Friday, December 10, 2010

Great Meals on a Budget

Is it possible to feed a family of 4 on $300.00 a month?  (That is about $75.00 a person per month - so you can easily do the math for bigger families) Yes, it is possible! And you can even get some change back.

When money was excruciatingly tight a few years ago I fed 3 on no more than $100.00 a month. THAT was hard and the selection of food was rather mundane. We did a lot of spaghetti, rice and beans. If we bought beef it was hamburger and it was a treat. I would hope to not have to relive that.
I vividly remember neighbors with the same size families complaining about how they could not get out of the grocery without spending $100.00 (a week!!!!!). That $100.00 did not even include their McDonalds, Chick Filet and take out pizza.

Maybe you do not need to be ultra frugal to make ends meet. But cutting back is always helpful. The exercise of becoming AWARE of how that money can trickle away can be mind bending.
Think of it like this-- the money you save could go to those less fortunate. What a great family endeavor!

A good starting point -- nutrient-rich foods that pack a lot of bang for the buck -- RECIPES and meal ideas follow!  :-)

Leslie Bonci, a dietician at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center suggests these nutrient-rich foods that pack a lot of bang for the buck:

• Eggs: 99 cents per dozen, can be breakfast, lunch, dinner or hard-boiled for snacks.

• Canned beans, like kidneys or chick peas: 79 cents for a 16-ounce can. Bags of raw beans are a good buy, also.

• A five-pound roasting chicken ($5) could yield two dinners. For the first meal, roast with potatoes and carrots and eat half of the chicken. For the second meal, make a stir-fry with the leftover chicken and a bag of frozen mixed veggies ($1.29 for a 16-ounce bag) and serve over brown rice (99 cents for a 16-ounce bag).

• Oatmeal costs $3.69 for a 42-ounce canister and has 30 servings. (Of course, stay away from those silly individual packets) That could replace at least $7 worth of boxed cereal, and the oatmeal has better fiber and is more filling.

• Bananas, @ 49 cents a pound, cost less than most fruits, especially those "select" peaches and nectarines @ $1.99 per pound. Bananas are definitely cheaper and healthier than the sugary granola bars or fruit roll ups.

• Texturized Veggie Protein, a lean meat substitute that's a lot like ground beef and can be added to pasta sauce or tacos, is $2.69 for 10 ounces.

So, here is the nitty gritty:

If you eat cereal and milk for breakfast, a PB&J and an apple for lunch, and protein-enriched pasta with store-brand marinara and a couple of carrots sticks and broccoli or green beans for dinner, you could get by on $10.34 per day.

Cutting out all the extras can make a big difference over time. No snacks, no OJ (fresh seasonal fruit instead), no organic milk at $5.99 per gallon, no fresh Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of that pasta, no frozen yogurt at night. Brown bag it to the office and on outings (to avoid restaurants or *gasp* fast food).  Coffee can be added to the mix, at $2.15 per week, because I know many people consider it essential. But NO Starbucks, for goodness sake!

Our family's bargain-basement dinner costs $3.40.  Foods that most people think are inexpensive  (like a large pizza for $10) are pricey in comparison. And the foods that others agree are "a bit more expensive"such as a $10 steak, fish that's $14 per pound, or deli meat at $8.99 per pound, seem decadent.

But, all in all, I have realized that there is real money to be saved by this exercise and subsequent habit changes!

Here are some helpful ideas for frugal cooking. Remember that S T R E T C H I N G makes the difference . . .

IDEA 1) The meal: 30 minute / 5 ingredient chili - 5 ingredients because I always add onions. 
To S T R E T C H -- use more beans and less meat. Or make rice as a side. (rice and beans = the perfect protein)

IDEA 2) The meal: Roasted Chicken makes the perfect special occasion meal. Use smaller broiler/fryers and roast potatoes along with the bird to stretch. Carrots gussied up with butter and dill make an inexpensive side. Cost: about $7. OR another good chicken recipe (especially if you have a bit of Cajun in ya) Crock Pot Creole Chicken

IDEA 3) The meal:  A veggie-rich stir-fry is so easy on the budget!  The recipe is a guide -- You can use almost any veggies. (If you do not have ginger or soy sauce it is not the end of the world!)   You could start the meal with Egg Drop Soup and finish with fresh fruit. The egg drop soup base does NOT have to be from a can. Use those chicken bones and drippings from yesterday's roast and make your own. Stir fry in any leftover chicken, too. Cost: about $9.   

IDEA 4) The meal: Less costly than spaghetti and meatballs, Spaghetti Carbonara calls for eggs, bacon, and Parmesan to flavor noodles. Serve with chopped iceberg salad. Cost: about $9.

IDEA 5) The meal: What budget meal repertoire would be complete without Tuna Noodle Casserole, particularly one with a crunchy potato chip topping? Serve with steamed broccoli florets. Cost: about $9.

IDEA 6) The meal: This well-loved enchilada recipe is made to serve eight, so cut it in half, or make the full recipe and freeze leftovers. Cost: about $10.

IDEA 7) The meal: Stroganoff - Switching to hamburger instead of beef tips cuts down the price of Stroganoff without sacrificing flavor. Serve with steamed fresh veggies in season OR frozen veggies. Cost: about $10.

IDEA 8) The meal: Tomato vegetable soup  An easy base recipe!  OR Taco Soup  You can add different kinds of beans to this one :-) I substitute fresh or frozen whenever possible if a recipe calls for a can. It all depends on the budget :-)
Become a soup connoisseur -- it is healthy and budget friendly! A loaf of homemade bread makes it a special dinner! (I use a stick of butter instead of oil if the budget allows)

IDEA 9) The meal: Meatloaf -- as many ways to make it as there are days in the year. The basic idea is ground meat + other ingredients that go well with the meat! Bind together (usually) with eggs and bread crumbs and bake!

IDEA 10) The meal: Homemade pizza  I like to use the Jiffy Boxed pizza dough mix. I never use enough flour so my pizza crust is usually very (too) thin.  My family will tell you -- add flour to knead it and don't be afraid of the flour! LOL

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin