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So on Thanksgiving I opined that it is not expensive to eat healthy foods. I've been issued a challenge. I have an $18/ week food budget for the middle two weeks in November. $18 being the rough midpoint from what you would receive from a food bank, and what Social Services factors in for your food budget if you were receiving welfare.

There are a few rules:

1. I have to stay away from wheat which makes it a bit tricky. Not only because I gain weight but because that's too much of a crutch.
2. I can't accept food from someone because they know I"m doing the challenge. I can eat food that is ordered for a work function, or birthday cake, for example - but not handouts.
3. I am not allowed to use anything in my fridge or pantry except olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. I am not allowed to travel any more than 30 minutes out of my way to shop for food but I can shop as often as I need to until I spend my $18. I am at Woodbine/Danforth and work downtown .

My initial thoughts were to:
- adopt a vegetarian diet for the two weeks
- buy dried beans, lentils and brown rice from the Bulk Barn (mostly because I don't have to buy a predetermined amount. )
- ditto for spices
- stay away from the large grocery stores (their produce markups are insane!)
- try one cuisine for a few days, then make a soup with the leftovers. ex. black bean, tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro, rice

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can stretch my dollars? perhaps a suggestion on a high nutritional impact/inexpensive produce options?

any help would be appreciated!

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  1. When you say it would be vegetarian, would it be lacto-ovo, so that you can eat eggs? If so, I would include eggs because one carton can go along way in 2 weeks for one person. You can boil them and have one a day for a high protein snack in the afternoon.

    If you can travel on the subway, you can get to Danforth and Pape within your allowed distance and got to The Fruit King and others in that area, where produce is generally cheaper. One head of leaf or romaine lettuce can go a long way. Small squashes are economical and can go along way in a soup. If you make a butternut squash soup with one apple, a small onion, a couple ribs of celery and a carrot to start, add a bay leaf and other spices to taste (depending on what you can get at the bulk barn). Use water instead of stock and blend it all together, you'd have a nice soup that could be lunch for a week.

    1. My graduate student survival food-- 1 bag lentils, 1 bag rice, 1 can tomato sauce, 1 packet chili seasoning, and, if flush, a kielbas. Dump all into a wok, add lots of water, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook. High protein, no wheat, and makes a ton.

      1. I eat for about 20-25 dollars per week, eat pretty healthy, and am perfectly content. I shop around. A lot. I buy meat that is on sale, and limit my meat purchases to about 8-10 dollars. Then, I buy frozen veggies, whatever is on sale. If none of the frozens are on sale, then I buy canned. Or, if there is a really good deal on something fresh (for example, Kale is on sale for .99 a pound this week...I will be buying and making lots of kale!), I get that. A favorite cheap and nutritional dish of mine is beans and pork. I buy cheap pork shoulder steaks (I think they're less than 3 bucks for almost a pound of meat). I toss two cans of kidney beans and a half a can of water in a pot. Cook the pork in a pan with some adobo spice rubbed on it. Then, add a sprinkling of adobo and a couple big spoonfuls of sofrito to the beans. Let simmer. Add cooked meat, let simmer a little longer. Serve over rice, or eat plain out of the container. It's a delicious and easy meal, and with rice, I can usually get 3 or 4 meals out of it.

        1. Soups are great options, especially if you use water and flavorful ingredients. You could make a lentil soup with vegetables and eat from that for a few days. If you can get fresh vegetables marked down or cheap, try making a variation of the weight watchers vegetable soup. It's basically a hearty vegetable soup that lends itself to many variations.

          1. I wouldn't limit myself to vegetarian. A little meat or salt pork helps beans and rice a lot. I'm assuming your cooking for just you.

            Make a big batch of beans and ham hocks, a batch of rice for stir frys, a big batch of Mac and cheese. If you want to really be cheap, you could make the box kind and add some vienna sausages or cut up wieners or whatever to it. You might make a batch or vegetable stock and throw in any veggie scraps or leftovers in there. The stock would be a good place to throw in any of those beans or rice you have. That ought to last you a week then repeat.

            Don't forget the beans and rice together with spices....Cajun style.

            Oh, you could pretend you are an Asian farmer and primarily have rice then go fishing. Anything you catch, throw it in.

            1. I wouldn't avoid large grocery stores. They have big loss leaders, especially in produce, and can negotiate the best rates w/ producers since they are such large customers. Shop smart, off their circulars.

