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$20 - 1 Person - 1 week Can it be done?

I've been stalking Chowhound for years now, and I often see topics on how to cook for 2 on a budget, or a family of 4 but what about the single person? I am a foodie, an I have every spice imaginable.

I am curious if you could feed a person for 1 week with $20.00. I think I could but only because I have a lot of ingredients that I've stalked up on during sales (spaghetti sauce for example). I started thinking...I could do dinner for 1 on - $20.00 but not an entire day.

So to everyone out there. What you feed 1 person for 7 days - 3 meals a day - with variety (remember foodie here) and you have to stay under $20.00

I was thinking something like:

1 Rotisserie Chicken served with rice and spinach salad
Next night make half of that into enchiladas
Next night left over chicken can become curry with rice
Next night last bit of left over chicken and rice can be made into congee
Then spaghetti w/ home made bread and noodles and spinach salad
1 pizza night (homemade of course!)
hmmmm? left over pizzia not sure

now the hard part is lunch because I don't do sandwiches and I doubt I have enough left overs to eat for lunch.

Breakfast easy
Egg White Omelet with spinach and cheese + bacon
Scrambled Eggs with Potatoes and Cheese + bacon
Pancakes from scratch
Grits - Baked
Repeat any of the above.

Now for this personally the only thing I would need to buy would be chicken, and spinach everything else I had but if I had to buy everything I know it wouldn't be under $20.00....

So ........ I am open to suggestions

1 Person - 7 Days - 3 Meals a Day

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  1. do you have any quinoa or couscous or something along those lines on hand? If not, they would be an inexpensive purchase. make a big salad with a grain, vegetables and herbs. Throw in a can of tuna or salmon if you want. could easily last a few days, and can vary. There is a great thread on quinoa salads here. You could also make some kind of lentil or chickpea dish, these again are very inexpensive options that will give you a good protein (especially if you buy dried instead of canned)


    7 Replies
    1. re: cleopatra999

      I have both. The quinoa I have is the red kind. I like it in salads totally for got about that! I have cans of tuna good suggestion.

      I could also make tuna fish sandwiches for lunch which i love and have everything for.

      I do have chickpeas but I usually make those into hummus.

      Oh, and being southern I could make red beans and rice forgot about that one.

      Good suggestions Cleo... you got me thinking

      1. re: sarahgw

        Don't forget to use that chicken carcass for a wonderful broth that can be a soup or sauce base.

        1. re: sarahgw

          Yes--a pound of red beans can be had for $1.25 or so. Buy a cheap ham hock if you like and throw that in. That pot of beans alone, w/rice, would provide at least 8-10 servings.

          1. re: nomadchowwoman

            yesyesyes...dried beans or legumes!...I think I saw a 1 pound bag of lentils (might have been split peas) for LESS than $1 in WalMart--now THAT is an awesome dry good to have & make mulitple meals from!

            1. re: Val

              mm split pea soup!! That would be super easy and cheap and is one of my favorites. This is looking very do able.

              1. re: sarahgw

                er, I meant to type *multiple*..sheesh Val...also sarah: if you really want to save $$, consider stepping away from "meat is the only protein"...it isn't...and it is costing more and more and more...even poultry and fish...there are less expensive protein sources available, just gently saying. I think you will have FUN with your project!!!

            2. re: nomadchowwoman

              Unfortunately, since off cuts of meat has become trendy, ham hocks are now pretty expensive. 5 bucks for 3 in a package at Walmart.

        2. You have to do more cooking from scratch, I think. For example, spaghetti sauce. It's better to get tomatoes on sale, then make a big batch and freeze individual portions. If you try to save money by getting the cheapest ready-made sauce in jars, it's going to have a lot of sugar in it.

          Homemade soups can be inexpensive and nutritious, whereas canned soups are overpriced, not as tasty, and full of salt. I make a fish soup or chowder using commercially packed cod fillets from a restaurant supply store. These come in 5-lb boxes (frozen) with six pieces. This is not a good fish for serving on a plate, but diced and simmered with an onion in a crockpot for a few hours, it makes an excellent soup. Add fresh celery, a potato, and water after the onion and fish are well cooked. You can take a shortcut and use condensed cream of potato soup instead of a fresh potato, which you can buy in case lots and stock up on. A fresh potato might be less expensive, but only if there is no waste. That's the difficulty with the economics of fresh ingredients when cooking for one — avoiding waste while minimizing the cost of trips to the grocery.

