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Meals on a Budget

By Jacob Mabille Published 09/4/2006 | Food & Drink

Trying to feed your family while on a tight budget can be a time-consuming and difficult task, but it doesnt have to be. Eating on the cheap doesnt mean giving up great taste or things that you love, it just means planning ahead and using what you have. With these simple tips you can feed your family well on less than forty dollars a week.

First, make a list of all the foods your family likes; include prepared dishes like macaroni and cheese as well as single items like ham. This will help you plan meals that incorporate several of the same ingredients without feeding your family the same dish over and over again. Add to the list things youd like to try.

Next, make a list of what you actually have on-hand, and make sure you note what youve had forever that hasnt been eaten. If you have a lot of junk food, you have a lot of empty calories that arent feeding your family very well and cost a lot of money. By noting what you have that hasnt been used, you know what to avoid (if it was something your family didnt like) or maybe you need to find a recipe that uses that item. For example, I had garbanzo beans that I had no idea what to do with. I found a simple recipe for hummus, a healthy middle-eastern dip that goes well with bread, crackers and even veggies, and my family loves it! I use it as a snack, or to serve with "salad" dinners on nights when it is too hot to cook.

This will help you begin to build a basic pantry, which can be a huge money-saving tool. I always have shredded cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) frozen in week-sized packages, rice, bacon bits (which you can home-make and freeze for later), ranch salad dressing, vinegar, cooking oil and basic spices (basil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, chili powder and dried onion) and condiments (ketchup, mustard, vinegar, barbeque sauce and red cooking wine. You will want to build a basic pantry around things you eat often and learn how to incorporate those things into your weekly planning. Do this slowly, as you do not want to stress your budget. Many of these things can be bought in bulk and put into smaller packages or you can grow your own in a small garden or several pots on a patio.

Once you know what you already have, sit down with a calendar and see what kind of time youll have to prepare your meals. In general, cooking things yourself will be less expensive than if you purchase pre-packaged items. It is possible to incorporate some items like these into your budget, or you can cook double amounts and freeze portions for quick, healthy home-cooked meals on a dime. Plan your meals according to the time you and your family will have. Include in this planning some time to make extras for days when time will be tight. My children eat cereal, oatmeal or eggs and toast for breakfast and drink milk (no juice!). For lunches we eat left-overs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with seasonal fruit or carrots. Snacks are usually fruit, carrots or bread with peanut butter or goodies Ive made myself. After dinner we like to have a treat of ice cream, so that is my familys splurge. You should make sure you plan a splurge into your menu.

When I plan, I start with the things I have on hand and build around those. I also noted that chicken was on sale at the local grocery store, so I bought a several pounds again, some I will freeze and save, and the rest I will use this week. In the shopping list at the bottom, Ive only noted the amount of chicken I used this week, not the total amount I purchased. I always try to take advantage of sales on meat.

To begin the week, Ill make simple grilled chicken either on the grill or in a cast-iron skillet on the stove. Season this with garlic, butter and basil, and serve with a side of rice and a simple tossed salad and some grapes. The salad will re-appear throughout the week, as will the grapes. Ill make spaghetti with meat sauce for Tuesday night. Using pound of hamburger Ill make my own sauce from tomato paste and any seasonable veggies in my garden. Ill serve the spaghetti with steamed broccoli and grapes or cantaloupe. While the sauce and noodles are cooking, I will assemble Wednesday nights dinner, as it is a late day for me. Using my broccoli, cauliflower, cheese, bacon bits, grapes, ranch dressing and left over chicken, Ill made a salad for the next night. The salad doesnt need to be served with anything, but you could serve bread and butter. Thursday night Ill make chicken cacciatore using more of the pasta sauce from Tuesday and the green pepper. Serve this over rice and with the tossed salad and whatever fruit you like. Friday night is another busy one, so we eat left-overs this night. Saturday well have the rest of the chicken over noodles in a sauce made of milk, flour, basil, garlic and butter with steamed broccoli. Sunday Ill use the rest of the hamburger to make a meatloaf topped with more of my sauce made on Monday.

Shopping List

3 pounds of chicken 6.44
1 small can of tomato paste .56
bag salad or lettuce 2.23
carrots 2.39
green pepper .75
red seedless grapes 1.46
cantaloupe .85
bananas .88
small head of broccoli 1.15
small head of cauliflower 1.23
1 pound hamburger (chuck) 2.76
milk (2 gallons) 5.14
wheat bread (2 loaves) 1.56
Cereal 2.35
Ice cream 4.67
Total 33.56

Jacob Mabille writes for Health Guides & Articles where you can find more health tips and related articles. You may republish this article only if you retain resource box and active hyperlinks.