Did you see the AP article that featured three chefs planning meals for a family of four on $68.88 a week? Check it out here if you missed it. Food budgeting is an important topic that we cover in Operation Frontline classes. Two of the chefs went over budget so after reading the story, I started thinking about how I would go about it, and most importantly stay within budget. I figured that with my OFL experience and limited budget myself as an AmeriCorps, this was right up my alley.
Last week I got my box of fresh, beautiful produce through Fresh Food Share, which is a community-based food distribution program run jointly through the Green Ribbon Collaborative (made up of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan, Greening of Detroit and Eastern Market). For $17 this month's box contained oranges, apples, grapes, romaine lettuce, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, eggplant, broccollini, tomatoes and the most gorgeous peppers I've ever seen. Armed with enough produce to get through the week (and I'm sure far beyond that), I already had a good foundation for my meals. In our classes we like to tell our participants to take stock of what they have and build from there so you're not buying superfluous goods, especially with produce, which goes bad really fast. Other than berries, bananas, peppers and cilantro, I pretty much stuck to the veggies that were in my box (I got the $10 box, which still had more than enough produce for the week).
The budget buster is almost always the protein, which made up a huge portion of the chefs' budgets in the article. I usually buy meat from Honey Bee Market in southwest Detroit because they have such great deals, including chicken legs for 49 cents a pound and tilapia for only $2.99 a pound (compare that with $9.99 sometimes at Whole Foods!!). I picked up beef for stir fry so I could use up some of those mouthwatering veggies in my produce box and tacos for meat. Honey Bee also has very cheap produce and I almost always pick up peppers, cilantro and avocadoes there on my way home from work.
For staples, I pop in to Kroger near my apartment. You really can't go wrong with the 10 for $10 deals plus they have good meat sales. You can get a whole chicken for less than $1 per pound and that chicken goes a long way in feeding you for the week. I also got a big bag of rice here for $2.69 but I like to buy my rice at Asian markets--you definitely get a lot more bang for your buck. Same goes for seasonings such as soy sauce and sesame oil. You can get a much bigger bottle of these things than the smaller container found in the international aisles at the supermarket.
Finally one last tip for shopping on a budget is to shop in season. Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits but they're pricey most of the time--except for now. I saw strawberries for $1 at Meijer this week while shopping for a class; at Kroger they are on sale for 2 for $3.
What about you? Share your own menus and shopping list in the comments below!