Cheap Supper Night: Hacking One Meal a Week to Save Money

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miserly momsRight now, I’m reading the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy for future review. It’s a very solid book on frugality, but one concept from the book (only mentioned on a couple pages) really stood out at me: institute a soup and bread night.

Basically, McCoy’s argument is this: if you have one supper per week that’s intentionally as cheap as you can possibly make it, you’ll save a lot of money over the long run. And, since it’s only one meal a week, one can easily just focus on the cheap and not worry that much about taste.

McCoy focuses in on eating soup and bread for this meal. I know from experience that a loaf of homemade bread is very cheap, quite easy, and delicious, and it is definitely true that you can make a very inexpensive meal out of just bread and soup, but let’s look at other options for “cheap supper night.”

What Does It Really Save?
I looked into this question for my own family recently when calculating our estimated food costs for a month. Over the period of a month – and this includes the prorated costs of bulk food purchased earlier – I estimated our food costs for our family of four to be around $770. That comes out to be an average of $2.07 worth of food consumed on average per family member per meal.

In order for a meal to be truly cheap, I’d estimate that the meal must cost $0.50 or less per person for the meal. Doing that means that one cheap dinner a week saves us $6 per week – more than $300 a year.

This assumes, of course, that I’m replacing a truly average meal with a cheap meal. If I choose to replace a meal eaten out with an ultra-cheap meal, the savings are far, far greater.

The Best Method
The single best method I’ve found for creating a cheap supper night is to check the grocery store flyer before I go to the grocery store. Almost every grocery store has an exceptional produce deal or two for the week that you can use to center your meal around. At our local grocery, there’s usually some form of fresh vegetable on sale for as low as $0.29 a pound and usually a fruit near that level as well. A pound of a particular vegetable forms the backbone of a very healthy meal.

Even at standard prices, your fresh produce can be dirt cheap. According to Ohio State University’s data, you can get “cabbage at 4 cents per serving; potatoes at 6 cents; broccoli florets at 7 cents; and whole carrots at 10 cents per serving.”

Finding Cheap Recipes
Once you have your cheap item, how do you know what to do with it on the cheap? When in a pinch like this, I use two tactics.

First, I go through the cupboards and see what I have that might be an interesting complement to it. Hey, look, a box of forgotten pasta! We have plenty of flour! Here’s some garbanzo beans I’d forgotten about! Where did this barbecue sauce come from? I also dig through the spices and see if I find any that complement what’s on sale – for example, if I’m going to get broccoli, I know that thyme, marjoram, and basil all complement it, so if I happen to have one of these on hand, we’re good to go.

Next, I use a recipe search engine to find something appropriate. There are a number of these that have popped up over the last year or so – I’m currently partial to FoodieView. Just enter a list of the ingredients you have on hand and the ingredient you’re going to get – for example, I searched for basil, broccoli, thyme, and garbanzo beans and stumbled upon a Three Bean Cassoulet. Nine servings is way more than I need, so I just trim that recipe in half and find that all I need is a single carrot, a very small onion, a can of tomatoes, and the broccoli and I can make a one-bean version of it. If I have some other beans on hand, I can nail the recipe. Those ingredients I need to buy add up to less than $2, so we’re good to go!

I can also supplement it by making something else very cheap on the side, like a loaf of homemade bread, which I have all the stuff on hand for and which is incredibly cheap per loaf (especially when I can use the bread over multiple meals and save the crumbs for use in some recipes).

This is actually pretty typical of recipe searches for a cheap dinner. Incorporating this into your routine can make for a very delicious (and often unusual) ultra-cheap supper one night a week, which can end up saving you significant money over the course of a year.

Good luck!

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72 thoughts on “Cheap Supper Night: Hacking One Meal a Week to Save Money

  1. I would start in the pantry, the freezer, and the garden, and only after that take a look at the store flyer. I’ve been on a personal challenge since May to spend $50 or less per month on groceries to feed myself and my husband. It sounds impossible. And truth be told, I haven’t yet succeeded. But I’ve come very close several months, and I’m mostly convinced that we could be doing it if we were super disciplined. Anyone with a chest freezer and garden will understand that this challenge is as much about using up what we’ve already got as it is about trying not to spend more than $50. Thanks to the garden, I’ve actually been putting food *into* the freezer and pantry over the past few months while spending very, very little on food.

    Shop your pantry first. In my opinion, that’s the best way to go about this project.

