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How to budget and still eat healthy

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,

I am really struggling with our grocery bills. I feel like I don't buy much, and now because of some other financial issue our grocery budget is down to 60 dollars a week for 3 people. 

I am sensitive to dairy and gluten. 

 

What do I eat? I don't even know what to get at the grocery store. Lately we have eaten a lot of potatoes and lentil soup. Last night we had pasta, but it made me sick since I can't eat wheat gluten. 

 

We shop mostly at TJ's and farmer's market...but things go fast, like fruits. 

 

Help!

post #2 of 40

We're lactose intolerant and on a tight food budget too. Some of the things I try to do to cut costs and get the most bang for our buck - 

 

- Dried beans and lentils instead of canned. 

- Bulk rice and pasta/noodles. 

- Frozen juice concentrates instead of bottled. 

- Stock up on meats during sales - chicken legs, ham and ground meat are cheapest and can stretch pretty far. 

- Use coupons whenever possible. 

- Bone in meat - save the bones in the freezer until you have enough to make your own stock (save your veggie trimmings for it too).

- Bacon fat - I save the bacon fat in a mason jar in the fridge when we fry bacon - not healthy to slather on everything, but a little goes a long way and you can use occasionally instead of butter or oil.

- Stay away from mixes - it's cheaper to bake up brownies from scratch instead buying a box, for example. 

- Bulk bulk olive and/or veggie oil. 

- For household goods - cut the paper towels and disposables if you use them, and go with cloth - that savings can be applied to your food budget. 

- Try to buy your household goods in bulk (toilet paper, dish soap, etc.) because the savings can be applied to the food budget. 

- Can/freeze/dry as much produce as you can from the farmers markets - ask for "seconds" - they're usually about 50% cheaper than the pristine produce sold at retail. 

- When you have a little extra money in the budget, stock up on a few things - in my opinion food in the pantry is more valuable than money in the bank. 

 

 

Meal ideas that stretch pretty far and are tasty - 

- Dry bean soups (15 Bean and Pasta e Fagioli are great - delicious without needing any meat, or can be flavored with a little pork rind or ham hock).

- The potato is versatile - scalloped potatoes and potato soup are some of our cheap favorites. 

- Crockpot dinners - a pork or beef roast can go a really long way. 

- Pasta salads - you can mix anything with pasta and a little salad dressing and it's going to taste good. Since you have a gluten allergy, you could try rice noodles? 

post #3 of 40

There are a lot of ideas over in the Frugality and Finances forum, but here are a few things off the top of my head:

-I base a lot of meals on cheap veggies that keep well, like carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage.

-You can compare prices to see what's the cheapest place to buy produce in your area. As sad as it is, I often find that it's cheaper to buy conventional produce at Safeway than it would be to buy the same stuff at the farmer's market. I love supporting local farmers, but there are times I just can't afford to do it, you know?

-You can plan your meals based on what's on sale. Grab a copy of the store's sale circular or check it out online, see what's on sale this week, and choose meals based on that.

-There are a lot of couponing/frugality blogs to help you find sales. I'm starting to save a lot of money by following Organic Deals and Coupons, for example.

 

Good luck!

post #4 of 40

Shop sales and always check the clearance rack.  Stock up and freeze extras.  Then plan your meals around what you have.   I'll search for recipes to use up a particular ingredient sometimes. 

 

I do fine shopping at a regular grocery and supplementing with our garden and farmers market. 

 

For coupons, I do best checking a couple of blog sites that match up coupons with my local ads.  I got almond and coconut milk once for 50c a half gallon after the sale and coupons once.  A lot of them are online, so you don't even have to deal with a Sunday paper. 

post #5 of 40

My best suggestion is meal planning for your week. It keeps you form buying extra spontaneous junk, or wasting produce and such. Also, TJs is really an expensive option. I know TJs is nice and has a good selection and whatnot, but with your budget so low maybe consider a larger chain store or even walmart (ugh, walmart)- you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes, and 60 dollars really is very tight for 3.

post #6 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by llwr View Post

Shop sales and always check the clearance rack.  Stock up and freeze extras.  Then plan your meals around what you have.   I'll search for recipes to use up a particular ingredient sometimes. 

