Friday, April 25, 2014

Menus for a Week on a Budget, and Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

April 25, 2014

The sales aren’t great this week. IGA has ground chuck, in three pound or bigger packages, for $2.99 a pound. Honeysuckle fresh ground turkey, 93% lean, is also $2.99 a pound. Shredded cheese is $5.00 for three 8-ounce packages, or $1.67 each. Cauliflower and bunched broccoli are both $1.99 each. How good a price this is depends on how big they are. Prices are good through Sunday, April 27.

Aldi’s ad is unusual this week in that the only food shown is vegetables and one kind of meat. The rest is mostly yard and garden related stuff. Grape tomatoes are 99 cents for 10 ounces. Baby carrots are 79 cents a pound. Mushrooms are 89 cents for 8 ounces. Multi-colored peppers are two for $1.29. Cucumbers are 99 cents for a three pack. Prices are good through next Tuesday, April 29.

Marsh has sweet corn, ten ears for $3.00, or 30 cents an ear. Ground chuck in the family pack is $2.99 a pound. Chicken leg quarters in the family pack are 79 cents a pound. Johnsonville cooked brats or sausage is two 14-16 ounce packs for $6.00, or $3.00 each. Prices are good through next Wednesday, April 30.

Kroger has boneless skinless chicken breasts for $1.99 a pound. Fresh green beans are 99 cents a pound. Eggplant is 99 cents each. Breakfast sausage is $2.79 a pound. Assorted cheeses are $3.79 for 12-16 ounce packages. A good price for 16 ounce packages, not so good for 12 ounce. Pints of cottage cheese are three for $4.00, or $1.33 each. Prices are good through next Wednesday, April 30.

It’s not a great bunch of sales this week, is it? Some OK prices on meat, but nothing fantastic. The vegetables at Aldi are the best of the bunch. Doesn’t really leave much room for budget cooking. However, that’s what we have to deal with so, so I guess there’s no point in complaining. Even though it does feel good to do so, sometimes.

I was trying to decide what meat to feature today, and nothing jumped out and said, “Use me! Use me!” I just talked about pork chops a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve talked about chicken a lot, and that’s as close as it comes to good specials this week. So I decided to do something different. I’ve been giving recipes and menus for about three individual meals per week, but there are 21 meals in a week. As I’m sure you know, especially if you’re trying to feed a family.

I decided that this week I’d give a whole week’s worth of menus, trying to keep it within the average food stamp benefit received in Indiana. I’m not sure exactly what that is, but the benefit actually received in Indiana was $132.46 per person per month in 2012 (according to the feds) and it was reduced by about 5.5% last year, so that would take it down to about $125.17, or about $4.17 per day, or about $29.21 per week. Since I’m going to do menus for a week and I’ve been assuming a family of four, that would be about $116.83. That’s as close as I can figure to the average weekly food stamp benefit actually received by a family of four after the cut last year. Anyway, that’s what I’m using as my goal.

So, here’s the deal. I would try to come up with a week’s worth of menus for a family of four, using this week’s ads and current prices for everything not on sale, and keep it below $116.83. And I would stick with my goal of eating just meat, eggs, vegetables, and dairy. No fillers like bread or rice or pasta or noodles or potatoes or beans or things like that. I had no idea when I started whether I’d be able to do it. No, that’s not really true. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do it, given the dismal state of the weekly ads. At least, not without a lot of tinkering and cutting.

I was very pleasantly surprised. It actually came together very easily, which it doesn’t always do, even when there are great deals. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to rely on food stamps, but I have done the Food Stamp Challenge several times, sometimes for real and sometimes on paper. Which is not, of course, the same thing as eating on a food stamp budget because you have to. Even on paper is seldom comes together this easily.