  2. I appreciate the insight into this, but I also want to stress that people need to live a little. If spending some decent cash to make a kick butt meal is what you need to do, then so be it. I’m all about saving some money for the future, but not at the expense of living a good life from day to day. You never know when it’s going to be your last so live it to the fullest, this includes the food you eat!

  3. Try cookingbynumbers.com to find recipes for stuff you have in your cupboards. You punch in what you have, and it suggests recipes with those ingredients.

  4. I wouldn’t really consider your cassoulet to be an ultra cheap meal. Just because you already paid for most of the ingredients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include their cost.

    But you CAN make a very good meal for cheap. Examples: a vegetarian bean stew, if you buy the beans dry. Lentil soup. Two chicken thighs and veggies make for a great soup if you make your own broth with the thighs first. Lots of asian dishes are very cheap and equally delicious.

  5. I love to use:
    http://www.miserlymoms.com for recipes

    Also, there is a book that I have borrowed a couple of times from the library: Miserly Meals

    These meals are $0.75/serving or less. The book was written several years ago, so some of the prices are a little higher, but you can find many of the items on sale for the same cost, or at Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot.

    ~M

  6. My “cheap” night is making pizza. I use homemade bread dough, and pile it up with stuff that is sitting in the fridge… Floppy vegetables, a cut up sausage, leftover chicken. It is a wonderful way to use up small scraps of food.

  7. Hey Trent,

    I was thinking how I always read about people using frugality to build wealth, but I don’t her a lot of success stories. I know there are though. It would be neat if you could find a bunch of people who had been frugal their whole lives and amounted a large sum of money as a result. (say $500,000 or more, not including home equity) Then shared their stories on The Simple Dollar. We all need inspiration after all.

  8. I often do a variant of this over the weekend which I call “The Clean Out The Refrigerator Omelette”. Two or three eggs, onions, peppers, whatever leftover vegetables are in the fridge, cheese, salsa, tomato sauce, herbs, spices, you name it, it goes in or on the omelette. A handful of organic greens for salad (maybe with some of the veggies), a cup of good coffee, some OJ, and I’ve got a solid cheap brunch that serves two for about $1 total.

  9. This is a good article but you get minus 4000 points for using the word “hacking” in this manner. You can’t hack meals or naps or your wallet or relationships or your life. You can hack computer systems. That’s it.

  10. I posted recently about something similar on my blog…except that instead of soup and bread, we have a breakfast for dinner night once a week. Waffles, pancakes, and french toast are dirt cheap and as a boon, they’re really easy to make!

    Diane-it’s worth considering whether or not those items would have gone into the garbage or compost otherwise. Making a meal out of food that was headed for the garbage is an ultra-cheap thing to do, in my opinion.

  11. Trent – What is the cost of the meals that you make in large batches and freeze? Those probably qualify as frugal meals.

  12. I’m with Nick on this one. I don’t restrict the budget when it comes to food and meal planning. We have enough restrictions on other budgetary items, like clothes and entertainment. I do, though, try to save money by cooking meals at home, eating leftovers, and trying to use up food we already have before doing a big shopping trip. But, if we want steaks, we’ll have steaks! :)

  13. You know, I have been trying to cut down big time on food but it’s hard. I can’t really get a good tasting meal to cost less than $10 for 2 people. I don’t WANT to eat terrible tasting just to save $200 a year. If that’s what I am resorting to… well I’ll just jump off a bridge. I’d rather enjoy every meal.

    That’s just me. :)

  14. Trent!!!

    That site is so cool! I got a bunch of cucumbers at the farmer’s market and then I got home and I was like, OK…now what?

    I read your article and went to that site and typed it in and it gave me a recipe that includes the cucumbers (of course), chicken, pasta, mayonaise, salt, pepper and minced onion. I totally have all that other stuff in rations big enough for an army.

    SWEET!!!!!!!

  15. Hey, Trent, what a coincidence! I have this book right in front of me. I got it at the library book sale (5 books for $1). It has a different cover so must be an older edition.

    My husband is always saying to me that he only wants soup and bread for supper. I comply more in the winter than summer!

  16. This was the book that started me on my frugality journey! I think it’s an excellent beginning primer.

  17. Sorry, I have to disagree. Daily nutritional needs must be met *EVERY* day of the week. Frugality is one thing but it’s plain silly to skimp on meals to save X cents/meal. Call me stupid but I won’t skimp on food (within reason) especially with kids. No way.

