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Eating well, while being poor.

I'm poor, I have a minimum wage job and I'm on SSI and food stamps. Thanks to the largess of the state and generosity of my family it's genteel poverty. I look around me at this board and I've beginning to realize the people here don't eat like I do. I usually make a one-pot meal. Usually I'm on about 40 dollars a week for my food budget. I love food it's a constant pleasure to see all the different combination of flavor and texture out there. I try and buy locally but meat raised the organic way is so expensive. Luckily produce is another story. Also most places around here take food stamps, including the very awesome Asian supermarket and th Co-op and the farmer's markets. There are also 'discount' produce cart at the local supermarket where perfectly good fruits and veggies that are maybe a little bruised or a tab older then they'd like are marked down ridiculously . And when I have extra cash there are two shops Marshalls and Ocean State Job lots that sell gourmet items cheaply (I once saw White truffle oil marked down to 5.99 at Marshalls). Also I plan my menus around what is cheap the cheapest veggies are usually: Kale, hard squash and yams sometimes cilantro and avocados are cheap too. The cheapest meat is chicken thighs, seafood it's usually bay scallops. And all bagged and canned beans and tomatoes cheap too. So that's how I try to eat well while being poor.

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  1. It always surprises me how healthy foods are so much more expensive than junk. Junk takes way more resources to produce and should be a lot more expensive than fresh produce, but sadly it's not.

    Anyway, here are a few more ideas: if you know people who raise meat, I'd ask them if they have any lesser cuts they could sell you cheap. Some tough cuts make great soup or stew, or they might even be willing to give you bones for free to make stock with. Same with fish heads -- you can often get them for free and make a delicious soup. Stock used to flavor veggies and beans is wonderful. If you live near any hunting areas, you might find a hunter willing to give you lesser cuts or bones for free as well.

    In general making stock out of any scraps or leftovers you have is a great way to add flavor to your food on the cheap. Save those thigh bones from your chicken and your veggie scraps (in the freezer if you want to wait until you have enough for a pot).

    Canned clams are also cheap and make a very acceptable pasta with clam sauce. Eggs are a great deal as well for protein, and can be stretched further in delicious frittatas. Canned Alaskan salmon is also good and can be very cheap on sale.

    2 Replies
    1. re: visciole

      I know someone who knows people who raise meat. An uncle, who've I've bonded with over a mutal love of food.

      1. re: YAYME

        That's great; I would definitely talk to them and see if they would be willing to work something out with you.

        Ask if they have a surplus of anything, or if they would give you some bones, or sell you some tougher cuts for a low price. I'll bet you'll find they have something they can't sell much, especially since locally-raised meat commands high prices these days, and they are probably attracting wealthy clients who want only the best cuts.

    2. Learn to take advantage of your local supermarkets weekly circular for sale items. If you are not beholding to any particular brands, everything goes on sale in a 30 day period. Using the circular also insures you will have some variety in your meals.

      3 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        Oh how important it is to shop that circular and realize what is actually a good bargain (and then buy the most you can) Front and back pages are the real bargains. I save a PILE of money doing that. I also do not buy premade food (like frozen dinners). If you can manage it, try to plant a garden. Zucchini plants, beans, carrots, squash, tomatoes... all of those are easy and prolific. If you cannot do that, go for a window herb garden. I also make big batches of things and freeze leftovers. I have a freezer. A good investment if you can swing it (buy a used one). I freeze sauces in cube trays, blanch fruit in season for off season - on and on. I also buy no prepackaged foods like rice a roni, soup, mac and cheese. It is WAY cheaper to do it yourself.

        So between looking in the circular and hunting out bargains (and buying them up), looking in your fridge and using things instead of tossing, making big batches and freezing... That should help.

        Also nix the soda. Add up what you spend. It will freak you out! I also used to make my lunch and bring a thermos of coffee and water. You save a TON of money. Good luck and think of it as exercising your creativity.

        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          "Amen" to the circular and store events. "Twin packs" of whole chickens were on sale this week at my local grocery for about 40cents per pound. We got four chickens for less than five dollars. If you can save up and swing it, you can get a small chest freezer at Target or Walmart for about $125 when they're on sale and in the circular. This will help you immensely in taking advantage of the sales. Also, for your grocery store shopping, look "low-brow." I think you're on the west coast. I like warehouse-style store WinCo, which has tremendous prices (since they carry things they can turn over quickly) and decent labor practices (employee owned through an ESOP.

          Also, if your grocery store has "bulk food" bins, the sort where you scoop what you need and pay by the pound, take advantage of them. They are almost always a steal compared to branded or pre-packaged goods. Rice at 18cents or pasta at 75 cents per pound are great deals in my neighborhood. And, spices are literally pennies when you buy what you need or will use.

          1. re: mattwarner

            I second this point about buying from bulk bins. And don't forget that health food stores, which are often shockingly expensive for packaged foods, can still be very good buys for bulk purchases of items that mainstream places usually don't sell in bulk, like spices, cous-cous, and bread flour.

      2. Thank you for your post...I hope things improve for you, job-wise! Chicken of the Sea Canned salmon is $1.49 per can at our Walgreen's this week, 15 ounce can. Very awesome nutrition in that can especially if you eat the skin and bones. Also sardines offer fabulous nutrition for $1.25 or .99, again, even better if you eat it with skin and bones. Publix had a very good offer for a 3 pound bag of Rico brand rice for .99 this week; I didn't partake because it was white rice only and I pretty much only do brown rice now but that still was a very good buy. Yes, you CAN eat well on limited funds...it takes time to discern the good stuff in all the sale brochures and going place to place, but it is possible; plus it helps if you can get a Sunday paper for researching the good deals, though I just looked at that Walgreens ad on line and it appears their ads are the same everywhere, so for many stores, you can see their ads on-line so you don't need the paper.
        One of our regular posters here, rworange, has done extensive work on this very subject--have you read her posts?

        1. Your "eat well while poor" strategies are the same strategies I use to eat well while not being poor. I see no reason to spend ridiculous amounts on food when great stuff is available for vastly less, as long as you know where and how to get it.

          Ethnic supermarkets are the absolute greatest (Asian, Hispanic). Not only are their prices cheaper for the very same items you find at the big chains, but they always have the cheaper, more flavorful cuts of meat that are nearly impossible to find elsewhere. And they have the spices/flavorings that will run you 5-10x as much if you buy them at upscale "gourmet" stores (Kalustyan's, this means you!).

          Also, venturing into stores/shopping centers that might not look so nice could surprise you. When Mr travelmad478 used to live in a very dicey section of northeast Philadelphia, there was a fabulous produce/fish store nearby that had a tremendous selection of vegetables and seafood at extremely reasonable prices--yes, you had to walk past a Metro PCS store and a pawn shop to get to it, but so what?

          2 Replies
          1. re: travelmad478

            About ethnic markets, I love the meat counter at a local mexican market, where I can get glorious beef shanks for $1.49 per pound while my nearby good general supermarket generally charges at least $3 per pound, and never less than $2 even on sale. I also bought a quality tortilla press for about $11 that even Amazon.com couldn't sell me for less than $15.

            I just wish I still lived near an Asian, mainly Chinese market near D.C., in Virginia, which had amazing prices on many exotic and highly nutritious greens.

            1. re: Bada Bing

              I LOVE the Asian markets in Norther VA. We take weekend trips there a few times a year and we actually go grocery shopping at the Asian markets before we make the 4 hour drive back home. Great prices on meats and fish, and the variety of produce is downright mind boggling compared to what's available at home.

          2. I am a huge fan of beans and we eat them 3 or 4 times a week. I do buy cans but prefer to make from dried. Usually I cook them in a crockpot but last night for the first time I used my pressure cooker to make black beans for burritos in 30 minutes. BTW, my pressure cooker is a 40 year old Mirromatic acquired about 18 years ago from a thrift shop.

            Second the asian market for veggies. Last night the market I go to had a discount rack with (aging) parsnips, mushrooms and tomatoes for virtually nothing. I also bought a packet of 2 large salmon heads and collars for less than $4 to roast and serve with rice and greens. You can definitely eat well without tons of money.