              Back when I was in graduate school, I'd make a big pot of vegetarian chili one day and have it with corn bread, rice, tortillas for the next few days and finally turn it into soup. It could last more than half a week, for dinner. If you can find a chicken on sale, a roasted chicken can be turned into many meals through the week, ending also with soup. You can also get a great deal on frozen vegetables and that would make it easier. Above all, don't plan ahead on--let the circulars and what you can find on sale to dictate what you make, not decide first and then make it work.

              Does this also include pantry items, or do you have to buy it all from salt, pepper, oil, sugar, etc? You could do a search for rworange's threads where she did something along these lines.

              1. Rice, topped with a fried egg and garnished with some Sriracha.

                A typical egg is about 15 to 20 cents, a bowl of rice made from rice bought in bulk is probably about a 25 cents, a 17 ounce bottle of Sriracha is about $4 and will last you easily 2 weeks, and a squirt or two on your bowl of rice is probably about another 25 cents.

                Add it all up and you easily have a meal in a bowl for less than $1 (Rice 25, egg 15, Sriracha 25).

                1. In terms of produce, I've found that potatoes, onions, and carrots are available for unbelievably cheap depending on where you buy them and a 3-lb bag of any one of the three can easily last two weeks.

                  I've found soups--in particular, chickpea soup-- to be relatively inexpensive. I know using this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/App..., each bowl basically comes out to a couple cents, and you can probably get at least 8-10 servings from the recipe.

                  Depending on where you're at, you might be able to buy meat for cheap as well. The local store sometimes sells pork stew meat for around $1/lb, which is another way to spread money (stew).

                  1. The supermarket mark-down racks/shelves are a boon. Deli ends will give you the makings for macaroni&cheese, sandwiches, and meat for soup (dice and add at the end). Day-old breads are fine, and quick-sale produce and meat case items are great as long as you can meal-plan on the fly.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: greygarious

                      I would use day old bread to make a bread pudding with eggs, cinnamon (I think you said you could use spices), and milk. It takes just a few eggs and about a cup of milk and is good at least 2-3 meals and is high in protein and calcium. You could also throw in a banana...great prices at No Frills.

                    2. Grits are great, if you like them. Do you have a farmer's market? That would be my first thought for cheap produce. Walk around and get what's cheap-- especially seconds, if you have time to cook them right away. At my market, you'd be able to get a medium sized squash or pumpkin for two bucks, a bunch of apples for a buck or two, and collards or kale really cheap. Broccoli and cauliflower are usually pretty affordable. Other things are usually cheaper in the supermarket-- like lettuce and cabbage, at least around here. Circulars are great, as someone mentioned. A lot of times, you can get a 5 lb bag of potatoes for a buck or two. That would go a long way, and fried potatoes are amazing. If you have any Ethnic grocery stores in your radius, walk through them. There are always some amazingly cheap things in there.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: jvanderh

                        Do you have a farmer's market? That would be my first thought for cheap produce. Walk around and get what's cheap-- especially seconds, if you have time to cook

                        I disagree. Farmer's Markets are generally not a cost-effective place to buy produce. A great place to buy hard to find produce, like exotics, organics, or heirlooms, but "cheap"? No.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Really? So, not only are you disagreeing with something labeled as MY THOUGHT, but you're using the fact that your market is expensive to argue with the fact that my market is cheap? What stunning powers of logic. And so helpful to the poster. I'm sure he or she could never have figured out not to buy the produce from the market if it's expensive.

                          1. re: jvanderh

                            I think it depends on where you are ....my farmers market is extremely cheap but I am in a mid size town....

                            1. re: jvanderh

                              I agree with ipse. Trying to find cheap produce at my local farmers' market is an exercise in futility. Not everyone has access to what you're apparently blessed with, which is what I gathered from ipse's post -- simply a difference of experience.

                              A reactionary post dripping with sarcasm is ALSO fairly unhelpful to the OP.

                              1. re: LauraGrace

                                You agree about WHAT? That farmers' markets aren't generally a good place to find cheap produce? That's ridiculous. Markets are different-- obviously. There's a difference between saying that your market isn't cheap (which is unhelpful enough) and generalizing that all farmers' markets are expensive because your market is. I didn't draw any broad generalizations-- I said it would be my first thought-- and named prices at my market. I don't know how anyone could find an invitation for an argument in there, but if you want to join the ranks of the mysteriously recalcitrant, feel free.

                                While neither your post nor mine was helpful to the OP's goal, there's a level of ridiculous that I won't suffer in silence.

                                1. re: jvanderh

                                  That's fine. Feel free to come back and clarify. But I guess I don't see what that kind of tone is going to accomplish besides making your interlocutor defensive and the others on the thread uncomfortable.