  18. Another frugal food tip might be putting some more long-term meal planning into the picture, so you don’t end up with “forgotten” pasta, garbanzo beans, and barbecue sauce in the first place! I learned to save money by not overstocking my cupboards and refrigerator; I buy only what I know for sure I’ll use in the near future so that I don’t end up pitching a lot of duplicate, spoiled, or expired food. Besides, food that you have no plan for using when you buy it just clutters the pantry. I learned the hard way, unfortunately, but I’m getting better!

  19. gr8whyte:

    Soup that is full of beans and veggies, made with homemade stock and bulked up a bit with rice, barley, or pasta (perhaps leftovers?) can be very healthy. My kids are much more likely to eat unfamiliar vegetables in a soup than in alone. The only unhealthy suggestion here was waffles/pancakes/french toast; but those can also be healthier if topped with fresh fruit and served with milk.

    Personally, we have a once a week leftover night. I make a salad, heat up all the weeks leftovers and spread them out on the table for everyone to serve themselves. I rarely have any more leftovers!

  20. @gr8whyte: Beans, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and bread sound like a good start toward meeting your daily nutritional needs to me. A meal does not need to be centered around a giant slab of meat in order to be nutritious.

    And kudos to you, Trent, for getting your kids to eat meals like this. There were certain meals, bean soup among them, that my parents would make for themselves for dinner, but they’d make a separate dish for my brother and me. As a result, it wasn’t until I was in college that I figured out that beans could be an enjoyable food. I’m just glad I figured it out eventually!

  21. One thing I do often is to keep two Tupperware freezer containers in the freezer. One labeled chicken and one for beef. When we have leftovers of either, they go into the container. Same with veggies, beans, onions, gravy, etc. You get the idea. When the containers are full, that becomes what we call “free dinner.” I make a soup or stew and we love it.

    Good luck.

  22. the idea that “every” meal has to be balanced is old skool – studies have shown that as long as nutritional needs are met over a period of days, even the ultra-high nutritional needs of a growing child will be met.

    and ppl, come ON: ONE meal a week is hardly “suffering” – speaking as one who, for too long a period had to go for a week or more on KD made with nothing but water and sugar sandwiches.

  23. My family enjoys a “use-it-up quiche” recipe that’s handy for clearing out the fridge. It includes a few eggs, some Bisquick, and chopped onion as base ingredients. I toss in bits of meat like sausage or ham, non-starchy vegetables like mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, etc., and top it with shredded cheese (a great way to get rid of several leftover cheese-ends at once). The Bisquick binds it all together, so there’s no need for a crust.

  24. The no crust quiche recipe used to be on the Bisquick package but it`s not anymore and I haven`t made it for so long that I can`t remember the amounts etc. I used to make it with tuna (because, of course, it wouldn`t be kosher to include meat in a meal that contains cheese). It`s a relatively cheap, kid-approved meal.

  25. Jonni has a cookbook called “Miserly Meals”. It’s a great, easy to use book that I would recommend! She calculates the cost per serving and also provides nutritional info as well.

  26. check out frugalfridays.net for more meals of $10 or less. i know that doesn’t meet your criteria for REALLY cheap, but if you have any of the ingredients already, it’s pretty good.

    Me? I’m more interested in rolling leftovers – roast chicken becomes chicken pasta and chicken burritos. then the carcass becomes chicken stock. the stock becomes soup and and risotto. the risotto becomes arancini (rice balls).

    1 chook = 6 dinners.

    BUT when I want a really cheap meal, quiche or a veggie filled cous cous or risotto are all pretty good.

  27. I was just talking to a friend about how much I love soup night! I hadn’t even thought about how cheap it is, especially since we also make our own bread. Thanks for the reminder! And as far as nutrition goes, how can homemade vege soup fail?

  28. This is something I’ve been doing for a long time! Our two cheapie standbys are beans and cornbread, and biscuits and gravy (we are in the south, after all).

    One thing that helps us also, is to serve the cheap meal earlier in the week, so we still have some exciting things to look forward to. This cuts way down on rationalizing a fast food run, and thinking, “It’s ALMOST payday!”

  29. Nick – #2 – He’s talking about one night a week. Besides, why do you think a meal of homemade soup and bread can’t be a ‘kick-butt meal’?

    gr9whyte #13 – Who’s skimping? Soup is a perfectly acceptable and healthy meal.