          1. I have no idea what your appetite is like, but I know I could make five meals out of one roast chicken and then make stock with the carcass. If you buy the chicken raw and cook it yourself, you can make that chicken go a lot further and have more to spend on veggies. For instance, I just came from a store where chicken quarters were 1.29 a lb, and you can often get them cheaper. So if one leg quarter sufficed for a meal, that would cost you somewhere in the vicinity of $1-$1.29.

            Do you like beans? Dried beans and lentils go a long way.

            Pasta + a bit of oil or butter + breadcrumbs and/or a bit of cheese

            Even a small batch of marinara sauce can make several meals with pasta.

            Tortillas rolled w/beans, cheese, maybe a little onion.

            Tortilla pizzas--spread w/a little matinara sauce and sprinkled w/cheese (I lived on these when I was in school on a shoestring budget)

            Salad bars, even while the per lb. price sounds high, can be your friend. Everything is washed, trimmed, ready to go so you can buy small bits of things (go for the pricier items--capers, olives, nuts, cheese, arugula, spinach) to add to staples.

            Pork shoulder is usually very economical and incredibly versatile.

            Yep, I think you can do it if you plan carefully.

            3 Replies
            1. re: nomadchowwoman

              Excellent suggestions. I GH - I cook a lot from scratch and I have some tools that help me! On my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer I have the pasta attachments. I have a bread maker so that helps making bread and stuff.

              I grew nearly 100lbs of tomatoes this summer so I canned them into spaghetti sauce w/o meat. So that should be easy. I do have an herb garden so I don't have to worry about fresh herbs.

              Now that the bay area is finally starting to cool down I can start my fall crop. Which will be helpful with lettuce and carrots and other goodies.

              1. re: nomadchowwoman

                Just cooking for 2, I find that a lot of my veggies go bad before I get a chance to use them, especially lettuce. Getting a small amount from a salad bar is a good idea.

                1. re: Oboegal

                  Yes, I've had that problem too. That's why I try to use versatile vegetable like spinach I can put in an omelet, sauté, add it to pizza, or as a salad. The same with brocoli and carrots plus they're great to snack on.

              2. This is an old thread, so prices have probably changed quite a bit, but RWOrange's experiment of going for a month on $3/day might give you some ideas.


                1. As other posters said, roasting your own chicken and making stock from the carcass would be the foundation for many good meals. I just got a 7 lb roaster for $1.09 a pound to use for that very thing. Soup would be a good lunch, since you don't care for sandwiches.
                  You can mix a little salsa, rice and chicken with some of the stock, add cilantro and you've got a delicious Mexican style soup.
                  Matzoh ball soup is filling and cheap.
                  Good old chicken noodle soup with carrots and celery takes care of a few days worth of meals.

                  With the chicken leftovers, shred up some of the meat, some cabbage, carrot, onion and either Asian seasonings or Eastern European type seasonings and make eggrolls or stuffed pastries.

                  If you do a ground beef spaghetti sauce, the leftover sauce can be used another day in a Johnny Marzetti casserole.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jmcarthur8

                    I just bought a roaster chicken for .89 cents a pound and make a few meals out of it, saving one leg and the carcass for soup. If the OP is near a Market Basket that is. :)


                    1. re: jmcarthur8

                      If you make chicken stock from the carcass, instead of rice you can use tortilla chips (make from fried corn tortillas -- not the expensive bag kind) to make great tortilla soup. Add cilantro, lime and a little chicken and it is very tasty. A few drops of hot sauce or a chile cooked in the broth makes a different and spicy taste.

                    2. I think most of the posters on CH could go for a week without spending a dollar if they could use whatever they have in their pantry, freezer and frig. Now if you want to spot folks some basics--oil, salt, pepper, flour, etc--and then ask them to figure out a week of meals for one at $20 that would be a clearer challenge.

                      1. Me again, but I was just thinking some more on this. I realize this is entirely different from your situation, but some of it might be helpful for strategizing.

                        Several months ago, two of us took shopping a troubled man, a recovering addict who is trying to learn life and coping stills and to live on his own. We spent $207.00 and change. (We went to one of those Super Wal-Marts b/c we needed to stretch every penny, and he was in need of practically everything.) We spent approximately $130.00 on food, and we sat down with him and calculated (and wrote out menus) about two months worth of meals, figuring he would have to spend minor amounts every week or so for eggs and a few other perishables.

                        A lot of what he got, I'm sure you wouldn't want (he loved eating ramen noodles for lunch everyday and he was perfectly happy with powdered milk), but otherwise, he likes cooking and he's very eager to eat a generally healthy diet.

