A report from my first week of concertedly budgeted shopping/meal planning:
- After the first week, I have $45 left in my entire monthly food budget (which started out at $165.12). This is a little less dire than it sounds because last week I needed to restock several key items like kitty litter, olive oil, and tamari, and as usual I didn’t make several items on my menu plan so my shopping for this week should be minimal because I can use ingredients I bought for last week’s plan. There’s certainly not any wiggle room left in the budget, though.
- I tried to track the price/meal of all my dinners last week. Meals ranged from $2.50 to $4, though those estimates are probably high because I tried to overestimate stuff like spices, oils, and other things I already had in the house that I can’t actually calculate but have to just sort of guess at.
- Those prices/meal seemed reasonable to me until I did some math. If every day I eat one $4 dinner and then maybe $1 of breakfast and then $4 of leftovers from the previous dinner for lunch, I’d be spending $9/day on food, which adds up to $270. Yikes! And that doesn’t even include stuff like toothpaste and kitty litter.
- So I did some more math taking into account several more factors that I won’t bore you with and it really would be better if my meals cost around $2 apiece. The book Vegan on the Cheap is full of meals that are around $0.50-$2/serving, but it depends so much on homemade seitan (which I can’t eat because it is wheat-based) that I got discouraged and returned it to the library. It’s clearly time to order it again and see what other cheap ideas it has to offer besides the seitan parade.
- I discovered the joy that is FoodsCo! Their non-sale prices put Safeway’s sale prices to shame. I’m still pretty overwhelmed by couponing (at least the internet-based version – there are so many sites to wade through) but having a central place to go for rock-bottom prices at least gives me a good place to start. I feel sick buying produce that is probably not local and grown on farms where who can imagine what the worker conditions are, but for this month at least I am putting my focus on seeing if it is even possible to subsist on this budget. Then I can start trying to find clever ways to bring my shopping back in line with my values. (I’ve heard dumpster diving behind the food coop is like a party every week!)
- The most expensive part of every meal was, not surprisingly, the veggies. Spanish tortilla was maybe $1/meal, while the dandelion greens, which I ate an entire bunch of at one sitting, were $1.99 all on their own. What kind of world do we live in where eating weeds is the costliest part?
- I still got stuck eating take-out once this week when I was out and about for 8 hours. I ate a big breakfast before I left but because my dinner the night before had been at a birthday party, I had no leftovers to pack for my second meal of the day. But I chose to split a burrito with another friend and was plenty full, so at least the damage was minimized.
A little review of last week’s meals: The Spanish tortilla was amazing, though a fair amount of time and work. I would definitely make it again, though, as a special comfort-food treat. I thought I knew in advance what the yam, black bean, and amaranth burritos (I made soft tacos) would taste like, but they blew me away beyond my wildest expectations! Buckwheat, kale, parsnips and brussels sprouts with shitake mushrooms (before you have a budget-related heart attack, I use dried shitake mushrooms that are around $3.50 for 40 at the Asian market) was a little bland but generally delicious and impressively cheap thanks to Safeway’s sale on brussels sprouts. (I didn’t use the cream this recipe called for – I was going to sub with Mimicreme but I didn’t want to open a whole box to use one tablespoon.) Instead of cannellini and chard risotto (which I apparently was meant to be saving my vegan cream cheese for, but no one told me that before I guzzled it down earlier in the week) and roasted broccoli, I made Post Punk Kitchen’s Miso Soba Stir-Fry with Beans and Greens. It was awesome! Using miso to make a delicious, flavorful, easy pasta sauce is a pretty rad idea, Isa.
Thank you for wading through all my rambling and reminiscing. It is finally time for this week’s menu! I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Post Punk Kitchen’s forums (so fun! you can find me there as Scrumptious, just like I am here) and this week’s cookbook challenge is for Veganomicon. So I’m going to try to draw some of my recipes from there. (And, looking through the cookbook, I am reminded once again that bizarrely almost none of the recipes in VCon sound appealing to me.) I also have several meals I never made last week to carry over.
This week’s Gluten Free Menu Swap has the theme of Winter Vegetables for inspiration, thanks to Wendy of Celiacs in the House. Winter veggies are my favorites. I much prefer kale and sweet potatoes to tomatoes and more tomatoes! This week I have kale, sweet potatoes, asparagus, cabbage, regular potatoes, and brussels sprouts, as well as beets and baby turnips to make turnip pickles.
And don’t forget to check out the giant MPM compendium over at OrgJunkie for more inspiration!
Cooking with friends. I have no idea what we’ll make. Hopefully it can be cheap and yet not awkward…
Wednesday (defrost cranberry beans)
Pinto bean corn cake fritter things with salsa
Snobby Joes (VCon) on GF toast
Cabbage with cumin seeds
Saturday (defrost 4 C. broth, bake potatoes ahead)
Baked potato and greens soup with potato-wedge croutons (VCon)
Leftovers if I’m out all day or a GF version of VCon’s Chickpea Cutlets, made into nuggets, if I stay home
Roasted brussels sprouts (defrosted from last week’s mega sprouts cooking)
Make turnip pickles
Shopping list: Navel oranges, apples, onions, garlic, 8 oz. can tomato sauce, 6 baking potatoes (3.5 lb), kale