Eating Healthy on $20 a Week

Image courtesy of RedJar

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.

  1. 2 lbs Black Beans ( I buy these dry, in 4lb bags because it ends up being cheaper ) $2.89
  2. 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
  3. 28 oz can of Diced Tomatoes. ( Could probably go cheaper, and healthier, with fresh tomatos, but this is so fast ) $1.99
  4. 2 Carrots, chopped. ( 57 cents a pound ) $0.22
  5. 2 Red Bell Peppers, chopped. ( red are usually the cheapest – 35 cents a pound – and contribute the most flavor ) $1.40
  6. One large onion, chopped. $0.79
  7. 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!

Total: $9.19

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.

  1. John McCann Steel Cut Oatmeal. $5.95 at Trader Joe’s
  2. Bag of Frozen Blueberries. $1.99 at Trader Joe’s

Total: $7.94

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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7 Comments on “Eating Healthy on $20 a Week”

  1. Rachael Says:

    Not bad. And if you were to vary your staples each week- say the next week you base your meals on rice, lentils, and different vegetables- you would gradually build up a pantry of dry goods… that would eventually leave more of your weekly budget for fresh produce and maybe some cage-free eggs every now and again.

  2. This is very clever, and well done. This is much healthier than most Americans eat. However, I’d like to point out that while it’s about three or four times as healthy as frozen dinners, candy bars, soda and sugared boxed junk, it’s still not actually healthy. Especially not if it’s ALL you’re eating. Good work though.

    • danwalsh Says:

      The word ‘healthy’ has many definitions, and changes depending on the nutritional needs of each individual. What is your definition of healthy?

      • Shala Says:

        I agree. I don’t see it in particular a healthy way to eat, because depending on how you prepare it can be pretty unhealthy, however, home cooking in general tends to be healthier and les calories then going out to eat everyday. And of course its usually cheaper, cuz it goes a longer way.

  3. Shala Says:

    LOL cool. When you sit down and add up how much you’re spending each week eating out, or going to lunch, it makes you want to cut back so you can use that extra cash elsewhere. I do oatmeal and cereal for breakfast. Two great staples to have. The oatmeal does a great job keeping me full most of the day so I eat less, and it last a long time, one canister of oatmeal goes a long way. I also pick up tilapia fillets, a bag of baby spinach, and bacon, and rice. That goes a good ways, can be somewhat healthy, and can get turned into a different variety of meals each day.

  4. stanley Says:

    I think we will all benefit from less consumption of processed foods. I eat oatmeal, cornbread, collard greens, mustard greens and turnip greens, romaine lettuce and tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, dried pinto,black beans and peas. I buy 8 lbs of ground turkey meat for 7 dollars. I buy 6 cans of sardines for 6 dollars. buy a bag of rices and a few sweet potatoes. I drink water and green tea. I buy oranges, frozen blueberries and bananas cheap along with plain yogart. BTW I grow most of my food year round in my own garden. I drink some tequila now and then, it kills the germs.

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