                        With economy our main objective, some of the things we bought:

                        Two dozen eggs (he said he would eat two eggs for breakfast every other day)

                        Beans-- 2 lg. pkgs of red, but also a pkg of black and a pkg of white

                        Lg. bag of Rice

                        Lg. cans of tuna

                        Lg cans of whole tomatoes and tomato sauce


                        Family packs of thin pork chops, chicken quarters, ground beef

                        a lg hunk of pork shoulder that we cut into three portions and froze

                        Large hunks of mozzarella and cheddar cheese

                        Loaves of white and whole wheat bread

                        Lg bag of onions

                        We explained to him that if he bought large sizes and came home and portioned out things (even things like bread and cheese) and froze them, he'd save a lot of money. He did have decent freezer space in his full-sized fridge.

                        Right away he made a large pot of meat sauce, a pot of red beans, and froze individual portions.

                        We've talked to him a few times since, and he's doing pretty well. He told me that he'd recently bought a whole bag of potatoes and that he'd made a big batch of scalloped potatoes with cheddar cheese and onions and frozen several portions. And he's made a dish of lasagne and invited his neighbors over--and still had a couple meals leftover for himself. His food budget is probably less than $100 a month, but he feels he's eating very well though I don't think he eats a lot of fresh vegetables.

                        1. If you are planning this on a starvation budget I don't understand why you would buy a rotisserie chicken when a raw chicken, even a much bigger one, can be had for half the money. Rule of thumb is that when somebody else cooks something for you, you're paying him or her to do it.

                          1. $20 a person?
                            Sure, honey, it's easy.
                            Two out of three meals a day will be rice & butter (jheera rice, or flavor as you will). Each of those meals is maximum 25 cents apiece (fifty if you spring for better rice).
                            $14 for 7 meals makes it pretty easy. I can run pizzas (made FRESH) on less than a buck per person (go light on the cheese and buy industrial sized tomatoes). So now you're at 7 dollars. Pepperoni, mushrooms, name your topping.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Chowrin

                              I actually own a rotisserie so I would buy it uncooked and cook it myself and I love rotisserie chicken.

                            2. When I was in uni, having $20 a week to spend on food was a pipe dream.

                              Spaghetti, peanut butter sandwiches, instant breakfasts (malt-o-meal), non-name brand cereals, mac & cheese, and whole fryer chickens (when they went on sale for 19 cents a pound - this was in the 90's) were pretty much the only things I could ever buy.

                              1. It can be done. A lot of people do it every day because they have to. While a lot of people can do it as a mental exercise for a week, or even a month or longer, usually it is because, like you, they have items stocked up to "cheat" the budgeting process. Alternatively, they have extra body fat and muscle for their body to burn to make up for their version of an unbalanced starvation diet, combined with the knowledge that the privation will end at a specific point in time.

                                To do it indefinitely requires a much more significant lifestyle change than just tossing up menu or two. In a more urban area in the U.S., you have to change, where you shop, how you shop, when you shop, what you buy and how you pay - it all changes. Clipping coupons. Getting discounts on dented cans, mystery cans with no labels, boxed goods torn outer packaging but intact inner packaging, slightly overdate products, overdate dairy, overdate eggs, wilting and "ugly" produce... Haggling at the end of the day at the farmers market for the items that have not been sold (and will not be sold because they are closing) that will not last to the next market day. Buying staples in bulk cheaper than Costcos/Sams club (eg buying a 5 gallon drum of oil, or 50lb bag of rice/flour or other grain products from the local takeout place). Cooking more things from scratch (depending on cost of cooking fuel). Less meats in general (and what you do get is both of the less desirable cuts, and cuts that the butcher has not been able to move so is willing to discount). Going to a food bank if available. Going to soup kitchens.

                                $20.00 a week isn't a dietary choice or just savvy menu creation, it is a lifestyle.

                                21 Replies
                                1. re: khuzdul

                                  You can do it on Costco pricing, at least in my area. Flour at something like 25 cents a pound (maybe less), ditto with sugar. Cheese at $2.20 a pound, beef at $2.70/lb, or hotdogs at $2.10/lb.

                                  Humph. come to think of it, $20 a week is MORE than my budget.

                                  1. re: khuzdul

                                    I wonder if most people who NEED to eat off of $20 per week could really afford not only to make bulk purchases, but also to safely store their bulk purchases? Based on my experiences spending time in the homes of people living in relative poverty a fifty-pound bag of flour would likely attract pests and/or go rancid before one would get their money's worth.

