$100 weekly grocery allowance for two, what are some options for dinner?
My girlfriend and I are college students with a $100 allowance for groceries every week. We love to cook tasty dinners, however with little spending money I'm wondering where the money should go. What are some cheap dishes? What are the best cuts of meat on a budget? Thanks
Nonsense. I live in Boston, and as a freelance writer (a pretty feast-or-famine profession), there have been weeks on end where I can and have kept the family food budget under $100.
Basic rules: buy as few processed foods as you can, and learn to cook from scratch as much as possible. Keep an eye on the supermarket circulars, and when things you like are on sale for cheap, stock up as much as you can hold: the idea is to build a larder. (If you have room and you can lay hands on a small extra freezer, those are very useful for long-term storage.) As others have said, ethnic markets can be much cheaper on some products: spices are stupid cheap at Indian markets, for example, and decent quality, too.
The average American spends about $7 per day on food which is pretty much their budget. I live in Manhattan and spend considerably less ($40-$60 per week) and eat fresh fruits and vegetables (often organic), and can afford non-essential items raspberries, asparagus, hormone-free dairy and cranberry juice (the most expensive juice to buy retail according to the USDA).
Think about WHERE you are buying these groceries.
Go to Grocery Outlet, 99 Ranch, ethnic markets (Chinatown etc) -- depends on where you live. If near Berkeley Bowl -- haunt the "marked down" section. 99 cents for a bag of slightly bruised produce.
Are there still places for "day-old" bread? I used to go to a place in Berkeley -- on Grove Street as I recall -- but that was forty years ago.
Avoid prepared food -- buy bulk beans and grains.. Buy vegetables in season -- winter veg now, such as squash, greens. Mostly apples now, and pears. Citrus will be cheaper in a month or two.
Crockpot could be good to save prep time.
Avoid meat as much as possible (because of the expense).
Is the $100 for groceries just for dinner, Or dinner and breakfast? Are you packing lunch prepared from the $100 budget?
I have a $50 budget for one in Toronto, and I don't have to avoid meat. The key is to find cheaper cuts, store them properly, cook them to bring out their best, and in some cases, eat them properly.
For example, one grocery near me regularly has 5-8 lb beef tenderloins for $3.29/lb CDN (about $3.15 US). It's Canada AA which is the equivalent of USDA Select. Is it as flavourful as Prime or Choice? Of course not. On the other hand, it's much leaner. But I take it, trim it, and slice it into steaks, which I freeze in packs of 1 or 2. The day before grilling, I take it out and marinade it overnight. I end up with a tasty piece of steak without as much fat at a decent price. Blade steak is usually cheap, and people shun it because it's gristly and grainy. If you learn to cut away the gristle (you'll need good steak knives!), and then cut the trimmed part thinly across the grain, it's very tasty and very tender.
Pork tenderloins, and packages of chops regularly go on sale. Again, buy, separate, and freeze. Assuming you eat bacon, it freezes very well. So do sausages.
Cheap cuts generally respond to lower, slower cooking techniques. I don't have a crock pot or a slow cooker, but I find a slow oven with a braising liquid and a tightly covered lid (or foil) works nearly as well. I make a lot of stews, which are an excellent way to stretch your meat with cheap and nutritious root vegetables.
Great suggestions. I, too, live in Toronto and some months back gave myself a grocery budget challenge: $300.00/month for two people. So far, I'm succeeding. I eat less meat, lots of veggie dishes, legumes. I plan ahead, check the local flyers each week (in our area they come out on Thursdays), familiarize myself with the prices, stock up on non-perishables when they're cheap, avoid prepared foods, do my best not to waste by planning ahead and tracking what's in the fridge that needs to be eaten. And I use Epicurious.com, which has a great search feature that allows you to type in the ingredients you have on hand, and then it'll give you some recipe options. It is definitely doable.
re: Full tummy
Yes, I've noticed tin beans - chickpeas, white/red kidney, black, romano, etc. - go on sale pretty regularly, and I regularly pick up 6-8 tins at time. You get to experiment with lots of chilis, with and without meat, baked beans, bean salads, etc. I'll also add the beans to soup, which makes a huge boost in protein and fibre.
Went to the local No Frills this morning, and picked up a canteloupe, turnip, spaghetti squash, 500 ml of sour cream, and 2 lb sirloin tip roast for $10 total. I cut the roast into 3 steaks (one of which is marinating in the fridge) and two packs of stew beef - that's five meals for $4.31. As you suggest, read the flyers, plan ahead, and it's not all that hard.
