[Yeah, I know, I haven't blogged in a while. I'm not gonna give you a big song and dance about it. Let's just move on.]
Yesterday I was having a conversation with some gal pals about ways to eat well on a budget. Anthony and I have gotten really good at this. Some weeks we budget as little 40 bucks for groceries, and we never go hungry. We're two adults, eating three meals a day, and we make it work.
One friend asked if I could share a sample menu with her, and I figured if it would help her, it might help others. So here we go!
Now, the first thing we do is look in the fridge and the pantry and see what we already have that we can use for meals for the coming week. Because some stuff we just don't need to buy every week--rice, peanut butter, butter, spices...these are all things that will last for a while and carry us through multiple weeks.
So then we make a meal plan. No, it's not the most fun we'll have all week or anything, but it helps SO MUCH. We figure out what we'll be making, and then make a list of the ingredients we don't already have. Then we go shopping and buy only the ingredients on the list (this is key if we want to stick to our budget).
Okay, on to the food! Here's a menu from a recent week:
On any given day, some combination of two or three of these: bagel w/cream cheese (often we'll split one), cereal w/dried fruit, hard-boiled egg, yogurt, English muffin w/peanut butter, piece of fruit.
Typically, lunch is the leftovers from the previous night's dinner. We also keep a few other basics around to supplement that, or to have as afternoon snacks. In that category would be things like canned tuna, fresh fruit, hummus, crackers, pickles, etc. (And again, a jar of pickles is one of those things that will be around for a while and doesn't have to be purchased regularly.)
Here's what we had in our sample week.
Tuesday: Brown Rice & Lentil Casserole (this is a staple in our house, sometimes as a side dish, sometimes as a whole meal on its own)
Wednesday: Chicken noodle soup (when I made the chicken enchiladas on Monday, Anthony deboned the chicken breast first, then used what was left to make a broth and soup by adding some egg noodles, a few veggies, and dried herbs from the pantry)
Thursday: Had dinner at a friend's house. She sent me home with a big container of extra salad, which I ate for lunch the next day.
Friday: Breakfast-for-Dinner! I substituted mild Italian sausage (which was on sale) and red potatoes for the breakfast links and frozen hash browns.
Saturday: Tomato-Basil Parmesan Soup, which I put into the slow cooker before I went to work and let cook all day. Served with some croutons that we already had in the pantry.
Sunday: Pasta with Butternut Squash and Peas, which used up the rest of the half & half and Parmesan that didn't get used for Saturday's soup, as well as some frozen peas we already had. Plus, although this is orginally a meatless recipe, when Anthony made it he added the rest of the Italian sausage I got for the breakfast hash. I think the pasta came from the pantry, too. So basically, all we had to buy specifically for this meal was a squash.
We spent under $40 on groceries that week. Yes, we already had some of the ingredients in the house, like the brown rice, lentils, and pasta. But lots of the ingredients we bought for these meals carried over into the following week's menu, like the soft taco shells, the carrots for the soups, some of the eggs, and so forth.
It definitely helps that we're not large people, we eat meatless meals a few times a week, and we're not opposed to eating re-heated food the next day. If you're used to big portions and meat-heavy meals, you'll probably have to spend more than we do (or change your habits). On the other hand, if you're a vegetarian, you'll probably spend less. But in any case, just because money is tight doesn't mean you have to eat boring, crappy food!