                                    1. re: Jetgirly

                                      A 50 lb bag of flour is an extreme example, though. Few people use enough to justify that, and the OP is cooking for one. One person who uses rice, however, can save by buying five or ten-lb bags instead of the one-lb supermarket packages.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        But that was the specific example in the post I was replying to.

                                        1. re: Jetgirly

                                          Buying a 50lb bag of rice from a local friendly restaurant, storing it in buckets and using it over an extended period may be an extreme example to some, it is done. I mentioned those specific examples because at a point in time when I was very young, my family did exactly that, as well as some other things like trading parts portions of said bulk items for blocks of gubment cheese and butter (that will date me!)

                                          In a proper container, you still do get some rice weevils or small beetles which are easily washed out (they float!), but no larger pests like mice and/or rats. As for going rancid, while brown rice may go rancid in a couple of years (usually a year or less though), white rice with the bran removed can last for many years if stored properly.

                                          A 50lb bag of rice is about 125 cups of rice. At 1/4 cups per serving, two servings a day, a 50lb bag lasts a single person 250 days, well within the shelf life of a 50 lb bag. This is less than the daily serving than in "traditional" for rice stable eating societies such as in Japan where wealth used to be measured in koku of rice, 1 koku was defined by the amount of rice needed to feed one person a year, and was about 330 lbs, or a little less than one lb of rice a day. Around 1900, a new "small" koku was defined which was a little less than 50 lbs of rice, which one can interpret however they would like...

                                          If your cash flow is restricted to $20 a week, blowing it all on rice and eating nothing but rice for one week to have "free" calories for the next seven months would not to me be an unreasonable option and goes in line with the long term $20 a week being a defining restriction on a persons entire way of life rather than a simple menu selection. Coming to the end of your budget period and money is out... what's for dinner? A big bowl of rice and whatever comes out of that mystery can in the cupboard. Beans? Corn? Vegetables? Fruit Cocktail? Who knows!

                                            1. re: GH1618

                                              Sorry, my bad. I was addressing a conglomeration of posts and reverted to rice as that is what I have the most direct knowledge on. I was speaking of a ~$20 a week budget indefinitely due to necessity and not choice. Going bulk for one person for just one week of a $20 budget as per the OP is ludicrous.

                                              I can't speak to a 50lb bag of flour directly as that is not what my folks did. I did have some friends who's folks made a ton of fresh tortillas daily. I don't know how much flour they went through, and as a kid I did not really care. However, based on what I know now where the basic starch (in whatever form they eat) can account for up north of half the calorie consumption of many people, I don't doubt that they can go through 50lbs of flour (or any basic starch/grain product) before it goes rancid. White all purpose flour can last more than a year properly stored without refrigeration, shorter for whole wheat flour. Bugs that appear in stored flour sieve out really easily from flour (childhood experience of smaller than 50lb bags).

                                              Not every person or family on a very low food budget would go the route of buying in extreme bulk, but I do know from direct experience that at least some will. I'd also be back up personal anecdote with a broader projection by pointing out that Costco, Sams Club and Walmart would not stock 25lb and 50lb bags of rice, flour, dried beans, etc. (or have it available for special order) if no one bought it. While not all of the retail locations have it, and I'd be willing to bet (though I have no data to back this up) is that the locations that do regularly carry them are in less affluent communities (correlation != causation though! Less affluent communities are also more likely to have small eateries who do not have contracts with large commercial foodservice distributors, so it may be that it is mostly small eateries who purchase these sized products and not individuals which would make me loose the bet).

                                            2. re: khuzdul

                                              I don't have to do the $20 a week budget, but I've been wanting to save money. Currently I spend $800-$1200 a month on food (eating out, and groceries). So, this is an experiment of what I can possibly do + other motives.

                                              When I shop at Costco, I usually split what I buy with a friend or 3. Often times I don't need that much but it is still cheaper buying it in bulk and then splitting. I also prep since I live San Francisco, CA and you never know when we might have an earthquake. I lived through Katrina and I know how difficult it can be after a disaster.

                                              I could probably live for 6 + months on what I have stocked if I planned wisely. I do buy 25lb of rice instead of the small ones because it makes more sense. Additionally, I am allergic to a lot of stuff so I make almost everything I eat from scratch (breads, noodles, soups, etc...)