                                  I would agree with ipse that a farmers' market wouldn't be my first place to look. I think Aldi has much better prices. I am super jealous that you have access to cheap farmers' markets -- unfortunately I think most larger towns' markets no longer run on the farm-stand model and cater instead to a "DINK" market with the ability and willingness to spend $6.99/lb on heirloom tomatoes.

                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                    In the last year, I've shopped at probably six Farmers Markets in three Western states and I love the quality. But the prices are MUCH higher than anywhere else. I too am very envious that your situation is far different and I hope OP's is also.

                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                      Agree that it depends on the market. Yes, you will lose your shirt shopping at SF's Ferry Plaza market, but if you shop at Oakland's Old Oakland market (which has a large immigrant clientele as well as immigrant producers) you will save beaucoup bucks. From my neighborhood farmer's market, I got about eight pounds of produce (red bell peppers, collards, salad greens, onions, green onions, cauliflower) for $4.

                                      1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                        Agreed. Even in SF, the farmers' markets vary enormously -- the Wednesday afternoon Civic Center farmers' market often has great deals on bags of produce, especially near the end of the day.

                                  2. re: jvanderh

                                    To be fair, Ipsedixit did qualify his/her post with "generally," which I took to mean that he or she was not disagreeing with your specific experience with your specific market, but that his or her experience had been different.

                                    Around here, it depends on the market. The town that I live in is a tourist trap and the farmer's market is jam-packed and totally unreasonable, but go ten minutes down the road and it's an entirely different experience. In the western Pennsylvania town where my parents live, there's no such thing as farmer's markets, but there are very reasonably priced farmstands. So, OP: look around, see what your options are.

                                    Here in the Northeast US, farmer's markets are pretty much off the slate at this time of year, anyway. I'm just happy that it's not snowing.

                                    1. re: jvanderh


                                      My apologies if I have offended you. We'll just leave it at that.


                                2. Definitely get flour...use it to make your own bread (I like focaccia), pasta and tortillas. Cooking from scratch can make this challenge a real pleasure. I'd also get potatoes, and make gnocchi with leftovers. I would get a small amount of parmesan cheese. Frittata is a great lunch for work, and almost any leftovers can be added. Don't forget about treats...rice pudding and bread pudding are relatively cheap and yummy.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: jillbcooks

                                    What a challenge. My budget is a bit better than that, but I still have to stretch it.

                                    Yup, flour, yeast (cheap) salt and water, a little oil, and you can make many kinds of bread stuffs. Couldn't be cheaper.

                                    Eggs, beans, rice (20 lb bags are frequently on sale here for $5,) vegetables that store well and are in season, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, squash, other seasonal vegetables and fruits, bags or loose greens, which are nutritious and go a long way, store brands over national, lbs of pasta (4 servings for $1.50 or less) or noodles, grains, grits, cornmeal, oats, all relatively inexpensive, filling and nutritious. When in doubt, peanut butter on your homemade bread, with a banana, which are cheap year round, my go to.

                                    We have a number of dollar stores in the neighborhood here that carry name brand cans of tuna and sardines, lbs of pasta from Mexico (quite good quality, surprisingly) and cans of tomatoes, for under a buck, which makes for a few nice meals.

                                    The larger chain supermarkets here generally have much better prices on produce, meats, dairy, than the smaller chains, with better quality; they have bigger buying power. I wouldn't dismiss them. I check the circulars every week and buy according to what's on sale. I do use coupons sometimes, but often they're for brand names, which I generally don't use.

                                    I wish you luck, and it'll certainly be an educational endeavor. Hope to hear out it works out.

                                    1. re: jillbcooks

                                      oh, don't worry. I'm not forgetting about treats!

                                      brown rice, cinnamon, half an apple - grated - and a splash of milk might not seem like much, but it's a fan favorite at my house :)

                                    2. I think this is a great challenge and wish you much luck. cabbage, and other greens are cheep. this time of the year you can get apples for about a buck a pound at the supermarkets. the king soopers (krogger) in colorado usually marks down meat on tuesdays for older beef and you can usually get chicken on the bone for less than boneless.

                                      1. Good luck! I live on about that much in an average week, though sometimes I go insane and do things like spend $16 on cheese, as I did this past Saturday. Sigh. I have enough money to splurge occasionally, but I find it fun and challenging to feed myself a varied, interesting, healthy and tasty diet on as little money as possible.