Since you're cooking, you can eat very well and not have to give up meat. I'm in a different city, but most stores put meat on sale weekly; this week we had pork chops for $1.19 per pound; last week, chicken breasts .99 per pound, you get the idea. Get the family packs and divide into servings. . I shop the meat counter's mark down section when I'm there, this week I got 2 (2 inch thick) porterhouse chops, which is a t-bone & fillet (which I stuffed) for $3.98. I also shop the produce mark down rack which is a goldmine (at least where I'm at).
Thanksgiving is coming so turkeys will be on sale. I buy extra for the freezer because I like to cut one in half to make Pulled BBQ Turkey sandwiches. You could cut the breasts, legs & thighs off to use later and use the carcasses for soup. Use the meat for kabobs, ground turkey for burgers, thighs for curry and bone the legs out for stuffing. For lunches, make large batches of soups, pastas, buy sandwich meats in bulk when on sale (they freeze well as does milk).
Pasta, beans, oatmeal, rice are cheaper when you buy larger sizes. If there is a breadstore, buy from there and if you have a freezer, bread freezes well. Because you enjoy cooking, why not bake some bread & sandwich buns? Check out dollar stores grocery isles, as well as ethnic markets which usually have cheaper dry goods than supermarkets. It helps to have a freezer.
It would help to know what you're already eating or your dislikes so that we don't throw the same dishes at you in terms of suggestions
If you avoid convenience foods you should be able to eat pretty well for that amount of money, at least once you've stocked your pantry with things like rice, couscous, pasta, and baking supplies. (flour, sugar, etc)
I think things like soup and chili are great for people on a budget. You cook them for a long time, so generally you can use cheaper cuts of meat, and usually they freeze pretty well, so you can make several meals worth of food and not have to cook every day.
Eating on a budget like that is a cinch, if not luxurious. Make your own hummus using dried chickpeas. Go to an Asian grocer for produce and bulk spices, and these can go far. Look online for recipes from India. India has a 5,000 year old tradition of making hugely flavorful vegetarian dishes, and meat curries in which meat is the "condiment." My suggestion is to use whole grains (brown rice, unhulled lentils, whole oatmeal, etc.) to get the best fiber and protein for your buck, lots of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, kale) which are always inexpensive and have the highest nutritional value in the plant kingdom, root vegetables (you have endless possibilities with the lowly potato and carrot), think about soups, and don't forget eggs, which have hundreds of possibilities and are cheap, perfect protein. Buy canned tomatoes and coconut milk when they are on sale. Buy "lesser" cuts of pork and beef, and braise them in stews. "Splurge" on fresh herbs -- parsley and cilantro, and Thai basil at your Asian grocer, which can lend a huge level of interest to anything you cook, be it good or bad. Always have on hand onions, garlic and fresh ginger.
The most important thing is that you enjoy cooking, and are willing to experiment. I put myself through college eating omelettes and lentil stew, on a budget of about $1 per day. This inspired me to learn to cook inexpensively, and today I cook for a residental facility with an extremely limited budget, and the menu is vegan and gluten free (though I am not). With creative use of Thai curry pastes, coconut milk ($.70 per can), day-old produce and a plethora of spices at hand, I make meals for 20 people for less than $10, or in other words, $30 for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The most important thing is that you have fun, eat well, pay the rent, and get through school.
My bf and I spend around $140 a week (he probably eats twice as much as I do...and I love to snack, so under normal circumstances I don't see why $100/week is unreasonable).
We eat cereal with milk for breakfast, pancakes or eggs on the weekends. For lunch we pack yogurts, sandwiches, left overs, along with snacks and fruit. We tend to get bagged apples or bunches of bananas because they're cheapest, and then buy melons or other fruits when they're on sale or if they look especially good. Dinners we try to do a meat/veggie/grain. So typically we'll buy packs of chicken and ground turkey...then cut the package in half so we can get two meals out of each (roughly 1/4 pound per person per meal) and freeze everything. A lot of times we can find thin sliced pork chops or steaks for cheap, too. I'm also a fan of frozen shrimp and scallops...I'll only buy "fresh" fish when it's on sale. We'll buy frozen vegetables so they last, and fresh when they're on special or if we plan on eating them soon. For sides we'll make rice or potatoes. We eat spaghetti once a week. I also try to make a big pot of soup or chili that can last us for two meals or a dinner/lunch, which won't involve expensive ingredients but makes a TON.
