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Anyone interested in a Kitchen Challenge? No restaurants and a monthly food budget of $300/family of four

any takers?

I'm going to be doing this anyway so i thought i could use some partners here. We are trying to save money, but yet eat healthfully. Here are my rules-no pre-packaged foods, as in canned pasta, anykind of boxed dinners, most processed food.

Canned veggies and fruits, okay. Dried pasta and beans okay.

No HFCS allowed

NO msg

No modified food starch.

No trans fats.

No restaurant eating.

I'm going to the grocery store tomorrow. I got to come up with a list, and amenu, and i'll post it here.

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  1. Do you have the flexibility to buy large quantities and store them in a pantry or freezer or is the $300 per month rock hard?

    1. Order a 25 lb bag of pinto or black beans from your local food coop/health store. So many uses. Serve the "weekly special" fresh veggie and combine w/ on sale meat. Make a big pot of soup on Sun. for week day lunches.
      Cabbage on sale is cheap and has lots of uses, from slaw to soups. On sale chicken legs & thighs, 1001 uses.
      We raised 5 kids on limited income.

      4 Replies
        1. re: tonka11_99

          I think instead of the 25 lb bag of beans, I might get three 10 pound bags of different beans.

          Not sure what modified food starch is but assuming they qualify, a big bag of egg noodles, too.

          I'm sure what me and passa are getting at is meals with only a small amount of meat. As a bonus, the rice and or beans are good for left overs too.

          1. re: tonka11_99

            Oh and I am not into it but Tofu is a source of protein. If you don't mind going vegetarian at least for a meal or two, you should probably learn a few recipes.

          2. re: tonka11_99

            Brown rice, deary and garbonzo's to make your own hummus. Substitute peanut butter for tahini (don't gag folks unless you've tried it.) and you've got a healthy and nutritious snack/meal for the kids,

        2. You might check out this series of threads by rworange who did something similar a year or two ago. I don't think she specifically said "no restaurant eating" though, on $3/day you can't eat out often.



          1. Scrap the idea of a monthly menu - you'll need to shop the specials and mark-down shelves. It's fine to make a list of generally economical dishes but not to lock yourself into them. For example, when I found a big package of roast beef ends (thick slabs from the ends of the big roasts) in the deli department, I made a stirfry and a stroganoff which I would not have done if I'd had to buy steak.

            1 Reply
            1. re: greygarious

              Ditto on the specials. Most stores use them as loss leaders to get people into the store.

              I tried a challenge at Whole Foods where I tried to feed the family for $75- $100 a week and shop there only. I stopped by the meat section first, looked at specials (look closely because they'll say they're specials, some barely marked down). Then scope out the vegetables and then plan your meals. Make things that will last days, eg a roast chicken can become stock w/ the carcass (one day, serve roast chicken, the next use the rest to add to pasta, the day after, make stock and have soup). Cut ground beef w/ cabbage and you'll reduce meat by half. Use dried beans. A serving of meat is only 3-4 oz. Stick with that and fill up on whole grains, vegetables. Frozen can be less expensive, especially if it's on sale. Save "trash", eg ends of veggies, for stock.

              For your challenge, if you can go to Costco, buy what you can there in bulk, flour and active yeast ($2.99 for 2 pounds is more than you'll ever use) to make bread, pizza. Use leftover bread to make bread crumbs, meatloaf/meatballs, stratas. Buy pasta, rice there. Those can be your filler starches. Buy low fat cuts of meat, like chuck roast, that use slow braising--inexpensive and delicious. It's all about planning ahead but not sticking religiously to the plan.

            2. Breakfast for dinner is a great way to save money. Eggs are cheap, and you can use leftover veggies and meat in frittatas. Look for day old bread at the local bakeries, and use it for french toast, bread pudding, croutons, and breadcrumbs.

              Rice and bean dishes are dishes that can easily be extended, or transformed. They are fantastic with a fried egg on top, or rolled in a tortilla. I have found that I can serve my boyfriend a rice and bean dish for three days running, as long as I have eggs, tortillas, and, of course, sriracha on hand.

