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How do you feel a family of 4 frugally yet healthfully?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
In other threads, I have read of families who eat for $150 a month, $200 a month, $250 a month and I think...."What? How is that possible?" I assume they must not be eating very healthily. Are there veggies & fruit in that diet? Also, I'm not much of a cook and sometimes I feel like I've run out of inspiration to even think of what to make (or ask DH to make, since he cooks most of the time). I'm sure that we easily spend $800 a month on groceries, not including going out to eat and not including cleaning/paper products. We are not vegetarians though I would love us to be.

For your family, how much do you spend a month on food?

Can you give me a week of menus to give me an idea of how you eat, whether you get 5 servings of veggies & fruit per person a day, and just any of your best general tips as to how often you shop, where at, do you buy organic, etc.?

Thank you in advance!
post #2 of 19
Thread Starter 
Also, I wanted to add that I don't think that people ARE feeding their families poorly, just well and frugally (not wasting money the way we tend to do) and I really want to learn how they do it.
post #3 of 19
I actually think that it is more expensive to eat unhealthfully than healthfully. We spend about $200-250 to feed a family of four. We eat about 90% organic and 100% natural. We are vegetarians and we only eat whole foods. We eat our fruits of vegetables each day- often in excess of 5 a day. One of the things that helps us is buying in bulk. I don’t mean buying a small bag of something from the bulk bins, but buying 20+lbs. of something at a time. For example, we can get 25 lbs. of organic beans for $7.00. 25 lbs. of beans lasts a long time. We store the excess all over the house- under our bed, in our linen closet, in our garage. We make a lot of things that people buy- like bread, crackers, vegetable stock, yogurt, and some cheese. We do not buy food that comes in boxes or cans (except canned tomatoes and olives). For fresh food we eat seasonally, which is cheaper. During the summer we have been growing food to eat- in containers when we didn’t have a yard. Next year, I hope to grow enough to can some for winter. We grew kale during fall and will be able to harvest one last crop this week. I also buy large amounts of fresh foods that keep if they are on sale. For example: carrots, winter squash, potatoes, yams, apples, oranges, lemons, onions, garlic. Many foods are harvested only a couple weeks or months in the year and then kept in cold storage in a warehouse and parceled out to the grocery store. So if you buy a lot when it is cheap and just harvested you can store it your self and save money. Also, you can freeze or can something you get a super good deal on. One time I bought 20 pounds of bananas for $2. The store got too many and some were very ripe. So it took me about half an hour to peel and slice bananas and put them in 1 c. servings to use in smoothies and recipes. That ½ hour of work saved me about $18. We don’t have any special equipment, tons of time, or even a lot of space. You just have to get creative and it helps if you can be a nerd like me and get a little bit of a thrill out of saving money and doing things yourself.

A good idea is to check out a book called The Tightwad Gazette. It has lots of good tips.

You asked for a week of menus and this is what we are eating this week- Breakfasts are all about the same- everyone tends to have what they feel like eating- smoothies, toast and nut butter, granola, fruit, raisins, yogurt, oatmeal or cooked rice, etc. These are also things we tend to eat for snacks.
Sunday -L- Spanish tortilla (eggs and potatoes) and oranges. D- polenta with marinara sauce and beans, broccoli. Monday: L- toaster oven pizzas (bread, sauce, cheese) with veggie sticks. D- pumpkin soup, crackers, and salad. Tuesday: L- polenta leftovers from Sunday, oranges. D- veggie fried rice and miso soup. Wednesday: L- fried rice left overs, oranges. D- Ate at church for solstice celebration (we brought a big pot of tomato soup). Thursday: L- Butternut and apple soup (from our freezer) and bread. D- Tostadas with sautéed veggies and lettuce. Friday: L- baked potatoes stuffed with beans and veggies leftover from dinner. D- beans and rice with greens. Saturday (probable): L- beans and rice leftovers or butternut and apple soup leftovers. D- Vegan lasagna (we are taking to my parents for xmas eve).
post #4 of 19
(I just placed a hold on the tightwad gazette because I have heard so many recommend it)
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by newcastlemama
(I just placed a hold on the tightwad gazette because I have heard so many recommend it)
Used copies are available from $0.23 on Amazon.com!! I've put a copy into my shopping cart and I'll actually purchase it later on (want to see what other great deals I can find)
post #6 of 19
Am I looking at the wrong Tightwad Gazette? I only see used copies from $12.39.
Amazon listing

I can swing 23 cents, not $12 though.
post #7 of 19
I'd say we spend a total of $175 on groceries, I spend abuot $25 on all the other house hold stuff like laundry, cat food, litter, tp, toiletries,ect. But one of our kids is an infant and doesn't eat anything yet.

