Rom and I are doing a Food Basket Challenge for the month of March. We will limit our grocery budget to $340 for 4 weeks which is $42.50 per person per week. That is for food only. Our normal budget is $440 which is $55 per person per week. We’ll donate the $100 difference to the Food Bank.
For new readers, we are a family of 2 adults, we cook vegetarian, we both work full-time outside the home, we bring lunches to work, we cook dinners from scratch, and we make extra so we can eat leftovers. Our normal grocery budget is probably lower than average. We have a history of going out to eat a lot, but from January 1 to March 31 we are not doing it – only ONE exception for Valentine’s Day.
The reason I want to do this is to gain more empathy for those who can’t afford nutritious food or have limited access. I am surrounded by abundance and can buy whatever I like, so I want to take a step back from that, if only for a month.
To further experience what it’s like to have limited access to food, we will only go grocery shopping twice by car. That means making two 2-week meal plans and buying everything we need for them in just two excursions. To amp it up a little, if we feel we need anything urgently between trips (within budget), we will walk to a store and carry back what we buy. There are numerous stores nearby which are 2.0, 2.6 and 3.3 km away. We’ll see what we think is worth walking 4.0, 5.2 or 6.6 km round trips for!
One dilemma is what to do about all the food remaining in the house as of March 1 – our “starting inventory”. Most people living on very low incomes wouldn’t have much (or anything) left over from the previous month. I made a list of all the unopened items we have, and I recorded the price of them at our usual supermarket. If we eat any of those things, we’ll charge them to the grocery budget as if we paid for them this month. I won’t count the opened supplies of white rice, macaroni, lentils and barley. I won’t count tea and coffee, but I will note at month-end what it will cost to replenish them. I’m not going to buy unneeded cleaning supplies just to include them in the budget, but I’ll report later what these would have added to the grocery budget.
We make a meal plan and grocery list every weekend. Our last grocery shop was on Saturday February 23. Most of the time we heat up a frozen store-bought pizza on Friday nights and have the rest for Saturday lunch. This week there were none on sale, so we had grilled cheese sandwiches on Friday night. Since we had no pizza left over for Saturday lunch, and we didn’t have much “easy” food left in the house, we had tins of baked beans! A rather appropriate start to the month.
Our meal plan for Mar 1 to 15 is:
- Fri Mar 1 – grilled cheese sandwiches and green beans
- Sat Mar 2 – fajitas (made with vegetables, veggies sausages, fajita mix and tortillas)
- Sun Mar 3 – lunch – scrambled eggs, steamed vegetables, toast and jam (we have this every Sunday)
- Sun Mar 3 – dinner at my parents’ house
- Mon Mar 4 – fajitas
- Tues Mar 5 – Pancake Day! – with blueberry sauce
- Wed Mar 6 and Thurs Mar 7 – Pasta with spinach and white beans
- Fri Mar 8 – pizza!
- Sat Mar 9 – lunch – pizza
- Sat Mar 9 – dinner – eggplant lasagna (with guests)
- Sun Mar 10 – lunch – scrambled eggs etc.
- Sun Mar 10 – dinner at my parents’ place
- Mon Mar 11, Tues Mar 12, Wed Mar 13 – Barley Succotash (barley, lima beans, peppers, corn)
- Thurs Mar 14, Fri Mar 15 – Potato and Broccoli Frittata
Funnily enough, pizzas were still not on sale this weekend so we bought 2 plain pizza crusts and will build our own. I will have to ration the vegetables and cheese to make that happen.
For breakfasts, I am a creature of habit. I have cereal or oatmeal or toast with peanut butter and banana. I will be giving up bagels for the month since they are not cost effective – a half dozen bagels costs more than a loaf of bread.
Rom eats excessive amounts of cereal for both breakfast and snacks. If I were not around, he would eat all his meals out of tins.
We decided to buy one kind of cereal that was as cheap, filling and nutritious as possible (in addition to the oatmeal we have at home), so we bought Alpen on sale. Rom usually gets the no-sugar kind but it was sold out, so we got the sweetened one. I don’t particularly like muesli but it will do.
I made a plan for lunches. Since we just went shopping, I will have salads made with fresh vegetables all week. I will add nuts and cheese which I’ll include in my costs. Next week we’ll be low on fresh fruit and veg, so I will bring chick peas with brown rice (which I really like). I could also have baked potatoes with broccoli. I have yogurt with fruit every day, and lots more fruit for snacks. We have frozen berries and a tin of fruit cocktail if we run out of fresh fruit.
Here is a look at some of this week’s prices (gulp!)
I made one food buying mistake already. We have this thing locally – when a snow storm is coming, you make sure you have “storm chips.” Literally, chips to snack on when you are stuck in the house! Store-brand tortilla chips were $1.99 but they were sold out: maybe because we are having two snow storms this weekend! So, I chose the next price up which was $2.75. When I got home, I found our chips had cost $3.75. Maybe they were misplaced on the shelf. You can bet I will be enjoying those blue corn tortilla chips! Later I may wish I had that $3.75 for milk or apples.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t buy apples in my March budget! I usually buy 10 lbs for $7.49 at a produce market ($0.75/lb) But we are not driving around to multiple stores this month, and our local supermarket only had 3 lbs of apples for $5.29 ($1.76/lb) so that was not happening. Oranges were also expensive (3 lbs for $6.99 which is $2.33/lb) so I got clementines instead (4 lbs for $4.99 which is $1.25/lb). Ordinarily I would have stopped at several different stores when I was out doing errands.
Here is what we did buy. We will be walking to the store for next week’s eggplant and broccoli! So far we have spent $137.26 which is 40% of the month’s budget.
So those are a few challenges we have faced so far. We didn’t lose power in yesterday’s snow storm and I hope we won’t in tomorrow’s snow storm either!
Please tell me: what are your favourite low-cost meals?
The Food Basket Challenge is named for a comparison tool used by organizations and governments in Canada to establish the baseline cost of a nutritious diet. For more details, check out the previous post.