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How to plan to eat for $50 a week

I’ve been asked several times to explain how a family of six can eat well for $50 a week.  It is a lot of work- but it is possible.  We did it for years, and I still do my best to keep our food budget low even though we have been able to increase our budget by quite a bit. Here are a few tips for planning your menu and shopping list:



1) Buy in bulk, when you can.  Especially beans.  Beans are your friends.  I used to make up a large batch of beans (whatever was on sale/cheapest) and then put them in the fridge to use for several meals. For example, one night you could use some of them to make a pot of baked beans and then the next night add peppers/onions and chili seasoning to another portion and make chili.  You could mash up the rest to add to burritos for a third meal.

2) Vegetables are magical things that stretch out a meal.  Plant a garden if you can.  Or, make friends that garden and bum produce off of them.  Visit farmer’s markets.  Find cheap produce at places like Aldi’s. I would stock up on the lower priced veggies like onions, carrots, peppers, cabbage and use them to fill up a meal.  For example, when I made fajitas or curry, two chicken breasts were enough to feed the whole family- I just sliced them into thin strips and added a big pan full of grilled onions and peppers.  Add refried beans or black beans to the fajitas and chickpeas to the curry and you’ve got a lovely dinner!

3) Make a habit of “Meatless Mondays” or any other day. We eat vegetarian meals at least half the week.  Things like rice and beans, soup, homemade mac and cheese, black bean burgers, quiche, are all tasty and still cheap to make.

4) Soup is awesome. We love soup.  A big pot of soup gives us a nice dinner and lunches for several days after.  I make it at least once a week.   Our favorites are carrot/potato/leek, lentil, chicken and dumplings, curried carrot, beef and barley, Portuguese kale soup, minestrone, and French onion.

5) Homemade baked goods.  Make up batches of muffins, cookies and scones and freeze for quick snacks.  I freeze loaves of quick breads like zucchini, pumpkin, or apple spice to take out and defrost for breakfast.  Muffins are great- you can pop a frozen one in the microwave for 30 seconds and have a warm treat!

6) Bake your own bread.  I make two loaves at a time, and it takes me about five minutes to mix and set to rise.  Then I leave the dough covered on the counter all day, and bake the loaves after the kids are in bed.  I plop them on a rack to cool overnight and in the morning we have fresh bread ready for toasting.

7)Make lunch fun. For kid lunches and snacks: I use segmented plates or even muffin tins to give them small amounts of a variety of things- that’s their favorite way to eat. I buy tons of whatever fruit is in season/cheap to snack on fresh and if there aren’t any we can afford we have some as staples for snacking (like apples, carrots or celery with yummy homemade dips!) We eat a ton of hummus with veggies or chips or homemade pita bread. We make cheese and veggie quesadillas. We bake up chick peas that have been tossed in spices for a crunchy treat. I slice up potatoes and root veggies to bake and make homemade chips. They like plain yogurt with honey and fruit or granola. They like popcorn. They like eggs- deviled, egg salad, dippy egg and toast soldiers, hard boiled, etc. They even like to have leftovers from other meals- a bit of last night’s soup and a half a quesadilla to dip in it is a favorite here.

8) One large cut of meat can become several meals.  I cook a whole chicken every week.  Sometimes one lonely chicken will be the only meat in my grocery cart.  I only use about a third of it at a time.  The rest I put away to make more meals.  For example, if I boil one for soup, I’ll pick it apart and throw the smallish bits into the soup pot.  Then the next day we would have chicken salad (with lots of chopped apples and celery) for lunch and chicken enchiladas (with black beans, onions, and peppers) for dinner.  The leftover carcass goes back in the soup pot with vegetable scraps to make stock for my freezer. If I make pot roast, the next night I will chop up the leftover meat and veggies and make hash to have with poached eggs.

9) Embrace the casserole!  It doesn’t have to be old school canned tuna noodle.  I make veggie lasagna with broccoli and carrots diced and mixed into the ricotta to stretch it out (and you can make your own ricotta), homemade mac and cheese with steamed veggies mixed in, chicken divan (pictured: chicken with broccoli and a creamy mustard sauce) stuffed shells, chicken (or veggie) enchiladas, you are limited only by your creativity.  And casseroles freeze well- so they are great make ahead meals.

10) We have a pizza or calzone night every week, using whatever I have in the pantry and freezer.  It’s a lot more fun than ordering takeaway or delivery, and better for our budget too.

11)  Teach yourself to cook from scratch.  The more ingredients you can make or grow yourself, the better.  Things like cheese, yogurt, bread, sauces, mixes, dips, are so much cheaper, healthier, and better tasting when you make them yourself! This year I am going to tackle canning, so I can fill my pantry up with homemade goodies.

12) Create new meals from fridge scraps.  I make soups, stews, stir fry, sandwiches, and even casseroles from the leftover bits we used to throw away.  I used to keep a container in my freezer and dump leftover veggies in it before they went bad in the fridge.  Once the container was full, I’d make a big pot of soup- which was a free meal, made from food that would have been thrown away!

Low budget and healthy cooking requires prep work and planning but it isn’t hard once you get the hang of it! A decade ago, I didn’t know how to boil water.  Necessity forced me to learn rather quickly.  I  was an awful cook, and if I could learn to do it, anyone can!

Addition via Mindy: Shop the ads.  Keep a list of your favorite meals on the fridge to compare to the weekly ads. 

And I’m adding: Bartering is great too- I would barter for garden produce, baked and canned goods and dinners at friend’s housesAnd there are other ways to get food- I have friends that use hunting, couponing, foraging, even dumpster diving. 