My bf wouldn't mind eating the same thing every day, but I can't stand that...so I try to plan meals before I go shopping (that what I get only what I need and don't pick up random things and decide to make a meal out of them later)...I tend to plan one exciting dinner per week (something totally different) and one big dessert.
$7 per person per day is plenty of money for groceries. You're going to have to shop smart, but you will be able to eat very well. It's more than double the amount longtime chowhound rworange set for herself in a budget-conscious experiment she undertook a couple of years ago in the Bay Area, and she did okay: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/420878
One thing to keep in mind is the cost per serving, rather than the dollar amount on the price tag. If your staple foods last a long time, buy them in bulk. A 25-pound bag of rice costs a lot more than a 1-pound bag, but the lower unit price pays off in the long run.
Speaking of staples, it's always good to have a bunch of them around. Legumes are your friend. From pinto beans and lentils to the dozens of dals that are available in Indian markets, they're tasty, nutritious, and dirt cheap. And things like legumes and rice keep pretty much forever.
Non-perishables are a good thing. When you find a screaming deal on non-perishable food that you like, stock up. A small hit to this week's grocery budget will pay big dividends over the next few months. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can feed you if the money dries up, and will allow you to splurge a little if it doesn't.
Check out Trader Joe's. Things like dried pasta, canned tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil are very reasonably priced. Some of the bagged produce is also a good deal (the wild arugula and the mixed greens are a couple of my favorites). And if you've got a little room left in the week's budget, they have a few cheap wines that drink very well for the price.
As far as stuff that needs to be eaten promptly, +1 on the Asian markets. The produce there tends to be fresher and cheaper than anyplace else. Best of all, whatever's in season isn't just the tastiest stuff available at the moment, it's also the most reasonably priced.
For meat on your budget, you need to decide whether you want to eat very small amounts of high-quality sustainably-raised stuff, or whether you want to eat commodity meat. If you're comfortable with the latter, never mind the "best cuts of meat on a budget"; take advantage of the loss leaders at the big grocery stores.
If you go that route, you'll have no problem affording ample animal protein. For example, this week at Safeway you can get pork shoulder for $1.29 a pound, beef cross-rib roasts for $2.99 a pound, and 15-pound turkeys for $6.77 each. You can have pulled pork, chili verde, pork fried rice, pot roast, beef stew, roast turkey, turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini, and tons of leftovers for well under a dollar a serving.
The really cool thing is that the internet provides you with information about how to make the most of the bargains you find. Got a screaming deal on something you've never heard of before? Buy it and post on the Home Cooking board here on Chowhound. There are a lot of people with great info who are willing to - no, excited about - providing good advice on how to turn it into a tasty meal.
As Lou Reed said, it's the beginning of a great adventure...
All great suggestions; here are a couple of add-ons.
And something that's really important if you buy huge bags of flour and rice, as I do. Make sure you have pest-proof containers/jars to pack it in. There's always a chance you'll bring some food pest--beetle, moth, etc.,--into the house in your groceries but by containing everything, if that does happen, you'll be able to keep control of the problem. Alternatively, if you have freezer space, you can store surplus grains in there.
It's not a good idea to buy nuts in bulk, unless you can store them in the freezer or will be eating them all relatively soon, as the fat in the nuts will go "off". Another thing you don't want to buy in large quantities is spices and dried herbs. They won't "perish", but they will lose flavour over time.
As always, alanbarnes is spot on!
One of the most important things said was the bit about "legumes are your friend." How true. Dried beans, when re-constituted with some good broth or stock, make great hot dishes and cold bean salads.
Now, the OP mentioned needing recipes. A good way to get started getting used to using dried legumes is to go to the Kosher foods section of the supermarket and get one of those cellophane "tubes" of "Barley Soup Mix" or "Vegetable Soup Mix." Manischewitz makes it, as well as others. It's peas, beans, and barley or dried vegetables, and soup flavoring. Make the soup according to the package, but add a chicken leg and thigh or two and some fresh veggies -- onion, celery, carrot.
When I was a poor college student, I'd buy some of that soup mix, and then a plastic bag of "soup vegetables" in the vegetable aisle (a package containing an onion, some celery, carrot and parsnip, and sometimes some dill -- some stores don't carry this any more) and make enough soup to last 3 days!
To this day, I buy a lot of baked goods from the "day-old" shelf at the store.
Bags of bargain, bruised produce are a superb way to save!
Store sale circulars are your friend. It's worth picking up the weekly paper that contains all of them.