I do buy produce (25cent a lb bananas, 75 cent lb apples ect) Veggies are pretty cheap, like carrots for example are cheap and make great snacks. We always have a veggie with dinner, usually canned though (green beans, corn, spinach ect.) or a frozen bag of veggies for stir fry. Fruit smoothies (I get 1lb bag frozen straberreis for $1) DS usually has oatmeal with raisins or fruit in the morning.

I admit, we do have our Mac n cheese nights, we do have top raman on occasion, tuna helper, but for the most part we eat pretty healthy and from scratch. I buy ground turkey for $1.59 for 7% fat instead of beef that costs twice that much. I buy frozen boneless chicken breast instead of steaks or paying for the bone.

I can make a weeks worth of lunches by cooking a big batch of black bean soup for about $3. Getting WIC is a big help because we get free juice, milk, eggs, oatmeal, tuna, cheese, beans, peanut butter, carrots.

I don't really buy any junk food and when something that I use often goes on sale, I do stock up on it. I don't buy organic anything, but when we move into our house I will be growing my own veggies.

BTW. a serving of fruit or veggies isn't really that big.
post #8 of 19
i need to eat more beans. i don't really like them but they are definately cheap and easy to use.
we spend like 400 a month if we don't go out to eat. of course I have taken advantage of some great sales and though I put out more money this month, it will save me in the long run.
we eat mostly organic or all natural when we can the items we need in an organic variety. i use my bread maker and it helps with bread costs and other goodies. I do make alot of foods from scratch and we have a garden with tomatos, green beans, squash and peppers. I would like to cut the bill down to like 300 for the month. will have to work on that
post #9 of 19
We are a family of 3 1/2-4 (DD is 16 months and eats some table food, but a lot of breastmilk) and spend between $250 and $300 a month on groceries.

We do eat healthily, IMHO.

We have fresh fruit in the house at all times and eat veggies with every meal and often with snacks. We eat whole grains and only meats without antibiotics and artificial hormones.

Our key is to cook from scratch, not buy prepared foods when an alternative is available, buy the least processed foods we can, and eat what's in season. We also planted a large garden last year and that has provided us with some root veggies (carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic) that will carry us into the winter a bit.

We've been buying our meat from a local farmer and just bought a whole hog (hanging weight 140 pounds) for $341. The hog was pasture fed. That meat will last for quite a long time with our family. We bought organic chickens earlier in the year from another farmer for $6.50 each (average weight 7-8 lbs each).

DH is a hunter and will often harvest a deer each year as well.

post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by amydidit
Am I looking at the wrong Tightwad Gazette? I only see used copies from $12.39.
Amazon listing

I can swing 23 cents, not $12 though.
Okay, so there seem to be a number of versions of the Tightwad Gazette but this is one that I looked up. The first one is the one I first put in my cart, but now there are some sort of problems with that one. The third one listed seems to be working, still at .23 per.


Does anyone have suggestions as to which version is best? There's #2, #3 and more variations. Any/all?
post #11 of 19
Beans and rice as your basics (can be bought in bulk for CHEAP) and fruits and veggies. Meat is the biggest chunk of change.
post #12 of 19
The Tightwad Gazette may be in your local library; I know it's in mine.

I hate to cook; my kids are teens and they have their likes and dislikes. We spend about $240-$300 a month and we eat meat.

I've tried bulk buying and stocking up on sales and all I got was a family who didn't want to eat the same ingredients all the time and lots of leftover bulk food. I also don't want to eat old food, nor do I want $200 tied up in food. I just don't want to have to work that hard to feed myself. Simple food is good enough.

Lunches are either leftovers or sandwiches so I always keep some good bread and deli in the house. Breakfast is not big at my house but I always keep bagels and ceral on hand. I don't buy chips much and I make 5 dozen cookies or 24 muffins out of one box of cake mix -$1 each on sale. I also buy brownie mix for $1 on sale and make 6 dozen mini-muffin sized brownie bites. That's 3-4 days of sweets for $1. I simply can't do better than that baking from scratch.

What I don't spend on is products I don't need. The only paper product I buy is toilet paper - 12 rolls of 1000 sheets for $5.49 on sale. I can buy unscented laundry liquid 100 oz. for $2.49 at the discount store next door to the grocery. I do 3-4 medium loads a week and it lasts 3 months. The only other cleaning products in my home are dishwashing liquid (diluted with water), Bon Ami, and bleach. This spending allows us to purchase "health-food" brands of toothpaste, deoderant and shampoo which we like and which are more expensive than bargain brand and still I buy them only on sale.