                                        Second eggs, legumes and rice.
                                        Onions are dirt cheap and add flavour and volume. Carrots, too, are on sale right now at Loblaws-branded stores (not that 99 cents is THAT cheap, but I'd rather pay that than $1.25!) I eat literally five or six pounds of carrots a week just as snacks and as part of salads. Volume, volume, volume.
                                        Speaking of salads, a head of romaine will last almost a week even if you eat an enormous salad every day, as I like to do. Those big bags of Queen Victoria spinach (not the baby, but the mature stuff) are usually only $1.50 or so and last awhile as well. Stay the hell away from anything in a box, as it's never worth the price and generally starts to go slimy before you can eat it all anyway.
                                        Unfortunately, tomatoes are a splurge item. I've just learned to do without, unless I see a spectacular price. Same with sweet peppers.
                                        Potatoes are awesome.
                                        SQUASH. Winter squash. Last night I made the most amazing kabocha squash gnocchi; four portions from a $2 squash, a couple cups of flour, salt, nutmeg and an egg. Sage brown butter for dinner, and the rest into the freezer. Easy as pie, cheap, and tastes damn good.
                                        You *can* find some good produce deals at the big supermarkets. If you work near Chinatown, by any chance, check out some of the bigger Asian markets -- sometimes they have very good stuff for significantly less than you'd pay at a chain.
                                        Vegetarianism is noble, I guess, but doesn't help you that much with economy. A little bacon goes a long way. Same with a cheap cut of meat. You can get a pork shoulder for a few bucks, and it can feed you for days. Don't bother buying stew cubes, they suck.
                                        Don't be afraid of the stigma surrounding canned tuna. It can become many delicious things. Even a simple tuna salad is nothing to be ashamed of. I like to make a Cajun-Creoleish tomato base with onion, celery, garlic and green peppers thickened with a roux; season well with whatever your favourite Cajun blend of seasonings might be, add tuna, simmer a minute, serve over rice, sprinkled with green onions.
                                        Asian-style stir-fries are excellent if you have cheap veg (peppers on sale, for example.) This is where Asian markets are great, you might run into a deal where stuff like bok choy is on sale for next to nothing. If you want to change it up from rice, serve over noodles.

                                        Not sure what else to say. Generally, I always keep eggs, carrots, onions, garlic, celery and green onions around. If you have one meat in the fridge or freezer, have it be bacon. A good strong Dijon does a LOT for many flavours and doesn't have to be expensive. Ditto fish sauce. Cut up your own whole chickens and use every part. Avoid things like dairy, sadly, though I do buy butter, since it lasts awhile. If you buy bread products, keep them in the freezer and only thaw what you need. If you have onions, lentils, water and salt, you have soup.

                                        Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                                          "Vegetarianism is noble, I guess, but doesn't help you that much with economy. A little bacon goes a long way. Same with a cheap cut of meat."

                                          In my case, I actually find that it helps quite a lot with economy. Meat (especially of the kind I am willing to eat -- i.e. not mystery meat) is VERY expensive where I live and I find that a mostly-vegetarian diet saves me a LOT of money vs. having meat with every meal -- although you're right that a little bacon goes a long way! :)

                                          1. re: LauraGrace

                                            Oh, for sure. Meat at every meal wasn't quite what I meant -- actually, it never occurred to me! Having meat every day is more than I'm used to, even. I just meant that astute bargain-grabbing can result in cheap and tasty meat dishes which won't break the bank, even compared to veggies and legumes.
                                            It's funny how, often, the cheapest cuts of meat can be stretched much farther and make many more meals than the expensive ones -- a chuck roast serves me far better than any tenderloin ever could.

                                            1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                                              I agree. A few days ago I slowcooked about 2# of beef cheeks that I got from a Latino market. I think it was about $2/#. It is so rich and flavorful and we'll get many meals out of that. With cooked from dry beans, a cup of rice and tortillas (they had three dozen for $1.20, we were full and satisfied (two different things at times.) I couldn't get $4 worth of vegetables that would feed us that well.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Yes, THIS! I'm also a fan of mutton and veal breast, which I can usually pick up without sale pricing in the $2ish range, and a downright gushing devotee of pork necks, which usually run in the $1/# area.

                                                Soups and peasant stews are always a great bet, especially if you have the time to make stock from water and/or slow cook cheaper, humbler cuts. Beans and peas are also superb dollar-stretchers, as are dense, filling veg like beets.

                                                Granted, though, my most fool-proof way of saving lots of money is to plan out meals and menus in advance, based on that week's sale circulars. Then I make out my list and very rarely deviate, unless something REALLY catches my eye. I also never, ever shop hungry.