21 Responses to How to plan to eat for $50 a week

  1. GREAT tips!!!! What you do to feed your family so inexpensively is soooo impressive! I do a lot of these things but not reliably enough to keep to a budget I’d like. I particularly need to work on making more snack foods from scratch and being better about using food instead of letting it go bad! Love the idea of keeping leftover veggie scraps in the freezer!

  2. Loved this post it actually helps me out aswell because we are really big meat eaters.Thnks for posting this. LOVE IT!!!!

    JennyMay Murrin Witters

  3. We are a family of 7 and no where near $50, more like $250 a week!!! We eat totally organic and make everything from scratch… I think I need to make more beans!! Your post is an inspiration ;o)

  4. Ah, I see where my family’s grocery bill problem lies. We eat few grains. Adam and I have been trying to eat nutrient-dense foods and avoid wheat. We probably have pasta once a week and it’s usually rice or corn pasta. When we have soup, it’s often with salad, not bread. We use lots of potatoes and brown rice.

    Bread is inexpensive, especially if you make your own, but it’s a filler food. Good for giving kids energy, I suppose….us 40-somethings just get fat from it. It has no real nutritional value, so I feel like it’s a waste of calories for us. A baked potato has 50% of your RDA of vitamin C.

  5. Other couple tips that we use all the time :)
    It is worth it to invest in a freezer. We freeze produce when it is really really cheap so we have it in the dead of winter. We did tomatoes this year and did half diced and half made into sauce. I also have carrots blanched and diced and frozen in individual pacakges.

    When you make too much package it up and freeze it with the date and what it is. Think of how you would like to eat it before you freeze, would it be good to take out for a quick lunch? Then freeze in plastic serving size bags, it is good for a supper? Then freeze in pans that you can pop in the oven (make sure you label how to heat it on the label)

    Also buy in bulk at the resturant wholesaler, it is significantly cheaper. Costco can be a money pit.

    Make sure you put any rice and beans, flour in the freezer for 72 hours after purchasing to kill any weevils that may be hiding.

  6. That’s amazing. I fed our family of five on $70 a week for several years but I don’t know if I could have gone much lower than that. I bought almost everything at the Farmer’s Market and Aldi. I loved Aldi.

  7. A couple people in my household struggle with severe pain (and by severe I mean “curled up in the chair crying and having to crawl to the bathroom because walking hurts too dang bad) when eating beans that have a high gas content.

    I know there is a way to cook beans that lowers the gas effects…do you know how to do it? We all love beans, and our grocery budget needs trimming, but we can’t handle the high pain days.

    • This takes me back! I was the eldest of 9, and used to stretch $40 to feed us all for a week (this was about 14 years ago.)

      I honestly thought everyone in the world made tacos by using 1/4 lb of ground meat and two big honking cans of refried beans mixed together with a packet of taco seasoning. The other 3/4 of the pound of beef was split 3 ways to make spaghetti (with two big cans of sauce, a bunch of seasoned salt and plenty of noodles); a ground beef and potato casserole with LOTS of potatoes and cream of whatever soup; and a pot of chili with a couple of cans of ranch style beans, a bunch of veggies, and a can of minestrone stirred in.

      I didn’t have steak but once growing up, when my grandparents took me to Steak and Ale for my 21st birthday. I would spend an hour deboning a roasted chicken so not an ounce of meat w0uld be wasted – then I would boil the carcass for stock and make the chicken last four meals, too. I made my own bread and tortillas, and baked special wheatless, eggless, milkless bread, pancakes and muffins for my brothers who had severe food allergies.

      My mom couldn’t boil water. My grandma taught me how to make cream and custard pies from scratch. We were poor as church mice but we ate good! (Except for when we were REALLY poor and we ate shriveled potatoes boiled in their skins, pinto beans, and Jiffy cornbread mixed with water and baked on a cookie sheet for weeks on end with the occasional treat of popcorn to fill us up. But that’s another story 😉 )

    • For the bean gas problem just soak the beans with some baking soda in the waters, and make sure you rinse them well :) It makes all the differnce, Also when cooking kidney beans make sure to boil for that 10 min intially to get rid of that nasty toxin.

  8. Great post…I started making homemade beef stew and froze leftovers and we are having it this week with white rice. I will learn to make homemade bread. THanks and I already know how to make mac and cheese. But thanks I will start trying to do some of this cause I would like to cut my grocery money down. :)

  9. Thank you so much! We’re always looking for ways to stretch out our dollars every week, so we don’t have to resort to eating dirt and cardboard to make it thru to the next paycheck. These are great ideas!

  10. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions on freezing the muffins! Like what do you store them in and do you do anything in particular to protect them from freezer burn? Thanks!

    • I simply freeze muffins in a large ziploc baggie after they cool. Since I am trying to seriously go green I have been re-using the same large baggie for some time now! LOL. Anyway, as long as you use up the dozen or so muffins within a week or so, they do not get freezer burn. I have a post on muffins if you want to check my blog anytime (under the baking and recipe section). :)

  11. Thank you! We spend about $125 a week for a family of *four* (this includes items like toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, dog food, etc). My husband and ds1 are super picky and big fans of junk food(hubs’ fave meal is Hamburger Helper–yuck), while ds2 and I prefer whole foods, fruits and vegs. Annoyingly enough, it’s the fruit & vegs that rack the bill up so much–we live in Alaska, and in the winter all fruit & vegs have to be shipped in. I’m going to try your tips out and see if I can’t get us down to $50/wk (not including the other stuff) this summer! :)

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