Basically, we found that if we just buy food: cheese, meat, bread, fruit, vegetables, we always have fresh, healthy food. Diversity comes from the particular foods (kale and leeks are very different from broccoli and carrots) rather than the recipe. Simple food simply prepared is the least expensive way to eat. Cooking beans or roasts and pies, etc. for hours also has a cost in electricity or gas. It's a throwback to pioneer days and since our modern food isn't hanging from the attic rafters or in canning jars in the pantry, I see no reason not to eat in-season fresh food every day.
post #13 of 19
I found the sample menus on the site below--Slow Food for Low and Moderate Income People--to be very inspiring:


DH and I spend about $500 to $600 per month on food--groceries and dining out combined. We could do a little better if we bought fewer convenience foods and planned meals more carefully. We bake bread from scratch (sort of, we use a bread machine) and it's much cheaper than the artisan bread that is available locally. I expect that our food expenses will go down when we our first baby arrives in April. We won't be able to go out to eat as easily, and I'll have more time to cook more food from scratch when I'm at home with the baby than now when I'm working full-time--or will I?
Best wishes!

post #14 of 19
First of all we have a freezer. I buy more than I need at the time of things on sale and then freeze them.
We eat mostly salad and frozen veggies. I know frozen aren't as healthy but they are the most frugal choice for us while retaining the most nutrients.

I mostly make my own bread but sometimes bread goes on sale cheaper than I can make it so I stock up. Same thing with canned goods. I make my own potato soup but sometimes the really tasty canned variety is on sale so I do that instead.

more later, ds needs me
post #15 of 19
There are four of us and we eat for about $250 per month. We have good eating habits though I am sure we could do better .

Our biggest expenses are soy/rice cheese and soy/rice yogurt and coffee. We buy some items in bulk (brown rice) but my main approach is building meals around cheap healthful ingredients. Our staples are bananas, sweet potatoes, apples, dried beans, grapes, onions, leeks, cabbage, canned tomatoes, carrots, oatmeal, eggs, rice, and pasta. We eat soup several times a week in colder weather which really drives our costs down. We do eat some meat, but it is infrequent (maybe once a week) and I usually use it as an ingredient rather than as the focus of the meal (for instance, I am making about a gallon of leek & butter bean soup right now with one leftover slice of Christmas diced up for a meaty flavor)

I have also tried to keep my kids tastes in treats low budget --- so we have stovetop popcorn, raisins, homemade fruitpops, mandarin oranges, peanuts, graham crackers, etc. as snacks.

HTH - Have found everyone's responses interesting & helpful!

Barney & Ben
post #16 of 19
Well, I can't exactly say how much we spend per month because it varies, but for a family of 3 ...me, dh, and our daughter who doesn't really count because she isn't on solids much yet --- we do it VERY frugally because my husband is a full-time student and teaches music so you do the math

We are strict vegetarians, nearly vegan, but we do occasionally eat eggs from a local woman who has her own hens, treats them very well (they even have names!) no hormones, etc...totally organic for $2 a dozen...egg dishes can be very good and also nutritious...I make quiche with spinach (packed with vitamins) and vegan cheese, I make the crust homemade which cuts down on costs...usually we will have some leftover and will eat it for breakfast too... or omlettes for dinner, or frittatas...

Sometimes we will have asian dishes like brown *fried* (I don't really fry it but it tastes great) rice (brown rice has LOTS of nutrients and is really cheap when bought in bulk, long cooking) tossed with broccoli, mushrooms, and egg...

We have black bean burritos (lots of protein) with veggies on whole wheat burritos...super cheap meal, easy to make, nutritious...

chili is cheap to make and you don't miss the meat at all.. I make mine with different beans, brown rice, tomatoes, vegan cheese, spices...you get the idea... I can make a whole pot full and it lasts for days....or I will freeze some for meals later in the week or next week so it doesn't feel like we are eating chili every day for 5 days

Pasta is good too if you get whole wheat or even this new stuff they have I believe it is barilla in a yellow box...it is fortified with flax and egg whites I believe...it has a lot of omega-3s and protein from natural sources.. it is more expensive than regular pasta but it has a lot more nutritional value... that, tossed with marinara and some veggies makes a great meal...

I also make our own pizza dough (suprisingly easy!) we have pizza nights which are fun and a lot cheaper than ordering out (healthier too)... okay, so the crust isn't as good as our favorite hometown pizzeria, but it is tasty anyway and sooo much cheaper...