    Ryan – #20 – Who says you have to invest the money saved from once-a-week soup? The frugal lifestyle endorsed by Trent (as I perceive it) does not mean that all money saved MUST go into investments/emergency funds/long-term dreams, but rather increases the availability of money to make life easier. Certainly for long-term, but also for short-term goals (i.e. that extra spending that comes with holidays or buying kids’ school supplies or a fantastic dinner at the best restaurant in town).

    Loved this post and spend many nights with soup and carb (sometimes bread, sometimes an apple, sometimes homemade dumplings, sometimes popcorn – great on tomato soup).

  30. A couple of people mentioned the Bisquick crustless quiche recipe- there’s a version online here: http://www.recipezaar.com/273477

    There are other versions- try googling ‘bisquick no crust quiche’.

    I’m with the group that cleans out the fridge and cupboards for these cheap meals- I *hate* throwing food away, so I try to make sure any leftover ingredients get used in a timely fashion. And- $770 a *month*? Really? That seems awfully high, especially since you garden. Maybe an analysis of grocery bills would be fodder for another column?

  31. We do a variation of this in the fall/winter with a crock-pot meal night. It’s not specifically centered on being frugal, but it does make the evening flow better when you come home to something that’s ready to go .

    Crock pot doesn’t “work” in the summer, though — the summer’s for the grill :)

  32. “And, since it’s only one meal a week, one can easily just focus on the cheap and not worry that much about taste.”

    Why shortchange yourself even once a week? And why assume that bread and soup have to be tasteless?!

    Inexpensive and tasty (and even healthy) are not mutually exclusive, in fact, I find that it’s quite the opposite. I like eating like the rural Italians. When in Italy, one of my most memorable meals was a tomato bread soup that requires bread that’s gone a bit stale. Super cheap to make, good use for bread you might not normally eat, and SO incredibly delicious.

    I’m afraid this book just wouldn’t be in line with my feelings toward food. I adore food…REAL food, and I firmly believe that eating real, recognizable foods can not only be cheaper, but is healthier and tastier, as well.

  33. Maybe I misunderstood, but $770/mo seems like an awful lot for 2 adults and 2 kids under 3. That’s approaching what you would spend eating out every meal. My husband and I spend about $250/mo for the 2 of us, and we usually stuff ourselves to finish off the recipe in 1 sitting (4-6 servings), so we could probably feed a couple small children for only slightly more. Seems to me that rather than 1 ultra frugal meal a week, you should spend some effort trimming $1-2 from every meal.

  34. I’m all for eating cheap, and like the last poster, my wife and I manage to only spend $250 a month on groceries. I am, however, not in favor of eating pasta, bread, rice, potatoes or any other processed/simple starch food just in order to save money. In the long run, you will save on health costs by not putting this junk in your meal plan.

  35. K – I was thinking $770 was high as well, especially since Trent has a garden. We average about $75 a week for 2 adults and a 1 year old – and that includes mostly organic produce and milk.

  36. Some of the most inexpensive meals you can make can also be extremely nutritious, and may in fact be much better for you than meat heavy, sauce heavy ‘regular’ meals. Lentil curries, baked beans and bean salad, spicy black beans and rice, vegetable soup, beef and barley soup using 1/3 the amt of beef and adding extra veggies, omelette’s, the list and quality is only limited by your imagination!!

  37. I am a big potato soup fan…and so is my family. I fill a pot with 2 carrots, 2 ribs of celery, 1/2 onion, and 4-5 potatoes chopped. Cover w/water, and season. Toward the end of cooking, I toss in the spice…my family likes cumin, herb de provence, and caraway seed (3 different pots of soup, of course!). I also (towards the end of cooking time)throw in a can of pinto beans. Mash it all up, and everyone is happy! I also throw in a little kale from the garden (unbelievably healthy!)or leftover spinach or other green. Whatever is around. Combine with a glass of organic milk, some bread, some cheese and a salad…quite healthy and cheap!
    $770!!! WOW! And you have just babies!!!!We aim for about $500 per month with 2 teens and 2 adults. And lots of organic stuff included. Trent…you’ve got to get that down!
    When my husband was in grad school 10 years ago, I budgeted $25 per week…and we did it! Inflation, sure, but wow! Are prices that high in Iowa?

