Yummy... clean... and cheap!

Q: Okay Erika, you’re always talking about saving money and eating clean… but I don’t see it! My grocery cart has never cost me more than a hundred dollars for me and my son and regardless of what anyone says… it is expensive to eat healthy! I’m just not sold on it. Prove to me just how little you can spend and maybe I’ll try your tips.

I’ve said this time and time again: if your grocery cart – for two people – is running you over $100 for one week’s worth of groceries… you’re being too many pre-made products.

I mean, let’s be clear, here. You can find pre-made items that are “clean” and “foreign substance-free,” but they’re hellapricey… and rightfully so. They’re saving you time as well as providing you with quality products. I can totally see why people would purchase those products.

But for me – someone who has the time and know-how to create my own stuff – it’s pointless. I can make my own casserole dishes, my own pot pies, my own macaroni and cheese, my own sorbet, even. The most processed product in my cart – ever – is probably my almond milk. Plain and simple.

This Q&A is a challenge, though. Want to watch me put my own nutritional know-how to good use? Bet.

You know how I’m always writing about the poor? I do that because I always want us to consider those of us who have, in a way, the least amount of money – food stamps or not. Not everyone can afford the expensive products, systems or equipment that’s marketed to us as being “part of a healthy lifestyle.” That being said, I asked twitter to give me a run down of what a single mother with a child might receive on food stamps. The numbers I got centered somewhere around $60/week… but then there were women who spoke up and said that number might be even less for them since they’re employed.

So… I decided to stick with $50, just to see how well I could do. Let’s go.

Here are my terms:

  1. Since I’m trying to keep the lowest common denominator in mind, I’m only shopping at one grocery store, here. I may have the personal luxury of living around several very different stores, but many do not. I have no problem scaling back to make sure that everyone can try to relate, here.
  2. My state does not tax non-processed items. Meaning there’s no state tax on fruits, veggies or anything else deemed healthy by the state. Therefore, I’m not including tax, here. If your state doesn’t do this? You might want to start harassing – er, e-mailing and calling and visiting your congressional leaders.
  3. I’m shopping for a toddler and an adult to eat three times a day.
  4. I am presuming that this kitchen has staples – flour, cinnamon, butter, oil, basil, oregano, salt. If your kitchen doesn’t have these, set aside a couple of extra dollars each time and buy them one at a time. While unbleached flour might run you $4, sea salt is maybe $1.69. My store sells packs of oregano and basil for $0.69 a pop.
  5. If you are seeking to complain about “how much” I am eating, here… I can assure you that I’m not interested. When it comes to weight maintenance, a person weighing about 150lbs with moderately normal metabolism will eat considerably less during three meals than a person who weighs 250lbs with moderately normal metabolism during three meals. There’s no way around that. I’m not even trying to be insulting… I’m being honest, as someone who’s been there. My portions shrink as I’ve shrunk. Telling me “That wouldn’t be enough for me” doesn’t change the fact that it’s enough for me.
  6. Here’s a bonus note: it’s not necessary to analyze my “nutritional values.” On days that I might not get “enough protein,” there are days I get too much. The goal is a balanced nutritional lifestyle. Not “making sure every little item is accounted for in my diet.” That kind of mentality is more of a product of an industry that wants to profit off of your desire to “make sure every little nutrient is accounted for in every meal.” (And yes, I have studies to prove that.)

For breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and butter. A tin of oats is approximately $1.29.

For lunch, peanut butter sandwiches with apples sliced into eighths. Two loaves of bread? $2.49 a piece. Peanut butter will run you approximately $2.69. Apples are on sale now in the winter for $2.69 per bag. I’m also adding a bunch of bananas at about $2.00.

That’s both breakfast and lunch taken care of for $13.69. Yes – breakfast and lunch are the same every day. Keeps it quick and simple.

On to dinner.

For Sunday night dinner, I’m having stir fry. A bag of brown rice will run me about $1.99, and a bag of frozen “Japanese style veggie blend” veggies will cost $1.69. I’ll even throw in some sesame seeds – $0.69.  Toss in a little ginger, a little pepper, a little salt and olive oil? Boom. Quick and simple stir-fry. $4.37

For Monday night dinner, I’ll make a spinach and artichoke pasta with parmesan cream sauce. A box of farfalle (made properly) will cost about $1.99. Frozen spinach? $0.87. A jar of artichokes will cost $1.69. A jar of quality parmesan will cost $3.99. A half-pint of heavy cream? $1.79. Cook your pasta; put your spinach in a skillet to cook; add your artichokes and a little bit of oregano; add your farfalle (bowtie pasta) to the skillet and add your heavy cream and maybe a half cup of parmesan. As big as this dish is… you’ll have leftovers. Boom. $10.33, but you should have pasta and parmesan left over. You’ll need it.

Tuesday night? Pizza time. Make a dough at home, using a little yeast ($1.49 for three packets.) Slice up a tomato nice and thick (a big one should cost about a dollar.) Cut a red pepper into thin strips (about $1.50.) Roll your dough out flat, and bake it half-way at 375. Pull your dough out, lay your tomatoes out flat onto the pizza dough, lay your red pepper strips out around the pizza, and slide it back into the oven. Pull it back out, sprinkle it with parmesan and basil… slide it back in. $3.99 total.

Wednesday is baked chicken ziti night. Whole wheat penne pasta ($1.29), chicken cooked and shredded off the drumstick (a 5-pack is about $3.00 right now), tomato paste turned into tomato sauce ($1.69 for a tube, using a third of the tube), more of that parmesan jar and some oregano? Mix it all up, sprinkle the parmesan on top and bake it? $5.98.

I’m at $38.38 so far.

For Thursday, it’s spanish rice with tortillas and yogurt. A third of the brown rice from earlier this week, mixed in with a jar of salsa ($1.99), a little more of the tomato paste from Wednesday, and $1.49 worth of tortillas. The yogurt – usually Fage – costs about $1.83. $5.21 altogether.

Friday is chicken noodle soup day. A pack of frozen soup veggies for $1.49, a few pieces of chicken (from earlier this week), the rest of that bowtie pasta, a little oil (maybe a teaspoon or so), a little garlic powder with salt and pepper? That’s dinner for $1.49.

Saturday night? If you don’t have leftovers? Make another stir-fry. Chop up an apple and toss it in there, this time. Another bag of veggies at $1.69 and some more sesame seeds at $0.69. That adds another $2.38 to my total…

…and my grand total is $47.46. Pardon me while I bust out the old school Butterfly.

The reality of clean eating is that as you collect ingredients – not pre-made items – it becomes easier and cheaper to eat clean. Not being able to shop around for lower prices – I’m almost certain I could’ve found the pasta, the parmesan and the tortillas for cheaper at a smaller specialty store, but that’s okay. I also know I could’ve bought the rice, beans and seeds in bulk for way cheaper than the packages… but that doesn’t matter, either. I bought everything at one store, and I was still under $50.

For bare bones clean eating, $50 can get you pretty far in a fancy way. There’s also the $30 a week blog, where they show how they can eat cleanly in a vegetarian fashion. Gotta get it in where you fit it in, and if health is your priority? You make it work.

Other posts in the series: