Food-on-a-Budget Ideas

I'm thinking that after I've finished our "automatic dinners and staples" experiment ( ) I should experiment some more with lowering our budgetary requirements. Here are some old ideas I had that I found very helpful as well as doable; they do not lose sight of delicious-ness, health, seasonality, etc. for me....Of course "inexpensive" options differ by area....

Overall meal plans featuring some inexpensive options during the week
  • Dinners each week: 3 vegetarian; 1 eggs; 1 meat; 2 fish

Adequate ideas
  • You may require only one probiotic dish per day if you're like me, and they can be more expensive at least if you don't make your own, so just plan on 1 of each: say 1 kombucha a day (that's 1/4 to 1/3 of a bottle for me) or 1 kefir serving a day or 1 serving real sauerkraut a day, not more.
  • Do do "super foods," whatever make you feel fabulous, once a day (more if you can afford it); for me that's one among kombucha, raw berries, raw papaya, fresh herbs, other raw; however, I have chocolate and sometimes sherry as well in addition to those.

Denser nutrient ideas
  • When you buy kefir or yogurt, get the brand(s) you like that have the most calcium per serving so you don't need as much per serving, so it goes farther.
  • Do "double-nutrient" dishes: kale counts for a calcium-rich as well as vegetables; fish with bones counts for a calcium-rich as well as fish.
  • I adore cream sherry, and in the long run it costs a lot less than red wine because of the sherry's thimble-full serving size, and red wine is hard to find decent of in this area anyway...

Smart ideas
  • Avoid very wasteful options; for me that's a certain delivery place whose produce is rarely fresh.
  • If your area's restaurants leave you feeling awful (all of the nearby of ours do), skip them and eat in. However, do support yourself as much as possible in your efforts -- do have decent utensils, appliances, cookbooks, food magazines, etc. that you'd use a lot.
  • If something expensive is not super delicious and/or does not make you feel fabulous, don't get it.

Seasonal ideas
  • If there's something seasonal that you love but it is expensive, do have it at least once during the season.

Less costly ingredients ideas
  • In my experience, dried beans you soak overnight and cook yourself taste better than canned, and avoid the problem of sitting in plastic, etc.
  • Dried fruits can be incredibly less $ than fresh, and I rely on them a lot in the winter.

Extraordinarily budgetary ideas
  • For at least one dinner a week, with leftovers kept in the freezer for another week, try a version of MFK Fisher's idea in her How to Cook a Wolf, the chapter "How to Keep Alive": Basically gather The Truly Most Inexpensive Versions of Major Foodstuffs Right Now (which might include items from your garden, or using up things you've had a while, to avoid waste) and make as tasty a dish of them as you can. Include a protein, a grain, seasonal or other inexpensive vegetables, some olive  oil, and seasonings. They may or may not be nicer pureed after cooking...

    More expensive ideas
    • Don't get a huge amount of cheese, because though it's fabulous it is $ (in our area). When you do use it, count it as your vegetarian protein for dinner.

    Easy ideas
    • IF there is a very inexpensive easy tasty option, do it! In New York, Chinese takeout was full of vegetables, came with a whole orange per person, and cost a lot less than raw ingredients at the supermarket! It very likely saved my life in my single days! In this area, there's a restaurant that serves humongous portions, enough for 3 adults for dinner, for $7, also a lot less than I can get elsewhere.
    • If there's one inexpensive food store or other supplier that pretty much covers your needs, try just going there for a while, get only what's inexpensive or required, and see what it does for your budget. (I mention this to remind myself, because when I went to a supermarket that was supposed to be inexpensive it added up to over $200, but when I went to Natural Grocers, though it's a longer drive for me, it was only $120 and included much better-tasting food!) 
    • A variation on the above is to look at several inexpensive or great-sales stores in your area; my parents do that with great success.

    DIY ideas
    • Make your own as much as you can, e.g. cereal, bread.
    • If you garden, I'm told that's the most marvelous way to save on food! Even I saved a lot on fresh basil and mint, the $4 pots of which actually survived a few months on our kitchen counter (I finally learned why they hadn't survived in the past -- thank you to my daughter for pointing it out! -- the poor dears didn't have sunlight -- there is such a thing as photosynthesis, of course!)
    • I'm also told that pick-your-own is a fun and fabulously inexpensive option in some areas!

    I just re-discovered this site in which you too might be interested; I'll browse it later for more ideas for just myself:

    You may be at least entertained (or of course horrified) by ideas in a couple 1800s cookbooks I found free at the 1879 Twenty-Five-Cent Dinners for Families of Six by Juliet Corson and the 1887 Ten Dollars Enough: Keeping House Well on Ten Dollars a Week: How It Has Been Done, How It May Be Done Again by Catherine Owen. (I think it's telling that the latter was from a college faculty library!)

    This is a 1910-ish budget! though I don't know for how many people, nor even for sure if it's monthly or seems very high for monthly back then -- does anyone know??...