                                                Ethnic markets are definitely a great way to go, where you can can special products reasonably priced (like sesame oil, which is extortion-priced at non-Asian mkts), plus great prices on usually-pricey ingredients (most Asian mkts for fish, Halal for lamb, etc), and usually very good, cheap produce. There are also pretty good multi-ethnic-friendly smaller local chains, which are good, like Jons here in SoCal. L.A. farmers markets I've been to are, I agree w/ipsedixit, more about organic and rare finds than great pricing, though I can usually scare up a few good buys here in H'wood on the Sundays I stagger up the block in time, especially near closing up time.

                                                It's a very interesting experiment. I commend you giving it a try and will be very interested in hearing how it goes.

                                                1. re: mangetoutoc

                                                  Mangetoutoc -- I'm in your neck of the woods as well (Silverlake) -- would love to hear where you shop for your meat and your experience of the quality at that price range -- especially the fish and lamb. I know I'm definitely wasting too much on food these days and love threads like this one!

                                        2. Quinoa is very high in fibre and protein. You can use it for oatmeal in the morning, or combine it with some veggies in the evening for dinner. Lunch: peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Super-cheap and not too unhealthy.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Toronto Fastfoodie

                                            Quinoa is also very high in calcium, in case dairy products happen to be expensive where you are. I find that milk (sadly) is one of the first things to go when I'm over my food budget, since I can find cheaper sources of calcium.

                                          2. Funny you should post this as I am just putting the finishing touches on a grant proposal dealing with just this topic. That said, I would be glad to share what I have learned over the last 3 years ...i.e. you can do this but not in a healthy manner. You can fill up on $18 a week but you will not be able to have enough produce to sustain good health. I have improved my blood sugar numbers (I am a type 2 diabetic), improved my cholesterol and my blood pressure is a bit better but not best. I started doing the experiment when I had been a food bank client but the choices available were literally making me sick. Resolving to do better and be able to afford it I came up with my protocol which is essentially legumes, oatmeal, produce and some eggs and meat/fish. The meat is what I limit the most and I must say I don't miss it. I do no wheat or dairy and everything I buy is local or organic. Over time I have purchased various odd's and end's which add variety. It takes planning and simplicity more than anything else, but it is doable and I don't mind it...I feel so much better doing this that I prefer it even though I spent the first 65 years of my life doing otherwise. If there is a way to contact me through this group (I am new and don't know if that is possible) please feel free to do so and I can discuss more particulars with you.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Initial

                                              Kind of interested in the particulars to that, too, Initial.

                                              While I don't try to live on $18 a week, I do try to be frugal. I think it is possible to be healthy on the $18 with a little work and creativity, but might be something you'd need to develop over time and not just jump into.

                                              If it were me, I would start with some grocery fliers and information regarding pricing at other sources. I would be looking for the best price on eggs, cheese, dried beans, dried rice, some day old bread, some sort of citrus or apples, some sort of veggies, maybe some broth or stock.

                                              I would probably opt to start by making a large pot of soup containing something like carrots, onions, celery, squash, maybe some cabbage which is cheap and low calorie. I'd also make a big pot of rice and slow cook a big pot of beans. If there is an Indian market in your 30 min radius, might consider some peanuts if the price is right. You'd have lots of meal options like fried egg with rice, egg sandwich with cheese, cheese sandwich with veggie soup, veggies and beans over rice. Some of your less popular meat items can be had very cheaply, if you like liver and onions or things like that. If you have something like acorn squash, you can bake it and eat it with rice and beans. The frozen veggie idea is a good one, I can usually find bags of frozen veg for less than a dollar and you can just microwave them.

                                              1. re: Initial

                                                The only way you can be contacted is to put an e-mail address in your CH profile. Most folks use a secondary e-mail account like yahoo or hotmail, to minimize spamming and the like. Another safety precaution is to spell out the address, e.g. "at" rather than "@", "dot", not ".".

                                                1. re: Initial

                                                  Hey initial, what's your protocol? I'm a Type 2 diabetic as well. I've found that beans really have so much starch in them, I rarely use them. (e.g. 1 cup of cooked pinto beans have 45 grams of carbs, although 15 grams of that is fiber). Before I learned to look at nutritional content, I made lentil loaf thinking it would be healthy for me and saw my blood sugar go off the charts. Then i looked at the carb content.

