This post isn't about the habits of those on public assistance, as it's easy to criticize. But I wanted simply to give an example of how, with a little planning, you can feed a family for much LESS than the amount of money normally allocated in such programs (about $194 per person per month) even assuming you contribute nothing of your own money towards your family meals.
This weeks food - $50 for the two of us, including a sweet bread and some cookies. I've rounded everything up to the nearest half dollar. I do the bread baking on Saturday and make cookies or some other baked treat. I make soup or stew on Sunday and chopped and Tupperware the veggies so there's little time to prepare them on a work night. Many meals are meat free, with beans and grain for complete protein. Nothing is wasted, so there's always little bits of peppers or chilis or such in the freezer to add to soup and beans dishes as well as some bones with a little meat on them for soups. Any leftovers not immediately eaten are frozen for lunches the following week. We have brewed iced tea, not pop, and I'll make an "energy drink" out of a splash of fruit juice mixed with 2 Tablespoons of Braggs apple cider vinegar and lots of water and carried in a recycled glass beverage bottle.
So total food and treats if one is closely watching the budget and has essentials on hand in bulk already - $200 for the month for two adults.
We are blessed with a good education (I paid for mine 100% on my own, my husband was blessed with parents, having done so themselves, were able to help him significantly). With that, we have jobs that pay very well But being raised by parents that understood a budget, mine growing up in the Great Depression, we are quite fine eating on a budget so that there is money available for unexpected expenses, helping family members and charities, including 100% of all the sales of the Book of Barkley and Saving Grace to animal rescue. That's important to us.
There have been years we've gone in with others for a 4-H cow, the cost per pound being really low, but this year, with a move, and remodeling, we just watch for sales.
Range "MackMuffin" with whole wheat sourdough bread rounds.
But it takes planning - don't wait until you lose your job before establishing a larder of bulk supplies. Do it when times are plentiful, and you'll have less to worry about later, because it's vital that you have certain items stored up to make a super cheap meal plan work. You will need to spend a months worth of food budget minimum, laying in supplies if you want the absolutely minimum cost on dried and bulk items, not something that's practical once the emergency strikes.
Bread - I make it from scratch, using a sourdough starter made out of wild yeast in place of commercial yeast and a food processor, it takes minutes to prep, then just the rise and bake time for a couple of loafs and a batch of muffins or rolls. An hour of prep, time to rise, and a couple of hours to bake up everything, and I've got bread products for the week for a couple of bucks.
Wild yeast sourdough starter
Shopping - I will hit 3 stores if it saves me 3 or 4 bucks, as long as the gas to go there doesn't eat up the difference. I regularly check ads to see what's on sale where and I'm not afraid to clip a coupon. Make sure you look at your receipt - I've been charged other than the sale price at a couple of the big chain grocers. I make a list. If I see something super cheap not on the list, I will pick it up to add to the larder. I will NOT buy something just because "it looks good!" if it's not on the list,
Home canned: salsas, applesauce (I trade bread/cookies for huge bag of apples each Fall with non baking colleague who has a bunch of trees), some veggies, barbecue sauce
frozen soup bones from previous roasts
powdered milk, vegetable oil, peanut butter, pasta
vinegar and spices in bulk
rice and dried beans - in bulk
flour and sugar - in bulk
water - we take refillable thermoses to work, the tap water here tastes good and frankly, half of the bottled water is from a tap in some other city plus we keep a minimum of 3 months of bleach treated water, per person (including the dog) with prepping supplies.
4-H cow burgers with homemade buns
Cost - About $50 for the week for Partner and I and that included a number of meals with meat and eggs.
