HomeQ&A Wednesday, RecipesQ&A Wednesday: The $50 Challenge

Q&A Wednesday: The $50 Challenge

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:

By | 2017-06-10T11:21:49+00:00 December 18th, 2014|Q&A Wednesday, Recipes|46 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and crtified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because lol why not.


  1. Ashley R. (DazzlingRayn) January 19, 2011 at 1:23 PM - Reply

    Wow I love this post. As a poverty stricken grad student, I’m always trying to eat healthy and clean. I would also suggest trying whatever veggie is on sale that week. One of the great things about the internet is that you can find recipes and ways to cook ANYTHING, even if you’ve never made it before! For example, I hate brussels sprouts but my boyfriend loves them. I found a recipe where they are sauteed and browned…and I threw some onions in. So good. I’ll try any food once.

    Another cheap thing that I love? BEANS. Dried, canned, whatever, they are cheap and they are filling and they are good. Beans and quinoa and green pepper pilaf with chicken broth that I made by poaching chicken–my lunch today.

    Great post, again!

  2. Maureen January 19, 2011 at 1:26 PM - Reply

    This is amazing!!!!!!!!! I try to do similar planning especially for weekday meals. It almost becomes an exciting challenge to come up with home-prepared meals that are cheap, healthy, and satisfying. Mad props for coming in under $50!!!

  3. jasmine January 19, 2011 at 1:45 PM - Reply

    I’ve found that since I started to make an effort to minimize processed foods, I’m spending much less. (I’m not totally off due to time constraints, but I’m making great strides) my ‘aha’ moment was when I wanted red mashed potatoes- the ready made ‘fresh’ store brand was $2.47 and enough for a meal & 2 leftover meals (usually for lunch in my world). The bag of potatoes was $3.50 and enough for 2 sunday breakfasts (yay frittatas), 2 dinners (and with lunch leftovers) and a bag of frozen diced/seasoned potatoes to use later in a casserole, another breakfast or the like.

    My average shopping bill (when I’m not replacing staples) is under $50. I’ve been shopping this way for about a month. The savings in not buying ready made (heathly choice meals, pizzas, etc) plus cookies, chips, snack packs, etc is about half-most of which I would throw out because it went stale/bad due to eating out. Not to mention the money I wasted on take out-about another $50- $75/wk

  4. ChellBellz January 19, 2011 at 1:46 PM - Reply

    Pow I know thats right, when you want to make something work you will. eating clean has actually been much cheaper to me when buying portion sized things. I dont have a kid so it’s not the same i guess, but I do by two servings sometimes 4. Frozen Veggies are my life, and if i make Chicken, Steak or Pork…( pause) , I really do pay attention to portions and that makes a difference. and since i’m into making things like sausage from scratch, and breakfast with Oatmeal it doesn’t cost much.

    trust me there is a way.

  5. Kirsten January 19, 2011 at 1:54 PM - Reply

    I got a lot out of this, it is helpful to see what your meals look like.

    Plus, I LOVED the reference to the old school butterfly, nothing says in your face like pulling out an old school dance.

  6. Juanita January 19, 2011 at 1:55 PM - Reply

    Hi, I have been following your site for a few months now. It is very inspiring and your articles are always super interesting. This was a great post for me because I too am struggling to keep my weekly grocery bill for two adults (my partner and me) under 100$. These are very good ideas to go by and work with.

    And… The butterly??? So funny! My mind went blank for a second, thinking, what’s that again? and I then was I was rolling on the floor! Well, you won that bet, so you can definitely bust the moves out!

  7. Shana January 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM - Reply

    When trying to save money, shopping at a Farmers Market can be your best friend. I took my first trip to a Farmers Market this past Sunday and I found some great deals on fresh fruits and vegetables.

  8. Chintel January 19, 2011 at 2:20 PM - Reply

    I love it. Some ppl think its so hard to shop on a budget. I’ve been doing it since i moved out of my moms house. Me and my boyfriend live together and i go grocery shopping every two weeks on payday. I never spend more than $100.00 at the grocery store. Thats to include our tissue products, soaps, and detergents. If u cook ur meals its way cheaper to shop. Plus buy store brand. The national brand is not all the hype its cracked up to be.

    Another suggestion i have is to go to the grocery store once. Make a list or plan a menu. That way u don’t buy things u don’t need. I find that ppl who spot shop spend way more money. Also never grocery shop hungry. LOL.

    Good article

  9. JoAnna January 19, 2011 at 2:26 PM - Reply

    $50 per week is enough if you eat sensibly. That means no $5.99/lb cherries in January! But I can afford a 2lbs bag of precooked large frozen shrimp for $7.99 to add to stirfries or a seafood chowder, and still have some leftover to keep in the freezer for a later meal.

    I rotate my breakfast meals between eggs and old fashioned oatmeal. Lunch is usually a turkey sandwich with sliced cheese and fruit and a small salad, or a large salad with turkey, crackers and some cheese. Dinner depends on what was on sale that week. Since I do most of the cooking, I have to watch that I don’t make too large a pot ’cause I’ll eat the same thing for dinner all week if it’s good and I’m busy. And even keeping a $50 budget, there are always eggs, cheese, pancake fixins, frozen veggies, and fruit in my kitchen.

    It amazes me when my housemate will complain that there’s no food in the house because it’s leftovers, or none of it is cooked. Then she’ll go out and spend $14 on a deluxe pizza & pop, and later complain her gout is acting up…

  10. Tiana January 19, 2011 at 2:45 PM - Reply

    Awesome post! I’ve been crossing over to this clean eating lifestyle for the past couple of months and some of the stuff you mentioned is so reassuring! I was doing the 100 calorie packs and lean cuisines and stuff thinking I was “investing” in my health, but I had been thinking lately, “there’s gotta be a cheaper way to do this”…it’s me and my lovey and we’re just now starting to get back to normal after this hard economic crash and I’ve been on this “how can we live way below our means as much as possible” mission.

    Keep it up! This is just what we need! Oh and I’m hella weak off the butterfly…lol

    Tiana (=^_^=)

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