  38. I’m trying to figure out why veggies are so expensive here in CA. I have the ads from 4 grocery stores, and none have anything near $.29 per pound, lowest was cabbage at $.59. Everything else was well above $1.00 per pound. I still manage to eat for very little, using everything. I like to make split pea soup. Chop a little onion, a carrot or two, a stalk of celery & a large potato. Toss in pot with water, peas, a couple of slices of chopped bacon, or a hamhock or leftover diced sausage, salt, pepper & whatever spices or herbs you prefer. This is delicious, costs very little, and is is health concious. You can do the same with lentils or any other dried beans, adding any veggies, or meats of your choice (or none at all).

  39. Actually, what I try to do when I write out my menu plan for the month, is a variety of inexpensive meals. Out of seven nights, we have homemade pizza night (cost: $5), soup night (cost about $3) pasta night (cost about $5), omelette night (about $3-4), roast beef or chicken night ($6-$10), second night roast leftover (cost about $5)rice and beans night (cost about $5). These meals are including either a salad or other veg on the side and either water or milk or homemade iced tea to drink. One can really do a cheapskate night with small children…they love breakfast nights (pancakes and eggs and fruit and milk) and occasionally a mac n cheese, veg, and milk night.
    They are at least as cheap as fast food and can be made vastly more nutritious. And really easy!

  40. I agree with the folks who think $770 a month is high for a family of four in rural Iowa. I moved out of the US a year and a half ago, and when I left the DC area, I was spending about $150 PER MONTH to feed 2 adults and 3 toddlers, and most of it was organic. Even now, if I consider the exchange rate, I only spend about $250 to feed our family, and the UK is not the place to buy cheap produce!

  41. Its not cheap cheap but homemade mac and cheese can be done for four people at $4 for the whole thing.

    Also if yo urecycle your roof water you can grow your own veggies for cheap.

  42. We are a family of three adults (teen age boy counts as an adult, altho the way he eats he should be counted as two adults). The leftovers from the supper meal make lunch for work for two people the next day. Any extra is frozen in one serving portions for another work meal for a day when there are no leftovers. I also clean the frig of all leftovers each week and make myself a soup luncheon out of the leftovers, these are mainly veggies and soup stock. If it makes more than one meal: I freeze the extra in meal size portions for my lunch for the coming week. I believe we could eat steak every day for $770 a month. We spend apx. $300 a month, and I also make dinners for other family members often. One trick I’ve found to cut meat prices is to shop really early on Thrusday morning when they discount the meat prices to make room for the new shipments for the weekend. I bring this meat home and cook most of it immediately. I place the meat in meal size portions in the freezer. Thank you for reviewing this wonderful book, I enjoyed all the comments and even got some new ideas.

  43. You should also note that people have tons of produce in your fridge that will probably go bad before you use it (regardless of if you grew it or bought it at the store)Research has shown that American’s throw out a quarter of the produce that they buy because it goes bad before it can be used. Today, I took some time to pull out all the produce that I had (still some got moldy before usage…), chopped it up, put it in a pot with some homemade chicken stock and made a soup. There was enough for my husband’s lunch, dinner for the both of us and another to freeze for later. We live in a town home, so a garden is not much of an option and we don’t have room for a chest freezer- but I hate to see things go to waste!
    Also, thanks for the website- I love the simplicity of it.

  44. I usually google whatever ingredients I have on hand .
    I have wasted less food , since I started cooking like this .
    The meals have been different than our usual fare ,
    and most of the new recipes have been keepers !

  45. We are a family of five living off of a $400/month grocery budget. Groceries include anything you can buy at wal-mart, so that is oil for oil changes, the occasional needed clothing item, gifts for birthdays, food, toiletries, etc. I LOVE leftover night. Usually, this is when something (or somethings) in the fridge become something else. Soup happens a lot over the winter, but in the summer we end up with a lot of cool stir fry’s, fajita’s with homemade tortillas, things like that. Just leftover meat, mostly leftover veggies, some flour and water – and you have a meal. No skimping on taste :-)

  46. Our family has started a tradition of pizza on friday nights (before the all girls slumber party). Through the years we have used all the big chains, but the rising cost of fuel and poor customer service issues has actually led us down the path of cheaper and better. After we fled the big pizza chains, we tried a take and bake pizza chain (papa murphy’s I think). That removed the customer service issues and it was cheaper, but still. After this last weekend, we are sold on the do-it-at-home pizza.
    The pack of dry pizza dough ingredients is like $.90 (one pizza). A bag of pepperoni, $2.99? (4 or 5 pizzas?) Sausage $3.00? (A tube gets you 2-3 pizzas)…
    so for less than $5 dollars a pizza, 2 adults and two small kids eat fine on friday nights. My one caveat is that we do use a pampered chef flat stone for cooking the pizza on (as well as everything else), but we have had the stone so long, the cost is WELL borne out over its lifespan.
    And once the kids start having friends over, the DIY pizza route will save mucho jingle in the future.

