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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.