Feeding a single mom & 2 kids on $50 month
<<I am interested in what you did as far as meals etc for 50 a month-
this seems so limited I can't imagine doing it. Could you share what
types of things you prepare how you dealt with it- did you menu plan
lol Believe me, it *IS* limited, and I can't imagine how I did it for
nearly two years! Nevertheless, I had no choice. With apologies to
those who have read these before, I'm going to repost a letter I
wrote when I joined the original Budget101 and portions of other
letters to give you the total picture. Some dishes below are
frugal for some who are looking at less than $5 for a meal as
great going. Motorcycle Stew fits this category, certainly, as do
the Pepperoni Envelopes. But if I choose to, I can get a pound of
ground turkey or sausage for less than a dollar, and the cost of
Motorcycle Stew will drop to around $1.50 for a family of four. I'm
more inclined to use the sausage for this dish in place of ground
beef if the beef is too high in price, btw, but that's me. I do use
ground turkey--just not in this particular dish.
For those of you who don't know me yet, I'm the Ethnic
Inexpensively columnist on Budget101.com:
Jen K wrote:
> <<I am convinced that 95% of us here (including me)
> don't know the first thing about having a hard time
> putting food on the table! I spend $180 a month on
> food for my family of 4. That's less than half the
> national average.
> <<But I know for a fact that I buy all
> kinds of things we really don't need--<snip>
> <<We sponsor a child through Compassion International,
> <<Or the stories my mom told me about eating boxed mac n
> cheese or hot dogs and canned baked beans EVERY DAY
> when they first got married because that's all they
> could afford. <snip>
> <<Anyway, that always puts things in perspective. Until
> I am eating just a bowl of rice 3 times a day, I will
> know that I am doing okay. <snip>
> <<We live in a wealthy society. There are always ways to
> cut the grocery bill. We spend, as a rule, hundreds a
> month more than we HAVE to on food. Not that we should
> eat like we're poor, but when things get tight there's
> the first place I look to cut. Groceries and eating out.
You are blessed then, Jen. I guess I fall into the other 5%
you mentioned above. Liss recently asked me to repost
this, but the timing wasn't right in my mind, and as I recall,
Before you read this, please understand that my sons and
I feel the lack of money, but we are *NOT* impoverished
because we have each other, and we are far wealthier on
the inside than many whose pockets are lined with gold.
We just have very little money still. Since I wrote this in
February 2002, when the kids and I were living on $700-800
a month--a conscious decision not to accept any assistance
from the state--including food, rent and phone--I think we're
averaging about $800-900 a month in income now, maybe a
It's just my two youngest, ages 12 and 14, and me now, although
sometimes the 17-yo stops in to join us for dinner. We're still
struggling to get back on our feet, and money is tighter than tight.
I *wish* I had more to spend each month on food, and I refuse to
go on food stamps, although I don't begrudge anyone who does.
But we're doing it on $50 a ***month*** in average months. When
there are no choices, you do what you can, and you discover that
it works. (Oh, and for those who don't know...I have only sons, so
we're talking major appetites. The oldest doesn't join us for dinner
often, but I made the turkey at Thanksgiving, and he was here for
Sometimes, we have corn chowder with a can of clams or a little
ham in it; sometimes, we have Chinese rice soup called "jook,"
also known as Congee. I make shrimp fried rice a lot, as I do
pancakes, banana french toast, all kinds of chicken, and beef
vegetable soup. Occasionally, we can get to the food pantry,
and that helps to stretch as well.
I try to buy chicken and pork with the bones still in because I
can make egg drop or another kind of Chinese soup then.
It helps that my kids love vegetables in a variety of ways, and
we've moved a block from the dollar store, where they have a
frozen food section. As a result, sometimes, I can buy kielbasa
or even some frozen chicken there. Recently I treated us to a
pound of lox (Jewish smoked salmon, a real delicacy that usually
goes for between $16 and $32 a pound!) for $4! I can't always
plan meals if we're buying from the dollar store since they're
always stocking and having buys that are must haves--like that
lox (and yes, they were selling bagels and cream cheese there
too, although we ended up buying these at the supermarket
because they were cheaper there! lol). We've found some
fabulous frozen vegetables there for when we're feeling a bit
more exotic as well.
