My regular grocery budget is $375 a month to feed my family of six. To meet this goal, we rely heavily of produce markdowns, menu planning, and bulk cooking.
When COVID-19 hit, we experienced a number of unexpected stressors to our already tight budget. It wasn’t until the immediate danger had passed that I assessed the damage. When the numbers were totaled, I realized that if I were to stay on budget, I would need to spend just $200 a month until the end of 2020.
Not one to back down from a challenge, I took an inventory of my assets.
- Our weekly CSA boxes have just begun. So, we are receiving a bushel of fresh produce every week for the next 25 weeks. This food will provide the basis of my weekly menu plans.
- I have a prepaid farm stand card to the same organic vendor who supplies our CSA share. I can use this like a gift card to purchase items from the farm stand at no additional out-of-pocket cost.
- I will be able to freeze and dehydrate extra produce, apples from our tree, and windfalls from friends’ gardens.
- We are vegan. That means I’m already not buying meat or dairy, both of which can be expensive.
Even with all that, I am still pulling out every strategy in my arsenal to make this plan work.
- Bulk cooking
- Weekly menu planning
- Using every scrap of food
- Keeping a running inventory of my freezer and pantry
*For weekly live updates, a look at my grocery hauls, and an unboxing of my CSA share, “Like” Under the Median and follow me on Facebook.
What we ate this week
Here’s what a real life look at a $50 menu plan for six people.
I do my best to fairly and accurately reflect the total cost of each item.To compute the cost per recipe, I used the prices that I paid for ingredients.
For instance, if I found cabbage for $.20 a pound, then that price will be reflected in the total cost of my slaw recipe. I often purchase bulk items, markdowns, or sale items to get the best prices on each item. During the growing season friends, neighbors, an others also often bless us with excess from their home gardens at no cost.
What you spend may vary. However, the strategies that I share will lower your grocery bills, no matter where you live or your dietary preferences.
At the end of this post, I’ll total the approximate cost of our weekly menu. Although I try to get my menus as close to $50 as possible, they often go a little over or a little under.
Every weekday, we rotate between oatmeal and cream of wheat. The kids like a little cocoa powder added to their cream of wheat to make it chocolatey. Hot cereal contains more fiber and nutrition than traditional boxed cereals. It keeps hungry kids full longer, too.
I buy cream of wheat and oats in bulk to get a lower price per pound. Bananas or fresh, in season fruit are both inexpensive cereal toppers. You can add a slice of toast with jelly or peanut butter to round out the meal if you are still hungry. We never drink glasses of milk. We only use it to top our cereal at breakfast.
We top oatmeal with fruit, a splash of plant-based milk, and a little sugar.
- $2.00 – 1.5 pounds cream of wheat
- $1.80 – 2 pounds of oatmeal
- $2.00 – Fruit
- $1.00 – Milk
Breakfast Total $6.80
We have soup for lunch several times a week. Soup is one of the most inexpensive ways to feed a hungry family on a dime. Using odds and ends of vegetables and a pound of dried beans, you can create a tasty soup that will feed your family for just pennies. Round it out with a slice of bread and a piece of fruit for a complete meal.
- $5.00 – Black Bean Chili, homemade bread with peanut butter, fruit (x2)
- $2.00 – Rice and Beans – I threw mine over salad greens
- $4.00 – Creamy Asparagus Ends Soup, homemade bread with peanut butter, fruit (x2)
- $5.00 – Ultimate 1/4 Pound Beet Burger, homemade fries (x2)
Lunch Total = $16.00
Main dish tips:
Inventory available ingredients and then create main dishes using those items. When you do head to the store be sure that you are purchasing items which are on sale or markdown.
- $5.00 – Broccoli and Black Bean Enchiladas (x2)
- $3.00 – Creamy Broccoli and Rice Casserole
- $5.00 – Shepherd’s Pie (x2)
- $5.00 – Easy Roasted Veggies and Chickpeas with Zesty Hummus Sauce (x2)
Main Dish Total = $18.00
- $2.50 – Quinoa and Broccoli Salad
- $1.50 – Raw Vegetable Platter
- $2.50 – Marinated vegetable salad with sweet and sour vinegar dressing
- $4.00 – Spinach Salad with homemade 3-2-1 Dressing
Salad Total = $10.50
What about snacks?
My kids know that they always make a big bowl of mid-afternoon, air-popped popcorn. We buy a 50 pound bag from SAMS for $37.00 and it lasts us about 10 months.
To make popcorn special, top it with different flavorings. Try cinnamon and sugar, garlic and onion powder, Chex Mix seasoning, Greek seasoning, or taco seasoning.
Total Spent for 7 Days – $51.30