            2 Replies
            1. re: tcamp

              Ah, the thrift shop cookware source--another excellent suggestion. Almost every piece I own comes from thrift shops or auctions. I do most of my cooking in heavy aluminum pots that I bought in a box lot at a farm auction when I was in college in upstate NY more than 20 years ago. My ancient yet sturdy hand mixer, standing mixer, ricer, bowl sets, pressure cooker, cast iron pans, Pyrex measuring cups, hand meat grinder, etc. were all bought at thrift shops for $5 or less. The older stuff is, the more durable. I beat all of these things up on a daily basis and they are still as good as they were the day I bought them. And you don't mind so much buying single-function utensils if you only pay 50 cents for them!

              1. re: travelmad478

                +1 Really can't imagine paying retail anymore. I'd just think do I really need it that bad? Someone will get bored/done with it, just wait for it.

            2. about a year ago, maybe a bit more... a regular here (rworange) did a series about eating on three dollars a day. maybe someone else can call up the threads, i wasn't able to find them.

              2 Replies
              1. re: KaimukiMan

                "Budget - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day … well, $3.35 … actually $2.85"

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/429195

              2. Applause to you for using your limited resources wisely. It sounds like you make some mighty tasty meals. Another tip is to check out the "ethnic" aisles in the larger markets for spices. They are significantly less expensive than their McCormick counterparts and often the quality is comparable. I often find LaFlor and Badia brand spices near the Goya products.

                1 Reply
                1. re: iluvcookies

                  Ive found that hands down, the bulk area of my supermarket for spices is the most cost effective way to go. I save the tins and containers from prior spice purchases and then I only have to buy a few ounces of a spice at a time to refill them. We're talking at .75 for chili powder that goes for $1.50 for even the cheapest store brand. Plus I don't need yet another container for chili powder I have a perfectly good reusable one. Pepper, salt, and pretty much every spice I need I've found at less than a dollar per refil. That's usually more spice than what I could get in the spice aisle and there's no spice in the spice aisle that's less than a dollar. The health food store typically will have some of the more exotic spices in bulk that I need. This is also where I get tea, coffee, rice and grains. Beans I get in the bags because they are just as cheap, easier to handle and the bags turn over faster than the bulk bins. Not sure why but I get consistently fresher beans this way, it's just a quirk of our buying patterns here.

                  Amen to the advice to save up for a freezer, that really helps you maximize your budget. i find that when I can't get reasonable fresh produce and fruit, that frozen produce is my best value. I can take out what I need, reclose the bag and I don't have any waste that way. also, I can easily stock up on the fresh produce and freeze it easily. For examply, I'd find that I'd have more celery and onion than I needed for that one recipe and it might not get used before it went off. so now I just chop them up, and either bag them or store them in the small jam jars in the freezer and hey presto I've got ready to go celery or onion whenever I want. Now I watch the circulars, stock up on onions and celery whenever I can chop and freeze and I spend pennies on these two essentials plus I've created my own convenience food. You can apply this logic to any thing that freezes well.

                  also, you don't need to pay big bucks for plasticware or take chances with reheating restaurant takewawy containers. Make regular trips to the thrift store or hit a few garage sales or craigs list and look for canning/jam jars. It's even worth while to save up and buy a box of 12 at Walmart. They are only available in stores seasonally and we are getting to that season. These make the best food storage containers. They are very sturdy even if made of glass, non reactive, completely reusable and recyclable. If you completely cool what's inside and don't over-fill they can be frozen, you can reheat in them in the microwave and their size and shape is a more efficient use of limited fridge space. Plus you can easily see what's inside and stick labels on and soak labels off. They don't stain and don't hold smells and can go in the dishwasher on the bottom rack without melting. I love love love my 1/2 pint jars for spices, the 1/2 cup of chopped onions, the extra lemon juice or lemon zest that I didn't need all of. When I need a yolk and no white, I collect and freeze them and keep a running tally on the top of a jar and then when I've saved up enough whites I get to make an angel food or chiffon cake. Plus, frozen whites whip up better than non-frozen whites. Who knew? The mason jar approach to food storage makes it so much easier.

                  Good luck and welcome to the frugal chow family. Even though it's no longer a matter of necessity for me, it's a lifestyle choice I make more often than not just because I can't stand to waste money.

                2. First, I'd like to comment that there is a difference between eating well and eating healthy. I'd like to suggest some eating well for less tips. Based on your post you are also in the land of Christmas Tree Shops. They have great bargains on jams, jellies, packaged crackers and sometimes pasta.

                  Don't overlook the packaged ends from the deli in Shaw's, Star, Market Basket.
                  Yesterday I wanted some Genoa Salami to cube up into a cabbage soup I was cooking. It was $7.99 lb at the deli-sliced to order, but the package of two ends (perfect for dicing or cubing) was 70 cents (99 cents/lb). These are not pretty to serve to guests, and hard to slice for sandwiches, but diced into soup or a salad, they are perfect. When the deli help over cuts a customer's order and asks 'is a little over ok?' and the customer says no, they sell those perfect slices in the ends sectyion as well. Very often there is perfectly good, turkey, haam or roast beef slices in these packages at $1.99 lb. I don't want the hard ends of these meats, but the overslice is a good deal.

                  Lastly, look in the ethnic aisles of your supermarkets. Products you are looking for are often cheaper if they are packaged by Goya for the Hispanic Trade, than by a main stream American brand for the whitebread trade. I buy the Goya olive oil, spices, soda crackers and am very satisfied at a low price.
                  Make your one pot meals strtetch to a second meal. We often use the remaining liquid (gravy/sauce) and pieces of vegetables, thickened and served over rice or egg noodles as a meal. My 3 and 4 year old won 't eat pot roast, but love the gravy and bits of root vegetables over rice.
                  Lastly, remember that sometimes, prepared items bought on sale are cheaper than making from scratch, especially if you have to buy many ingredients that you will only use a small amount and the balance will hand around for a long time. Waste is expensive.

                  1. This doesn't address your eating for cheap, but I've drastically cut my grocery bill by shopping for staples like toothbrush/toothpaste/shampoo at CVS using their extra bucks system. There are forums dedicated on how to get this kinda stuff for free, occassionally tp and detergent/soaps too. Other drugstores have similar programs.

                    1. I wouldn't consider myself poor but I do shop for bargains.

                      You mentioned some of the 'tricks' to buying good food cheap, such as buying at ethnic markets.

                      I find that there's really no reason to not eat great on a budget, you just have to be a little creative and look for bargains.

                      My go-to bargain cut is pork shoulder, available routinely for 99c/lb or on sale for 80. Occasionally pork loin will be in that price range also. Buy and freeze!

                      If you're in the mood for beef, chuck can be available for cheap on sale, and eye round or sirloin makes a delicious roast beef if prepared well. All of these cuts can be had for under 3$/lb.

                      Home food is about love, not expensive ingredients.

                        1. New York State WIC now offers tofu in its food packages - i find it to be a great option as an alternative source of protein. I throw it into fried rice, lo mein, stir fried veggies - all relatively inexpensive options (rice, pasta, and canned or frozen veggies - if fresh are not accessible).

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                            I'd like to second that!! Don't get me wrong, I love a good steak, but have also come to love tofu. For items like stir-fry, all you need is a firm tofu and some basic produce - broccoli, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, onions - all of which come pretty cheap at the farmer's market if you have one nearby. You can always throw in noodles or pretty much anything you like. I'm lucky and have Trader Joe's in my town - great inexpensive produce and cheapest selection of tofu around - however, Asian groceries are also a great choice.

                            1. re: karrill

                              I definitely don't use WIC, and am no place close to NYC, but I think it's GREAT that they're offering tofu. It's so flexible, (especially the extra firm!).

                          2. I've been feeding myself on about $30 a week or less and loving it -- I feel like I'm challenging myself to eat as well as possible within limited means.