                                              There are ways I can save on butter by making me own but it is much cheaper to buy things like sour cream and cottage cheese. Also knowing what your substituting is important. I hope at the end of this experiment. I am able to come up with something that will be do-able for my little brother who is struggling to make it on his own, and is an excellent cook but horrible with his money. Him and I have the same taste so I figured I can do the experimentation and figure out what works and what doesn't. The money I waste or don't waste won't affect me like it will him. I live in Cali he lives in Ms so I know his dollar goes a lot further than mine. Here milk alone cost $5.00 a gallon (unless u buy it from costco or when its on sale at safeway).

                                              I think if I make this work it will be important to have at the very least an herb garden. I also know where a lot of discount grocery stores are and that might come in hand too... but again I am more of cooking from scratch kind of gal. Just look at my kitchen and u can tell!

                                              I look to meat for my source of protein because its more filling to me, and I my doctor wants me to keep it my diet so for medical reasons I will. It isn't hard to find meat on sale. So now after all of this thought there are still a few questions that remain.

                                              Should I just spend the $80.00 at once (the beginning of the month) or spread it out over the 4 - weeks and buy a little at time.

                                              Then there is a question - What if I find an awesome sale and already spent my budget? Normally I stock up ...

                                              Thanks for all of the ideals I am going to work on some recipes now.

                                              1. re: sarahgw

                                                I think this is a fun post, and a reminder that I take for granted the money we spend on food each month. I always plan on being more frugal and less wasteful "soon", but never seem to get around to being more disciplined. Too much gets tossed when it could be reused in another dish. It's good for the budget, and for the planet, to be less wasteful.

                                                1. re: sarahgw

                                                  if you've got the freezer space, buy when it's on sale, and take it out of next month's budget.
                                                  costco's great for carrots and things that don't go bad. I go once a month, or less...

                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                    @chowrin wouldn't that defeat the purpose of budget? If a person were to do this they would have to use the mindset that they can never go over 20 week or 80 month... a person can only afford this wouldn't be able to have extra to spend. Unless they kept it out the first month lets say they only spent 60 so the next month they could spend 100..Which would only advantageous to do if they could plan accordingly.

                                                    I think if you were just starting, or starting over, or not working or work ever the case maybe than that would be very very difficult to do. Unless you really enjoyed ramen noodles or got creative.

                                                    1. re: sarahgw

                                                      a budget is not living hand to mouth, at least not in my case. having a bit of green for rainy days is a good idea anyhow.

                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                        @chowrin - I personally, don't live hand to mouth. Normally I spend 800 to 1200 on grocery's and its not unheard of for me to spend more than 500 eating out on a regular basis. However, once I am done with this I hope I can help my brother who sometimes has to borrow money to pay his rent.... and for him I know he wouldn't have any extra. Unless he is borrowing from me... so I think I am keeping that at the back of my mind.

                                                      2. re: sarahgw

                                                        Rice is cheaper than ramen, at least at costco. butter and rice make a fine meal (particularly spiced with cumin). Cheap too, .25cents max per meal.

                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                          Depends when your buying the ramen from. Asian markets it is cheaper than rice... costco not so much. I am not a huge rice fan which is why I said ramen. Plus with ramen, I make singapore rice noodles, stirfy, soup, and i like it dry too.

                                                          1. re: sarahgw

                                                            .50 a pack for decent ramen at asian markets, at least in my area. ymmv.

                                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                                              If you don't care at all about nutrition or quality and get the newspaper or want to dumpster dive, it's pretty easy to get dehydrated packaged noodles free if you combine coupons and a sale. Not very chowish, though. I might actually choose to eat Asian grocery ramen.

                                                        2. re: sarahgw

                                                          no different than buying for the month vs the week

                                                      3. re: sarahgw

                                                        The stricter the budget, the smaller the time horizon to recoup the cost of any purchase (he needs to buy goods so that he can eat his calories that week, not a few weeks down the line). In your brother's situation, if a sale convinces you to buy something that you were not planning on buying immediately, or if it convinces you to buy something that is not a direct substitute for something you were already buying at that time, then it is not a savings. It is a luxury. No matter how great a sale it is.

                                                        Personally, if you had a $20 a week to budget with or $80 a month, in the budget set aside 5% to 10% as unallocated - either for savings for the future or to cover unexpected expenses. Over the course of a few weeks or months, then he may be able to indulge in unexpected sales as his time horizon to realize the returns grows as what he spends on those sale items does not need to be eaten that week. Also as he grows his pantry of he increases his time horizon for food even more. My parents didn't blow the entire weeks budget that was actually that weeks budget - they saved and smoothed the cost of the purchases over a few weeks. Then, if something unexpected financially came up, we still had dry goods/staples to fall back on (like what my others say they can do using their pantry.)

