Q & A: Nourishing Food for a Single Gal on a Budget

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I recently got a question from a reader, Jen. I wanted to give some hopefully helpful tips for her (three frugal overarching tips, a list of frugal whole foods, and Asian Market finds), but I also would love for you all to weigh in and give her some advice. So please, leave a comment and share your tips! Here’s the question.

“Hey Kimi!

I’m a bit of a lurker, but today, I realized I have a question for you. I’m a young single gal, with an extremely limited budget (seriously, $100/a month would more than double my monthly food budget–and my roommate and I share quite a bit of the food that I buy). What advice could you offer someone in my situation? I normally cook for one (and am hesitant to spring my…shall we say developing??…cooking skills on anyone else in the guise of blessing them), and have the aforementioned limited budget, but I’d like to do better for myself than frozen dinners and canned soup.”


Hi Jen, thanks so much for the question. First, let me just say, I am amazed that you can eat on so little! Maybe I have been feeding a family organics too long, but feeding one person on less then $50 dollars a month seems very limited! So kudos to you for being able to make it work so far!

I am assuming that there aren’t other expenses you can cut to up your food budget? One reason we can spend a little more on our personal food budget is by cutting other expenses. But I imagine you already have done that.

So, with a deep breath, here I go with what advice I have to offer!

Three rules of thumb

1-My goal is to always eat as nourishing as I can, and not to worry about the rest. We all have limitations. For some it’s money, for others, it’s time, and for many it’s both. All to say, there is always something more that we could be doing but just can’t-financially or with time limits. Don’t let it bother you, just do your best.

2-Know your own territory. Everyone is going to have different advantages depending on what’s near them. There is one little market down the road from me, who during peak growing season will have wonderful, amazing deals on both local and organic food. I’ve seen organic cucumbers being sold for 25 cents, for example. That really only takes place for a few months, but when it does, I try to jump on it! There’s another produce outlet where I can snag some great deals. It’s a hit and miss type of place, but I have found some wonderful items there. Grocery outlets can also have some pretty good stuff too. There are also farmer’s stands on the side of the road where I can get reasonably priced produce.

If you have a Trader Jo’s in your area, you will find some of their items well priced, you may have to skip the organic stuff however. I don’t think that you would be able to get all of your grocery shopping done there since you are very limited, but you may find some nourishing choices there in your price range.

Obviously that’s a lot of different places that I buy things from, the only way I make that work is by stopping by them when running other errands or when in the area.

3-Eat Simply- Be okay with eating simple meals of whole foods (instead of frozen pizzas) and you will be getting more nutrition, less junk, and hopefully save some too!

So there are three overarching rules of thumb for me, do my best, and know my territory, and eat simply. Here are some examples of high nutrient food that is also fairly cheap.

List of Frugal Whole Foods

Eggs

Even if you can’t afford the best type of eggs, they are a nutrient rich food! Full of very important protein and nutrients, you can’t go wrong with eggs.

Dried Beans

Dried beans expand a lot when they are cooked. They are cheap to start with and then they double or triple in size when cooked! Definitely a frugal girl’s best friend. Use them by themselves to make lovely bean soups, refried beans, taco salads, etc, and also use them to stretch ground beef. And they are full of fiber and other healthy nutrients.

Ground Beef

One of the cheapest meats around. If you see a good price, you can buy more then you need and easily freeze some. Meat is much more nutrient dense then grains or legumes, plus they contain important vitamins, like B 12 that’s hard to get on a vegetarian diet. So try to include some meat in your diet when you can.

Canned Fish

Fish contains important fatty acids, and if you buy it canned it will be cheap too.  Canned tuna is a typical frugal choice, but it’s an important one too, in my opinion. If this was the only fish choice I could afford, I would do it! You can even often find canned salmon for a decent price too (and eat the bones, if they are in there. They have important calcium). Sardines have a bad rap taste wise, but they are environmentally friendly caught fish that are super good for you. And you can buy them really cheap too. I find I actually like them. (Surprise, surprise!)

Chicken Liver

Your favorite, right? Well, maybe not, and it’s not mine either (though I am coming around). It’s both cheap and very nutrient dense though. Hide it in ground beef, and you probably won’t even notice it’s there.

Pasta and Potatoes

Yes, they are starches, but truthfully I find I do better with plenty of carbs in my diet anyways. And they are CHEAP! You gotta get full, and they will fill you up. Both pasta and potatoes are versatile, there are so many ways you can fix them. A better choice pasta from Trader Jo’s (if you have one near) is their Organic Rice Pasta which is two dollars a package (12 ounces, I think). It would last you a few meals, I imagine. Get it if you can afford it, otherwise just do your best to get what you can.

Oatmeal

Talking about cheap deals, this is it! We have sometimes had oatmeal almost every morning, and it saves a great deal of money. We like it too. To get more nutrition out of it, soak it like this recipe, and you can sweeten it with raisins instead of sugar for a better, frugal sweetener.

Soups

Make them out of leftover veggies, leftover beans, leftover meats, leftover anything! I notice a huge cost savings when we eat more soups. They are filling, easy to digest, and delicious too! They can also easily use whatever leftovers you have on hand. Don’t try to follow Gourmet magazine’s recipes, because it will cost you more, but instead make up your own soups using leftovers.

Asian Stores

One last important tip, check out your local Asian Markets, seriously! They have some of the cheapest food around. Here are some of the food I buy there that would definitely qualify as cheap and nutrient dense.

Dried anchovies. We eat these little salty fish plain, but there are a variety of recipes out there that make them into all sorts of lovely dishes (I plain on trying some soon!). They are extremely good for you (better then canned), and very nutrient dense (they are dried so they are concentrated nutrition, like dried fruit) and the three ounce package I get (which is more than you think) is only $1.50.

