The average American spends $151 on food every week. But what if there was a way to slash that spending — and we’re talking dramatically — down to roughly $40 per person per week? Would you do it? It really is possible to cut your monthly food budget and still eat well, and healthily, but you’re going to have to work for it. You’re going to have to cook.
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If that seems like a challenge, consider it instead an opportunity to learn a new skill while you beef up your emergency fund, pay off your credit card debt or student loan debt, or just free yourself up to spend elsewhere. So, if you’re ready to pocket some serious cash, here are some breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas that you can use to spend $6 or less per day, per person.
Skip the processed cereals and buy oats. Yes, cereal is cheap and convenient, but with just a tiny bit of effort you can save enormous amounts of money. The average box of cereal costs roughly $3 per pound. Compare that to rolled oats, which you can buy online for $65.89 for a 50-pound bag, or roughly 75 cents per pound. That’s enough for 533 one-half-cup servings at 1.5 oz, which works out to 12 cents per serving. Yep. That’s why you can “splurge” with some much more expensive fresh fruits, nuts, milk of your choice and even maple syrup and still keep the cost well below $1 per serving. To keep this simple, though, we’ll cost out just oatmeal, sugar and milk, for a total breakfast cost of just 15.75 cents.
Here’s the breakdown:
Oats: ½ cup at 12 cents
Milk: 1 oz. at 3 cents (at $3.89/gallon)
Sugar: 1 oz. of sugar equals roughly 5.5 teaspoons, so 1 teaspoon is roughly 0.75 cents (at roughly 70 cents/pound)
Don’t have time to make oatmeal every morning? Make it ahead. Want to mix it up a bit? Try some bircher muesli. It’s delicious.
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The rule here is pack it, pack it, pack it. Eating out at lunch is a money suck. Whether it’s a $4 sandwich or a $10 Chinese buffet, it can add up fast when you’re trying to save money or pay off debt. Try making some steamer bowls instead. You can make these ahead and save a ton of money in the process (and they can be a great way to use dinner leftovers). Just layer the following in a microwavable bowl and you’ve got a cheap, fast and healthy lunch.
You can have a lot of fun playing around with the flavors here. Think Mexican and go with rice, black beans, corn, broccoli, zucchini, red peppers, diced chicken, salsa and cilantro. Or go the Asian-fusion route with rice, edamame, broccoli, snow peas, mint, cilantro, basil and a miso dressing.
You could even make a curry dressing and give the dish an Indian influence. Whatever flavors you choose, you should be able to keep your lunch cost at or below $2.00. Here’s the breakdown:
Rice: ½ cup cooked at 20 cents (at $8.38/10 lb. bag)
Mixed vegetables:1 cup at roughly 65 cents (based on frozen vegetables at $3.25 for 40 oz.).
Legumes (like lentils, black beans or chickpeas): ½ cup at roughly 6 cents
Protein (chicken, beef, tuna, etc.): 4 oz. at roughly 55 cents
Fresh herbs like basil, mint, parsley, cilantro: 1/4 cup at 30 cents
Your favorite dressing or sauce, to taste: 1 Tablespoon at 20 cents
Cooking large one-pot dinners or big servings of pasta and freezing smaller portions to eat during the week can be a huge time saver and also give you some flexibility on what you eat. It’s also often cheaper to cook in quantity, so get out the big pots and make your dinner ahead for the week.
There are a ton of recipes out there, but some healthy and inexpensive favorites are coq au vin, beef stew, Indian curries and spaghetti and meat sauce. You should be able to stay below $3.00 per serving for dinner, though coq au vin will cost you $3.60 because of the wine. Let’s break down the cost for coq au vin:
Whole chicken: Most people can buy a 4-5 pound chicken for $7-$7.50.
Bacon: 4-5 slices (roughly 1/3 of a typical package for $4.50) at $1.50
Onion: ½ at 20 cents
Carrots: ½ cup at 15 cents (based on 90 cents/pound)
Garlic: 5 cloves at 33 cents (about half of a 65 cent bulb)
Mushrooms: 1 lb. at $3.85
Red wine: 2 cups at $6 (based on $10 bottle)
Pasta: 1 lb. at $1.65
Butter: 2 tablespoons at 12 cents (based on $3.90 for 1 pound)
Parsley: 21 cents for ¼ bunch (based on 1 bunch for 85 cents)
Salt and Pepper: 2 cents
We’re not going to suggest you forego coffee or tea or other beverages, certainly, or snacks even. Coffee brewed at home costs about 25 cents a cup, as does an 8-oz glass of milk. Tea is significantly less expensive at just 1-3 cents per bag.
If you need a snack between meals, fresh fruit is a great, inexpensive go-to. Bananas cost about 25 cents apiece, and a handful of nuts can cost less than 50 cents. Buy nuts in bulk for the best prices. Strictly adhering to a budget plan will allow you to eventually start saving money, pay down bills, consolidate debt and reach your financial goals. A sound management plan can also efficiently subsidize your food budget plan for alleviating debt.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
Constance is an editor and writer at Credit.com. Prior to joining us, she worked as an editor for MSN.com, senior digital producer for CNBC, and digital producer for NBC Nightly News.