  47. I really enjoyed reading this. I made a lentil soup/stew last week, which came out to 0.35/cup. Very healthy with lots of veggies and beans.

    Pair 1 cup of soup with 1 slice homemade bread and 1 oz of shredded cheese, and it comes out at $0.63 per person ($0.45 without the cheese). I consider soup to be a very healthy meal, but then again, I eat plenty of fruits and veggies for breakfast and lunch.

  48. We do leftover brunch on weekends, which covers both breakfast and lunch for that day(and depending how late we get up, sometimes dinner, lol…) Whatever leftover meat, veggies and cheese we have goes into either a potato hash, a scramble or omelette, or a frittata. We try different herbs or spices depending on what we have on hand. Somehow everything always ends up tasting fine all mixed together.

    This has made it really hard to buy restaurant breakfasts when we travel- we look at our plates and think “They call THAT a hash… for HOW much?!?”

  49. I just let out a huge sigh of relief when I read how much you spend per month for a family of four. I’ve been reading the Tightwad Gazette and her numbers are so low! I realize that she was writing almost ten years ago, but I wasn’t sure exactly what was in the ball park even of “frugal” anymore. We’re doing pretty good! whew!

  50. Have been away doing other stuff. I read too much into “institute a soup and bread night”. My apologies, I stand corrected and Johanna, I agree “A meal does not need to be centered around a giant slab of meat in order to be nutritious.” as one of my favorite meals is beans and rice.

  51. I thought I had misunderstood when I read $770/mo for your food budget, especially since you’ve shared some of your recipes, which all seem nutritious and inexpensive. I can’t imagine what would cost that much for 2 adults and 2 small children. Granted, I’m feeding just 2 adults; however, I thought I was spending too much at $250/mo. This includes eating out about twice a month AND bulk items. Out of curiosity, I’ve discussed this with other family members just to see what they spend, and find that it’s not that much. My daughter has, at times, 3 adults and 4 children in her household, and she spends approximately what I do. I’ll admit that I don’t eat red meat, however, my husband does and will have the occasional steak or hamburg, but we do eat chicken (in addition to ground chicken in replacement of ground hamburger), ribs, some lunch meats, etc. I do have a large garden, but my calculations were from the winter months. I’d be curious to know what the $770 includes. Perhaps the prices are higher where you’re from. We’re from RI and have several supermarkets to choose from, one being quite inexpensive.

  52. I read this book about a year ago and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did the soup night once per week for a long while too until the summer heat just got too unbearable. Eating soup for dinner in FL during the summer stinks. I always had leftover soup too and I’d put it in quart freezer bags and it would taste just as good the next time we ate it. The simplest we had was cabbage soup and it was dirt cheap and everyone loved it, even my three-year-old!

  53. $770/month on food alone? Without a very high element of convenience food which I suspect you don’t buy, that’s unbelievably high; even allowing for organic and locally grown produce, gourmet items and household essentials such as toiletry items.

    Are you sure it’s right?

  54. My fiancè and I have soup night twice a week with cornbread, tuna salad sandwiches on oat bread and a cup of fruit, black beans & rice with a salad, salmon croquettes with fresh fruit smoothies, scrambled eggs with spinach, and bison with rice (or mashed potatoes) and onion gravy and homemade salsa (our most expensive meal for the week at $4.50 each). Lunch is similar – I usually cook enough at lunch to put in the freezer for later.

    We have discovered we like salsa with just about everything. It’s nutritious, delicious, and you can make it interesting with diced tomatoes, onions, whole kernel corn, and any variety of beans or field peas, and it’s great on a spinach salad. I make enough to last for the week.