              Chow has had a few threads on this subject that should be helpful. I wish I could accept your challenge, but I'm on a spicy noodle kick, and that pretty much hits every no-no on your list. Good luck! I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

              1. +1 on the comment about shopping for discounts. The produce that's on sale is usually what's in season, so it'll tend to taste better than the rest of the stuff, anyway. If you can find out what time of day the meat department marks down stuff that's approaching its sell-by date, you can score some screaming deals there, too.

                Another + 1 on the recommendation to buy staples in bulk. If you have Latin American and/or Asian markets in your area, they're a great source for big bags of stuff that lasts pretty much forever. Yes, the up-front investment is larger, but the per-pound prices are a fraction of what the small bags cost at the grocery store.

                While you're at the Asian market, be sure to check out the produce department. At least in my neck of the woods the stuff is fresher, more seasonal, more varied, and a lot cheaper than at the regular grocery store.

                By ruling out manufactured foods you've already won half the battle. Cook good stuff from scratch, buy stuff that's on sale, limit the amount of meat you consume, and you can eat very well for the budget you've set.

                1. The only real way to do this is to get a big freezer and stock it when there are sales on meat, etc. I just thawed out a ten pound turkey that cost 38 cents a pound last Thanksgiving. The two main grocery chains seem to try to outdo each other every year. Last year I bought 6 of them and fortunately, had the freezer space. You should be able to get about 4 family meals off one turkey with the leftovers made into soup and casseroles (or hotdish if you're from Minnesota).

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: John E.

                    Yeah, it will be much more difficult without a freezer and the ability to buy large quantities of things while they are on sale.

                    1. re: tonka11_99

                      We have a tiny freezer, just enough to hold a butchered deer, in the cellar. But 'Merkan freezers are so large that if one only gets rid of the processed frozen crap, there is lota of room for weekly specials.
                      I'm making a Thai curry chicken & green bean veggie soup for this week's lunches; chicken & green beans on sale. A bag of "reduced" ginger, pierced and stewed w/ the broth. A spoonful of brown rice to put in the center of the soup. Yum, I can't wait for Monday.

                    2. re: John E.

                      I agree with Passadumkeg that you can stock a lot of sale meat in the freezer of a standard refrigerator if you don't have prepared pizza's etc. there. I can regularly buy 5lb chickens at 99 cents/lb. Why pay for a freezer and the electricity to run it to save about $36 -- i.e., the cost of 6 10-lb turkeys at 38 cents/lb and the 12 5-lb birds at $0.99/lb. I know that you have more than the turkeys in the freezer but my point is that you can (and I do) stock up in more modest degrees when items are on sale, using just the freezer in your fridge. I bought one sale turkey after Christmas, not six. We had it in New Years Day, and the leftovers were gone within the week. Haven't had a turkey since but, had I been in the mood, they were on sale again at Easter.

                      1. re: masha

                        I guess I should have been more clear. I'm not actually suggesting that buying a freezer just to store turkeys that go on sale is a real money saver. If you already have a freezer, and we do, buying what is on sale, such as .38/pound turkeys is a good idea. We ate one of them again today with leftovers for the week. (Where did the 12 5-lb birds come from? I better check my freezer to see what's really in there).

                        1. re: John E.

                          I bought 3 turkeys during the holidays and a couple of turkey breasts. Unlike some other people, I like turkey more than once a year. I just made a batch of turkey salad from one of the breasts on Friday. I like to put a whole turkey on the grill for pulled turkey BBQ and a host of other things during the year. To me, it's worth the extra electricity it takes to keep a freezer, which, by the way, is not much more if that than it takes to keep your refrigerator. Turkeys aren't on sale where I live at Easter, it's ham that's cheap.

                      2. re: John E.

                        Of course, we all know that the more butcher work has been done, the more meat costs. After reading revelations about ground beef in the NY Times and elsewhere, I now look for boneless chuck (also round) on sale for $1.99/lb. I don't have a grinder, but found it fast and simple to cube the meat and pulse it in my Cuisinart. (There are threads on this.) Better flavor and less shrinkage in my burgers, at a lower price than packaged ground beef.

