Are you looking for more affordable dinner options? Me too! Our family has been relying too much on convenience foods lately and our food budget has gotten out of control. I really want to work on reining it back in. I know a lot of other families are on a very tight budget right now as well. I lived with my grandmother for several years just before I got married. She was a woman who had grown up during the Great Depression and taught me a lot about being resourceful and using every part of what you have. She was also on a very tight grocery budget because she had a fixed income. I lived with her for three years, and I drove her to do her grocery shopping for several years before that. I am here to tell you that she was not really a couponer, but I never once saw her pay more than $50 for a week’s worth of groceries. Now that I have my own family to feed, I can appreciate that even more!
For this post, using Mommom as my inspiration, I wanted to challenge myself to come up with a week-long dinner menu for around $30 that could feed more than one person.
I wanted to use real prices, not just estimates, so I went online to my local Peapod grocery chain and actually added all of these items to my cart. The total came to $26.41 before tax. That leaves room to stock your pantry by adding some spices, butter, or an onion pretty easily and still stay on budget. Here is a screenshot of the order:
Here’s what I came up with. These are the actual prices right now for my region in Pennsylvania. The prices for things like eggs might vary according to where you live, but hopefully this menu will still be relatively affordable.
Frozen spinach, store brand $0.99
Frozen Corn, 1 bag $0.99
Shredded cheddar cheese $2.50
Whole chicken- $7.75
Canned black beans, store brand (2) $0.69 each
Canned corn, store brand $0.79
1 box of Brown Rice $1.99
Eggs- Grade A Medium (2 dozen) $2.19 per dozen
Store brand sandwich bread $0.99
Taco seasoning- $0.89
16 count whole grain tortillas $1.69
Organic carrots- 16oz bag $1.29
Tomatoes with Mild Chiles, 1 can, store brand $0.79
Day 1: Roasted Chicken and Carrots
Today we are going to roast the whole chicken. I like to roast a chicken by covering it with butter, salt, pepper, and oregano, and putting it in a 13×9 baking dish 350 oven for about 2.5 hours, tented with aluminum foil. If we don’t have any butter, that’s fine. we will just baste it every 30 minutes or so with its own juices. I peel and cut about four carrots into sticks and let them roast in the same pan as the chicken. I like to add just enough water to the pan to cover the carrots on the bottom. (Not a lot because you don’t want it to boil over and make a huge mess in your oven.)
When the chicken is done, we are going to cut a good chunk of it off (about 1/2 of the meat) and reserve it for later. Let it cool, then remove the skin and shred the meat. Save it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Also save the chicken carcass (the bones). We are going to use it as a base for making our own chicken stock later in the week.
If you have butter and flour on hand, you can also make an easy gravy with the pan drippings. Just melt a teaspoon of butter in a small pan, then add a teaspoon of flour. Let them cook together for one minute, stirring constantly. Then use a whisk to incorporate the drippings from the bottom of the pan where you cooked your chicken. You might also want to add some salt and pepper.
Day 2: Chicken Corn Soup
Today we are going to make soup. We are going to eat half now and put some in the freezer for a rainy day. Start by putting the chicken carcass in a large pot and filling the pot with water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (You can also do this in a slow cooker set on low while you are at work or overnight.) Ta-da! Now you have homemade chicken broth that is going to be the base for your soup.
Remove the bones from the broth and discard them. Then follow the rest of my chicken corn soup recipe, just substitute the frozen corn from our shopping list for the fresh corn in the recipe. Make sure that you have still reserved some chicken, because we have one more chicken recipe coming later in the week.
Day 3: Breakfast For Dinner
We might be getting sick of chicken by now, so we are going to take a break and do breakfast for dinner. Use 1 dozen of the eggs for scrambled eggs (or whatever kind of eggs your family likes best) and toast.
Day 4: Chicken Tortilla Soup
We are making soup again. This time we are doing a quick and easy weeknight version that comes together in under 20 minutes. Once again, I’m going to suggest that you freeze whatever your family doesn’t eat so that you have another meal on hand for later in the month.
In a large pot, place the remainder of the chicken, 1 can of black beans (rinsed and drained), 1 can of corn (drained), 1 can of tomatoes with mild green chiles, and a packet of taco seasoning. Fill the pot with water and heat everything together.
In the meantime, remove two or three tortillas from the package. Cut them each into 8 piece wedges (like a pie) and spread them onto a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and a little oil if you have it, then bake them at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Top each bowl of soup with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and a few of your homemade tortilla chips.
Day 5: Spinach Fata Served with Brown Rice
My husband and my son both love my mother-in-law’s fried spinach recipe. The cheese makes it very kid-friendly. If you do not have seasoned bread crumbs on hand, just make your own crumbs with the heal of the loaf of bread on our list. Serve this over a bed of brown rice for a very affordable, quick and easy meatless weeknight meal.
Day 6: Black Bean Burritos OR Burgers
Cook some of the rice and heat a can of beans, and fill tortillas with the rice and beans mixture.
If you have any shredded cheese left over by this time in the week, you could also make cheese quesadillas. (My husband doesn’t like beans or potatoes or several other low budget foods, so I understand those of you who have issues with picky eaters. Although I do still serve those foods, he just picks them out.)
Alternative: If you aren’t into the idea of burritos, you could do black bean burgers on toast instead. (You will want to add an onion to your shopping list if you plan to make these.) The Pioneer Woman has a great recipe here.
Day 7: Use It or Lose It Day
Use up whatever you have left. Maybe your family likes egg salad sandwiches (mine doesn’t, but they LOVE deviled eggs), maybe you’d like to do a rice bowl with a fried egg on top, maybe you want to use some of your left over soup today. If you had black bean burgers on toast yesterday, then you should still have left over tortillas and you might want to do breakfast burritos for dinner tonight. Mix it up and have fun!
Breakfasts and Lunches:
If you are following a $50 weekly budget like my Mommom did, you should still have about $20 of wiggle room to add fruits (bananas and apples or applesauce are affordable options in our area), and breakfast items. As an adult, I now will often eat yogurt or a banana for breakfast and my kids like cereal, but Mommom often gave us oatmeal or occasionally toast with cinnamon and sugar on it. I’d recommend picking up an additional loaf of bread and some tuna, celery, and/or peanut butter for lunches. Popcorn kernels also make a great snack. They are a little pricey up front, but one container last for several weeks and you can pop them yourself in the microwave without any butter or oil, which makes them a healthy choice. If you bought potatoes and onions and did not use all of those ingredients for your dinners, consider using some of them to make hash browns.
Our grandmothers used up every bit of what they had and usually cooked meals that consisted of whole foods for their families. If we get back in the habit of doing the same, it will be healthier, tastier, and better for our budgets.
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