$100 isn’t Cake

Happy Monday and happy end-of-challenge!

Last week was full of obstacles, including difficulty properly expressing my views (evidently), trouble with fighting my natural tendencies to grab dinner out on a Friday night and trouble trying to eat to my definition of healthy within the budgetary constraints.

We ended up spending a total of $84.52 last week. This included all breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for all of us. I know I got a lot of feedback that $100 a week was going to be cake, but there was no cake over here- it was freaking tough, required planning and prep work and I’m so proud of us for sticking with it.

Last night I spent some time discussing the week with David. I couldn’t figure out why I found it so tough when so many people said it would be so easy. He concluded that my definition of healthy may be a bit skewed. Por ejemplo: healthy eating to me includes as many veggies as possible, lean protein, whole grains and very few processed carbs. Therefore I didn’t see spaghetti and sauce as a super healthy meal, while he assured me that most people would consider that perfectly healthy. (I had to sneak in some frozen veggies)

pasta veggies and sauce

He also speculated that the challenge was probably actually easier for us because we aren’t picky eaters. Some combos we ate might have had the average American saying absolutely not.

sweet potato peanut butter breakfast

The only one who didn’t notice much of a change was Hailey. She ate sweet potatoes, peas, bananas, broccoli and a little Greek yogurt.

Hailey peas

Frozen peas have become my new baby staple. It’s so easy to just pour a few out in front of Hailey and let her go to town.

I don’t know how we could have made it through the week without bread or pasta. Gluten-free on a budget would be tough!  (at least for me). We had pasta 2 nights and lots of sandwiches (pb&j and grilled cheese) for snacks. I paid close attention to how far our food would stretch, especially when we felt we got gypped.

hole in bread

Yup, that hole went through half the loaf. Not cool.

Although cooking with canned tomato juice worked well for dishes that required canned tomatoes, trying to cook an egg without cooking spray or butter quickly turned into a hot mess. Then, there were spices.  Or actually, there weren’t any spices. Since I didn’t use anything I already had on hand, we ate a few bland meals (until I splurged on the Pace- totally worth it!)

I also realized quickly how much I miss my leafy greens. I’ve become accustomed to adding spinach into almost all my meals and some sort of green at every meal I can. One night I picked arugula off my plant on the porch (it needed to be picked and I was not going to waste it).

arugula from garden

Wow- what a difference! The spicy greens made this tuna salad delicious. I’m now on a mission to grow more of my own greens. They’re cheaper than store bought and must be loaded with more nutrition, since they only have to travel 10 feet from “farm” to fork.

This was the hardest challenge I’ve conquered; much more difficult than being a pescatarian for 40 days. I’m ready to move on from the challenge, but will keep using some of the tips I learned: buying a whole chicken, buying plain Greek yogurt for dual use, throwing carrots in when roasting veggies (cheap and tasty!) and keeping frozen veggies on hand for Hailey and to add extra veggies to our meals.

I think produce would have been easier to add in if I could have utilized the farmers market. We also probably would have been able to stretch a dollar even further if I could have planned a month at a time, rather than a week because I’d have some things left over (like now I have extra salt, pepper, flour, tomato sauce, tomato paste, carrots and celery that I could have continued to use into the next week without buying more).

David was such a trooper to stick with it. I feel like I owe him something special for being such a good sport. Anyone know where I can find a bouquet of these?

for the hubbs

So those of you that said $100 a week is easy, and those that are great at being on a budget, help me out…

What is your go-to budget-friendly healthy meal?

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Comments

  1. says

    I don’t think $100/week is “cake,” either. I agree that some of it depends on what a person’s grocery staples are and also where they live. Depending on where you live, $100 can stretch or buy just a bag of groceries, you know?
    Our budget is actually $100 a week, but we often go over it in order to stock up on sales when we see them (we shop at discount grocery stores and my husband is a great online deal finder. We’ve gotten Amy’s Organic soups and chili’s for 50 cents a can and he checks dealnews.com a LOT) but then it kind of evens out.
    It’s not easy to get high-quality food on a budget. I think you did a great job!