                            You mentioned chicken thighs -- just grab a whole chicken and go nuts! Although I do admit that when skinless boneless things are on sale they sometimes work out to be a better deal than the whole birds (meat:bone ratio for your money) but a whole chicken... makes stock, and you can get at least 4 and maybe up to 8 meals from the meat, depending how much meat you eat at once and how you stretch it.

                            I recently posted about the joy of pork hocks. They were, like, a buck a pound or thereabouts. A pack of two for $3.50 fed me good solid hearty dinners for four days and I still have some of the leftover pork glace in my freezer ready to enrich my soups!

                            What else? Canned tuna is the best protein bang for your buck, if you ask me. Eggs are spectacular for any meal. Oatmeal is awesome. Dried beans are awesome (and occasionally canned go on sale -- 5 for $4 -- and I can't turn that down for convenience's sake.)

                            Stretch meals with extra veg. Mirepoix adds flavour and volume and is cheap as hell (carrots and onions are both almost always $1 for a 3-lb bag; celery is almost never over $1.29.) If you have a little bit of soup or something left, or you have a single serving of chili or stew or whatever in the freezer... brown up some veg and serve it with rice or noodles and you can double the volume and add some good varied flavour.

                            In the same vein, veggie stir-fries are great, and they are another way to stretch small amounts of meat. Same with red beans n' rice, gumbo, minestrone, I could go on and on!

                            One of the weekly rituals that I enjoy (maybe I'm crazy, but I do enjoy it!) is going through the grocery store flyers and planning the week's eats based on what's on sale (produce-wise, usually, but if there's a deal to good to pass up in the meat department, then hell yes I'm all over it.)

                            Freezers are your friend. Prepared convenience foods are not. Eating out is not. One day I'd been too rushed to bring a lunch for in between classes and was forced to get some cafeteria soup. "Only" $3 -- but that was like 10% of my weekly budget for a little bowl of glutinous crap. I could have bought nine pounds of carrots for that price! :D

                            Oh, salad! I used to (when someone else was paying for it!) eat that spring mix in a plastic crate that's like five bucks a pound. I loved it, but I eat a ton of salad and a pound of that stuff does NOT last long.
                            Romaine is a buck a head. Throw that in with whatever else is on sale, make my own dressing (again, used to use bottled, no more) and bang. A head of romaine lasts me a week and I eat huge salads every night.

                            Saving money is fun! Buying economical things and turning them into deliciousness is incredibly rewarding. It feels good to turn cheap stuff into great meals -- $22/lb veal is already delicious by itself, it doesn't need me!

                            14 Replies
                            1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                              I put spring mix seeds around the edges of my potted outdoor plants and harvest my own spring and fall. No acreage of my own so this is my stab at urban farming.

                              1. re: tcamp

                                Didn't think about this since it's snowing on our patio at the moment. I grow basil, parsley, oregano, chives, and rosemary from seeds each spring. I buy a few tomato plants, a sweet pepper plant and summer squash plant from a local nursery. I grow all of the above in pots on our patio. They have to be watered every day, but there's not weeding involved. Since there are only 2 of us, I let my 4 neighbors come over and clip the herbs whenever they want. If we get too many tomotoes, peppers and/or squash ripening at the same time, I give the neighbors some of those. I'm trying to figure out some other things to put on the patio, perhaps some greens, that we haven't tried before. You can get a lot of food for a really small cash outlay if you grow from seeds.

                              2. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                                For the chicken - it's generally cheaper in my area to buy chicken leg quarters (ie, the combined leg and thigh) at .59 cents a lb for a 10 lb bag, rather than .79cents a lb for fryers on sale.

                                I use those suckers for everything!

                                1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                                  I've got a whole chicken now what do I do with it? I mean how do I break it up?

                                  1. re: YAYME

                                    If you google "how to cut up chicken" you'll find videos, illustrated guides, etc, to make it easier. IMO, it's something that is easier to do once you've seen it done.

                                    1. re: Niki in Dayton

                                      This is what I did and things went well--and I am a vegetarian that hasn't eaten meat in 15 years, but I cook for my meat eating father now.

                                    2. re: YAYME

                                      Check the americastestkitchen.com site. I think chicken disassembling may be one of their free videos. Or, roast it whole, then cut off the meat.

                                      1. re: mattwarner

                                        I did it by myself raw, and then I froze it. I made the carcass and the gibblets into broth.

                                        1. re: YAYME

                                          YAYME - that's a great lesson you've learned! I also add the wing tips, since there's really not much meat there, to my stock pot. And, isn't that broth so much better than anything you've had from a can? By the way, you can do exactly the same thing with a turkey when they go on sale around Thanksgiving.

                                          1. re: RAGHOUND

                                            If you want to make stock, go to your local asian butcher and ask for chicken backs. They're dirt cheap - I get a bag of 3 for $1. Simmer with an onion, some celery, a carrot, a bayleaf, some thyme, peppercorns. Chill and defat in the morning - easy for me in winter, just put in the garage overnight. Reheat, strain, package into quart freezer containers. Enjoy.

                                            1. re: slacker1

                                              Many poor people don't have "the garage". But a balcony (covered pot or container) etc here except in high summer.

                                              Some farmers' markets throw away perfectly crates of perfectly edible and salubrious vegetables that are a bit marked, nicked or otherwise imperfect.

                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                I've not read through this whole thread, but wanted to mention that at at least some of the farmers' markets in Manhattan, they accept food stamps, and even give users extra credit back on their food stamp card for having shopped at the market.

                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                  Just flashed on a mental image of the squirrels swimming in a pot of stock on my patio...

                                                  That said, I don't have any problems making stock in my apartment, just in smaller batches. I have a stock pot that takes up about 2/3 of the bottom shelf of my fridge. I put the pot in a sink full of ice first to get it cooled down to the point that it won't over heat other things, then into the fridge it goes. The next day I de-fat and process in pint jars (love my pressure canner!).

                                                  1. re: lagatta

                                                    You don't have to dig through the trash if you don't want - our local farmer's market shuts down at 1 p.m., so if you get there around 12:30, prices are being slashed all over the place. Two weeks ago I got "juicing oranges" (which were delicious, just ugly) for $.19/lb, seconds of apricots, peaches and apples for $1/lb, and all the free turnip and beet greens I could handle - many people ask the vendor to chop off the tops. If you ask for them, most vendors will hand you over bags and bags of greens for free.

                                      2. Not that you don't seem to have a pretty good handle on what you're doing already, and there are many great ideas in this thread, but the mother of all advice in this area is M.F.K. Fisher's "How to Feed A Wolf".

                                        Great, practical ideas, and lyrical prose. Feed your tummy and your soul at the same time! (Don't know if I'd go to "sludge" unless absolutely forced, but...)

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: FrankD

                                          Thanks for the go to. I'm ordering this book. I've been looking a long time for something that covers depretion era food and attitude. Fisher's wrightings look perfect.

                                          1. re: FrankD

                                            Great book, but it's "How to Cook a Wolf" as in "what to do when the wolf is at your door".

                                          2. I agree with a number of previous posters - dry beans, rice, pasta, tuna, eggs, Asian market veggies are all inexpensive and nutritious. Buying a whole chicken, cutting it up and freezing parts for later use, saving the backbone, wing tips and neck for stock is a great way to get value for your money. Sauteed greens, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, etc. are great sides that are simple to make and tasty. I make a bay scallop (sometimes shrimp) & pasta dish with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, halved cherry tomatoes, cut- up greens (whatever's in the frig) and, if they're in the freezer, pine nuts. We've graduated to the point in our lives that we know what we like and we just toss it together for inexpensive, healthy eating.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: RAGHOUND

                                              One thing I want to point out is that the backs also have meat on them, and usually in sufficient quantity to be able to make a hearty soup with noodles, veggies and the meat cut up in it. I just cooked two backs yesterday to make a small batch of soup, and there was a surprising amount of back meat, oysters, and white meat that never made it onto the perfectly trimmed breasts and other pieces that I cut off the carcass earlier. I freeze the backs until I need them, then I make chicken soup by first simmering the backs. After about two hours, I pull them out, strain the liquid, and add to a new pot. I then add the veggies (chopped bulk large carrots, celery, onion, parsley -- which can be dried) to the clear broth. Be sure to add the celery leaves, as they give a lot of flabor. I pull the meat off the backs as soon as it cools and add the chunks of chicken back into the broth. I used thin egg noodles yesterday (no par boiling required) and I have a nice batch of soup in the fridge left over -- about enough for four average servings or two meal size portions. You can even add canned white beans or a dash of tomato paste or sauce if you want something more like minestrone.