Good bacon can go a long way in flavoring hearty dishes. I buy Niman Ranch bacon at Trader Joe's and use a few slices here and there as flavoring in otherwise veggie/bean/potato dishes. Fresh herbs - dill, basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro and chives - can brighten a dish and add wonderful flavors and you can grow them yourself for an endless supply in a sunny window. One of our favorite summer dishes is ratatouille - so flavorful and ridiculously cheap to make a big batch. I love making soups in winter.
This is by no means an impossible budget. My husband and I easily eat well off less than that on average (including non-food items like TP and toiletries). Some weeks I spend $100 or a bit more. Other weeks I only spend $30-40. And every once in awhile, I only spend $15-20 for fresh produce. I, too, stock up on loss leader sales, have a small chest freezer, buy bread at a bread outlet, eat fruit/veg in season (usually, though not always, the produce on sale is in season also) and shop at ethnic stores. Buy whatever cuts of meat are on sale and freeze. Look up the cuts if you aren't sure what to do with them to find recipes.
One thing I can tell you is that if you do cook meat, think ahead. My roommate and I aren't hurting for money per se, we just happen to both have been raised to waste nothing lol If we have a roast one day, we save the leftovers and the broth and the next day it's beef and vegetable soup, heavy on the vegetables, and usually add in some kind of grain to help it stretch and have enough leftovers for lunch the next day. We can eat three meals on one 2lb or so roast. We like to make seasoned pulled pork for tacos. The next day, the leftovers turn into pork and black bean chili. We can bulk that up with more beans and serve over rice.
There's a lot of things you can do! Get ground pork or turkey instead of hamburger. Pork steak is really good, as long as you don't mind taking the effort to trim it up. It's very fatty. Try growing some stuff in the summer months, maybe? We completely neglect our tomato plants but we still end up with enough to freeze, and they do well in pots. Hmm...try Asian food. Soak some rice noodles. While they're soaking, saute garlic, carrots, onion, and shredded cabbage. At this point you can choose to add some chicken if you want, sometimes we use firm tofu. Add the noodles and season with soy sauce, and some fish sauce if you have it. It's simple but very good and it makes a whole lot of food for not a lot of money.
Keep in mind that certain kinds of staples tend to go on sale in tandem with various holidays; try to time your purchases for those times, & stock up then. For example, with Thanksgiving (and then Christmas) impending, all sorts of ingredients will be on sale as loss leaders -- not just the obvious holiday fare like turkey & cranberries, but a lot of "everyday items," like cream cheese, butter, eggs, canned chicken stock, flour, nuts.
Keep an eye on the Sunday papers or internet for coupons for those products in the same time period, and you can further leverage your savings. I bought 2 cans of a named brand chicken broth for 19 cents apiece yesterday that regularly sell at $1.19, because they were on sale at 69 cents and I had a coupon for $1.00 of for two. And take the time to compare unit prizing for various sizes, brands, and packaging; the 32 oz asceptic packaging for the same products, which were also ostensibly on sale, were a lot more in actuality -- especially as the $1.00 of coupon for two of them translated into 50 cents off for each 32 oz package, not 50 cents off of each 14 oz. can.
Similarly, there are certain kinds of products that are always on sale in conjunction with the summer holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day), which tend to feature cook-outs -- like barbecue sauces, mayonnaise, and other condiments (ketchup, mustard). Cheeses, cold cuts, condiments, and cream cheese are almost always on sale during periods like the football play-offs, Superbowl, and college final four.
Further to AlanBarnes' comments on Trader Joes, in addition to good prices on staples, their dairy products in our area tend to be among the best -- i.e., for milk, 1/2&1/2 and eggs. On the other hand, their produce prices are high, I find, with the exception of button mushrooms.
As to cuts of meat, learn to use chicken in all its forms. Yesterday, I picked up leg-thigh quarters at 99 cents/ lb. Before freezing them, I separated the legs from the thighs, and removed the backbones, freezing 2-3 thighs or legs in separate bags. The back-bones immediately went into a pot, covered with water and seasoned, to make a broth; it's only a few cups, but it can be used in sauces. When boneless breasts are on sale at 1.99/lb, buy them & freeze 2 to a package. Similarly, buy whole chickens when they are on sale at about $1/lb, and either freeze whole to roast later, or cut them up before freezing (saving the back bone & giblet pack to make soup).
Find ways to use leftovers that don't just involve reheating what you ate the day before -- you are much less likely to waste the leftovers if reusing them involves variety. Roast a chicken on Sunday, and then on Tuesday, use some of the remaining chicken to make chicken enchiladas or chicken a la king. Make chicken salad for lunch.