How did I come out? I’ll give you my menus and shopping list in a minute, but I’ll give the basics first. It came out to $105.90, or an average of $3.78 per person per day. That’s what I would have had to shell out at the store. For example, that includes a quart of half-and-half, even though I only need two cups this week. But mostly I used up everything I “bought.” I did go back and make some changes that way, so I didn’t end up having to buy a second jar of something if I only needed a couple of tablespoons. And I assumed that I had a few things on hand, like mustard and Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper that I only needed a little bit of.

One more caveat, and then I’ll get into the nitty gritty. I eat very low carb. I believe that it’s the healthiest way for me to eat. That doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest way for you to eat. I’ll leave that up to you and your health care professional. But these menus are based on a low carb eating plan. There’s no cereal or bread or potatoes or rice or pasta or noodles or so forth, but there are lots of vegetables and probably more meat than you’re used to. And definitely lots more eggs and fats! Don’t freak out about that. There is a lot of research that shows that dietary cholesterol isn’t a problem as long as you keep your carbs way down. I’m not a doctor or a dietician and I don’t give medical advice, but from what I’ve read, if you eat a lot of carbs, don’t eat a lot of fat. If you eat a lot of fat, don’t eat a lot of carbs. These menus are low carb and so it’s all right for them to be high fat. Just don’t add a bunch of bread or cookies or dried beans or whole grains or whatever to it and expect it to be healthy.

Okay, now to the menus, and a couple of recipes, and then a shopping list. I’ll tell you where I’m buying things, and if something isn’t on sale this week, I’ll tell you what I used for the cost and why. I didn’t go out and check the price of everything not on sale, but almost everything is on sale and the other prices are pretty current. Again, this is for a family of four for a week, and assuming that you are providing all of the meals. No school lunches, no skipping meals, no eating out, etc.

The menus include a lot more eggs and fat than you’re used to, but also a lot more meat and vegetables. And you’re right – very little dairy and no fruit. That’s intentional, and again, there’s science behind that, but that’s probably the hardest thing for people to accept about eating low carb. If you feel that you need to add milk, make it whole milk, and for fruit use melon and berries if at all possible. Cantaloupe are on sale this week.

There are only three recipes for the whole week, which is actually a lot more like the way I actually eat. I’m much more likely to throw a pork chop in a skillet and nuke some broccoli than I am to fancy things up with a recipe. So three recipes. First, JOE’S SPECIAL, which is a scramble of hamburger, eggs, mushrooms, spinach, onions, and, sometimes, parmesan cheese. It’s a classic from the 1930s or so from San Francisco. Second, HAMBURGER VEGGIE SOUP, which is exactly what it sounds like. Use whatever vegetables you happen to have on hand or are on sale. It makes lots. A dollop of sour cream is good in it, but then a dollop of sour cream is good on just about anything. And finally, SAUSAGE AND MUSHROOM QUICHE. A dollop of sour cream on top of this is good, too.

Now for my shopping list, showing you what I bought and where and for how much. (Remember, this is all on paper; this isn’t my real menu for the week. I’m using up stuff in my freezer and pantry and buying as little as possible this month.)

So that’s how I build a menu out of what’s on sale. It very rarely comes together as nicely and as easily as it did this time. And I know that there can be a world of difference between works out nicely on paper and what works out nicely in the kitchen and on the dining table! What makes it work is the eggs at 79 cents a dozen (if they’re back to their old price of $1.59 a dozen they’ll cost almost $5.00 more), the chicken at 79 cents a pound (though Walmart’s usual price has been ten pounds for $6.90, or 69 cents a pound, which would save over a dollar, even after buying the extra pound), and the great prices on the veggies. Pork chops for $1.59 a pound helps, too. If the ground chuck weren’t on sale, we could have gotten regular ground beef for around $2.50 a pound, so the sale on ground chuck is nice but not critical. And you’ll notice that I didn’t include any coffee (or tea, for me) or desserts or snacks. You may feel that these are important for you and your family. If you have kids (and I am assuming a family of four) then you may need to include snacks. It’s a far from perfect menu, but I hope that you can get some ideas of things that you can include in your meal planning process to help you plan healthy, appetizing meals on a budget.

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