Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to Eat Well on Just $20 a Week (With Meal Plans!)

How to Eat Well on Just $20 a Week (With Meal Plans!)
Can you eat for just $20 a week? Well, I've been feeding my family of three on an average of $65 a week for several years now — so you can certainly get close. Beyond a basic shopping list, eating on a budget — any budget — takes some patience, planning, and creativity.
When I was cooking for only myself, I found shopping for two weeks at a time most helpful with my budgeting. Packages of food don't seem to be made for the individual alone; it's easy to create food waste if you don't plan out meals in advance. Thing is, the same concept applies no matter how many people I'm shopping for.

Check out this healthy foods grocery list and (mostly vegetarian) menu plans for a week of eats — no coupons required.
Shopping List
My family has switched to shopping at discount grocery stores like Aldi. The prices below are from my own Aldi receipts, so be sure to check out the prices at your local grocer to compare. If you haven't checked out this stripped down way of shopping, it's worth your time and effort, as I'm always amazed at just how much I can fit into a single grocery cart without breaking the bank.
Item                                                   Cost
Box of spaghetti noodles                                        $0.89
Container rolled oats                                              $1.99
Flour tortillas                                                        $1.19
Loaf sliced bread                                                   $1.19
3-pack of bell peppers                                           $1.99
Couple heads broccoli                                            $1.19
Bag of apples                                                       $1.49
2 bunches of bananas                                            $1.50
Cauliflower                                                           $2.39
3 pounds onions                                                    $1.39
2 pounds carrots                                                   $1.19
5 pounds russet potatoes                                        $2.89
2 cans chickpeas                                                   $1.20 ($0.59/each)
2 cans black beans                                                $1.20 ($0.59/each)
2 cans other beans                                                $1.20 ($0.58/each)
1 large can peeled tomatoes                                   $1.50
Jar of peanut butter                                               $1.69
Jar of pasta sauce                                                 $1.99
2 cans of tuna                                                      $2.30 ($1.15/each)
Jar of salsa                                                           $1.99
2 tubs low-fat yogurt                                             $4.00 ($1.99/each)
2 blocks of hard cheese                                         $4.00 ($1.99/each)
Dozen eggs                                                          $1.55
TOTAL: $41.91 (for two weeks)

Now that you have your groceries, let's talk meals. The key with shopping and cooking on a budget is making your precious ingredients stretch. Use the same types of ingredients in different ways to make simple meals without any fuss. And there is also a certain level of predictability — learning to love cheap meals and to rotate them into your routine often.
As a vegetarian, I like to start my day with a dose of protein. About three times a week, I scramble or fry two eggs. The rest of the time I like oatmeal or toast because it fills my stomach. If you start to run out of sweeter staples, you can always cook veggies for breakfast!
·         Eggs atop toast
·         Eggs with potatoes and veggies
·         Oatmeal with peanut butter and sliced bananas or apples
·         Peanut butter toast with yogurt
·         Bean burrito with diced veggies and beans
Sandwiches are an inexpensive, portable lunch option. You can serve them with sliced fruit and veggies on the side to make it a fuller meal. And a note with the bread: I like to divide the loaf I buy in half and then freeze half (around 12 slices) so it stays good for the following week.
·         Peanut butter and banana sandwich
·         Tuna sandwich, subbing lowfat yogurt in for the mayo
·         Egg salad sandwich
·         Tahini-free hummus melts
·         Toasted cheese sandwich
·         Veggie stuffed baked potato

Beans are a fantastic protein option for dinners because they are filling and frugal. With many of the following meals, you might consider making enough for two nights and eating leftovers to save some time, all while using up the ingredients from your grocery list.
·         Veggie stir-fry, using spaghetti noodles for bulk
·         Roasted or grilled vegetables with cheesy beans
·         Veggie quesadillas with salsa and yogurt for dipping
·         Stuffed bell peppers (beans and veggies) topped with melted cheese
·         Spaghetti with sauce and roasted veggies
·         Crock pot soup (use leftovers for lunch!)
·         Veggie burgers on toast or tortillas
Final Notes
·         Most of these meals don't require much in way of recipes. Instead, it's all about learning to cook basic meals with basic methods (roasting, for example). That way, if you find yourself with a random set of leftover ingredients, you can whip something up without wasting food in the process.
·          Vegetarian and vegan meals are inherently cheaper, but that doesn't mean you need to change your entire diet to eat on a budget. Instead, aim for a few sans-meat meals per week to see some savings.
·         Keep an eye on seasonal items and certain sales at your store. Although stocking up may initially cost more, you can enjoy some major cost reductions by shopping smart.And if you do stock up, learn some basic food preservation methods to get the most out of your investment.
·         Shopping in larger increments — like an entire month — can also be a great way to save time and money. If you're interested in trying this method out, I wrote all about amonth of freezer meals, complete with instructions and meal ideas.

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