                                            2. Rice is one of the most versatile food staples and you can usually buy a huge bag from the Asian grocery store for $15-20 and have it last for an entire month, if not more. For inspiration, borrow Asian or Indian cookbooks from the library - these cuisines are more veggie centric and the cookbooks should offer a wide variety of different vegetable curries, veggie stir fries and entrees that you can try. Spending less on meat will also stretch your grocery budget since it tends to be the most expensive food item.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: SeoulQueen

                                                That is true, however remember that most white rice has a high glucemic index. An exception is basmati. It is never the cheapest, but still not one of the more costly foods if you can find it on sale. It is VERY important not to compromise our health while we are stretching a budget.

                                              2. It looks like many Chowers have recommended making your broth. I have a little trick for that. I keep a ziplock baggy in the freezer and add bits and pieces of vegtables, chicken wings, herbs etc.. All the junky stuff... ends of carrots, leeks, wilted celery,onion tops (including skin), leftover fresh herbs, tomatoes and even greens. Really any raw veggies a little past their prime (not rotten) and chicken bones (already cooked or raw) and wing tips (raw). So when you eat your chicken thighs and bones are remaining toss them in! When the baggy is full, it's time to make a pot of broth. Dump it in a large pot and water, salt and pepper. Boil lightly for a few hours. I usually can make a nice pot of soup or noodles plus freeze a container or two for future use, with one large baggy. I know some people will say canned broth is cheap, but this broth is FREE. Seriously, made of a lot of crap some people would toss or garborate. And tastes so much better than any canned broth.

                                                1. I'm in the same boat as you, Yayme. I use a lot of brown rice and broccoli. I think meat costs too much, but agree with you on the chicken. I cut up my own but sometimes those thighs are a good buy. I have a friend with a yard full of avocado trees, and that helps. We have a lemon tree. Much of the time I grow my own herbs. Cost Plus has good prices on some of their spices, and so does the Asian grocery here. I use my crock pot a lot!

                                                  1. Most meals I cook don't really cost that much. I love beans and enjoy cheaper cuts of meat to the more expensive ones. Rather have braised chuck over steak. One of my stratages for vegetables is to to shop at ethnic stores for lower prices. I can get 6 lemons or limes for a buck while at the big grocery store they want 2/$1.99. I hit Mexican/Indian/Greek/Midldle Eastern markets as often as I can not only for their unique products but for produce.

                                                    1. I think the best thing to do, is look to regions that have struggled w/ famine (Asia, India -- rice, veggies, lentils, etc.)

                                                      Eat a good breakfast and have cheap non-junk snacks handy, and you wont fixate on dinner needing to be a big redeeming production.

                                                      I get by with lots of rice.

                                                      Rice is generally considered filler food in China.. so that a family can split half of a small chicken, rather than one person eating it alone.

                                                      A 20lb bag or rice is like $25 and will last you half of the year. Stick your leftover cooked rice in the freezer, and pull it out and stir fly it with frozen or scrap produce and meat, a couple eggs, and some soy sauce (or whatever) to make a good fried rice. With some asian cooked vegetables, you've got a meal. The fried rice leftovers are good for lunch.

                                                      Any other white rice, can get put in a breakfast burrito in the morning (couple eggs, few scraps of ham lunch meat, a little salsa from a bulk salsa jug, a little shredded cheese and maybe a bit of sour cream.)

                                                      -----

                                                      Also, breakfast is always cheap (eggs, pancakes, etc.) Eat a real breakfast, and you wont need a big lunch, and you definitely wont be starving for a huge dinner. Not eating a big lunch and dinner means you also wont get food-sleepy in late afternoon (natural), or after a long day. People think they're more stressed/exhausted then they really are, because they compound the natural late afternoon slump and the come home unwind thing -- they starve themselves, then load up on food when they're tired, which the body has to dedicate energy to digesting.

                                                      1. My friends and I shop together and share the cost of large purchases; then divide and conquer our own meal planning ! Any chance you can recruit a few friends/family to shop & share. We save $, eat well and share recipes weekly.

                                                        1. My husband and I are in the same boat. I'm only a part time teacher, so I work 2.5 days a week with no benefits and he's a factory worker at the moment. I LIVE for food, though, and as a result I'm about 80 lbs. overweight. I picked up a second part time job to pay for Weight Watchers and a gym membership and we spend about 65 dollars every two weeks for our groceries.
                                                          Lots of dried beans, canned tomatoes, etc. We do most of our shopping at Walmart (we hate the company, but can't afford anything else), while buying most of our meat at a local market that sells it cheaply but marks up it's canned items and produce. I find that big pots of soup are great money savers.
                                                          I also do the "make your own veggie broth" with the bag of vegetable clippings in the freezer. I put it in my slow cooker on high for about 2 hours, and it's done, and so much tastier than the canned stuff. I use it when I cook rice and in bread stuffing. Thank you for your inspirational tale.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Oboegal

                                                            Oboegal, you so do not need Weight Watchers, there are so may websites out there for FREE that are great. Check out SELF and or HoneyLine - I use both after I could no longer pay for a trainer and have lost 15lbs so far!

                                                            1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                              in a smilar vein, sparkpeople.com is also a good, free site.

                                                            2. re: Oboegal

                                                              I've tried some of the free calorie counters, and still find that Weight Watchers works best for me. If you google WWa formulas, you can get the raw formulas WW uses to calculate points allowances and points values for foods and exercise. If you have any skills with excel, you can set up a spreadsheet to calculate and track daily points.

                                                              1. re: mpjmph

                                                                Yeah, WW is the best for me. If I didn't go to meetings, and just used an online site, I would find so many reasons to rationalize going over my points and not excersizing. WW keeps me accountable. I've tried so many other things over the years, and this is one thing that I can actually stick to most of the time.

                                                            3. Eating good and healthy doesn't have to be expensive. Lots of good advice offered up here (buy dry beans, rice, make your own stuff, etc.) In order to save money, I've been making my own bread (use a starter so you don't have to continually buy yeast). Buy whole chickens since they're usually cheaper per lb. than the parts. Make your own broth, bread, pasta, mayonnaise, pickled veggies, preserves, tomato sauce, etc. After canning, you can use it as currency to barter for other things with other DIYers.

                                                              Throw garlic cloves and green onion bulbs in some water to root, then transplant and let grow. Grow your own herbs, fruits and veg. if you have room or join a community garden. Take up fishing, hunting and trapping. Making your food dollar stretch and still eating healthy is definitely do-able and makes you realize how easy it is to replicate alot of what you buy now.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: GoodGravy

                                                                fishing, hunting and trapping depends on where you live - for people highly-developed areas it can be an expensive hobby. But I've lived north of Lac St-Jean (central-northern Québec, not the far north but well north of Montréal and Québec City, and these pursuits were a valuable source of high-quality protein.

                                                              2. Deciding what to cook based on what's on sale or markdown is crucial. If you really want goulash, wait until the boneless chuck roast is $1.99. Even when there are sales, think about your personal preferences. Last week Perdue roasters were $.89/# which is hard to pass up even though the last Perdue chicken I had was literally tasteless. I don't like wings so had I gotten one I'd either have roasted it whole and eaten only the breasts and legs, putting the rest in the stockpot, or broken it down and made stock from the raw carcass and wings. Then I noticed that bone-in thighs were the same price. I prefer thighs to drumsticks. So I chose thighs instead. I'll skin, debone, and freeze some of the thighs, then make stock with the trimmings and the remainder of the thighs. There will be plenty of gelatin in that stock, more so than if I'd made it from a cooked carcass. Even though the price was the same, the thighs in this case are more "economical".

                                                                No one has mentioned offal yet. I finally got to the new Korean supermarket and found 2# packages of gizzards on sale. I froze half and made a tasty braise, that tasted like lamb shanks, with the rest. My happiness at $1.49/lb was dampened, however, by the poster who reminded me that a one-cup serving is nearly double the daily cholesterol limit. It's important to factor your health concerns into your grocery bargain-hunting.

                                                                1. I love all the suggestions and have another.
                                                                  Do you have a Fresh & Easy Market near you?

                                                                  They have a section in the refrigerator case for anything within a day or two of sell by date and they mark it waaaay down, less than 50% sometimes. Everyone checks there to see what they have. It is a great deal and changes daily, hourly, etc.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: laliz

                                                                    Most supermarkets that I've been to have a bin or a shelf with marked down produce. Usually the best time to get the best price is right before the market closes.

                                                                    I've bought red peppers and poblano peppers this way- packed in a tray and covered with plastic wrap. Came out to be a few cents a pepper. I roasted them and saved them in a tupperware. Used the juices in salad dressings and mixed the chopped peppers into all kinds of dishes.

                                                                    Buy dried beans rather than canned, and if you can, try an ethnic market rather than a supermarket. I've found bags of split peas 4 for $1. Grains and rice in their truest form are also cheapest- think regular rice instead of parboiled or minute rice. Both beans and grains can be cooked in larger quantities than you need and stored in the fridge or freezer.

                                                                    Also- think about using cheap veggies in different ways. Cabbage- usually 9 cents/lb around st patricks day can be braised or sauteed or stuffed. And it lasts pretty much forever in the fridge. Celery sliced into sticks and marinated Chinese style is pretty awesome. Radishes take on a whole new flavor when roasted. Beets (39 cents/lb) are earthy and crunchy when shredded or grated raw. Sprouts (super cheap in an Asian market) are fabulous tossed with some salad dressing or in broth- you have eat a huge pile for pennies.

                                                                    Asking for samples never hurt anyone. If you're looking to try something new- say a new type of fish or grain or fruit- as the manager of the department. They may give you a small piece of fish that's too small to sell or a handful of grains from the bulk bin or a squished piece of the fruit/veggie for nothing or for pennies. Just say you want to try it and want to know if you can have a small amount to sample at home.

                                                                    Another idea- instead of making one pot meals, you can split up the ingredients to have several dishes. A piece of grilled chicken, a side of spiced beans, and some rice with a bit of herbs may seem like a lot more than when the whole bit is cooked together with the same flavors.

                                                                  2. Living in Bermuda I can assure you we get no breaks on food cost here! I mean Whole Roasting Chicken is on Special this week for $1.69 a lb. Even with watching my budget i will still drop $200-250 a week and it KILLS me, that is for BASIC items, no special items, straight up basic food! Luckly I do make a lot of my own jams, jellies, chutney's, stocks not to mention I can and pickle a lot of different items, we are fortunate enought to have avoacado trees, sugar apple, loquats, strawberry bananas and Bermuda cherries. However when visiting family states side I LOVE to go grocery shopping, not only from the selection but also the PRICE.

                                                                    One thing I started last year was a herb and pepper garden (red peppers $5.99lb) this year I am extending it to more veggie items, so hopefully I can save a bit there and once the weather gets better my husband (who is a fisherman) can get out there again and a lot more fish will be consumed this year.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                                      I am so envious of your loquats! When I lived in St. Augustine I could reach off the top balcony of the house and pick them (if the darn squirrels hadn't been first). It has been over 30 years since I've had perfectly ripe, fresh ones............so whats your address? ;-D

                                                                    2. The Walgreens down the street from my house just started selling a limited selection of fresh produce (not sure if all of them are doing this now), but I found a package for $2.49 last week that they called a "soup starter." It had 3 HUGE carrots, 4 red potatoes, parsley, and 2 or 3 giant celery ribs as well. WAY cheaper than what I would have paid if I had gotten the same items at the grocery store. Walgreens routinely has eggs on sale for $.99 as well, so I always get my eggs there rather than at the grocery store.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Al_Pal

                                                                        I shop Walgreens for certain items of their weekly specials and believe me, I've never seen any fresh produce at any of them here in FL but I see that you are in TX so maybe they'll start here too--NONE of our dollar stores sell produce here either but when I went to see my (ex)MIL in Merritt Island, their dollar stores do sell produce...and I stop at a number of Walgreens for a variety of reasons (sometimes there's a limit but I need more of that item, etc.) Good to know, Al Pal!

                                                                        1. re: Val

                                                                          Val, I don't know where in FL you are, but the dollar stores in Lakeland sell produce. I forget if it's specific to one chain, but I know my mom and grandmother shop there a lot.

                                                                      2. Never throw out rinds to hard cheeses like parmesan, drop them into homemade soup as it simmers, gives it a great flavor. Just put them in a bag in the freezer until you need them.
                                                                        I also started making my own yogurt, mostly because I was disgusted with all of the waste the individual cups created, but it saves tons of money. You can flavor it any way you want, put it in individual cups for lunches and bring some fruit along to augment it. You can use your current batch as starter.

                                                                        As far as buying natural or organic goes, some food co-ops have great reaminders bins for old produce. Our local co-op usually has a huge selection at very low prices, the produce is usually just a little bruised or just past its prime.
                                                                        And like rice, pasta can be stretched into a huge meal.

                                                                        And I wholeheartedly agree with growing your own herbs! They can be so pricey otherwise.

                                                                        1. Have you looked into Product Testing companies?
                                                                          There are companies that will pay you money, or reward you with products for testing and surveying products. Do a little research online. Any reputable Product Testing company will not charge you. Not all of the products are healthy but some companies will match products to your health concerns Some of the rewards can be good for your wallet or purse.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Infomaniac

                                                                            Do you have any suggestions on where to look for these? I'm a BzzAgent member (www.bzzagent.com) and I will occasionally get things, but I'd love to find other/more frequent sources.

                                                                            1. re: mattwarner

                                                                              I do not have any specific suggestions. I have a freind who conducts focus groups for consumer products and I think at one time they did product testing but not anymore.

                                                                              I'd search compnay websites whos products you like to see if they are searching for product testers. The concept of paid home product testing is starting to catch on. This is due to the sudden increase in the demand of testers. However, these companies ask you to write them a review about the product. But I guess money and product together are worth this effort.

                                                                              I've seen companies try to find these testers through their websites. Some of the testing could be regional and some could be national. So, if you wish to become a product tester then you have to follow company websites and watch for where you can register on the website.. But sometimes finding the product you want to test is difficult. You might need to compromise with a different brand name or altogether a different product.

                                                                          2. $40 a week to spend on groceries is not really poor to be honest.

                                                                            I live in Southern California. Granted, I'm 4'11 and 88 lbs so I don't eat a whole ton. A few years ago I was making six figures a year and I never spent more than $200 a month in food....??? I mainly shop at Trader Joe's and would buy whatever I felt; pizzas, olive oil, sometimes wild salmon and shrimp and it never came over to more than $200 a month. And I NEVER ate chicken thighs, only chicken breasts, but again I'm VERY petite so $8 worth of organic chicken lasts me for over a week.

                                                                            That wasn't me being on a budget. It's just how I ate normally without even thinking about price. I'm small so I mean one pack of wild salmon worth $8-$9 probably lasts me all week long or until it starts to smell.

                                                                            I usually only eat like 5 oz of meat at a time. Not because I'm poor but because I'm petite and that's enough to fill me up. 4 pieces of shrimp would fill me up too...

                                                                            I don't understand why people think spending under $200 a month per person is frugal. That's how much I eat normally WITHOUT being frugal and without watching my budget and when money is no object. And I still wasn't able to eat it all, the food would rot a lot too.

                                                                            I also don't eat red meat and pork. Mainly chicken, fish and shrimp.

                                                                            I don't understand why you have to resort to eat chicken thighs and beans with $160 a month to spend.