Yogurt is super easy to make yourself too...all you need is milk (we use soy)and a little tub of plain yogurt with active cultures...the temp needs to be right though or it can turn out weird, but mine usually turns out really well... I put it in the stove all night at about 100 degrees (or as closely as possible)... then you can flavor it any way you like...

I second buying things seasonally when they are really cheap... most things freeze very well (fruits and veggies) if they are properly protected (several layers wrapped as tightly as possible and sealed in another container) and can last months and still retain most of their nutritional value..

I do a lot of baking and making things from scratch. I think that is one of the keys really... prepared and pre-packaged convenience food is SO ridiculously expensive compared to most homemade stuff... it really isn't that hard once you get into it... I don't do anything magnificant -- usually just quick breads, muffins, homemade granola, popcorn popped on the stove (like olden days lol)...pizza dough, baked sweet potato *chips*.... things to have on hand when me or my hubby are rooting for a snack ya know....

Another word on sweet potatoes...they are a power food too...very versitile and very nutritious and cheap... you can add them to most dishes that call for potatoes... of course they are a bit sweeter (hence the name lol) but I love them in stews, soups, I love them mashed with garlic and salt and all that and I think they are awesome!

I think the key to cutting down a grocery budget too, is buying fewer foods, but buying *power* foods in their place... like spinach for instance, it can be used in salad, soups, quiche, stirfry, omlettes....etc... and it is loaded with nutrition....those types of things...

Okay, so you may not want to eat spinach 5 days a week... but when something like that is incorporated into different dishes it doesn't feel like all you are eating is spinach know what I mean?

Same with brown rice, we can eat it 3, 4 times a week but when the recipes vary so much from chili, to asian stirfry, to a savory casserole...it doesn't feel like we are eating it a lot because it is incorporated into several different flavored dishes...

Anyway, sorry for the novel... I will post more if I think of it! Hope it helped!
post #17 of 19
We spend right around $200 a month for groceries, and we eat very healthfully. The biggest way we save money is by shopping around. I buy the bulk of my groceries at Meijer. I buy certain things at Trader Joe's. I buy bread (whole wheat) for 95 cents at a bakery outlet. I buy 2 pounds of cheese for $4.99 at a restaurant supply store. I buy the remainder of my groceries at Save a Lot. I buy bulk stuff at the farmer's market, which has a bulk-foods booth. I am able to hit all five stores (not the farmer's market, which I don't go to regularly) in about 2 1/2 hours. It's a pain in the ass getting the kids in and out of the carseats so much, but it saves us money!!

Sample week's dinner menu:

Whole wheat spaghetti with alfredo sauce, broccoli, homemade apple sauce

Black bean burritos (made with dried beans), whole wheat burrito wraps, corn (frozen), canned mandarin oranges (packed in pear juice)

Chickpea pasta soup (dried chickpeas, whole wheat pasta, also includes tomatoes), spinach, bananas

Brown rice and tofu with broccoli, canned pears (packed in pear juice)

We eat a lot of leftovers, so each of these meals would be eaten twice.

I basically have the menu plan set up so we have a bean meal, a pasta meal, a soup meal, and a mexican meal each week. Usually I make enough of each to have leftovers.

For lunch my dh takes a salad, a piece of fruit, carrots, and peanuts to work. The kids and I eat things like PB&J, grilled cheese, carrot sticks/celery stick with peanut butter, oatmeal, broiled tofu sticks, leftover soup, eggs, etc.

I serve a veggie and a fruit with each meal except breakfast (which is usually oatmeal with raisins and blackstrap molasses). The kids rarely drink juice but I don't buy snack foods, so their snacks generally consist of yogurt with jam or blackstrap molasses; toast with pb, honey, or jam; frozen veggies (peas, corn, lima beans); bananas, oranges, apples, pears, canned peaches or mandarin oranges; fresh veggies such as broccoli with plain yogurt dip or carrots with peanut butter/yogurt; peanuts or walnuts; plain chickpeas or hummus.

We are vegetarian, and our meal plan is not elaborate. We don't buy organic. For the most part I try to make sure that each meal has a protein source, a grain, a fruit, and a veggie.


Ps. I think it partially depends on where you live; food prices vary like crazy in different parts of the country. Also, I shop every two weeks for most of the shopping, with small weekly runs for more fresh fruits and veggies.
post #18 of 19
We switch between a bean dish night and a pasta dish night. Once a week or so we'll have something else, but it's amazing how many different yummy dishes can be made with those 2 staples
post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 
What great ideas, suggestions, menus, thoughts and input. Thank you very much to all the mamas for helping me out.
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