  55. I make soup that’s basically free. And it usually lasts our family of five for two meals. Here’s how: I have two ice cream buckets (emptied and washed). One is labeled chicken, the other labeled beef. When I have leftovers, I put them into the appropriate bucket and freeze it. So, the beef bucket, by the time it’s full, might have a mish-mash of leftover spaghetti and meat sauce, chili, veggie soup, stew, etc. The chicken one would have any leftover chicken breasts chopped up, rice, soup broth, etc. I also pour water from cooked veggies into one of these containers. If, when I’m cooking it, there is not enough liquid, I just add water and seasonings or the appropriate broth. These soups are ALWAYS delicious and always a surprise.

  56. “$770/month on food alone? Without a very high element of convenience food which I suspect you don’t buy, that’s unbelievably high; even allowing for organic and locally grown produce, gourmet items and household essentials such as toiletry items.”

    My SO and I each live alone, and for just one person, we’re each spending about half that per month. And neither of us buy anything particularly expensive. I also save quite a bit with coupons, and I buy the cheapest product available that doesn’t suck. My weekly shopping list consists primarily of fresh produce (not organic), dairy products and tofu, and that costs me about $50-$100. I’m not even counting toiletry-type stuff or eating out.

  57. My husband and I spend between $500 and $600 per month on our entire grocery budget (including paper goods and diapers/wipes/formula for our 4-month old son), so I think the $770/month amount sounds about right for a family of 4 that includes alcohol, organics, and the more expensive (but tastier) free-range chicken and eggs. My mother always recommended $50/week per person for groceries as an average budget to include all food, toiletries, paper goods, etc.

    I wonder if some of the people who think this amount is high are not factoring in money spent on meals eaten out. We only “eat out” once per week – we buy a take-and-bake pizza from a local place for $8 on Friday nights (yay for living in Minnesota and no sales tax on food – which take-and-bake pizza is considered). That pizza is figured into our grocery budget, as we used to make it at home before the munchkin came along. It’s not much more expensive than making it at home (sausage, peppers, onions, cheese, etc.), and the convenience factor in the way of not having to clean up the kitchen at the end of a long week is worth it!

  58. I made my first loaf of bread yesterday and it came out OK, didn’t rise much, but it seemed pretty cheap and easy to do.
    Does anyone have any idea how much it costs to run a gas oven at 400 for an hour?

  59. For those of you who haven’t ever looked it up, the USDA food cost plan says that a family of four (2 adults, 2 children 3-5 years old) would spend $137.50 per week on groceries on the “low cost plan.” Broken down, for an adult male 19-50 years old, spending should be around $36 per week, a woman of the same age should be $32.40 per week, a child 1 year old should be $19.10 per week, and from 2-3 years $20.30 per week.

    If you’re spending $137.50 per week on groceries, you’re spending $596 per month on groceries. You can find the guide at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2007/CostofFoodAug07.pdf

  60. Yer you can make some really healthy food at home for cheap, but dont scrimp too much. live life

  61. I would just find cheaper ways to make your current meals. Replacing food that’s okay for food your famiy really enjoys won’t be a habit that sticks. Tweak you recipes toward cheaper ingredients and you will save.

  62. Our cheap night is Ramen Wednesdays! My husband actually loves Ramen cups and I like them well enough, so before we dash off to Bible study, we boil some water and save quite a bit of cash in the process! :D

  63. I love stir-fries. Somehow my son, who is very suspicious of anything green or orange, will eat broccoli, squash, and anything else I put into a stir fry. I vary the flavoring, so it is never boring – barbeque, sweet/sour sauce, or garlic and spices. This is great for using up veggies in fridge, getting those nutrients in, AND saving money! Add rice or serve over noodles and you have a meal! You can also add a bit of leftover chicken, fish, or meat, if you wish.

  64. Have to agree with the above poster Lynne (#43) about the price of veggies and fruits being variable – an “awesome sale” here in California is like .77/pound for most things. That said, I’m a vegan and was laughing at how many of the “special,” “cheap” meals people are describing – chili or bean soup with cornbread, asian stir fry, veggie soup and homemade bread, a big pile of steamed or roasted veggies we call “veggie feast,” etc. are just what we call “dinner” in our house :) We are definitely not sacrificing taste, quality, or nutrition, and we aren’t even aiming to “cheap out” on our meals – we just eat the healthy food we like to eat. So maybe there’s something to be said for the frugality of really educating yourself about nutrition and reorienting your taste buds away from expensive cheeses, creams, meats, processed foods, and other supposedly “necessary” ingredients. Just a thought!

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