Friday, October 16, 2009

Eat Cheap For A Week Challenge

The recession is being discussed everywhere you look - food bloggers included. People are constantly conversing and comparing notes on how to save money anywhere they can. It seems one of the first things people sacrifice is food.

No more daily take-out or dine-in meals. No more daily coffee runs to the local shop. No more throwing wasted food away because it went bad or no one felt like having left overs.

Suddenly, it's boxed meals and cheap imitation foods, instead of smarter food choices.

Since I'm a big believer in organic foods, I'm not willing to sacrifice my food first. I'd rather continue to eat as healthy as possible for a variety of reasons - level of health, especially as the cold weather approaches and germs tend to spread; mood regulation, to fend off depression or irritability; higher nutrient value in less food consumed, to prevent myself from eating and snacking constantly; etc.

Many of my friends and family believe I'm spending triple digits at the grocery store each week because I'm vocal about eating organic as much as possible. Oh, how I wish I had that kind of money. The truth is I have been frugal in my weekly grocery runs for quite some time now. Sure, I splurge occasionally on a big ticket item if I have a certain recipe in mind or if I'm celebrating a holiday and cooking a lot of food, but the majority of the time I watch my dollars carefully. (I also tend to go weekly since I use fresh vegetables and other ingredients, so they do not keep for several weeks.)

I decided I needed to do something to prove how it's possible to eat cheap organically. I Stumbled upon the food blog Cheap Healthy Good and found my answer. They took a challenge to eat for a week on $25 with a diverse menu that yielded 17 meals. All the recipes they used looked delicious and straightforward. I decided to duplicate their challenge with two differences: buy a week's worth of groceries for $50 and all ingredients must be organic.

Grocery List

2 whole chickens $14.72
8oz self-serve creamy peanut butter $3.99
6 carrots with top $2.99
3/4 lb green bell peppers $2.83
1 medium cucumber $2.70
1.29 lbs red potatoes $2.57
1 can salsa $2.50
6 pack 2 oz raisin boxes $2.09
1.18 lbs celery $1.76
1 lb yellow onions $1.69
Greek yogurt $1.69
1 can black beans $1.67
bundle green onions $1.59
1 lb brown rice $1.49
1 can corn $1.29
4 oz green chilies $1.19
1 can garbanzo beans $1.09
1 can white beans $0.89
2 lemons $0.79
2 oz roasted peanuts $0.44
1 small ginger root $0.28

Total $50.25 (it counts, just round down)

Now, this only works if you're able to shop at a store with self-service items, meaning not everything is in bulk. For example, I was able to purchase 2 oz of roasted peanuts instead of paying several dollars for a big jar of them. I also used several ingredients already on hand, which does not count toward the grocery bill.

Below are the 5 recipes I cooked and how many meals each provided:

Marcella Hazan's Roasted Chicken

2 3 1/2 lb chickens
1.29 lbs red potatoes
3 carrots
olive oil
2 lemons
4 tbsp butter
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Wash each chicken thoroughly, inside and out, then allow to drain and rest for 10 min.

Roughly chop the red potatoes and carrots into large pieces, saving any scraps. On a 13-by-18-inch pan, place the potatoes and carrots around the edges. Cover with a few tablespoons of olive oil, plus salt and pepper. Wash the lemons well, then roll on a hard surface and puncture with a knife several times; set aside.

Place the chickens on the pan, breast side up and making sure the wings are tucked under, then put one lemon into each cavity. Carefully massage 2 tbsp butter on each chicken between the skin and breast meat without puncturing the skin. Liberally season the chickens with salt and pepper.

Cook the chickens for 160 min (20 min per pound, plus 20 min). Remove from the oven and allow the chickens to rest for 30 min before slicing.

Dinner: 2 chicken breasts & roasted potatoes and carrots

~Yields 2 servings.

~Adapted from Cheap Healthy Good & cooking tips from Robin at Caviar & Codfish.

After this dinner, I had 5 lbs chicken meat left. I did not have to purchase chicken stock since I had plenty of scraps to make my own - a little over 2 quarts in fact. After stripping the chickens of all their juicy meat, throw each chicken into a pot (or throw them into one jumbo pot if you've got it) with 10 cups of water each and food scraps from prepping the vegetables for the week (meaning dice up all the veggies now and store them in tupperware to utilize the left overs in the stock and for faster cooking later - except the carrots, just peel them and leave them whole since one needs to be grated later) and any preferred spices. Let the stock simmer for 4 hours. Strain the stock into several containers and refrigerate overnight.

Before using, skim off the fat and save for cooking in the future by freezing (and don't forget to save the chicken fat from the roast pan, too! It makes the best gravy base.)