 

I do fine shopping at a regular grocery and supplementing with our garden and farmers market. 

 

For coupons, I do best checking a couple of blog sites that match up coupons with my local ads.  I got almond and coconut milk once for 50c a half gallon after the sale and coupons once.  A lot of them are online, so you don't even have to deal with a Sunday paper. 


That.  Start slowly building a stock pile from the sales and then plan from what you have.  Right now is a good time to get stuff from people's gardens if you know of anyone, picking fruit from neighbor's trees, etc.  Really cheap or free and you can freeze or can it and use it later.
 

 

post #7 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by bodhitree View Post

 

-You can compare prices to see what's the cheapest place to buy produce in your area. As sad as it is, I often find that it's cheaper to buy conventional produce at Safeway than it would be to buy the same stuff at the farmer's market. I love supporting local farmers, but there are times I just can't afford to do it, you know?

 


DS picked up a part-time job at a farmer's market a few weeks ago. At the end of the day, the owner lets the workers take home some of the unsold produce, rather than pack it all up again. DS has also been volunteering at a Foods Not Bombs soup kitchen, so he's taken them bags of produce to use for feeding the hungry. Win-win all around, since a lot of the unsold stuff just goes into the compost. Anyway, you could try to negotiate to take some of the unsold or bruised fruits and veggies from a vendor if you are at the market late in the day.

 

 

 

post #8 of 40

As much as I would like to be able to shop at the farmer's market or smaller stores all the time, I just can't afford it. It sounds like this is one of those times for you. Stores have to build in the extra cost of nice lighting, layouts, displays, etc. That means higher prices. I love markets because the food is so good, it is local and I know that a fair price for the cost of the food is being charged - but when I am not sure how I am going to afford to get enough food into my family for the week I have to consider that more than anything else.

 

I do most of our shopping at a discount grocery store. It is not attractive, there are no specialty items and a the closest thing they have to a display is the tower of toilet paper or tinned tomatoes at the ends of the aisles. I bag my own groceries. The lighting isn't great and it has a different 'feel' than the other grocery stores in my area. The food is just as good - but I am not paying for that nice atmosphere or the extra overhead that comes with stores that are set up nicely and carry many unusual items that aren't on most people's weekly shopping list. Sure, it is more enjoyable to shop at a nicer store but it isn't like the food I bring home is of lesser quality so I buy 95% of our groceries at the discount store and use the extra savings to buy the special items at the nicer stores when I can afford it. 

 

I buy black beans and chick peas in bulk, cook them myself and freeze them for about 20% of what it costs to buy canned beans - and there isn't as much waste or salt involved. A couple of times a month I cook the beans and toss the bags into the freezer and pull one out instead of reaching for a can. When canned tomatoes go on sale, I buy a dozen cans - they keep just fine and I would rather not pay 50% more when they are not on sale. I buy flour, rice, sugar and pasta in bulk as well. It tastes exactly the same, it just doesn't come in pretty packages.

 

Can you use powdered milk for everything but drinking for any members of your family who do consume dairy? It is much less expensive than fresh and when you are using milk in cooking or baking there is no taste difference between powdered and fresh. 

 

Is your whole family gluten free? I am gluten free but the rest of my family is not. I always have homemade bread in the house for toast and sandwiches for hungry kids. A bag of flour and a jar of peanut butter will go a whole lot further than cheese and crackers when money is tight.

 

Fresh fruit is wonderful but expensive. Frozen fruit is just as nutritious (and sometimes more so because it is frozen right after harvest instead of being shipped long distances) so when things are really tight I am more likely to serve smoothies than fresh fruit. 

 

You don't mention if you are vegetarian or if your family eats meat. It is possible to be frugal with meat in your diet but you might need to make some changes in how you serve it. Pot roast, especially on sale, is much more affordable than roast beef. Instead of serving a whole chicken breast to each family member you can cook fewer of them, slice them and serve them from a platter. Chicken breast sometimes goes on sale and you can serve 5 people with 3 breasts that way - even more if you make a stir-fry or curry.