Daily Goal - 3 servings of protein
5 servings of fruits and veggies
A treat (usually a cookie, sometimes a piece of pie when fruit is plentiful and cheap)
3 servings of whole grain carbs (my husband may eat more, the bread is super cheap to make)
2 servings dairy
Use of the bulk items for the week (spices, flour, bones, powdered milk, dried beans, oil, vinegar) $6.00
coffee or tea for the week (made at home and carried to work) $2
One small package chicken thighs (sale) $2
package of boneless breasts (for sandwiches) (free - this was a buy one get one from the previous week)
1 pound ground beef $4 (if money was extra tight, I would replace with lentils for meat sauce or sloppy joes on the homemade bread)
Fresh Green Beans - $2
Fresh squash - $2
2 Cucumbers (great with rice vinegar and a dash of honey as a salad) $1.50
2 bags of apples (Aldi) $5
Veggies: a number of cans purchased on scratch and dent clearance $4 total
Carrots: 2 bags on sale for $1.50
3 pounds oranges (sale) $2
eggs - free - bartered with homemade bread for someone that has chickens but doesn't bake
bananas .50 cents for a bunch on sale
Tibetan curried lentils
Potatoes 5 pound bag on sale .99 cents
2 onions $1.50
package of whole romaine for sandwiches and salad $1
1/4 deli pound swiss (sale) $1
1/2 pound mozzarella $2
Canned mushrooms (sale).50
Bag of peppers (Aldi sale) $2
Big tub of cottage cheese (or plain yogurt) $5
Bag of frozen dried berries (for oatmeal and/or muffins) $2
Generic boxed mac and cheese .50
Butter (free with $25 grocery purchase)
Ham and Bean soup
Even better, there will be some soup and beans to be frozen for a lunch the next week
Any leftover cheese or chicken will be mixed with leftover pasta for a casserole or stuffed baked potatoes the following week.
Menu for the week:
Breakfast - work day oatmeal (with some powdered milk and cinnamon mixed in) and tea or coffee or egg with toast or a homemade muffin
sourdough raspberry muffin
weekend - hash-browns with any leftover onions and scrambled eggs or omelette or pancakes made with leftover plain yogurt and a fried egg
Lunch - For Partner: peanut butter or chicken sandwich (sliced or chicken salad with veggie or fruit bits left from the previous weekend) with Swiss and homemade mayo and an apple
Homemade baked potato chips (400 F. oven, lightly coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with non stick spray. Slice potatoes super thin with food processor and place 1/4 inch apart on sheet. Season and bake, rotating halfway trough until golden brown - about 30 minutes)
extra fruit for afternoon snack
homemade peanut butter or oatmeal cookie
For me: baked potato with a bit of salsa and cottage cheese with some carrots, applesauce for dessert
Cottage cheese or leftover soup or casserole from the freezer with a slice of bread and a small apple
an extra fruit for a snack
Lebanese herbed rice - with homegrown herbs and bulk cow, less than .75 cents a serving
weekend lunches - boxed mac and cheese to which I've added a little leftover corn, a little leftover chicken or ground beef, a little pepper and salsa, topped with buttered bread crumbs and baked
canned green beans
Leftover barbecue shredded chicken served on homemade rolls with extra sauce and canned corn.
Baked potato stuffed with leftover veggies, salsa, cheeses, whatever bits are in the fridge.
leftover soups or stews (frozen)
(1) Split Pea Soup (from Scratch) with potatoes and onions (beef bone to add seasoning)
Cornbread from scratch
(2) Meat Sauce and Pasta (made with from scratch sauce from previous week, adding peppers and ground beef).
Garlic toast (homemade bread, a little oil and garlic powder toasted in a pan)
(3) Baked potatoes stuffed with meat sauce with a sprinkle of cheese or lasagne bread (meatsauce, 3 cheese stuffed day old rolls)
Can of peas and carrots
Fresh green beans
(4) Homemade lentil soup (beef bone and spices for seasoning)
(5) Chicken with homemade canned barbecue sauce
Remainder of fresh green beans
(6) Pizza Night - deep dish this time, homemade. topped with homemade Canadian bacon (much cheaper than the store bought), leftover veggies bits and cheese
Romaine salad with cucumber and homemade vinaigrette. Croutons made out of older bread.
(7) White beans with ham shank and spices
Garlic toast made with homemade bread, sprinkled with a little cheese
Carrots or canned veggies of choice.
Cookies for dessert and some sweet tea sitting out on the front porch
So whether you are budgeting or just learning to be more prepared, start getting creative in the kitchen and with your meal prep and prepping. It might save you more than a little money some day.