                                                2. re: Jetgirly

                                                  Depends on which poor. Plenty of poor WV farmers shop at my costco. They don't seem to have much problem keeping vermin out. City poor got a rough deal, but if you store things in glass, you're pretty good. (my flour goes into ziplocs... so far no gnaw).
                                                  Also, rancid isn't inedible.

                                                  1. re: Jetgirly

                                                    That's a good point about people who NEED this budget. When we had a home nurse visiting after our )now-6-y.o.) baby came home from NICU, she had what seemed a ridiculous checklist of what we could provide in our home ... heating, refrigeration, a cooking source. She said she has been in lots of homes without these basic things. It's easy to forget that people do have to live like this when we don't (it's easy for me to forget, anyway).

                                                    I do buy large bags of flour, but I store them divided into freezer bags in my chest freezer. Someone with access to a large freezer could store a lot of the bulk items without issue, but you're right that people with very low incomes probably would not. And it does cost a lot up front to purchase this way.

                                                3. I'm in Canada where food is a lot more expensive. Under normal circumstances I could easily just use $20 to buy a few fresh things and eat for a week. I've usually got stuff on hand like frozen vegetables, frozen bread for toasting, frozen fruit, fresh apples, whole grains, canned beans and eggs. And of course I've got lots of condiments. The $20 would have to go mostly towards fresh produce and any other dairy I needed.

                                                  If I was starting from scratch and didn't have stuff on hand I don't think it would be possible to meet my basic nutritional needs on $20 for a week.

                                                  After hitting post I realized that I could probably do a lot better on $80 a month. I'd be able to take advantage of more volume-based discounts and get some "essentials" that I could use across meals and recipes.

                                                  1. I think it would be hard. Unless I had an unlimited gas budget and could drive around to different stores, I would have a lot of trouble meeting my nutritional needs. I definitely wouldn't be able to buy quality. I would probably focus on protein, especially assuming a well-stocked pantry. Store brand eggs are about $1 a dozen, and I expect I'd go through 2-3 a week. Most vegetarian meals don't fill me up, but beans and eggs together do. I'd certainly slow cook chicken parts and hunks of beef or pork and chill to separate stock from fat. Animal fat is great for sautéing, frying, and even putting in pie crust for a pot pie. Fresh tortillas or rolls would go well as an acompaniment, and day-old tortillas are good fried into hard shells or fried or baked into chips. I might try to have one splurge item per week, like BBQ sauce for pork or mayo or sour cream for chicken, to make chicken salad. I think some refrigerator pickles of different vegetables would go a long way to adding variety. I'd have to get some sort of fruit. Most things would really just depend on the sales and coupons that week. Meatballs would work- ground beef goes on sale a lot- and then you've got sandwiches for lunch.

                                                    1. Ok, here's your shopping list and meal plan for the week, lol.  These are all current prices for this week in Southern California.  In my town, this list requires 4 stops: the Mexican supermarket, the Persian supermarket, the regular gringo market & the farmers market.  Total time investment about 90 minutes, including drive time.  Yes, I have gone over budget by $4.75, but I will leave your freezer stocked with 1 portion of chicken leg ragu, 1/2 pound of pasta, 21 matzo balls and 2 packets of yogurt starter, so you owe me anyway.  I am assuming stashes of spices, oil, flour, sugar,mayo, butter, soy sauce, mirin (ok, mirin is a stretch, I admit), salsa, and pickled jalepenos.

                                                      Shopping List Total $24.75
                                                      Fruit $3.75
                                                      Pineapple $1.50- 4 servings
                                                      Grapes 1 pound $1- 4 servings
                                                      Cantaloupe, one, $0.50- 4 servings
                                                      Bananas 2- $0.25/pound ~ $0.75

                                                      Vegetables $6
                                                      Tomatoes from garden
                                                      Garlic, 1 head $0.25
                                                      Lettuce 1 head $1
                                                      Cucumber, 1 $0.50
                                                      Onions 1 pound $0.20
                                                      Carrots 12 oz, $0.25
                                                      Celery $0.80
                                                      Cabeza de Castillo (Winter Squash) $1 for a 5 pound chunk
                                                      Cabbage $1 for a 4 pound head
                                                      Green beans, frozen, 1 bag $1
                                                      Cilantro from garden
                                                      Dill from garden 
                                                      Basil from garden

                                                      Meat/protein $12
                                                      Chicken, $0.79/lb, one whole, $3.50
                                                      Eggs 1 dozen $1.50
                                                      Pinto beans 1 pound $0.5
                                                      Milk 1/2 gallon $1.75
                                                      Yogurt, 1 small carton (to use as starter)- $0.75
                                                      Cheddar cheese 1 pound $3.50