    • says

      Please share how you got Amy’s soups for $.50 a can because that is AWESOME. Thanks for not making me feel like it’s easy and I missed something :)

      • says

        We got those at one of the discount grocery stores in our area. It’s about 20-30 minutes away but worth it when I find deals like that!
        Are there discount grocery stores in your area?

  2. says

    I’d say we spend around 100 a week maybe120. But we have 2 kids, buy organic when possible. We also only eat out maybe once a month (never have time o go out since my husband works so late) and we are able to shop at the military grocery store which is SO cheap. I got a name brand box of cereal for 99 cents last week and an entire pack of chicken breasts are 3 bucks! We do a lot of casserole like chicken pot pie. Healthy and it usually stretches 2 nights. I am ALL about leftovers!

  3. says

    I’m sure if you always had to stick to $100 a week, then it would become closer to “cake,” but drastically cutting your budget without changing your health standards is never easy.
    Frozen veggies and dried beans are my two cheap eating staples. Oh and condiments! They may be expensive up front, but having a full range of condiments can add a ton of flavor options without a huge cost per use.

  4. Justine says

    Try to find a produce Co-op near you. Our family uses bountiful baskets and spends $15 bi-weekly on enough produce to fill a laundry basket.

  5. Jen says

    If you have leftover money, would you be able to use it towards the next week, or do you lose it?
    Hailey is so cute eating those peas! I’m assuming you don’t give them to her frozen? Does she chew/gum them? I’d be so nervous about my baby swallowing one whole, but I guess that’s why BLW isn’t for me :)

    • says

      babies can swallow a whole pea, they won’t choke on it because it is a food that is easily gummed and mushed. once they have use of their pincher grasp they can have foods like that. you should try it! although my son doesn’t like peas sadly.

    • says

      I have given them to her from there freezer, actually :) I hold them in my hand for a minute and it’s all it takes to defrost them. H definitely gums them, but like Katie said, I think they could swallow one whole and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I do think it’s so important to do what you feel most comfortable with!

  6. says

    I think David is right. “Healthy” is defined differently by different people and depending on how you look at it, your budget will most likely vary a lot.

    My budget friendly meals are generally stoups and casseroles. They go a long way, especially when paired with a salad. :)

  7. says

    I think the way you handled this entire situation should be commended. It’s not easy keeping your cool when so many people are arguing with you as passionately as they were, but you stayed professional and level headed in all your responses (that I’ve seen at least).

    I don’t know if you’ve seen “Sandra’s Money Saving Meals” on the Food Channel, but she recently did a vegetarian segment that really impressed me- http://www.foodnetwork.com/sandra-s-money-saving-meals/garden-variety/index.html

  8. says

    I don’t really have any super-genius tips, unfortunately. But one thing I DO like to do that’s pretty darn cheap … I like to buy packages of flatbread (or sometimes English muffins or pita bread). Then I top the flatbread with some tomato sauce, a little mozzarella cheese, and either turkey pepperoni or lots of veggies. Bake in a 400 degree oven for just 6-7 minutes, and you have a great personal pizza. That’s definitely a cheap and tasty meal! :)

  9. says

    I would say it all depends on what you already have at home! Obviously I stock up on sauces/frozen foods/pasta/canned goods etc. when they are on sale, and use lots of coupons and stuff for cereal, snack bars, etc. If you are buying fresh meat and whatnot it can get expensive but you can often find healthy frozen chicken breasts and whatnot for 1/2 the price of two big fresh ones!

    • says

      Haha! I totally should have celebrated with cooking spray! ;) I thought about splurging with the final $15, but was just exhausted (…ok, lazy!) and figured one more night of noodles suited me just fine ;)

  10. says

    Your husband is reasoning the same as mine – like the example he made. I’m like you – I too want to add as much veggies and lean protein as possible where healthy to others is not this way at all thus they can make money stretch a lot farther.