                                                  1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                    so I find that less than 1 cup of red lentils made into a soup with say onion, garlic, zucchini etc. is very satisfying to me...also I squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the soup at the last moment..I do not use salt but sometimes some white pepper I may splurge on "poppers" /poppadums and eal oatmeal instead of rice although I can use maybe 1/4 cup of rice at a meal...basically not worth it to me
                                                    I eat at least 50% raw at lunch and/or dinner...mostly as simple salad greens, cucumber and maybe 1/2 piece of fruit in the salad instead of tomato...i make an evoo and lemon dressing with maybe cilantro or other herb depending what is growing outside at the time
                                                    When I use meat it is generally a bit of chicken, sausage or beef added to that lentil soup but it is not required
                                                    Notice I have severely limited dairy (I only use high quality butter on my morning oatmeal and maybe once a month have either some raw unpasteurized cheese or some sour cream p very limited amounts. I also do not do wheat at all or any nightshades. My use of high oxalate foods is also severely limited because if I want to "cheat" I would rather have a bit of chocolate than kale or spinach. Also, I react far less to the chocolate than to the spinach etc. Boring but true.
                                                    What has helped me the most is an anti inflammatory diet tweaked based on my food sensitivities...my question to you re your comment on the beans, etc. would be ...are you have a great deal of fat with the meal .... I find the starch without fat has far less impact on me..oh, and I also use insulin although I have dropped the amount from 35 units per meal to about 10 per meal since using more legumes.

                                                    Hope this helps

                                                2. I can't think of anything that hasn't already been posted, but you might want to check out Rebecca Curries' blog. In Feb. 2009 she documented her attempt to eat on a dollar a day for a month. Here is a link to her summary of the experience and some of the lessons she learned:

                                                  In Jan. 2010 she started a new project to try to eat "healthy" for $100 a month. From what I could tell by quickly reading some of her entries for the new project, she ended up averaging around $90 a month which is more than you have but it's close.

                                                  Hope this helps. Personally, I think it might help if you are allowed to change the "rules" to allow you to go over budget at times as long as you end up averaging $18/week.

                                                  Regardless, good luck.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                    thanks for the links! I'll definitely check those out...

                                                  2. I missed the wheat part. Could you make your own yogurt and cheese?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Berheenia

                                                      I can't see why I couldn't, but I'd hate to try to make cheese for the first time and ruin it when my budget is already going to be tight. Maybe after this challenge I'll start a new 'from scratch' menu week and try it then.

                                                    2. WOW! thank you for all of your great suggestions - now I'm really excited to try this out. I've been scoping out various price points for things and I think I'll be alright with a little creativity and (some) planning. I'll save the meat dishes for when I have company - I'm allowed an additional $2 one day /week when I have a guest. This rule was added last night when my guy realized that I wouldn't be cooking all his favorites anymore!

                                                      What kind of spices do you think would go the furthest? my first thought was cumin (because I love it) but I'm completely open to suggestion.

                                                      on a side note, I think it's hilarious that directly to the right of this (as I'm typing at least) there's the story about spending $443.48 on a single meal! hahaha

                                                      I will pop back in mid week and let you guys know how it's going....

                                                      thanks again :)


                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Armack

                                                        Do you have access to spices in bulk? Around here, they are generally very inexpensive that way, especially if you only need to buy enough for a few weeks-well under a dollar per, I'd guess.

                                                        Re what to buy-can't tell you, as it depends so much on what you like. Take a look at some of the recipes you're planning, I guess, and see what spices they have in common. Cumin, something spicy, something like oregano, plus garlic?

                                                        1. re: girlwonder88

                                                          I am blessed with so many bulk options around here! I am close to Little India, Chinatown, and a large West Indian community which means I have a nice variety as well.

                                                          garlic is a must - budget or no budget! Cumin was my first choice because I can lean towards so many cuisines with it. Oregano is a great suggestion, thank you, it's not in heavy rotation but it does add a certain something doesn't it?

                                                      2. I applaud what you're doing, and it's tough but certainly doable. I would think the hardest thing as a single person is that you're talking about "start-up" costs and don't benefit from economies of scale.

                                                        I guess I'm a little confused, though about a couple of things. First why such a low amount? Around here, a single person receiving "food stamps" gets at least $40 a week if it's not meant to be supplementary assistance. In fact, I think the "minimal" amount that you get if you sort of barely qualify is at least $20 a week, and that's assuming a fair amount of family income.