                                                                            I would just eat maybe 4 oz of organic chicken breasts with spaghetti, chopped up broccoli and alfredo sauce (jarred at Vons for $1.99 and one jar lasts me 7 days).... and that would fill me up as a dinner (again this is not me even TRYING to be cheap). This is how I eat normally. $140 a month is enough where you don't need to resort to eating thighs (unless you have a big appetite). And I live in California btw, not somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

                                                                            13 Replies
                                                                            1. re: jackie100

                                                                              I've never considered eating chicken thighs to be a last resort. I find them to be the best part of the bird.

                                                                              You are very fortunate that you can eat so little and be sated. I will hazard a guess that many of us would not get adequate satisfaction from so little food. I know I would feel like I am constantly dieting, and though I could stand to lose a few pounds, it would probably make me very cranky to be hungry all the time.

                                                                              1. re: phofiend

                                                                                Well, she is 4'11"--to me the smaller the person, the smaller the dietary needs would be, that makes total sense. I'm 5'3" and usually only eat 4 or 5 ounces of fish or chicken too for a serving (if I'm eating meat protein at all--some days I eat no meat proteins). It would probably do many Americans a lot of good to eat less in general, especially meat, and the upside is that it's also great way to save money.

                                                                                1. re: phofiend

                                                                                  I'm 4"11 95lbs. Not all of us need so much food. I can say I've never been "sated", I would never want to be in that place. And I'm not that fortunate, I can' teven reach my top cabinates. I love food, I love to cook, but there is no reason size/weight should be brought into this discussion. Eat healthy, live healty, to each their own. I eat about 3 fistfulls of a variety a day, and I'm satisfied. Its psychological hunger, not physical, that you're fighting. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

                                                                                  1. re: Gatsby1

                                                                                    How do you presume to know what king of hunger another person is feeling? Do you mean to tell me and the OP that if we think "real hard" we'll be less hungry? Is that a reasonable way to save money on food? Perhaps you can survive quite nicely on less that 1500 Calories per day. Many of us cannot. And by sated I meant full to the point of complete satisfaction, not gluttony.
                                                                                    A better suggestion might be how to make those bargain chicken thighs into a gourmet treat. (Emeril's chicken cacciatore comes to mind.)

                                                                                2. re: jackie100

                                                                                  So; is your money saving advice to shrink yourself to the size of the average 8 year old? I don't think that's really practical. My daughter is 12 years old, she is 5' 7" and weighs in at a healthy 128lb. She is not even close to the tallest child at school, she is average. DD is also very active and as you can imagine, would eat you out of house and home even at So Cal prices (we used to live there). But at 7 or 8 years old I could have swung that budget for her. We (family of 4) now live in a tiny town in OR and the prices compared to either So Cal or AZ are 2-3 times higher. Although I do get all the wild caught salmon we can handle for the price of a fishing license. But I doubt telling people that catching your own salmon is a great way of saving is going to help them. I'll post to the OP when I have something more constructive to say regarding the thread in general, I hope you will too.

                                                                                  1. re: just_M

                                                                                    I don't know but I'm Asian and I'm small naturally. Sometimes I do eat a lot and I still stay under $200 a month without trying or budgeting?? I eat In N Out all the time and I eat 1 pint of ice cream at one sitting.... But I mean, 1 package of pasta is cheap and should last you for a long time even if you eat big portions..... As for bread, it rots before I can finish it. All I can eat is 2 slices a day max.... and it still rots. Milk; I don't drink it because I think it tastes bad (that's probably why I'm so short).

                                                                                    1. re: jackie100

                                                                                      Why don't you try freezing half of what you buy so you don't end up having to throw it out?

                                                                                    2. re: just_M

                                                                                      just M, like I said in my post above, size should be a nonfactor. We don't know the weights & measurments of anyone repling to this post. The OP never said she was "shrinking" herself. She was asking a question about herself, not you or your family specifically. I am 20 years older than your daughter and she's a foot taller and 30lb.s heavier than me. Doesn't that mean we need different nutricein requirements?

                                                                                      1. re: Gatsby1

                                                                                        Gatsby1, that was exactly my point to jackie100. Her size and that she eats small amounts was all she was offering and as I stated in my post to *her* not the OP size or catching your own salmon is not helpful to most people. I would and she should post back when we had something more constructive to say to the OP. You however stated it more concisely and I thank you. M

                                                                                    3. re: jackie100

                                                                                      But who wants to eat the same thing "all week long or until it starts to smell?"

                                                                                      1. re: jackie100

                                                                                        "you don't need to resort to eating thighs"????
                                                                                        I will take a chicken thigh over chicken breast any day. it's not a cost issue, for me, it's a taste issue.
                                                                                        I've always been the resident "dark meat-eater" in my family and my daughter is the same and i understand that there are many people who prefer white meat, but to think that people who eat chicken thighs are "resorting"? c'mon.

                                                                                        1. re: magfitz

                                                                                          No, but she is "petite" and wants everyone to know that.

                                                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                                                            I'm petite, too. Sign me up for the thighs complete with bones and skin!

                                                                                      2. YAYME, any chance you have an Aldi's nearby? Some of their weekly bargains are truly a steal. You need to read your labels but if you're looking to save BIG, create meals for the week, Aldi's can be a helpful part of your weekly shop.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                                          Yes but I've never been there.

                                                                                          1. re: YAYME

                                                                                            OMG... check out Aldi! They have excellent prices on staples such as flour, sugar, cereal, coffee, juices etc! Their canned goods also can't be beat and the quality is excellent for the price. You will be surprised at how much you can save on many things there.

                                                                                        2. Many great responses!

                                                                                          I've worked in the grocery biz a bit, so I'll approach it from that perspective.

                                                                                          Often the chain grocery stores in less affluent neighborhoods will have killer deals on "gourmet" items. Frequently they get a "plan-a-gram" from their HQ which specifies what products they must stock. If the neighborhood is financially challenged, well that truffle oil is not going to be a big seller. Consequently, you'll find some great deals when the dates get close on these items. (BTW, sell dates do not mean the product becomes bad just after that date.)

                                                                                          Talk to the folks at your grocery. Most are very budget oriented and can clue you in to how to get the best deals at their store. (Try to approach them when they aren't slammed!) I currently manage an organic produce department at a natural foods store. They get a top mark-up, but this is great for a budget customer! Why? Because the full-price customer wants perfection, so any produce that is slightly bruised or getting close to looking a tad disheveled
                                                                                          gets marked down fast and deep. The way I see it, I have two types of customers - the ones who can afford/want perfection and those who want clean/organic, but know that an ugly pear often is sweetest. If asked, I'll gladly explain my markdown schedule and philosophy - and those are the customers who learn when to time their visits to my deliveries and really get some great deals!

                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                                                            Maybe things are more different here than even I imagine, but I haven't seen marked down produce in any supermarket in years. I'm guessing if it isn't up to standards (which is far from perfect) they just toss it, or sell it to the pig farms.

                                                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                              Reporting in from middle America (west TX) with a resounding "Same here." My grocery stores never have ugly produce. Ever.

                                                                                              They do have "quick sale" meats - but never ugly produce.

                                                                                              1. re: shanagain

                                                                                                I usually see the marked down rack of fruits/veggies at night, never in the morning or afternoon. And the supermarkets I go to usually pack the items in a tray with a price on it... so you might get some carrots and celery together or an apple and some oranges.

                                                                                                The rack is usually near the entrance to the storage room for the fruits/veggies. Sometimes I'll ask if they have anything in the back, and the produce guys always bring it out to me.

                                                                                            2. re: meatn3

                                                                                              I assume it is still true, but you can often reduce your grocery bill by shopping in the mist upscale section of town. I found this out by accident when I still lived in Del Mar, CA, and my college age niece would drive miles to shop with me. I asked my supermarket manager why. His explanation was simple and logical: "We don't have to cover the shoplifting costs that supermarkets in your niece's neighborhood have to." But I would assume this varies from chain to c hain and possibly from state to state.

                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                I don't know about shoplifting overhead, but I've found going to an upscale store is a good place to find "quick sale" meats. The fancy Ralph's a mile and a half from our house almost never sells out their cheaper cuts, and they end up being manager specials. The "ghetto Ralph's" as we like to call it (the one across the street from our house - our neighborhood isn't upscale) ALWAYS sells out the cheap cuts and the sale items right away. So if you want Australian lamb or filet mignon on quick sale, as meatn3 states above, then that's the Ralph's you go to.