A few additional thoughts:
1. If the store is out of an advertised special, get a raincheck. In our area, there are certain products that always seem to be out of stock when they go on sale (canola oil, e.g.)
2. With the holidays, the day after there are often unadvertised, "this store only" sale of fresh turkeys that were overstocked. Go to the store the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas and buy a small turkey.
3. Also with the holidays, ham is on sale. A small (7-8 lb) spiral-sliced 1/2 ham is a great buy. It usually is shelf-stable in the refrigerator for about 8 weeks. After you've baked it and eaten baked ham for one meal, cut the rest up and divide into packages of sliced & cubed ham. Refrigerate if you will be using within the week, and freeze the rest. Use for sandwiches, or to add into macaroni & cheese, pasta with cream sauce, etc.
4. Making from scratch is less expensive and tastier than convenience foods, but convenience foods will save you money over delivery & take-out. So keep a certain amount of good quality convenience foods on hand for those times when you are too tired or pressed for time to cook. For us, that means that I keep one premium-brand pizza in the freezer (bought on sale, with a coupon), and a jar or 2 of good quality red sauce for pasta.
One thing I do to stretch the budget is make a HUGE bowl of greek orzo salad (or whatever you wouldn't get sick of), and eat that for lunch and /or dinner untill its gone. My mom, strangely enough, used to do the same with chinese chicken salad, so I guess I know where I got that weird habit from! Here's my recipe, if it interests you at all
1 box orzo
1 hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced (lengthwise and crosswise)
1 orange pepper, julienned
carton of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
halved kalamata olives
Store-brand greek vinagrette
I slice all the veggies and mix them up while the pasta is boiling, then add the pasta (hot) and feta-I like how the feta gets a bit melty and coats everything. Do not add the dressing. Mix everything, then refridgerate for a few hours. Add the dressing to individual servings. If you have some resources for fresh herbs, Italian parsly and mint work well (finely chopped). It makes a ton, and stays good for days. Maybe five. Also, once it's been a few days, the seeds fall out of the tomatoes, and the orzo packs into them. Like a little stuffed tomato :) And the whole thing shouldn't cost more than $10-$12.
Beans are good, you buy them dry in bulk (usually they come in big bags even at the supermarket) and then you can soak them overnight before use.
Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans...white beans.. they're all very nutritious and make endless types of dishes/cuisines. Lentils are great too because they don't even require soaking!
Try to buy meat form a butcher, I find it cheaper that way, or if you prefer the supermarket a lot of times you can find it marked down for sale on the final day. You can either use it or freeze it. I got tons of meat a discount this way. Some people swear by Costco's meat so if you have a membership then take advantage of it that way.
Look for clearance foods too and plan ahead, for instance the pastas at my supermarket were clearing out so I bought all the different types/shapes I use and got a whole cupboard full of them at a fraction of the regular cost. So you're spending ahead but you save later.
If you learn to restrict yourself to purchasing what is on sale on any given week from your favorite supermarket, i.e., the sales flyer, you should have no problem eating very well for $50 or less. I feed two adults on this amount every week, including fresh vegetables and two different types of meats or seafoods....so variety is not an issue. Everything goes on sale at least once every 3-4 weeks. I live in the greater New jersey/New York area, and even here, lobster, shrimp and filet mignon have been on sale regularly for $3.99 for the past couple of months. It may be at store A this week ....and at store
B next, but again, the sales are reoccuring. Another hint......It would help if you learn how to use your knives and stretch your meat sales.
Purchasing a Asian markets is also a tremendous savings over large supermarkets. Let say you purchase and roast a pork shoulder for the first night for about $6-7 for a 6-8 pound piece of pig......or a roaster chicken for $4-8 depending on size........ You can use the leftovers to make sandwiches, quesadillas. soups. sliced meat topping for ramen soups.....the options are endless. If you purchase some string beans, broccoli, yellow squash, zucchini and carrots.....you can have a medley of vegetables for a night or two....then you take what you have not finished and throw them together with a can of beans and tomatoes and you have a soup......If you want to make it even heartier, add some potatoes or pasta....
Learn to use cheaper cuts of meat and find stores where the bargains are.....