                                                        In any event, don't overlook meat. If you find a good sale of cheaper cuts, a little can go a long way.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Mestralle

                                                          Personally, I would much rather spend $6 on apples, kale, onions and brown rice then buy a cheap, hormone riddled chicken that spent it's life in the dark, which, whether it's true or not, is what I would be thinking the entire time I was prepping, cooking and eating it. :)

                                                          I'm not militant on the factory farming stance though and might splurge on a slice or two of bacon or some chicken carcasses from the butcher if I can swing it.

                                                          As for the amount, My guy works for Social Services and for a single person they allot ~$200 for personal items which includes anything related to food, personal hygiene, first aid, cleaning supplies, laundry etc. we split that amount down the middle to make it easy and averaged it with the typical cost of a food bank donation (~$12).

                                                          1. re: Mestralle

                                                            I can't add to the wonderful ideas coming from CHer's but I CAN attest that no, "food stamps" are not $40 a week if it's not supplementary assistance. While I was on them as not supplementary it was $17.50 PER MONTH! Shocking (and scary) but true. I think the amount was based on the fact that I own my home and vehicle, which in ' their' eyes could be sold before I starved to death.

                                                            I ate once a day out of the pantry and spent the $ on produce and milk. And learned to use coupons

                                                          2. Get whole chickens, cut them up - also beef/pork roasts, tenderloins that are on sale. Drumsticks tend to be cheap also. I am not on such a restricted budget but I like roast chicken and chicken breast based dishes, like a nice thai red curry, so I get these all the time. Avoid free range naturally bc of the budget. If you can get chickens on sale you will be off to a good start. Not sure about breakfast - generic branded cereal and milk from aldi might be a good idea, also I can get apples for less than 99 cents a pound.

                                                            A bag of potatoes can be cheap. Obviously to do the best "job" you'll want to be looking through circulars, looking for store and manufacturer coupons, and saving wherever you can. I find myself using coupons these days just because its fun to see the total drop :D A couple weeks ago hyvee had a $10 off 6 boxes of cereal coupon - once you used it, however, they gave you a coupon that was a gift certificate for $6 at the store, so I ended up spending almost nothing for the cereal.

                                                            1. A few years ago, a Chowhound poster, rworange, challenged herself to eat well on a $3-per-day budget for a month and documented it extensively with posts about her menus, her cooking and shopping, and strategies that worked for her. You would probably find it helpful, even if her budget is higher than yours.

                                                              Here is her concluding thread, with observations and links to everything else: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/429348

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. You've already had some great ideas on what to fix, however, strategy seems to be a key component. A friend of mine has four kids and is on a very strict budget. Her strategy is to buy two weeks worth of staples (mostly non perishable stuff) and then with the leftover money buys produce and meat/poultry on a weekly basis.

                                                                I have applied her tactic and go to ethnic markets weekly for produce. I bought a huge bag ( about 3 lbs)of broccoli from a Korean market for about $2. I had all kinds of broccoli dishes and it was a nice snack blanched and served cold w/a little mayo.
                                                                Good luck with your project. I'll be interested in seeing your future posts.

                                                                1. You go...I give you major Kudos!!!

                                                                  I wish I could give you all kinds of advice, but living in Bermuda....please...there would be no way. A loaf of bread is roughly $6 and don't get me started on produce!

                                                                  Please keep us informed of what you buy and eat during the two weeks. It will be very interesting to see the creativity when one is pushed or made to actually think about food/ food cost. One question, why can't you use anything else in pantry ? What about if you worked the cost of what you use into the $18 limit?

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                                    for two reasons, one, someone on a strict budget like this just wouldn't have the stocked pantry that most of us have, and two, I dont want to try to do that math. :)

                                                                    1. re: Armack

                                                                      Leavenings, seasonings, and condiments can really run up the tab but may only be purchased once a year, if that. For anyone who wants to economize by doing a lot of home cooking, there is going to be a hefty initial tab for stocking the pantry, but the same goes for cleaning supplies, curtain rods, trash cans, rakes, etc. You could probably amortize the pantry costs (figuring a year's worth of stock) at about $2 per week.

                                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                                        And I don't think I'd want to eat most of the things one COULD cook without those additions.

                                                                  2. If you have a crockpot it is GREAT for inexpensive cuts of meat! Adding a small amount of liquid to pork steaks, country ribs, pot roast, etc makes them like butter!!. Also makiing cabbage rolls, perogie, borscht and squash soup utilize things that are seasonal and cheap right now.