Some of our "high priced" meals include an easy one I have found
at the dollar store--Penne with Mushroom Sauce (this is definitely
cheaper to buy prepared than to make...where I live, mushrooms
are usually $1.49-1.69 for a package) with those gourmet veggies
on the side [a total cost of $2 for the 3 of us], Linguini in White Clam
Sauce [$2.30), Motorcycle Stew (about $1.50), and any meat dish
that can't be stretched into two meals. It's a challenge a lot of the
time, but you do with what you have.
My mom and oldest brother, the latter of whom was a quadriplegic
after an accident, lived with us for a few years, so while my husband
and I were together, we had 8 in the family. I scrimped on $150 a
week back then (through 1991 with my brother with us, and then
through the end of 1995 till my mom died), and I had two in diapers
at the time--and yes, I used disposables. Knowing how to cook
Chinese food helped immensely.
In January, I had $180 to spend on food, and the kids and I, while
many might see this as tight budgeting (or rather, those who aren't
on this list! lol), felt like we were living with banquets all month. But
what really amazed me is we're now into February, and it looks like
we'll have enough food till at least mid-February and maybe longer.
On the 20th of January, my youngest son turned 12, and on the
6th of February, the 3rd son was 14. We even invited the 14-yo's
friend and little brother to join us for dinner one night, and we had
fish fillets ($3 for the meal), those gourmet veggies I mentioned
earlier ($1), and buttered seasoned pasta for his birthday dinner,
finished off with my baking a Fudge Marble cake for dessert. I
discovered I had no confectioner's sugar in the house, but the cake
was moist and was topped nicely with a sliced strawberry on each
piece. I don't always have time to bake cakes and things like that,
but when I do, I do from scratch because that's just how I am. Even
if we had the money, I'd be doing that.
> i find if i plan for a month in advance, i do my shopping accordingly and
> only return for milk and emergencies.
I have nonfat dry milk for cooking and baking, so that helps to
stretch a lot. I can use this milk for several kinds of dishes, and
the kids neither mind nor care--and believe me, they're as picky
as all other kids about the dry milk! lol
> watch for sales and stock up.
> what can you do without? ie chips, etc.
Popcorn for snacks is healthier than the chips are too. And it
doesn't take much of an effort to make the homemade kind
instead of the microwave kind.
> dried beans, rice- those are the cheapies of the cheapies, especially in
My roots are multicultural in origins, so I suppose I've got a few
ideas that might be singular, like the fried rice. In my home, even
if the ham had been eaten out of the rice, I'd have used the rice
for that fried rice--or turned it into Chinese Rice Soup. As for the
beans, Pasta ? Fagioli is a great way to blend pasta and beans.
> My family has a list of items that the name brand is a must..
I'm guilty of some of this...Hellman's Mayonnaise, which is the East
Coast's label for Best Foods Mayo, Sheila (I used to live in Tempe,
Sheila, so I recognize both names), is one of them. Most other
brands have fallen by the wayside now.
Most of the time, I can find brands comparable to the quilted soft
toilet tissue at the dollar store--4 and sometimes 6 rolls for $1. It
helps. As for paper towels, those are still luxuries to me. I've been
using the Viva Scrub Cloths and washing them for reuse. I can use
those a *lot*, and that's been a big help. Oh, btw, I don't think
Trader Joe's is here in the East yet. That's a great store though!
Thankfully, we aren't in an area where garbage pickup fees apply,
so we're saving there too.
> "amys85" wrote:
> <<My husband is replacing our kitchen floor.
> The frig is in the living oom, the stove is not hooked up, and I have
> no counters that are not full of tools, and junk that was on top of
> the frig.
> I need to have dinner at home tonight.
> What can I cook? We can't eat out.
Hi Amy and all,
This is my first post--and my first mailing I've received from the list,
and I'm delighted to be here. There's such a warmth coming from
I'm a single mom with four sons, two of whom are still home with me
(and the older of the two will be 14 tomorrow). A writer/author and
editor since 1986, I've written for several top magazines including
Time, Seventeen and Dell Horoscope. Yes, I'm also a professional
astrologer and work out of my home.