                                                      Bread $2
                                                      Home baked 2 loaves, $0
                                                      Tortillas corn 1/4 pkg $0.50
                                                      Matzo, 1/2 box $1.50

                                                      Grocery $1
                                                      Canned tomato sauce, 8 oz $0.40
                                                      Beer for bread $0.60

                                                      Cooking Game Plan:
                                                      Sat: Butcher chicken to yield one whole breast, 2 skinless legs, 2 boneless thighs with skin, 4 wing portions with tips removed.  Put the chicken back in saucepan with wing tips, giblets (except liver, reserve and freeze that), thigh bones and skin from legs.  Add 1/2 an onion, 1/2 carrot, 1/2 stalk celery, 1 bay leaf, and 5 or 6 peppercorns.  Make stock, chilling and reserve chicken fat. Pick meat from carcass to yield about 3 ounces.  You should get about 3-4 cups of stock.
                                                      Make 1 pound of fresh pasta (using flour, salt, 2 eggs & olive oil) and divide into 4 portions.
                                                      In the evening, start bread dough.  
                                                      Use milk plus the a few tablespoons of yogurt as a starter to make about 1.5 quarts Greek (strained) yogurt over night.  When you strain yogurt to make Greek yogurt, reserve whey & freeze for bread baking.  Freeze reaming yogurt in 3 tablespoon portions to use as future yogurt starter.
                                                      Sun: In morning, bake bread.  Cook pinto beans with charred onion and ground toasted anise seed, adding salt when skins are softened.

                                                      Sun breakfast- 2 egg cheddar omelette with 2 slices toast, butter, and 1/2 cantaloupe
                                                      After breakfast- Make up 27 matzo balls using 1/2 box matzo, 4 eggs, your reserved chicken fat.  
                                                      Sun lunch- matzo ball soup using 1.5 cups stock, 3 matzo balls, 1/2 a carrot and some dill.  Make yourself a salad.
                                                      Sun dinner- Roast chicken breast, eat 1/2.  Roast squash with butter and brown sugar.  Cole slaw.  Make chicken salad from the leftover chicken breast meat.
                                                      Mon breakfast- Yogurt, 1/4 pineapple, one slice toast with butter
                                                      Monday lunch- chicken salad, 2 slices bread with butter, grapes
                                                      Monday dinner- Make enchilada sauce from tomato sauce, onions, cumin, chili powder.  Make 4-6 chicken and cheddar enchiladas, using the reserved carcass meat, cheddar, cilantro, and pickled jalapeños if you have any.  Serve with cooked pinto beans and Mexican pickled cabbage (made from cabbage, carrot, onion, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, olive oil, and ground chile pequin).
                                                      Tuesday breakfast- Yogurt, toast with butter, 1/2 cantaloupe
                                                      Tuesday lunch- Chicken salad, 2 slices bread with butter, banana
                                                      Tuesday dinner- Pasta with tomato sauce and fresh basil, salad, garlic bread
                                                      Wednesday breakfast- 1 poached egg on toast, 1/4 pineapple
                                                      Wednesday lunch- leftover enchiladas, pintos, Mexican pickled cabbage, grapes
                                                      Wednesday dinner- Broiled chicken thighs with homemade teriyaki sauce, rice, green beans
                                                      Thursday breakfast- Yogurt with 1/4 pineapple, one slice toast with butter
                                                      Thursday lunch- Pinto beans with rice, topped with cubed roasted squash, cilantro  and pickled cabbage, grapes
                                                      Thursday dinner- Grilled cheese sandwiches, matzo ball soup and salad
                                                      Friday breakfast- breakfast tacos using 1 egg, cheddar, pintos, 1 banana
                                                      Friday lunch- Squash and pinto bean tostadas, salad, grapes
                                                      Friday dinner- Cheese omelette, toast, green beans
                                                      Sat breakfast- yogurt with 1/4 pineapple, one slice toast with butter
                                                      Sat lunch- grilled chicken wings, cole slaw, squash
                                                      Sat- Chicken leg & roasted tomato ragu (using chicken legs, livers, onion, carrot, garlic, celery, and some of your homemade tomato sauce), garlic bread.  You will have one portion left over.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: heathpack

                                                        Oh, I love heath. Luckily for me I have almost all of the stores you mentioned here!! I might have to try this and see how it works. Lots off good suggestions.