                      3. There are plenty of threads on how to stretch your dollars without having to sacrifice too much. No need to give up meat or going vegetarian if you're not already. Tofu is not cheaper than chicken or some pork where I live. The key to getting more for your money is to buy what's on sale & seasonal.

                        It does help if you have a freezer. If you can't fit that into your budget (assuming you don't have a freezer), look on Craigslist or Freecycle or similar site. It's still tax season so you might find someone looking to give one away (I just gave away a washer and air conditioner) because they're looking to upgrade.

                        If you haven't already done so, consider starting a garden. Not only does it save you money in the end, but you get to eat from it now and add to your freezer for later. Buy when things are on sale and not too much when they're not unless it's something you need for right then otherwise you'll pay top dollar and learn to be creative in the kitchen. If you do that, you'll have no problem making it on $300.00 per month. I raised three kids on less.

                        Also, grocery store sales run in cycles, meaning every so many weeks stores put the same things on sale again. If you can guage when certain things are going on sale in your area, you can prepare to load up on things you want. Here is some info: http://www.grocerycouponguide.com/art...





                        1. good luck, hope it goes well. you have lots of good advice. I would only say, keep your meats/fish/chix to smaller portions and go heavier on veggies, starch. Change it up with rice, quinoa, couscous, potato, polenta, pasta, etc. Once or twice a week, go meatless. When it comes to meat, stretch ground meat by adding loads of veggies - make small mini muffins of meatloaf or sausage meat. Make big batches and freeze for lunches.

                          have fun

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: lexpatti

                            I understand exactly what you are saying about the starch but where I live, pork, chicken and turkey cost less than fresh vegetables per pound.

                            1. re: John E.

                              Agreed. Eating healthy, if by that you mean fresh fruits and vegetables, is expensive in most major cities.

                          2. One more thought. With no idea what your cooking comfort zone is, or what your family likes, this may not work. But FWIW...

                            The typical American diet is focused on large servings of meat, which is inherently expensive. But there are cuisines that are based on large quantities of inexpensive ingredients (legumes, starches, veggies) and much smaller amounts of the stuff that's harder to get in most of the world. Traditional Chinese cooking (at least five major cuisines), Indian food (ditto), and various other foodways can provide you with a huge amount of variety on a very limited budget.

                            1. If i don't count the baby items I buy at the grocery store for the 5th member of our household (diapers, formula) I spend 300 a month or less for the four of us. And that includes toiletries.

                              We limit our meat intake. (more for ethical reasons that economical ones) so in a normal week we'll buy a nice cut of good local grass fed beef for one night, and maybe some bacon. The occasional chicken to change things up. The rest of the time we eat vegetarian. We make our bread, our own desserts, and our own stocks and soups and sauces. I hate beans, so we don't eat much of those...but we do eat rice and veggies and pasta and salad.
                              I keep a garden, so this time a year i don't have to buy spinach....and in a few more weeks i won't have to buy lettuce either.

                              Honestly, i don't see it as much of a challenge. (maybe because prices are different where i live??? i don't know) We just shop locally (mostly at the farmers market) and choose carefully and avoid processed foods.

                              Good Luck, and have fun!

                              1. I think I have a genuinely unique solution to your problem. The world is full of women who are proud that they don't cook and they don't have time because they work. Find some of those families in your neighborhood and agree to cook and deliver dinners for them 2-3 days a week.

                                You have to cook anyway. If you can charge these families 2.5 - 3 times the material costs for the dinners, U would not only pay for your own food but make a profit too.

                                There are problems. U have to be a pretty good cook and u have to provide them with good food that they wouldn't get at a restaurant or take-out/delivery.

                                U could put out fliers in the neighborhood to find interested people and if u only found 2-3 families that wanted to do it for 2 days a week, I bet that would help ur food budget enormously.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tonka11_99

                                  I thought this was such an interesting idea that I posted a new thread dedicated to this idea. Here is the link. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7089...