Can you feed your family for $1.50 a person per meal?
If anyone looks at what the government budgets for family assistance, the average breakdown for a family of four is $1.50 a person per meal. While the idea of doing that seems impossible to some, for many families, that is what they have to work worth. Some have even less. So how can you stretch that budget and manage to still eat a fairly healthy diet? In a word, be creative.
One important aspect to stretching the food budget is setting one to begin with. This takes a lot of effort for some, and it is the impulsive buys that tend to eat away at your budget. The only sort of impulse is one that gains more in the long run, but those tend to be few and far between, so always think before you buy.
The other aspect of setting the budget is to set out a group of meal plans. Coming up with a variety of meals that can be interchanged, spiced up, or easily substituted in a pinch can help with the budgeting. Things like pasta and tuna are generally cheap, easy to prepare and have a million and one different ways they can be flavored. Before people start harping on the carbohydrate booing, bear in mind that if you shop sales and keep an eye out for coupons, you can easily sub out whole wheat, or whole wheat organic noodles instead of plain old bargain bin noodles.
This brings up the next tip: Bargain bins.
These sections can really help the budget not only work, but allow for a healthier selection that most people would think possible. Becoming a “day old shopper” is one thing that has been invaluable in making the pennies go further. Just about every chain of food stores has at least one marked down section. Don’t be afraid to search through these bins and shelves. Just because something is marked to expire soon or has recently passed its sell-by date does not mean it is magically no longer any good to eat. As long as the package is intact, most items found remain quite edible for some time past those dates, with the added bonus of being sold at reduced prices. You can take the bargain bin hunt even further if there happens to be a salvage grocery or warehouse in your area. These places are the cream of the crop for near to date, past date, or over stocked runoff. So long as you bear in mind the principles of common sense, such as never buy it if the seals are not intact or the package is distorted. Canned foods keep for years, crackers take a long time to go stale, and dried products can keep months when properly sealed.
Another important aspect to keeping a low food budget is proportion. Eating sensibly sized meals is key to keeping good foods in your diet. Reducing the number of snacks and sodas is another way to make things last longer. If you are pressed to give up on your favorite soda, or just need caffeine in general, then try alternatives such as simply limiting the amount you drink and supplementing with things like tea or energy enhanced waters. If you, or your family, are big on having snacks, go with simple alternatives, like celery with peanut butter and raisins, or a box of snack crackers. On average the price of leading brand chips is more expensive or the same price as the previous examples but goes a lot shorter in the proportion department.
While prices will vary from location to location, in general the principles remain. You can manage to have low cost meals if you use your imagination, bargain hunt, and use some self control. If you are not that big on coming up with meal ideas, a simple Google search can turn up some useful sites on recipes using what you already have on hand.