My schedule often doesn't leave me much time for fussy meals,
although I do try to include them as well. But Amy, your situation
certainly doesn't lend itself to white linen, sparkling crystal and
silver either at the moment! lol Hopefully, my recipe for Chicken
and Rice can help pull you through. Please understand, I rarely
measure unless I'm making bread or cakes, but this is an easy one
that won't go wrong:
Get your electric frying pan and place your chicken pieces in with
a little oil if you have it. Season these with some seasoned salt,
a little pepper, a little garlic, if you have them. When the chicken
is nearly done, add rice like you usually make for your family. If
you usually use 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water, increase to 1.5
cups of rice and 3 cups of water. This amount will feed 3-4 people.
*Don't* add the water yet however! I usually cook the chicken at
about 325?. You can toss in a sliced onion (wedges, not rings), if
Stir fry the rice to brown it lightly and *then* add your water with
1-2 cubes (or teaspoons of the powdered kind) of bouillon.
Turn the heat to simmer after the water begins to boil, and the
meal will be done within 20 minutes. Make sure the vent on the
lid, btw, is closed.
You can add a couple of sliced mushrooms to this dish if you have
them, leftover green veggies. It's a simple but delicious dish that
also goes well with hot sauce or not.
Hope that helps, and thanks, Liss, for having me here.
Liss wrote the challenge for at least 1 recipe that's 30 minutes in
prep or less, less than $5 and tried and true. Now I'm not quite
sure whether you mean that as a combination effort, Liss--must
be less than $5, tried and true and 30 minutes at the max, or if
you mean cost effective OR tried and true OR quick timing
(because I'm backlogged on my digests! lol)--but here goes:
Ummm...can I cheat and direct people to my column for Fried
Okay, how about my Motorcycle Stew, which my kids *love*? That
qualifies for all three of these components. Ready?
Put the water on for boiling pasta, and if you put the lid on and
start with hot water, it'll boil faster.
While you're waiting for the water to boil, about 10 minutes, toss
a pound of lean ground beef (if you want, since Liss has been so
generous as to say $5 or less, you've got spare change here!...
add a little more than a pound!) into the frying pan (I prefer the
electric pan because there's more room) with just enough oil to
keep it from sticking (1-2 Tbsp).
27:00 (probably 28 minutes here though...doesn't take *that*
long to toss in the oil and beef )
Season the beef to taste with seasoned salt, 2 cloves chopped
garlic and one large diced onion.
Stir the beef so it breaks up as it's cooking.
Check your water and see if it's ready for you to add the pasta
in. It should be. Toss in that pound of rotelle (you know the
kind--it's the corkscrews), stirring the water once and leave the
lid off. Head back to the beef to stir again.
The rotelle will be ready when it's al dente, about 8 minutes,
as I recall. I never really time it, but that's fairly accurate.
If the beef is done and you're just waiting for the rotelle to
finish, you might think you'd like to add in some chopped
tomato. Feel free. It's not necessary, but if you really want
to, you can't destroy this by doing so. If you do want to add
the tomato, drain the rotelle first, and then add the tomato.
That way, you won't overcook the rotelle, and while it's in
the colander, you can cut the tomato and add it.
(I taste as I'm cooking this, btw, so I can tell the right flavor of
the beef. You can too, honest!)
10:00 (being generous with how long it takes you to cut the
tomato if you want to add it as well as putting the rotelle in
the colander lol)
Add the rotelle to the beef and other ingredients in the pan.
Stir, season a bit more if you want.
Set the table and put whatever else you want there because
you're ready to enjoy your Motorcycle Stew.
You can serve this with salad on the side, and you can stay
within the $5 limit usually if you decide to make more by
using 1.5 pounds of beef and 2 pounds of rotelle. My two
sons still at home are 12 and 14, and they're hearty eaters
despite their small frames. For this dish, 1 pound of beef
and 1 pound of rotelle will feed the three of us with no
leftovers if this is all we have.
There you have one of my Q, T-n-T, $5 or less recipes.
*** *** *** *** ***
I don't know if this next one will qualify for $5 or less, but I think it
does. It's fun, quick and easy, but the cost depends on where
you buy the ingredients and how much you use. I can often pick
up what I need at the dollar store, so I can make enough for
dinner as a special meal when we're craving pizza. There are
no measurements for this one, so just keep that in mind. You'll
honestly know as you're doing this one!
You can even use leftover spaghetti sauce, which will lower the
cost of this dish--or snack, whichever you prefer...
Pepperoni Envelopes, Makes 4
1 can crescent rolls
Pepperoni slices, quartered
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
A little beaten egg (optional)
Open the can of crescent rolls and separate them so you have
two rolls per person.