Chicken Curry

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown rice

2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 tbsp curry powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups shredded chicken
1 can garbanzo beans
1 carrot, grated
4 oz raisins

Greek yogurt

Bring chicken stock to a boil and add the brown rice. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30 min until rice is tender.

Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onion, curry, salt and cook for 5 min. Stir in the garlic and ginger, cooking for 1 min. Add the remaining ingredients through raisins and cook for 5 min.

Plate 1/2 cup rice with 1/2 cup chicken curry. Top with 1 tbsp Greek yogurt and cilantro to taste.

~Yields 4 servings.

White Bean Chicken Chili

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup green bell peppers, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 cups chicken stock
1 can white beans
1 1/2 cups shredded chicken
1/2 cup raw milk
2 green onions, diced
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
Greek yogurt

Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add celery, onion, bell pepper and cook for 5 min. Add garlic, cayenne pepper, cumin and cook for 1 min. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 min. Add the white beans, chicken, milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the green onions and flour, stirring well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with 1 tbsp Greek yogurt, if desired.

~Yields 4 servings.

~Adapted from Chili Cheese Fries.

Chicken Over Noodles

Soba noodles*
sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup chicken, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely sliced
green onions, diced
roasted peanuts, chopped

Cook soba noodles according to instructions, then toss with sesame oil (1/2 tbsp per bundle).

In a pan on medium heat, add the ingredients from garlic through red pepper, stirring until well incorporated. Add the chicken and cook until all ingredients are thoroughly warm.

Plate 1 bundle of soba noodles with 1/3 chicken mixture, carrot, and bell pepper. Top with green onions and roasted peanuts to taste.

~Yields 3 servings.

~Adapted from Food Network.

*Use 1/2 cup brown rice if noodles are unavailable.

Chicken Picadillo

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown rice
1 can black beans

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup chicken
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup salsa
4 oz raisins
slivered almonds

Bring chicken stock to a boil and add the brown rice. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30 min until rice is tender. Stir in can of black beans.

Heat olive oil and onion on medium-high heat in a large skillet and cook for 3 min. Add ingredients of chicken through garlic and cook for 5 min. Add salsa and raisins and cook for 2 min.

Plate with 1/2 cup black beans & rice and 1/2 cup chicken picadillo. Top with almonds and cilantro to taste.

~Yields 4 servings.

~Adapted from Cooking Light.

I think the challenge was a success. I ate delicious meals all week long and even had 2 cups of chicken stock left over for another time, and made Smitten Kitchen Oatmeal Cookies with the leftover raisins (which are phenomenal!). I realized afterward a few of the meals doubled up on protein, meaning I ate chicken and beans. I think I could successfully redo this challenge for less money by switching up the menu some. If I was growing my own vegetables or bought dried beans, that would save even more. However, this was a great starting point that hopefully shows how important it is to continue to eat as healthy as possible on a frugal budget.

Thanks to Kristen from Cheap Healthy Good for approval to share my take on their challenge! Be sure to review their challenge which has a more thorough breakdown of prices per meal.

Update: I submitted this post to participate in Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday. Be sure to check out all the other fabulous real foodies!


  1. WOW Brie! Your recipes look awesome! Congrats on a job well done! I am currently participating in the Eat on $30 Project & have been posting all week about our progress. It's hard but possible! (I'm so craving those cookies right now ;)

  2. Thanks, Paula! Yes, I've been following the progress of the $30 challenge (crazy timing!), which is much more disciplined than what I did - and for a great cause. Good luck on finishing this week! Your meals look fabulous!

  3. Awesome Brie!! You did so well! I also did the eaton$30 this week and too wrote about how buying organic does not have to be expensive! Love how you posted all your recipes!!

  4. Thank you, Diana! You do a wonderful job of teaching canning techniques and all around healthy eating/living. I'll be sure to follow your progress - good luck! :)

  5. thanks for sharing. Homecooked food is still the best and costs less than ready ones or from takeaways and restaurants. My family seldom eats out.

  6. Great Job Brie!! If I was still in the states... I would jump in with you in a heartbeat because it was my passion to help people see you can buy completely organic without hurting your budget. Now living in Costa Rica... I have different circumstances. Anyway, I loudly applause to you for doing this!! Keep it up and love how you added the recipes!

  7. I am going to move where you are!! cost of groceries in San Francisco is so much higher. My weekly grocery bill is between $150/$180. Sometimes I am wondering if my vegetables contain gold. I didn't know there would be such a difference from one state to another. Great post, thanks! I am glad that you can get organic products at that price. I think it's really wonderful.

  8. Good job! I need to get onto this as well. I have done it before. It is possible and actually, can be very healthy as well. We cut the junk and actually lost weight.... kekekekee

  9. Great job. You did a great job documenting everything -- it provides an excellent road map. Now you just need a vegetable garden!

