6/8/2011 6:20 PM ET|
How to eat when you're really broke
Forget fast food, processed foods and eating out frequently. Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can still serve healthful, tasty meals.
The average American family of four spends $727 a month on food -- but you can spend substantially less and still be healthy.
Nutritious meals for two adults and two kids can be prepared for just over $500 a month, said Robert Post, the deputy director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. A single person can get by with a monthly food budget of about $225 a month.
"You do not have to sacrifice the healthy choices on a low budget," Post said. "There's a way to do it."
If you're newly broke, or trying to save money for other purposes like paying down debt, your grocery list is a great place to look for savings. Although food is the third-largest expenditure for most households, after housing and transportation, it's also one of the most flexible and can easily be trimmed on the fly. Here are some general principles to keep in mind:
Eat mostly at home. U.S. households on average spend 41% of their food budgets outside their homes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey (the proportion is 44% for singles). While you may think you're saving money dining off the dollar menu, you could be courting health problems, since the cheapest fast food items are often the ones loaded with fat and sugar. The foods that should be filling half your plate -- fruits and vegetables -- may be hard to find or overly processed when you buy them from fast-food outlets, so ultimately you'll save money and eat better preparing food at home. (Also, read Donna Freedman's column on eating on $4 a day.)
Skip the processing. Steer away from foods with lots of additives, chemicals and packaging; they're often not as good for you, and they can drive up the cost of your groceries. Instead, opt for foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. That may mean you have to spend a little more time preparing your meals, but I've included helpful tips below on how to make that more convenient.
Demote meat. Beef, chicken, pork and fish often take a starring role in American meals, whereas in less-wealthy countries they're often supporting players or make only cameo appearances: Think bowls of rice or grain topped with lots of veggies and a few bits of meat or seafood. Or you can skip meat entirely for much cheaper protein sources, such as eggs or beans (a half cup of beans has as much protein as 3 ounces of steak).
Nuts, legumes, seeds and dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt, are other good sources of protein. Water-packed canned tuna and salmon, which you frequently can find on sale, can help you get the 8 to 12 ounces of seafood the USDA says you should have every week. The new "Healthy Plate" guidelines, which the USDA recently introduced to replace the old food pyramid, reflect these changes by replacing the old "meat and beans" category with "protein foods."
Promote veggies. The typical household should spend about 40% of its food budget on fruits and vegetables, Post said. Buying in-season produce on sale is one way to save while filling your plate. Also consider frozen or canned vegetables and fruit. Frozen produce is typically processed soon after harvest, which preserves more nutrients, but be careful with canned foods, because they can have too much salt and sugar. Opt for low-sodium versions and fruit packed in juice, not syrup, Post recommended. If you have a farmers' market nearby, consider shopping there, especially toward the end of the day when you may be able to negotiate deals on produce farmers would otherwise have to haul home.
Go for the grains. Wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley and cereal grains are filling and fairly inexpensive, especially if you buy in bulk. Opt for whole grains, which offer more nutrients and fiber. Oatmeal makes a nutritious, satisfying breakfast for just pennies a serving, while brown rice can be served at any meal (it's pretty good heated up with milk and honey).
Watch the waste. Studies estimate that Americans waste up to 40% of our food supply. If that's the case in your household, you could save hundreds of dollars a year just by patrolling your refrigerator, freezer and pantry each day so you can use stuff before it rots.
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There's a lot people out there that would love $500.00 a month to eat on
I'm a teacher, not broke but on a tight budget. What helps me is that I have access to some of that 40% waste, not through households but through the school. The rule at the preschool where I work is that once food has been prepared, the leftovers cannot be saved and re-served later. I eat some of the leftovers at lunch and have gotten permission to take more home at the end of the day. It's good stuff too; soup, carrot sticks, apple slices, cheese, beans, rice, pasta, etc. That food makes up about 75% of what I eat, and every bit of it would have gone straight to the dumpster otherwise.
Buy in bulk? Most of us that are poor can't afford to buy in bulk because we don't have enough money NOW to pay for it upfront, yeah we understand that we'd be spending less money in the longrun, but we can't pay the price NOW.
How to eat when you're really broke? Please do an article on how to eat healthy when you only have around $200 a month for 2 people...that's poor, and that's the reality of what most people I know are trying to deal with. If my in-laws didn't help with me and my husband's groceries, we would barely eat.
Quality beef for $3.00 or less per pound or most veggies at $4.00 or more per pound. What should people buy? If one buys beans they need to buy bulk dry beans otherwise canned beans will cost about the same as whatever beef is on sale.
Inexpensive and great tasting stew
Get a crock-pot
3 to 4 sliced potatoes
1 or 2 sliced red onions
5 or 6 stalks of sliced celery
couple handfuls of diced carrots
1/2 pound of sliced beef (whatever is on sale)
tablespoon of marjoram
1 can of crushed tomatoes
tablespoon or two of salt
tablespoon of pepper
tablespoon of powdered ginger
6 cups of water
2 beef bullion cubes
cook on high for about 4 hours then medium for another 2.
Arise, Hunt, Kill, Eat much cheaper and the game is better for you than processed meat.
Plant a garden to grow your own veggies.
A little work can go a long way!!!
I am a mother of 2, (family of 3). We spend about $250 a month on groceries and are no where near starving. I split it up to about $50 a week. I make 2 to 3 course meals every night, the sides usually being salad. Also, I prepare their lunches from our groceries, too. I dont know who is spending about $700 a month on food. Thats a shock to me!
Out tight (not broke) budget recipe: Buy (whatever) meat is on sale, cut, wrap in aluminum (w/ salad dressing,fresh cut veggies) and stick in the toaster oven medium heat for an hour. We supplement w/ steam rice or brown pasta.
We bag different cereals for snacks. Water and milk and juice as treats. Sunday is our splurge-dinner day... pizza (I grab safeway's family size whenever they go on sale for $5) , tacos, hamburgers)
When I was single (which was less than 5 years ago, not 1950 mind you) I'd spend around $100 a month on food if that and I ate relatively good. I didn't have steak every night or anything, but it's not like I was living off Top Ramen and I didn't even use coupons at all then.
40% waste? I can understand if you have younger kids who don't eat everything on their plate or you never eat leftovers if there are any in the first place, but are people really buying things in such excess and/or so fearful of expiration dates that they throw almost half of it away?
Most things will keep in a freezer for up to a year, canned food even longer as long as its still sealed. Hell most of the dates printed on stuff now aren't even true "expiration" dates they're just sell by dates for the store and things generally last at least a week after that date. Maybe it's just me, but given the way I was raised and the people I've been around 40% seems like a high number.
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