Press two rolls, side by side, together, so they become one.
Next, dab tomato sauce in the center, not too much so the
sauce would spill out, but enough so there will be a small
puddle of sauce.
Add pepperoni slices to the sauce, and top with some of the
Fold the roll over the filling, taking care to seal the edges
well. *How* you fold them isn't as important as their staying
Brush the tops of the rolls with a little beaten egg if you'd like.
Bake according to the instructions on the package of rolls as
if they're crescent rolls. I think they take about 15 minutes,
so this probably also falls into the 30-minute recipe range as
If you have enough pepperoni, cheese and sauce, you can
get an extra can of crescent rolls and build a meal around
these with a salad.
I'm planning to make these soon with chicken and broccoli
in a cream of mushroom base also.
*** *** *** *** ***
I also make quick chicken and biscuits, using a standard
biscuit mix and while those are baking (unless I decide on
dumplings instead), I add a couple of cups of diced chicken
and a little diced onion to a can of cream of mushroom or
cream of chicken soup. If I'm in the mood, I'll add peas as
well. If I think it's too thick, I'll add 1/2 can of milk. When it's
heated and the biscuits are done, I split the biscuits and
serve this mixture over them. If I'm making dumplings, I'll
add the dumplings on top (I usually have to double the
recipe for the mixture itself when I do this though, so it's
in a larger pot), and as soon as the dumplings are done--
about 15 minutes--so is the meal.
*** *** *** *** ***
Jen Krausz wrote:
> Also, I got 3 meals from a $3 roast last weekend.
Your ideas were wonderful, Jen, and I would like to add to those
with some of my own I've found very worthwhile:
I would use the soup as you described on the second day, but on
the third, I'd add lots of good veggies to the soup if you haven't
already, thicken the broth, and make homemade pot pies.
I would *not* make soup on the second day and save the broth in
the freezer for whatever...perhaps a soup at some other time...and
I would look at making Beef Lo Mein or Beef Fried Rice or what's
called Beef Chow Fun, which is beef fried with rice noodles. You
could still get two additional meals but each would be a totally new
creation and nothing close to what some might think was a leftover.
Make julienne strips of the beef and stir fry it with a little olive oil
and some fresh veggies like slender cut green beans or zucchini
with herbs of your choice (I concentrate on basil and garlic and
perhaps some seasoned salt), perhaps some mushrooms (one
portabella would be fabulous, but white mushrooms will do the
trick, as would baby bellas)...toss in fettucini or linguini that's been
cooked to al dente, pour in a little of the beef broth you mentioned
above, and serve with freshly ground pepper and parmesan for
those who would like it. You can, of course, also add fresh tomato,
although I'd be looking at adding a couple of fresh Romas at this
<<Here's a question for all of you. How much do you spend monthly
on Groceries. Including toilet paper, healthcare items pet food etc.>>
I'm kind of afraid to answer this, Rebecca, for fear of making some
on the list uncomfortable, and I don't mean to do that. My two
youngest sons, ages 12 and 14, and I--and the cat--have normally
been going through an average of $50 a month on all groceries
since May 2001. Some months are easier than others. In January,
I had a perk and found that we had stretched and scrimped so well
for so long that when I had $180 to spend then, that lasted nearly
three months. I'd bought some larger cuts of meat, and I do believe
my Chinese cooking has a lot to do with my being able to stretch like
I do. It's not a case of being some kind of whiz or anything else. It's
a simple case of when you have, you can do more, and when you
don't, there is no choice.
I use bones for soups (the basics of all good Chinese soups are
usually found in a stock that begins with chicken and pork bones,
so you'll usually find I have a supply of those in my freezer). But we
lack the luxury of fresh fruits a lot of the time, as we do fresh veggies.
Most months, we depend on frozen vegetables or the fresh veggies
from the Laotian store around the corner. I always have plenty of
rice in the house, however, and rice goes far.
Now...to prevent this from becoming still another book (my agent
wouldn't appreciate if I wrote a book on 2 teens and a mom at
$50 a month for food and finished this one before I complete the
other four I'm working on! lol), I think I'd better close.
Hope this helps to answer your question, Kim. (Thanks to eil for
your kind thoughts, and I'm glad I could help, Janet.)
*BUMP* :Great: Lots of requests for this to be reposted
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