Good morning friends,
As the spring, summer, and fall gardening seasons come to a close I am no longer harvesting the abundance of vegetables and fruits from my own garden. For a good six months out of the year I am able to build meals around what is growing fresh in my own garden. With winter around the corner I have returned to produce shopping at Krueger’s Farm City Markets.
Since quitting my job and starting my own business in March I am on a tight budget for our entire household spending. Cooking healthy on a limit budget is a necessity and a reality for us. By weekly menu planning, shopping with a list, sticking to a predetermined budget, and cooking from scratch our meals I am able to feed our family of two a week of nutritious, delicious, vegetarian, whole foods meals for about $50 per week.
It is a myth that you cannot eat healthy on a tight budget. By eliminating processed convenience foods, and out of season produce you can eat healthy on a limited budget. My method takes a little planning and time to cook. The efforts are so worth it!
My husband and I both grew up with food insecurity. And as a young adult I spent many years existing on ramen noodles, boxed macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, canned soup, and frozen entrees. I did not grow up or have anyone teach me how to cook healthfully, menu plan, or create budgets. I learned my cooking lessons from the school of hard knocks.
My current strategy of healthy cooking on a limited budget is based on these tips I’ve mastered during the past 10 years:
1. Assess what you currently have in your refrigerator and pantry and build meals around that
2. Get to know what produce is in season when in your area. Trying to buy tomatoes and strawberries in December is expensive and they taste bad. Build your meals around seasonal produce.
3. Grow your own vegetables and fruits, join a CSA, or find a great produce market like Krueger’s. The farmer’s market can be expensive, but in Portland they accept EBT cards and have a matching program to give you more bang for your buck. Additionally some CSAs are now accepting EBT as a form of payment. Portland community gardens offers scholarships and garden seeds and starts are eligible for EBT.
4. Preserve some of your food. We cook with a lot of tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes. So I grow 6 tomato plants and freeze tomato sauce for winter use. We berry pick or glean berries during the summer and freeze for smoothies all year round.
5. Learn to cook with whole foods like brown rice, dried beans & lentils, etc. They are nutritious and have good bang for your buck!
6. Shop the bulk area. I routinely stock my pantry with bulk items: brown rice, quinoa, dried beans, lentils, steel cut oats, nuts, raisins, spices, TVP, flours, sea salt, honey, maple syrup, and so much more!
7. Prepare your weekly menu plan. Shop with a list and a budget. Stick to it! Don’t shop when you are hungry or tired. Shop only one time per week.
8. Give up convenience foods and precooked meals. In general they are overly processed, lack nutrition, contain way too much sugar, sodium, and weird additives and can be expensive.
9. Spend one morning or afternoon on your weekend cooking lunch for the week, plus one dinner. Individually package lunches and dinners so they are ready on the go. Decrease or eliminate eating out, especially inexpensive and junky fast food.
10. Spread the love around. Several times a month when I cook a casserole or pot of soup, I make extra to share with my loved ones. I believe sharing abundance creates abundance.
Here is an example from my current week of menu planning, shopping, and cooking. I cooked this menu plan from utilizing what was in my pantry, gleaning day-olds from New Seasons Market, shopping for produce at Krueger’s Farm Market, and purchasing everything else at Winco. I spent a total of $49.80 this week to feed my family of two. This is how it looked:
2 dinners: TVP Tacos
2 dinners: Squash Brown Rice Herb Pilaf and Spinach Salad with 1 night each of artichokes and brussels sprouts
3 dinners: Root Vegetable Gratin and Spinach Salad
5 lunches: 13 bean vegetable soup with quinoa
2 lunches: Beet Borscht
5 breakfasts: steel cut oatmeal and fruit smoothies
Snacks: apples, cashews, granola bars
5 oz spinach
1 savoy cabbage
1 dozen brussels sprouts
3 yellow & 3 red potatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow squash
2 yellow onions
Total spent on produce at Krueger’s=$18.97
13 bean dried soup, 1 pound bulk
Brown Rice, 2 pounds bulk
TVP (textured vegetable protein/soy), .52 pound bulk
Taco seasoning, .12 pound bulk
Cashews, .25 pound bulk
Corn Tortillas, 18 pack
3 boxes almond milk
Total spent at Winco=$30.83
What we had at home already to utilize this week:
Beets, a few carrots & potatoes, celery, garlic, and a lemon
Tomatoes-from my garden the last of the season ripening on the counter
Steel cut oats and raisins
Assorted canned beans
Assorted granola and snack bars
Coffee and green tea
Sea salt & spices
Fresh herbs from my garden-parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
We ate very well this week, as we do most weeks. Some weeks I spend $50, some weeks I spend only $25 on groceries. With a little preparation and execution you too can eat well on a limited budget. I enjoy the creativity of menu planning, art of cooking, and the joy of eating the fruits of my labor. I enjoy the challenge and it feels so rewarding.