 

Buy things when they go on sale. Buy more than what you need for just this week - you will have extra in your pantry and freezer so that next week you can buy what is on sale then.

 

There are so many things you can buy from bulk stores. Instead of paying several dollars for a jar of spice I can buy the same thing for just a few cents. Right now I have about 3 months worth of toilet paper because it was deeply discounted recently. That made it possible to stock up my freezer with frozen fruit when it went on sale the following week.

 

You have to think differently when you are trying to be a frugal grocery shopper but it quickly becomes second nature.

 

 

post #9 of 40

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shantimama View Post

I buy black beans and chick peas in bulk, cook them myself and freeze them for about 20% of what it costs to buy canned beans - and there isn't as much waste or salt involved. A couple of times a month I cook the beans and toss the bags into the freezer and pull one out instead of reaching for a can. 


This is a really great idea! I'm going to start doing this too. We use a lot of white beans, kidneys and pintos at our house, so once a month I'm going to do up two big pots - one of white beans and another with the kidneys and pintos mixed together so they're ready to go for chili. So much better than having to worry about having enough time to presoak them before you even start cooking. 

post #10 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by kitchensqueen View Post

 


This is a really great idea! I'm going to start doing this too. We use a lot of white beans, kidneys and pintos at our house, so once a month I'm going to do up two big pots - one of white beans and another with the kidneys and pintos mixed together so they're ready to go for chili. So much better than having to worry about having enough time to presoak them before you even start cooking. 

 

We also buy beans in bulk, cook large quantities, and freeze them. It's super cheap. If you have a large slow cooker it gets even easier. winky.gif
 

 

post #11 of 40

Asian grocery stores for rice noodles, and non-glutinous flours (my local market has sticky rice flours for $1 a pound). Tofu at TJs, dry beans. Go to the farmer's market right at close - I got 10 pounds of apples today for $5 because they wanted to sell out and go home.

 

post #12 of 40

I had some more ideas.

 

You may want to check out your tribal area for help as well, since grocery deals tend to be regional.   Someone might be able to help you find a good grocery shopping blog for your area.  Also check into city garden plots if you don't have room for your own.  If you look, you can probably find cheap or free seeds or plant starts. 

 

Some of the cheapest foods at the grocery are very good for you -- dry beans, bananas, potatoes, onions....  If you're going cheap it will be factory food, but the convenience food is expensive and bad.  It may not be organic spelt, but it can still be basic healthy food.   Peanut butter and eggs are a couple more sources of cheap protein. 

 

Do you need menu help?  After buying the loss leader deals, you could stop back with your list of available ingredients. 

 

 

post #13 of 40
Quote:

Originally Posted by llwr View Post

 

If you look, you can probably find cheap or free seeds or plant starts. 

 


Shoot, we could do a seed exchange/giveaway here... I only have a container garden so I never use up a whole packet of seeds when I buy it. I have years worth of seeds that could go to a good home. :-) I hate to see them go to waste. 

 

Even if you're not a big gardener, you can still grow simple things to supplement your family's diet - greens and scallions for fresh salads and herbs are super easy. And you can grow those through the winter as well. And I think someone up thread mentioned growing sprouts, which is a nutritious, simple thing to do - you don't even need potting soil! 

 

ETA - I started a seed giveaway thread over in the Diggin in the Earth forum. I hope everyone joins in! 


Edited by kitchensqueen - 9/25/11 at 8:23pm
post #14 of 40

I have  shopped at TJ's just a few times and it is so tempting to buy all of the wonderful things they have there! Organic ingredients are wonderful when you can afford them but even if you can't, I think that buying regular staples is healthier than buying organic premade foods. I would rather my children have several servings of regular fresh produce every day than just one serving of organic fruit a day. While I would love to always feed them the very best versions of all foods, we just can't do that with our budget.

post #15 of 40

Shantimama, it's true Trader Joe's has  a lot of tempting packaged foods, but it is also the absolute cheapest place to get staples like brown rice noodles, nuts, canned beans and tomatoes, rice, almond and soy milk, tofu, tempeh, several different types of frozen vegetable, and certain fresh produce items.

post #16 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shantimama View Post

I buy black beans and chick peas in bulk, cook them myself and freeze them for about 20% of what it costs to buy canned beans - and there isn't as much waste or salt involved. A couple of times a month I cook the beans and toss the bags into the freezer and pull one out instead of reaching for a can.


