It takes time to develop a good repetoire, and to acquire a shelf of trusted cook books.

                    You would not want the whole thing to come crashing down by unplugging take-out meals you like before you can deliver tasty replacements.

                2. re: arugala

                  As you do more you will get the hang of things and learn what does/doesn't freeze well. Some thoughts on leftovers:

                  -I like dinner leftovers to heat for lunch the next day
                  -frozen tuna is less expensive here than fresh but, IMO, isn't acceptable for a tuna steak dinner. It is wonderful, however, for tuna burgers!
                  -leftover flank steak could become steak salad or fajitas
                  -baked potatoes can become home fries
                  -green veg can be incorporated into a quiche
                  -extra rice can be put into stir fry, curried rice (with some lentils!) or as the base of a casserole
                  -chicken (think cheaper cuts or take the skin off yourself) can be served two nights with two totally different sauces, made into salad for sandwiches or put into quesadillas.
                  -if you like to reheat shellfish then shrimp scampi one night, tossed with angel hair pasta the next.
                  -make two different mains but serve with the leftover sides

                  As others have said, I also think it helps to plan a menu and grocery list...none of that 4 o'clock "oh no! what will we have for dinner tonight?!"

                  Happy experimenting!

              2. random thoughts:
                - do you eat shellfish? you can often find good deals on bags of frozen shrimp...i always keep them on hand because you can just defrost one or two servings right before cooking it (i'm typically cooking just for myself).
                - the leftover herbs can be turned into pesto, or blended into homemade soup or bean dip.
                - the leftover bread from panini can be toasted & cubed for croutons, staled and processed for bread crumbs, or used in a bread pudding or strata.
                - polenta is an inexpensive starch you can prepare & serve a variety of ways.
                - eggs are budget-friendly and offer a lot of options.

                there have been a lot of threads in the past year about recession-friendly/frugal cooking and tips for making the most of what you've got. plenty of inspiration & ideas...

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/586992
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/513600
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/509926
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/608230
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/529476
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/360312
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/517684