  10. @MaryMoh I agree home cooked meals are far better (on your body and wallet) than eating out. thanks!

    @Marillyn thanks so much! i wanted to add the recipes so others could easily duplicate if they so desired. it's always a challenge you can look forward to in the future - plus if you were here we wouldn't have your amazing black bean brownies! ;)

    @Silvia haha, my town is actually considered expensive for the Panhandle, but it is much cheaper than metropolises across the USA. I'm able to buy great local organic foods due to a fabulous co-op in town, so I'm lucky in that regard, too. thanks!

    @jeroxie so true! losing some extra weight while eating better is a great "side effect". ;) hehe

    @Vegetable Matter thank you! yes, i still have yet to get started on my veggie garden. i must commit to starting one next Spring!

  11. Hi Brie,
    What a great post! I totally agree with you about not willing to sacrifice healthy food for cheaper bad quality foods. Although I don't buy only organic items, I tend to make things from scratch to make sure they are healthy and minus those yuckie chemicals. Great recipes too.

  12. thank you! yes, the more made from scratch meals made, the healthier they tend to be since you're seeing all the ingredients going into the dish, thus making you more conscious of what's going into your body.

  13. Wow. That is crazy. I do not think I could do that. I like to bake and stuff way to much....I must admit, sometimes I spend 300 on groceries a week :(...
    I have been working on it..LOL

  14. Very impressive! I need to challenge myself to try this; spending on groceries is definitely a weakness for me.

  15. You're in the challenge! Oh my, you're so good. Great post! A lot of them are doing the same thing too. It did save you a lot of extra spending money, huh! Keep up the good work. Cheers.

  16. I love this challenge - nice job!

  17. @Miranda haha, yes, i've had those weeks, too. i would love to experiment with foods more often if i had extra cash on hand more, so this was a great exercise in being frugal to save for those times. i'm sure you could make it through a challenge week, too!

    @Nancy thanks! yes, it's a great way to review spending habits at the grcery store and decide what's worth spending a little more on versus regular food staples.

    @My Little Space haha, thank you! yes, i'm eagerly keeping track of the $30 challenge foodies to see how they're all doing. all these challenges are exciting!

    @Simply Life thank you! it was a lot of fun actually making everything from scratch. i'd love to do it again!

  18. I am impressed! you managed to make 5 delicious dishes from all of that leftover chicken. That makes a lot of left overs to take to work for lunch or to have for dinner after a long day

  19. yes, it was nice to have meals that came together so quickly throughout the week. it's cold now and i'm wishing i still had some of that chicken chili! ;)

  20. what a great challenge, I am glad to see your great recipes, they look so good, I just made a white chili a few days ago, and a regular chili yesterday. I hardly ever through anything out, never have, I'll throw it in the freezer if possible. My favorite freeze tip is fresh ginger.

  21. I am truly impressed! I try to keep the weekly grocery bill for hubby and me to under $100, and lately have been hitting at around $80-$90, so I've been proud of myself. However, I must admit the temptation to just pick up some Chick-fil-A on the way home is always tempting!

  22. thank you! yes, i admit to doing that myself some nights when i'm driving home from walking the dog in town and know i'm too tired to cook anything. they always give her a treat since she sticks her head out my window and sniffs around at the chicken smells. they get extra points for having dog treats. ;)

  23. I almost miss this post. Great post and challenge. I believe we can eat healthy foods with simple local ingredients. You did a great job on that one.

  24. @Divina Pe thank you - glad you stopped by :)

  25. Hi Brie! I am new to your blog, so sorry if you've already answered this question in a previous post, but I am curious as to how many people you are feeding.

    Great post btw. Raises the issue of how vastly people's values can differ. I took a friend grocery shopping the other day and he looks in my cart and goes, "Whoa, I thought you said you were strapped, and here you are buying the fancy stuff." To me it's not fancy, it's just taking care of myself. Nice to have found a blog written by a like-minded individual... and such delicious-looking recipes too. Will definitely be back!

  26. Hello! Thanks for coming over! This post was just a week of feeding myself (although my fiancé did partake in some meals, but it still fed me for a whole week). I understand during a financial crisis this would not work for everyone or a large family, but I wanted to prove it's not astronomical to eat healthy foods even if budget is a concern. I already had some eggs, oats, coffee, etc. stocked up at the house, so breakfast was simple and not included in the total (or special enough to be featured on its own).

    I've heard the same thing actually. I might complain about being short on cash one week, but also talk about eating organic foods, and people get confused. However, I'm not snacking all day on junk foods, so three simple meals feeds me just fine without being hungry or feeling ill.

    Glad you enjoyed the visit - I'll see you around! :)

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