                                                        1. re: sarahgw

                                                          I forgot that you also need a bottle of red wine for the ragu, but heck you live in California so surely you have one lying around the house.

                                                          I hate food waste, so more out of discipline than necessity I recently implemented a food budget in our household of $400/mo for 2 people, not including paper products and dish soap and things like that. It's pretty hard to do, but we eat well. Some items we get are expensive (cage free eggs, organic butter, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, real Parmesan at $22/lb) and we buy some commercial products like soda, cereal, ketchup. But most things I make at home- bread, pasta, yogurt, and of course entree type items. I like the challenge of making something from nothing.


                                                        2. re: heathpack

                                                          Week 2 Shopping List. Ok, I went over by $3.45, but this week we are building some stores (see end of post). Eventually we should be able to make up for our overages. This list is again based on actual prices in So Cal this week, you have to make 4 stops, but one is just to get onions at Mexican supermarket that pass daily when walking to the train station, lol.

                                                          Shopping List $23.45
                                                          Fruit $7 for 18 servings
                                                          Apples $0.79/pound, buy 7- $3
                                                          Kiwi 7 for $1, buy 14- $2
                                                          Pineapple $2 each, buy 1- $2

                                                          Vegetables $4.60, enough for 14 servings (6-8 salads, 3-4 servings carrots,  3-4 servings squash), plus 2 cups caramelized onions, plus 200 gnocchi
                                                          Carrots $0.25/pound, buy 1 pound $0.25
                                                          Onions $0.17/pound, buy 5 pounds $0.85
                                                          Romaine Lettuce 3 for $1, buy 3 $1
                                                          Cucumber buy 1- $0.50
                                                          Tomatoes $1/pound, buy 2 pounds $2
                                                          Winter squash- $1 for a 5 pound hunk
                                                          Russet potatoes- $1 for 10 pound sack, buy one sack- $1

                                                          Protein/dairy $10 enough for 6-8 cups beef stock to yield 4 serving French onion soup, plus enough meat for 4 shepherds pies, 2 servings lentils and rice.
                                                          Beef neck bones $1.50/pound- buy 3.5 pounds, $5.25
                                                          Milk $3/gal- buy 1 gallon, $3
                                                          Gruyere $8/pound- buy 3 ounces, $1.50
                                                          Lentils $0.50/pound- buy 1/2 pound, $0.25

                                                          Bread/grains $1.25
                                                          Homemade bread 2 loaves $0
                                                          1/8 pkg corn tortillas (leftover from last week)- $0.25
                                                          Steel cut oats $1/lb, buy 1 pound

                                                          Grocery $0.60
                                                          Beer for bread $0.60

                                                          Dishes to prepare:
                                                          Beef stock
                                                          Shepherds Pie
                                                          Caramelized onions
                                                          Lentils & Rice
                                                          French onion soup
                                                          Potato tacos
                                                          Mexican pickled cabbage
                                                          Bread- 2 loaves

                                                          Yogurt, fruit, toast x 4
                                                          Steel cut oats, fruit x 3

                                                          Lentils, rice, caramelized onions and fruit x 2
                                                          Shepherds pie, glazed carrots x 4
                                                          Pasta with chicken leg ragu and salad x 1

                                                          Gnocchi with tomato sauce or browned butter & sage, roasted squash x 3
                                                          French onion soup, salad x 2
                                                          Potato tacos, Mexican pickled cabbage x 2

                                                          Stores building for future
                                                          Milk- enough for next weeks yogurt
                                                          Pasta- still one serving (1/4 pound) left in freezer
                                                          Onion soup- 2 frozen portions
                                                          Gnocchi- about 150-180 left (15 ish portions)
                                                          Potatoes- 5 pounds
                                                          Bread- 1 loaf

                                                        3. I do this all the time although I have a well-stocked pantry. I also grow my own herbs and cook from scratch. I can easily fetch fresh veggies each week for under that budget. That is because I eat a whole foods vegan diet. Lots of beans, veggies and whole grains. When bought in bulk, I stock up. I shop at ethnic stores for cheaper produce and spices.

                                                          If you are looking for specific cheap recipes, let me know.


                                                          1. Not mentioned so far is meat from hunters.

                                                            We do own land and allow deer and turkey hunting. The guys who hunt will share venison with us (already butchered and frozen) as thanks for letting them hunt.

                                                            Even if you don't have the land, if you know hunters, often they need freezer space in fall for what they've recently taken and they do have year old hard frozen meat to give away. Subtle hints may work.

                                                            Likewise fishermen. (Really fresh caught trout from the river in front of our place is pretty good.)