Eating Healthy on $20 a Week
Last summer, my younger brother Tim and I tried to devise a way to eat healthfully for $10 a week. We didn’t quite make it, but a year later I’ve figured out a nutritious way to eat for 20 dollars a week, without cutting coupons are going on radically extreme diets.
Tim was staying on my couch for the summer , didn’t have a job yet, and was trying to get by in San Francisco on a tight budget. I was trying to save more money for a business venture I was shoestringing. I had more superfluous bills than he did – Netflix, iPhone data plan, the occasional Blue Bottle Americano on my way to work, etc. – but even if I whittled all those down I’d only be saving about $60 a month. Many ‘fix your budget’ gurus might argue with me, but that extra $60 a month didn’t really seem worth the degradation in quality of life. We both discovered, however, that we were spending a hell of a lot of money on food – we weren’t even eating out that much. Back then I was averaging about $250 a month in GROCERIES. Again, not including eating out, just groceries.
We struggled towards the $10 a week goal until Tim went back to school. I kept at it after he left, and slowly worked my way down. I got down to spending only $50 a week, and then to $40. I hit a sustainable $35 a week ($140 a month) late 2009 and kept it up until recently when I was able to get my weekly food budget down to $20 a week. $80 a month? I pay more for my cell phone plan!
This plan might not work for everyone. I have resources at my disposal in San Francisco that might not be available to everyone (Trader Joe’s and many, many produce markets to choose from), but the basic guidelines should at least help you slash your grocery bill: buy from produce markets, cook and buy in bulk, quality meat is expensive. This method of food prep also eliminates a lot of cook and clean-up time as well.
Here’s How I Do It:
Chipotle Vegetarian Black Bean Chili – I make a huge pot of this on Sunday and eat it for lunch and dinner throughout the week. The recipe below easily makes about 12-14 hearty servings.
- 2 lbs Black Beans ( I buy these dry, in 4lb bags because it ends up being cheaper ) $2.89
- 7 oz can of Chipotle Peppers in adobo sauce. ( These have so much flavor you really don’t need to add any more spices) $1.75
- 28 oz can of Diced Tomatoes. ( Could probably go cheaper, and healthier, with fresh tomatos, but this is so fast ) $1.99
- 2 Carrots, chopped. ( 57 cents a pound ) $0.22
- 2 Red Bell Peppers, chopped. ( red are usually the cheapest – 35 cents a pound – and contribute the most flavor ) $1.40
- One large onion, chopped. $0.79
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped. $0.15
Rinse the beans, throw them in a big pot, and add 12 cups of water. Bring to boil and let cook while you chop and prep the other ingredients. Throw everything else in the pot and reduce to medium low heat. Stir occasionally until beans get soft, about 2 hours.
This won’t win any chili cook-offs, and purists will argue that it’s not ACTUALLY chili, but it’s pretty damn good for the price. A double serving of this (about a cup and a half) is only about 200 calories, has almost no fat, very little sodium, 30g of fiber, and 18g of protein. Not bad!
Steel Cut Oatmeal and Blueberries – I eat this for breakfast everyday. Prepare the oatmeal according to directions on the packaging, and then add frozen blueberries just before it’s done cooking. This can all be made in one giant batch and then refrigerated so it’s ready to go in the morning before work, or you can prepare it fresh, if you like.
- John McCann Steel Cut Oatmeal. $5.95 at Trader Joe’s
- Bag of Frozen Blueberries. $1.99 at Trader Joe’s
That leaves a little over $2 remaining. I usually buy two single servings of greek yogurt ($0.79) for after-weight-training snacks.
Grand Total: $18.71
Hell, you could even treat yourself to a cup of coffee with what’s left!
Hope this helps!
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