                                                                                            3. i'd like to know what "eating well" really means for someone with a budget.
                                                                                              is it not scrimping and denying oneself, or is it being accessible to luxe items like white truffle oil?

                                                                                              i've been living at about 160$/mth for years (grad student) and i don't have any problem with what i'm eating, plus it's alot better than the junk offered around campus.

                                                                                              my freezer is PACKED with pre-made meals (made by me); coconut, yam + chickpea soup, omusubi with umiboshi or tuna, fruit (bananas or berries that were on sale), several versions of pilaf, congee, etc.
                                                                                              yesterday was mixed bean stew with kale, today is kasha with spinach and currants.

                                                                                              my grocery bills are much lower than those i see with alot of boxed foods, even with getting organic bananas/apples/onions/eggs/artisan bread regularly.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: dumpycactus

                                                                                                A few people have mentioned "luxury items" like white truffle oil, so as a foodie with limited funds, I wanted to post and say that since truffle oil is used very sparingly, it's not that expensive. I used about a tablespoon in a Mac and Cheese I made recently (with high-end cheddar) that served four. The entire cost was less than the price of one boxed-pasta-with-marinara entree at a neighborhood Italian restaurant (I live in Manhattan).

                                                                                                I'm doing the Food Stamp Challenge now and just made 12 ounces of hummus for $2.87 with the same white truffle oil, purchased from Dean & Deluca. (My favorite store brand Sabra is $5 for 10 ounces).

                                                                                                The average person's food cost is about $7 per day, which as many people have pointed out, can be done without much conscious effort and often includes fresh fruits and vegetables, organic eggs and dairy, artisan breads, and in my case, truffle oil and some fancy cheeses.

                                                                                              2. when i was really poor, it amazed me how much more food i could buy when i started to forego meat, poultry, tea, and coffee.
                                                                                                once i learned to drink water, and get my protein from legumes and tofu, i was able to get far more food and better food.
                                                                                                also, i learned that when you cook dry beans the result is far tastier than the beans that come in cans.
                                                                                                also, it helped that there was a market near me that sold 'bulk' foods. (i dunno why they called it that, because actually i bought less bulk than what i would have been forced to buy if i bought a package). this allowed me to buy just the beans and lentils that i was going to use that week. the price per pound was low and it helped with my cash flow situation.

                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                  It's funny, I feel that while this ought to be the case, meat is often so artificially cheap that in fact it's often not. In my area tofu costs at least $2 a pound. Meat is frequently on sale for far less than this: see above where someone talks about getting chicken for 40 cents a pound. I can't get carrots, onions, or potatoes that cheap! Fresh vegetables are usually the most expensive part of my meal. Beans are a very good option, but chicken should not be cheaper than onions. There's something wrong with that system....

                                                                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                    Yes, but some of us need small pleasures!

                                                                                                    One needn't drink coffee all day, but for many a cup or two in the morning makes the day. And tea is not usually very expensive.

                                                                                                    I'm all for saving, and am in general very thrifty, but denying self pleasure is not healthy.

                                                                                                    The stuff earlier on about people who are very small by nature really bothered me too. I've worked in community groups, and big guys who are 6 feet tall and 200 lb (and I don't mean fat) have the right to eat to satiety too.

                                                                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                      I just started cooking dry beans instead of buying canned.

                                                                                                      "Bulk" can mean both unpackaged or in large quantity (so in your case you bought things undivided into separate parts - I'm assuming from a bin). I certainly encourage people who are on limited food budgets to buy 50 pound bags of rice (unless you only eat brown rice, and I haven't seen 50 pound bags of brown rice).

                                                                                                    2. Being able to cook is, in my opinion, the key to eating well on not a lot of money. Back in the mid-nineties I was really poor, trying to survive on about $100/week that had to cover everything, no food stamps or anything like that. I lived in a motel--thankfully clean and relatively safe--with no cooking stuff in the rooms, but they did have small refrigerators. Thanks to a couple of garage sales I picked up a plug-in pot, a small microwave and a toaster oven, which will cover pretty much anything you want to cook. I ate a lot of eggs, chicken legs, frozen veggies and salads but on Sundays I got into the habit of making a stew or some other one-dish meal and sharing it with a couple of the older guys that lived there; in turn they watched out for me because I was the only woman living there. At a very bad time in my life it was good to have one normal activity--making a meal. Ironically I probably ate better during that time than before or since.

                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: MandalayVA

                                                                                                        Amazing and heartening post...thank you for sharing it...may I ask, how long did you live in that manner?

                                                                                                        1. re: Val

                                                                                                          Roughly two years, and believe it or not that's when things were on the upswing.

                                                                                                        2. re: MandalayVA

                                                                                                          I agree, being able to cook enables you to eat much better for less money. Also, I find it very comforting -- and even empowering -- to be able to make my own food. I am sure those guys you shared with were happy to have a home-cooked meal! Thanks for the post.

                                                                                                        3. I volunteer one Saturday morning a month at my CSA, and I get a TON of stuff for free from other vendors at the end of market (which is 1 pm for me - so it's not a huge time committment). If you have the time, maybe you could barter time for food? I usually end up with a bag of bruised or discarded vegetables, that are great trimmed up, and I always help the bread guy load up, and he gives me his some of his leftover loaves, sometimes 4 or 5 whole loaves. If you let it be known that you have a real need, a lot of what is tossed at the end of market might end up in your bag.

                                                                                                          1. Some amazing stories here. Cooking is a life skill we should all know how to do. I aggree with others who say that eating beans, brown rice, canned tuna and salmon and fresh produce are good strategies for getting the most nutrition from your limited dollar. Canned tomatoes are a good staple to have around as well and if you have access to day old bread that is another good thing. If someone in your family, or a friend is getting rid of old cooking tools--like iron skillets or spatulas or cooking forks--this could also be helpful in reduced circumstances.

                                                                                                            1. I keep a list of my basics on the fridge, pasta, rice, canned tomatoes/sauce, peanut butter, onions, potatoes, carrots, beans, oil, garlic, butter, canned tuna, eggs

                                                                                                              When ever any of these are on sale I stock up and in a 6 week period all of these items will go on sale at least once

                                                                                                              My secondary list is Hot sauce, celantro, cheese, peppers, citrus, apples, crackers, jam, bacon, popcorn, chicken boulion

                                                                                                              After picking up what I need from list one, I move onto list two

                                                                                                              After that if I still have some $ in my budget I buy a treat, usually a chocolate bar. You will notice no meat on here, I'm not a vegetarian, but I can get all my protein from fish, beans, eggs etc. and I eat a nice steak or chicken on very special occations. I also do not buy milk as I can live without it quite well. I keep some canned milk on hand if I need it for a recipe.

                                                                                                              Minestrone Soup is one of my favorate go-to meals. I can make enough to feed me for a week on less than $10, and paired with some day old sour dough bread from the bakery it makes a complete protein.

                                                                                                              When I am really broke I always have a potato to bake, or a bowl of pasta with garlic and butter. Stocking up on your flavorings when you can makes a big difference. Having a jar of pesto to toss with the pasta, or some hot sauce for the fried rice.

                                                                                                              Some canned pears and peaches bought on sale can be a great comfort and help a sugar craving. Oh and I do not deny myself chocolate.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: ike04

                                                                                                                Not arguing with your choices, but canned tuna (for cheap, flaked light, not solid white or albacore) is $0.99 for a 6-oz tin where I live. That's about $3/lb. A couple of weeks ago, whole pork tenderloins were on sale for $1.97/lb. I bought a pair (they come in packs of two), and cut them into tournedos and small roasts, and froze those separately. This happens periodically, so I always have some form of pork in the freezer. Same thing with beef - beef sirloin tip or round comes on pretty regularly at $3/lb, and again, I slice into steaks (or cube for stews), and freeze.