I live in London, so things may well be different in the US, but I find I save a lot of money and eat better by staying out of the regular supermarkets. I am lucky to live in an area with a great daily market and also a Sunday farmer's market with fantastic quality regional produce at good prices. If you visit later in the day, you will often get good deals. For example, yesterday I spent around £30 and got three packs of sausages, some good bacon, two pheasants, three packs of steak mince, some sheep's cheese, amazing apples and fresh seasonal vegetables, including potatoes, parsnips, leeks and carrots. That will easily provide us with main meals for a week or more. For lunches, I will make soup or sandwiches with homemade bread, and breakfast is either toast or musli/granola. And I'm not even on a budget!
Roast chicken is a good standby and you can easily get two or three meals out of it - I like to make soup or risotto out of the leftovers. Braising is a good way of getting the most out of cheaper cuts. The Cookbook of the Month, All About Braising, is a great source of ideas. We have great sausages here in the UK - also a good, weeknight meal. Pasta, obviously, and risotto. Asian food is also a good way of making a little bit of meat go further. I would always advocate buying good quality, free-range meat if possible and eating less of it. Cheap fish is harder to find, but mackerel is always a good choice, delicious, and very healthy. Make friends with your fishmonger and you may find that s/he has good suggestions - I recently substituted conger eel for monkfish with good results (they didn't have monkfish, and conger eel is less than a quarter of the price - I would never have thought of using it myself). Similarly your butcher - skirt and feather blade both grill well and are a fraction of the price of sirloin etc.
Do you like potatoes?
Ok, they do get a bad rap, being white and starchy and evil and all (saith the mysterious "they"). But they are cheap, tasty, and nutritious, and supported an entire country for a few generations.
Boil several at a time to keep in the fridge, then proceed to dice, toss in a pan with a bit of fat, veg of choice, maybe some leftover meat maybe not, and fry for hash. Cube and toss with your favourite potato toppings, and bake till crunchy for baked potato casserole. slice and layer with cream, seasonings, and cheese for another casserole. cut up and leave cold, and toss with other cold salad ingredients for tater salad. I can't even get into all the lovely potato dishes I've had and seen.
On a side note, I was reading the other day about the great potato famine, and noted a little blip stating that many people have survived on little more than potatoes and fresh milk. So I just put potatoes and milk into mastercook (a recipe/nutrient calculating program), and dang if they didn't make a fairly balanced meal! You end up with at least a little bit of "everything".
I don't have a set budget so to speak, but I would say we spend anywhere from $75 to $100 per week on groceries and eat very well and we live in the NYC area.
Get things on sale, like chicken breasts etc. and freeze them.
Sweet potatoes I bake in the oven about 6 at a time and wrap in foil, then reheat what you need as you want them.
Bulk purchases put a dent in the budget once but then pay for themselves after that.
We eat stir fry, indian, I grill a lot of veggies, even after it gets cold, soups in the winter go a long way.
Think about what a "portion" is. Obviously you're not going to be eating 12 ounce steaks, but that's a ridiculous portion anyway. If you keep your meat portions to three-six ounces, you shouldn't have any problems. Although it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes it's more budget friendly to buy from a butcher where you only have to pay for the amount you want, and not a whole package that might be more servings than you need.
As someone said: check out the sale fliers and buy what's on sale. There's always *something* on sale, and if you don't know how to cook it, come back here for suggestions. Look for things that you can use in more than one way. For example, I was buying beets, and I noticed that it was about the same price for a bunch of beets with the tops on as it was for the same number of beets loose. So I cooked the beet tops (you can steam them or saute them like chard) and the beets and ended up with two extra servings of vegetables for my money.
Chicken goes on sale frequently, and it's another two-fer. Don't buy boneless, bone it yourself, save the bones (freeze them until you have enough), and make stock with them. Soup is easy, cheap, and delicious -- there are thousands of different soup recipes out there, so you won't get tired of them.
The freezer and the markdown aisle are your friends. Hit the markets in the late afternoon during the week and you'll usually find a few bargains on meat and produce. I don't know where you go to school but I'm in a two-person household and don't even come close to spending a hundred bucks a week on food--and I shop at the local "healthy" market and buy free-range meat and organic veggies. If you cook, you're way ahead of the game as far as economizing.
"What are some cheap dishes? What are the best cuts of meat on a budget?"
Cheap dishes are often based on grains (wheat, rice, corn, barley, etc) and/or legumes (beans of all colors & shapes and dried peas as well as lentils). Not only are these inexpensive, they are also nutritious and by combining the grain with legume, you create a complete protein.
Every culture that I can think of has a grain-legume based dish -- bean burritos from Mexico to red beans & rice from the American south to tofu & fried rice in Asia. Add seasonings and you're set.