                                                                    1. Some fish markets, or grocery stores that have their own fish people, will give you fish heads and tails for free. (I know this because a few times I've made fish stock and have been surprised when offered the heads and tail gratis.) It's not for someone who's easily grossed out, but you can make a very nice stock and the heads and tails actually can have a fair amount of meat on them as well. I wonder if maybe bones and other meat scraps might also be had for a very low price, though I've never tried that myself.

                                                                      I would also try going to farm stands or farmers' markets, explain that you're on a low budget, and ask if they have any damaged produce they would sell you cheaply. Sometimes you can get soft tomatoes or the like very cheaply and use them for soup or sauce.

                                                                      1. I cooked that way for 7 years when my husband was a student. 1) A little meat + pasta + tomato sauce etc = huge amount of food. 2) Thick hearty soups like minestrone, Cuban black bean, chili. 3) Eggs are a cheap source of protein.---dinner can be cheese omelet, frozen French fries, salad. 4) Shop where recent immigrants shop---produce and chicken will be cheaper by far. 5) Do your own baking. 6) Read weekly grocery ads in paper and take advantage of loss leaders. Your mantra: Something is cheap---find it---cook it.

                                                                        What is this condition about not being able to use what's in your own pantry---not even the macaroni and rice?

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                          not even the macaroni and rice! I"m not too worried about that though because I can buy both of those by weight.

                                                                          I love the mantra - consider it adopted!

                                                                        2. I thought I'd drop in and write a quick note. With the exception of one night where I worked late, the week went surprisingly well. I made the mistake of buying a small amount of rice at the bulk barn when I should have bought a small bag from the grocery store.

                                                                          I haven't done anything Chow-worthy I don't think. My food has been fairly basic but tasty. I can't say that I have been exceptionally hungry either, although I have been made more aware of exactly how fleeting my food urges are. I've been having four small meals every day, brown rice with apple (or blueberry or banana) in the mornings, carrot and celery sticks for a snack, chicken, kale, sweet potatoes (29 cents/lb in chinatown- what!??!). My best purchase was a can of crushed tomatoes (85 cents, 5% sodium). I've used it for soup, tomato sauce and even a 'salsa' of sorts.

                                                                          I made a lentil soup that I would have preferred to have less of, but since I worked late and didn't have anything quick to make it was soup again or go hungry. this week I have sweet potato and black bean wraps, chicken soup, spaghetti, veggie stirfry, cod and lentils, eggs (omelette perhaps), AND another $6 to spend. part of me wants to run out and spend every last penny on cheese. :)

                                                                          I did bend on the wheat rule and bought spaghetti (77cents/bag) and 5 whole wheat pitas ($1.25 in the discount bin) but so far I've only had one pita (with kale and potato curry) and todays lunch will be spaghetti and salad.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Armack

                                                                            Congratulations! Very interesting read, and great to know how it all turned out.

                                                                            1. re: Armack

                                                                              I would love to hear how week 2 went!

                                                                            2. I am not sure if anyone has had this suggestion before, but have you thought about growing some of your own produce? Or at least herbs which can add nutrients and much needed flavour. A lot of produce can be started from scratch, like tomato and pepper seeds and can be grown anywhere from a balcony to a backyard to even a sunny window if it is cold where you are. And if not from scratch, seed packets can be purchased for less than a dollar. For lettuce and other greens, that's a great deal. But it takes patience. There a ton of great books on urban gardening lately and a lot of them focus on living in a small space.

                                                                              And of course you know that even old pita in the sale bin can be sprinkled with various spices, salts and brushed with a little oil and be turned into pita chips which, in an airtight bag or container, can last for weeks. Delicious with dips made from pureed beans, sweet potatoes, etc...


                                                                              1. I've lived most of my adult life on about $20-$40/week for food ($1-$2/meal/person). The hard part of your challenge, I think, is the fact that the $18 is starting cold. It's so much easier to spend $365 a year on food than to have only $18 in your pocket and a week till you get more... that's how you end up buying 200 grams of something at the bulk barn, when you'd get a much better unit price for a 5-kilo bag at a store aimed at recent immigrants.

                                                                                I used to live in your neighbourhood (I was just NE of Danforth and Main) and you're spoiled for cheap Asian grocers. A few cool places you may have overlooked: the discount greengrocers just west of Main on the Danforth; Danforth Fruit (near Danforth/Dawes) for crazy variety and, often, cheap meat (e.g., 3 stewing hens for $5), and the big Bengali grocery (name?) on the N side of Danforth near the bulk barn in the mall.

                                                                                And, as I survive winter in a bad food city (St. John's, NL), I can't say enough good things about (a) sprouting your own legumes and (b) carrots!