Young Coconuts-I get these for about one dollar and they are extremely good for you. Don’t just drink the juice but make use of the yummy coconut meat “jelly” inside too. This is probably a luxury item on your budget since you may not find them filling, but they aren’t expensive at Asian stores and are very good for you.

Dried Seaweed-In the large Asian store we go too, we can only find two brands that don’t contain MSG in it. Avoid MSG when at all possible. But seaweed is very good for you. We get the toasted kind, which we cut into squares and eat with plain brown rice (often with fried eggs on the side) for a simple meal. You won’t find a better deal than here.

Palm or Coconut Sugar-Very cheap sweetener which is loads better then cane sugar, one of my favorites! Once again, you can buy it very cheap at Asian stores.

Other things to look for: Chicken parts (like chicken feet) to make your own chicken broth. Very cheap here, and you can find odd parts, like the feet (I know, a little gross, but very traditional to put into broth) to make a delicious and very, very nutritious broth. Consider it. Other finds: produce, fresh and dried fish, big bags of legumes and rice, white rice pasta.

So there are some of my thoughts. I hope they prove helpful! Now it’s everyone else’s turn! What advice do you have for Jen?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. says

    Dried beans can be cooked, drained (I use this liquid for soups), rinsed and frozen in 1 or 2 cup measures for later use. This works beautifully! Far better than the canned stuff with preservatives, salt and the BPA from the lining inside the cans.

    Soaked/sprouted Crackers/Cookies are super easy to make and so are energy bars (some oil, sugar.maple syrup, an egg and oats – maybe some milk or yogurt) – make a really good basic bar. You can add seeds, nuts, dried fruits, dried coconut, wholesome flours etc to make it an energy bar.

  2. says

    Regarding the solution for a frugal WATER FILTER, my husband and I have been using a great filter from Aquasana for years. It’s cheaper than Brita and more convenient (you install it either under your counter or over your counter, whichever one your kitchen faucet allows). Here’s a price comparison of all the major water filter brands:
    http://www.waterfiltercomparisons.com/water_filter_comparison.php

    Cheaper than all the major brands out there. Also a very good quality filter.
    The website is http://www.aquasana.com

  3. A says

    Plain old brown lentils are among my favorites. They are great for soups, curries, and sprouts. The sprouts can be used as a fresh, crisp salad veggie or they can be cooked as in stir-fries and fried rice. No special equipment is needed. Just place maybe 1/4 c. rinsed lentils in a flat container, cover with water and set to soak overnight. For the next two to three days, rinse and drain at least twice a day. I keep the lid set on top, but ajar, not sealed. When they’re as ready as you want them, they can be used immediately or stored for several days by adding a paper towel to soak up excess moisture, sealing the container, and storing it upside down in the fridge. Sprouting is said to greatly increase the nutrient value of the seeds, so you can get bigger bang for your buck.

    During my “poverty-stricken” days, I made a point of learning lots of ways to use cabbage, carrots, and onions. I still use them frequently, and have recently learned how easy and delicious it is to make my own sauerkraut. (Lots of info readily available online.)

    My adaptation of a recently learned recipe for cabbage follows:

    Use 1 c. whole wheat flour, 1 c. cottage cheese, and 1 egg to make dumplings. Drop by spoonfuls into boiling water and remove when they rise to top.

    Serve over cabbage which has been sliced like noodles and pan-fried with sliced onion.

  4. debbie says

    One other thing you can purchase at almost any oriental store is Lumpia wrappers, These are very cheap and extremely tasty when filled with such things as cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, garlic, onion, and eggs with almost any sauce, and meat (can be meatless). These are great fried or baked, my children loved them and didn’t realize they were eating vegetables, lol

    They do take some time to make, there are usually two packs of 50 wrappers in each box, so you could spend an afternoon wrapping them and then freeze them for a quick snack or addition to any other meal. Take care to keep them damp while wrapping as they dry out quite quickly.

  5. Pam says

    Look for an Aldi store. Now I’m not saying that you should buy all your food there, but they do have some really great stuff at really great prices. I do not buy oats for oatmeal anywhere else, they sell a 42 ounce container for under 2 dollars (That usually lasts me about a month). If you find one, bring your own bags, they charge for them in order to lower their grocery prices.

  6. says

    I once survived on the northern island in Samoa for two days on fresh coconuts and bananas and enjoyed it despite the restricted diet. I think 2 fresh coconuts is enough for survival but supplementing that with something else makes it more interesting.

    I have been a vegetarian for 56 years and find that it is cheaper to live on vegetables especially in Asia, where we have a far larger selection available.

  7. Dawn H says

    Not only are carrots and cabbage inexpensive, they keep for a long time esp. if kept cool. When we find special we stock up. Living in Ohio, we store them in the unheated sun room of our house in the winter, but some people use their garage. Apples also work well kept there. Just watch those super cold nights :-O We keep a thermometer with the veggies to be sure of the temp. Much success!

  8. Tricia says

    Re: Canned Tuna

    Unfortunately canned Tuna is not safe and defeats the purpose for those
    who are making such an effort to stay health.

    The Tuna cans are line with BPA linked to cancer, infertility , Thyroid and the list goes on.

    The same goes for most canned foods the only thing you can really do to stop poisoning yourself with BPA is buy foods in glass jars especially tomato products since the acid really leaches out the BPA.

    I buy wild tuna usually frozen from Sam’s club then I steam it let cool and use it how you would use canned tuna I also make sashimi …Yum

    most of the few companies who claim to have BPA free linings in there cans were caught red handed by consumer reports and tested positive for BPA.

    I get my tomato products here
    http://www.shoporganic.com/prod_detail_list/organic-canned-vegetables

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