Many posters have suggested cooking as a great way to save money and I heartily second this. Soup is economical and delicious, especially as the weather cools. Check out a SOUP cookbook from the library or post on the CH Home Cooking board to ask specific questions. NOTE: cookbooks won't tell you that you can use tired vegetables (those on the sale rack) for great tasting soup.
Make friends with your butcher. Ask questions. They are a wealth of good information and I have found them happy to help if they sense you are really interested. As a general rule, the parts of the animal getting the most excercise are the tough cuts and the least expensive. HOWEVER, things like veal or lamb shanks are quite pricey because they have been getting a lot of play in the food press. Beef or pork shanks are equally delicious and quite a bit less costly, at least at my markets. Because shanks have marrow at the center of the round bone, they contribute richness to the finished dish. A pork shoulder, as one poster already mentioned, is a terrific buy. I braised one on Saturday and we will eat from it for several days for the total cost of $4 for the meat. Yesterday's breakfast = migas (torn corn tortillas in scrambled eggs) with shredded pork. I stirred more of the pork into a fresh tomato sauce with zucchini & basil for last night's pasta sauce. Tuesday or Wednesday evening, we'll have fried rice with, you guessed it, more pork. It makes terrific burritos and a great sandwich spread with mustard on some crunchy bread.
If you "think outside the box" you will save a great deal of money. EX: many people think that pizza must contain an inordinate amount of cheese and some pricey meat. Try making your own crust and using vegetables instead. Caramelized onions are delicious and dirt cheap.
As I type, a stockpot is gently cooking several turkey backs (29 cents pp) for a pot of turkey-barley soup later today. With the addition of an onion, a couple of carrots and bunch of kale, we will have a great supper on the cheap.
Bone-in ham is another great buy, especially at holiday time. Some wit once defined eternity as "two people and a ham" but it need not be endlessly boring. Layers of sliced potatoes, ham and cabbage bathed in broth baked in the oven makes an easy tasty supper. If you're feeling flush, add cheese. Grind non-pretty pieces of ham with mustard, stir in rice and stuff whatever round vegetables are cheapest, then bake until the vegetables are softened. Use bits of ham with white beans or lentils or split peas for soup. Make stock from the bone and use that to flavor other meals.
Please do not overlook offal. Slowly caramelized onions tossed with thin strips of quickly-cooked liver, seasoned with sage is ambrosial for less than a dollar. Slowly braised chicken gizzards served over grits make me weep with their rich goodness. Oxtails braised with onions & garlic and served with green chiles and hominy make a robust meal full of flavor.
As long as you two are willing to be adventurous, you will find this to be a fun challenge instead of hardship. You'll learn how to run an old-fashioned kitchen and will eat better than those eating prepared food. Think of cooking as a world trip - you can visit any country's table if you select food of the people rather than high-cost items.
Have a great trip and let us know how you are doing.
". Layers of sliced potatoes, ham and cabbage bathed in broth baked in the oven makes an easy tasty supper. "
Or dot the layers of potatoes with butter and sprinkle with a bit of flour, use milk instead of broth, and get creamy scalloped potatoes - just the thing for those cold San Francisco nights in the middle of February!
in addition to the repetition of beans/legumes , roast chx, rice, asian markets, homemade, etc (it's good advice), i suggest you eat lots of eggs. make omelets or egg/french toast for dinner as well as for breakfast, frittatas filled with leftover vegetables, a poached egg on stew or roasted veggies or thick wholegrain toast for a hearty meal. eat several ovo-veg or vegan dinners a week to afford good meat/cheese/other splurge ingredients. buy dried goods and spices in bulk (by weight, not necessarily in huge quantities), shop the outdoor markets for in season produce, don't assume the dollar store or the discount store necessarily has all the deals. for instance a high end grocer here in town does a weekly rotisserie chicken special for $5. this kind of a splurge is great because you can get at least 6 meals out of a roast chicken, plus stock for other recipes. this same grocer also frequently has baking supplies on sale at various holiday times: 5# sugar for a buck, etc--sometimes you can take advantage of the loss leaders at even boutique markets to eat very well. eat simple soups, salads and grains. learn to cook at least 5 great dishes with tofu. make baked goods and freeze them-- use discounted brown bananas to make banana bread or muffins for pennies a breakfast, etc. never throw away food-- reimagine it in another dish. brown bag your lunch, with 6 different 2 oz servings of leftovers if necessary-- at least it won't be boring. or, eat a pb&j for a week so you can have a lavish thanksgiving meal. eat soup and fruit at every meal if possible, decrease the meat portions, drink mostly water. try lots of new recipes from peasant cuisines including american traditional/regional (local library will have exciting books), keep the dishes you like in regular rotation while you continue to explore. don't get in a rut or ever feel like you are depriving yourself--you can afford (a little bit of) any luxurious ingredient you want, it will just take a little planning.