  11. Margaret says

    Go to budget friendly healthy meal? Potato (Russet, red, mini – whatever!) topped with homemade tuna salad or the frozen blocks of broccoli & cheddar. It’s not always the freshest combination, but it’s quick, easy, usually very cheap, and so low-cal!

  12. says

    This would be really hard for me too…at least w/ my husband. haha

    We eat a lot and probably spend $150 a week on groceries plus we usually go out once. I think that’s a good point about what you think is healthy vs. what the average person thinks is healthy. For many a jar of sauce and pasta would be an improvement (health-wise) over what they are eating, but I wouldn’t view that as a healthy meal either.

  13. says

    I think it’s great that you were able to stick it out and to do it for under $100!! I’ll definitely be looking into some of your tips you shared as we’re always looking for ways to cut down our food budget!

  14. says

    Great job, Brittany! I’m so proud of you for sticking with it :) I wonder if it would have been a bit easier if you spent the extra $15.48?

    • says

      Yes! But I was nervous we’d run out of cash, so I saved it all, then at the end I contemplated splurging on a pizza or something, but decided I’d just finish the week out and put the $15 towards next week :)

  15. says

    Aldi’s! A great store for when you’re on a budget, ESPECIALLY for produce. Their bags of spinach are only $1.25 same for butter lettuce, spring mix, and romaine is even cheaper! Plus they have staples like cabbage, peppers, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, garlic, zucchinni, fresh broccoli and couliflower, baby carrots, and celery plus more. It is a great resource. The only other thing I buy there are spices, taco seasoning, mozzarella balls, canned black beans and their frozen veggies (good on the run, but a bit more than if you found a 10 for 10 sale in your local store). That will really help you to save!

      • Kris says

        There is an Aldi in Mooresville. Wish I could tell you exactly where (DH grew up there); closer to the older part of town. We started shopping at Aldi when we were stationed in Germany. You won’t find many name brands, but the Aldi house brands are great quality. You do need to check it out.

  16. says

    I almost always have stuff on hand to make this, dried black beans, bone in split chicken breast, canned tomatoes, and onions into the crockpot with “mexican” seasonings and garlic powder. When it’s done, I shred the chicken and it’s great for burritos or enchiladas, on top of rice, or even on a salad if you’re not afraid of a sloppy texture. You can adapt the ratio to whatever you have on hand and it stretches pretty far.

  17. says

    I would just be eating for one person, and would think 100 dollars would be hard! I guess its because I usually buy organic foods and expensive products I don’t “need”. You did such a great job though!

  18. Krista says

    I’m impressed. There are 4 of us but only 3 to feed (youngest is 3 months old), and we spend close to $200 every week at Supertarget. And I usually pick up a few things during the week as well. That includes all toiletries too, but still. We don’t meal plan, just grab mostly the same things each week.
    I forgot about Aldi, will have to remember to go there! That’s my latest issue though since returning to work – finding enough hours in the day.

  19. kristin point says

    Groceries are super expensive where I live on long island. I try to save $ by stocking up at trader joes when I’m in the area (the nearest tjs is an hour and a half away but convienently by my parents and hairdressers etc), stocking up on pantry items when they are on sale, buying americas choice or store brand, eating leftovers and cutting back on dining out… Nothing earth shattering but it adds up. I think the challenge was very interesting and u handled criticism well! In this economy there are many hardworking people who can’t find jobs in their field or are working for less then they’re qualified for (me!). Seeing how others stretch their dollars is very helpful!

  20. jennifer says

    The only reason we stay under $100 a week is because what we have on hand is used. If we ate like you for a week it would be hard. I usually buy a lot of pasta or rice and other grains and lean meat at once. Then just buy veggies and fruits and more as needed over the rest of the month. It usually averages out. I am impressed with you guys! Your meals are definately different then mine but I am learning to add more greens in at night. :)

  21. says

    That definitely IS a super hard challenge, especially when you do have different standards of “healthy” compared to most Americans! (I totally do too!!!) but you’re still doing great with the challenge!

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