I just got a pressure-canner. Haven't tried it out yet. I'm wondering if, after cooking the beans, they could be pressure-canned and how long they would be shelf-stable like that? Anyone know?

I got a pretty good pressure canner / pressure-cooker on sale and I'm really looking forward to jarring up things like broths, sauces (like spaghetti), stews and soups. I reckon that I'll be able to get things on sale in bulk, make a big batch of...whatever...and then pressure-can it. I also like that I won't be using the electricity to keep as many things frozen and that preparation won't involve defrosting. I hope it's as useful as I think it will be!
post #17 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by catnip View Post

Shantimama, it's true Trader Joe's has  a lot of tempting packaged foods, but it is also the absolute cheapest place to get staples like brown rice noodles, nuts, canned beans and tomatoes, rice, almond and soy milk, tofu, tempeh, several different types of frozen vegetable, and certain fresh produce items.



 

Good to know smile.gif I have only been to TJ's when I am visiting my in-laws just outside of Chicago. The prices there were quite a bit higher than what I pay for the same staples in my rural Ontario community.

post #18 of 40

this is a great thread..it's makign me feel better! our budget is  a bit higher, but food is also a bit more$ here in canada from a few threads i've seen on the topic. Still, Iam pregnant with numebr two and I feel so guilty because we can;t really afford all the organic stuff we did with dd, and I like these suggestions. Thank you.

post #19 of 40

Cheap dairy and gluten free:

all veggie soups (do you have an immersion blender for pureeing them into creamy soups?) - choose ones that are seasonal - so carrots, broc, potato, squash, etc.

chili, (veg or with a bit of ground) 

stews (again a bit of inexpensive meat can go a long way. )

veggie stir fry

rice and beans

lentils (try something like this)

dal

eggs: frittatas, omlets, breakfast for dinner

stuffed peppers

rice pilaf,

burritos/fahitas in corn tortillas

Spanakopita - use rice wrappers and skip the cheese

 

Think big-picture budget stretching meals. A small whole chicken for example might cost you $5-8 but you could make a roast one night with roasted potatoes and carrots, the second night use some of the chicken in a chicken fried rice dish and then make a soup from the stock, which you can probably get 2 meals out of. 

 

Can you do oatmeal because it is a great cheap option for breakfasts, granola etc?

 

Also start allocating a portion of your budget towards pantry building - even if it is just10%. We have gotten to a place now where 50% or more of our groc budget goes to stocking our pantry or our freezer and it makes a HUGE difference in our grocery bill. You may not be able to get to the same point but if you know you can stock up on chicken or rice or frozen fruit and veggies, oils - things you use regularly, that will help. 

 

Freeze (or can) what you can now. Where I live I can still get a half bushel of peppers for about $8 - which is about 20 peppers. You could stuff and freeze 3/4s of them for future meals and then chop and freeze the rest for use in soups or stir fries etc. You may still be able to get tomatoes to freeze or can as well.

 

Good luck!

Karen

post #20 of 40

My husband actually came up with this one tonight while making dinner. 

 

Usually making things from scratch is cheapest, but when we can find a good sale or have coupons, we do like the Zatarains prepared rice mixes, especially the Spanish rice. It's just nice to have on hand if we need a quick side dish that can be prepared with next to no effort. We even like it as a meat-free main dish when served with corn bread for lunch or a light dinner. But those mixes are often way to salty, and don't stretch very far - they're barely enough to afford two helpings for two people with never any leftovers for lunch. So my husband thought to cut the mix with plain white rice - I think he said he used about 3/4 of a cup. It was awesome! He just added the plain rice to the mix, and that made it stretch the extra bit we needed, as well as made the seasoning seem more balanced through the batch. 

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