I can't believe some of these posts are serious: even with 2009 big city prices, two people can eat royally for $100 a week. Find out which day your local supermarkets have their sale ads and read them with serious intent. Examples: currently in Chicago, on offer are round steak $1.49 lb, Idaho russet potatoes 10 lb 99 cents, seedless red grapes $1 lb, natural cheeses 8 oz pkg solid for $2 or shredded for $1.28. Forget convenience foods---they cost more and aren't as good as homemade. Cheap entrees? Swiss steak, beef stew, barbecued beef, potroast, roast chicken, chicken teriyaki, baked beans with ham, scalloped potatoes with ham, chicken a la king on biscuits, macaroni & cheese, shepherd's pie, beef or chicken curry, chicken breasts or pork chops baked on stuffing with gravy on top, oven-fried catfish filet, salmon croquettes, seafood chowder, minestrone, moussaka, lasagna, spaghetti with meat or marinara sauce, chef salad, African chicken, sloppy Joes, shrimp Creole, meatloaf, cheese omelet with frozen French Fries, creamed tuna and noodle casserole, quiche, picadillo, chili, stuffed green peppers in tomato sauce, sweet & sour stuffed cabbage.
Have fun with the weekly supermarket ads and buy whatever meat is the loss leader that week. I used to try to spend no more than 99 cents per pound for meat. That's not as realistic as it used to be, but whole chickens or leg quarters on sale, pork or beef ribs (great in the crockpot), and sometimes pork shoulder roast, Boston butt, or pork steaks, will be that inexpensive. Ditto what everyone has said about legumes, grains, pasta, fresh vegetables, and making soups from scratch. Learn to bake your own bread, if you don't already do that.
On the day after Thanksgiving, go get a fresh turkey, which will have been marked down quite a bit. Cut it up like a chicken and freeze the parts separately. There are lots of recipes for turkey thighs, wings, etc.
In most supermarkets, meats that need to be either cooked or frozen that day have been marked way down but are still good.
Focus on a plant based diet and as said earlier try to avoid processed foods if at all possible. Michael Pollen in his book "In Defense of Food" tells us to avoid food that your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, avoid HFCS, avoid processed food with more than five ingredients or with ingredients you don't recognize as food or can't pronounce. Invest in an assortment of dried beans, rice, whole grains, dried lentils etc and invest in some good seasonings. Take advantage of weekly sales and specials. Use meat as an addition to your diet, not the primary entree. Shop the outside perimeter of the grocery store and avoid the processed food in the isles. My SIL has four teenagers and is always looking for ways to reduce food expenses. She swears some of the discount store food brands are simply repackaged by the well known standard. She can figure it out by the order ingredients are listed. Test out Walmart brand slow cooking oats and compare it to Quacker Oats. I can't tell the difference. The large container is about half price. I was in a super Target today and saw many name brand and generic food items reduced half price. Mind you, some of the generic brand stuff I can't stand regardless of price, but some of it is repackaged brand names.
Our food budget dropped drastically when we switched to a vegan diet three years ago. That seems pretty extreme for most folks, but try to add more veggies and whole grains into your diet and it would be a good start to cutting the food budget and could inspire you to try out the many vegetarian international dishes.
Again, I am not trying to say switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Rather, I am simply saying that adding the focus on vegetables is not a bad idea for the wallet. Florida State University has a vegetarian lunch program at the International Student Center. The buffet changes daily and is outrageously good, healthy and cheap. A full plate (entree, salad, dessert and beverage) is in the 4-5 dollar range and a half plate for half that. I would imagine other college campuses have similar programs.
Another idea would be to find a few other couples on campus and have regular pot lucks where you trade off bringing the main entree.
You have received some great suggestions. To be a bargain shopper and still maintain a healthy diet you have to exercise some discipline and turn the chore of shopping into an adventure. For instance when I go to TJ's I have list, I don't go there when I am hungry or stressed and I stick to my list. Ethnic markets as others have pointed out are a great resource for affordable staples such as legumes and grains. In SF, the produce at Asian markets is amazing. Lastly, a friend was mentioning she started to buy bread at the orowheat outlet store. IIRC, they have a once a week bargain day. You can once a month and stock up as bread freezes well.