                                                                                                                I buy lots of tuna as well, so I have no objection to it. I'm just saying if you look around, you can probably find meats (and these are all very lean cuts, so I'm not too worried about saturated fat) for about the same price, and have a bit more variety in your menus.

                                                                                                                1. re: FrankD

                                                                                                                  Even if meat is inexpensive by the time it reaches you (look at the Brazilian rain forest to see why McDonald's meat is so inexpensive) , it uses a lot more resources than an equivalent amount of plant protein.

                                                                                                                  I think a vegetarian diet is more responsible.

                                                                                                              2. I havent read every word of every post in this thread, but here is a website where you can buy boxes of specific food items for cheap. A friend who is a social worker told me about it and suggested I share it with the world.

                                                                                                                https://www.angelfoodministries.com/

                                                                                                                While it is most useful to people of limited means, it has no restrictions on who can participate, and there is no "qualifying." You just sign up for what you want, then pick it up on delivery date at a pre-agreed upon site near you. It is a national program in the U.S.A. I have not tried it personally, but people I have referred to it who have used it are thrilled.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                  I know a couple of people who use AFM and they've been very happy with it. I suspect AFM has a deal with some restaurant suppliers because they sell entrees but overall it's a pretty sweet deal.

                                                                                                                2. Interesting...what we think constitutes "poor" that is.

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                                                                                                                  1. re: tomater

                                                                                                                    Oatmeal & 1 piece fresh fruit = breakfast

                                                                                                                    PB& J on day-old whole grain bread (which you keep in freezer)/ fresh veggie of choice (green salad w/homemade dressing, carrot sticks, celery sticks, baked beets, cabbage (cooked or slaw) = lunch

                                                                                                                    broth, green salad, 2 veggies (roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, green beans, or see above), protein (chicken, beef, fish, tofu, cheese, egg, beans, etc)

                                                                                                                    Fill up on veggies and fiber. Have fruit or veggies for snack. forego beer, wine, soda, crackers and other commercially baked goods, pre-made foods. Shop the aisles of the market. Go to farmer's markets when possible. Buy what is in season. Plan meals carefully. think ethnic. bean & cheese burritos, pasta w/sauce et al.

                                                                                                                    Make it a personal challenge, and you will find your shopping habits forever changed, even when the big ka-ching rolls in.

                                                                                                                  2. my faves for low cost but high quality:
                                                                                                                    Corn bread: easy & adaptable
                                                                                                                    Plain oatmeal, made 1/2 with milk 1/2 with water, poured on top of any fruit (grated apple is great) and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
                                                                                                                    Peas, beans,(black and pinto), lentils--worth learning to cook in the crockpot. Most beans need salt and garlic to transform them into great , cheap eating.
                                                                                                                    Banana muffins/bread. Ask the grocer for a deal on slightly brown bananas.
                                                                                                                    Bulgar wheat from bulk food store---tabbouleh recipes are easy to modify to suit yourself.
                                                                                                                    Cous cous, bulk food store. So fast to make, toast it first in an empty pan, add broth and any veggies or leftover meat.
                                                                                                                    Homemade pancakes. Forget the package mix.
                                                                                                                    Fruit crisp with homemade oatmeal topping.
                                                                                                                    Iced tea instead of pop. I put 2 orange pekoe (good brand) tea bags in a 6 cup tea pot with two tablespoons of sugar. Let it cool, pour it over ice. My kids love it, and they get a tiny bit of sugar for their sweet tooth.
                                                                                                                    Milk. Forgot the naysayers (usually naturopathic followers) who say milk is bad for you. You and your family need the considerable nutrition from milk--it's good value for your money.
                                                                                                                    Pot roast. Cooked with carrot-onion-celery it will give you a roast meal plus a stew meal.
                                                                                                                    Salad dressings--find some recipes that use stuff you usually have in the house. You'll amaze yourself how much better they taste than bottled stuff.
                                                                                                                    Take the time to cook, take the time to find new recipes. We spend a lot of time together looking for recipes, shopping for deals, and preparing our meals together. Lots of laughs, lots of love and it's FREE!

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: applgrl

                                                                                                                      Cows' milk as is is not good for everyone. Though many can digest it better converted into yoghourt, which you can do yourself.

                                                                                                                      I find you have a lot of sugar in your suggestions.

                                                                                                                      A kind of pancake can also be made from high-protein gram/besam/chickpea flour, eaten in South Asian and Mediterranean cuisines and easily available (for a good price) at relevant shops.

                                                                                                                    2. Invest in powdered milk. it;'s the cheapest way to buy milk that you typically don't use for drinking but do use for cooking. Powdered milk can be converted into any kind of milk for baking, sauces, etc. Change the ratio of milk to water and you get evaporated milk, "half and half" and a darn good cream substitute if you add oil. Check out a site listed previously, "hillbillyhousewife.com" While most of the recipes fall far short of what many consider chow-worthy they still beat the socks off of ramen noodles or mac and cheese, highlight an attempt to provide nutritionally complete meals and rely on an avoidance of processed/packaged convenience foods that translate into expensive. She recommended trianing yourself to like powdered reconsituted milk, but i just can't get there.

                                                                                                                      However, I use powedered milk for making my own fat free yogurt with great sucess, as well as lots of puddings, custards, those strata's omlettes and frittatas which are just a great way of using leftover bits and pieces and slightly overripe veggies and cheap protein rich eggs. Since they need milk, which is the only real expense and is currently running 2.70 a gallon for store brand here, can add up. if you don't regularly drink milk or find it tends to spoil before you use it us, then powdered is absolutely the way to go. Store in a cool dry place or the fridge/freezer for longest lasting dry storage.

                                                                                                                      If you can find Sanalac, it is hands down the best tasting brand available, nearly indistinguishable from fresh milk, and absolutely invisible if you cut it with fresh milk it half and half. However, it's no longer sold in our area. :(

                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                      1. re: aggiecat

                                                                                                                        I'm about to toss a half gallon of whole milk that I didn't use in time (*Why* are full gallons cheaper than half-gallons?), so your suggestion is very welcome here. I didn't know that you could fudge the measurements to get h&h, or evaporated milk.

                                                                                                                        I already have hillbillyhousewife bookmarked; I'll check out that section. Thanks!

                                                                                                                      2. I'll admit to not reading this whole thread, so forgive me if this is repetitive. You didn't mention where you live, which is of course your prerogative, but you may want to check with your local farmer's market. I know that in some areas, there are pilot programs whereby you can spend $2 for every $1 in food aid.

                                                                                                                        1. In most areas of the country, there is a program called Share, which sells a monthly food assortment for a very reasonable price. Participants are asked to volunteer two hours per month for the cause of their choice as part of the deal. Here is the link to the Florida website, but you can just Google Share and the place you live and will probably find something: http://www.shareflorida.org/.

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: DowntownLibrarian

                                                                                                                            Share is a great program and is not income based either so anyone can participate. Unfortunately it is not available in all parts of the country. I live in Oregon and there is not a Share program within the state. Also the Share name is used in some states for different programs so I've found Food Share America is also a good search phrase. There is also Angel Food Ministries which I have never participated in but there website https://www.angelfoodministries.com/ looks like a similar program to Share.

                                                                                                                            1. re: DowntownLibrarian

                                                                                                                              Oh also Angel Food ministries. No income requirement, very helpful. There is no shame in being poor, there is no shame is getting help, especially if you are working towards a worthy goal, like raising children, getting an education, working for a non-profit, staying sober, recovering from injury or illness, recovering from job loss etc.

                                                                                                                              https://www.angelfoodministries.com/

                                                                                                                              Good luck to all!

                                                                                                                              1. re: aggiecat

                                                                                                                                As aggiecat says there is no shame in being poor or struggling financially while working your brains out. Another resource people often don't realize they qualify for is food boxes from whatever food pantry is near by. The income limits are much higher than one would think as they serve the struggling working class, not just low income families. Utilizing the resources available is smart not shameful. Resources like these can be especially important to build reserves for the summer months when children are out of school and don't have access to school meals.

                                                                                                                            2. I also buy meat that is marked down, I will eat what I can and freeze the rest.