Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ask the Internet: $25 Grocery List From Scratch?

This week’s question is related to the $25 Food Project, and I’ve thought about quite a lot over the last coupla days.

Q: You have $25 to feed yourself for a full week. You’re starting from scratch, with nothing in your pantry, freezer, or refrigerator. What do you purchase?

A: My answers would have been different last Tuesday. But here goes, based on prices from a popular online grocery site:
  • Eggs - $2.19 (1 dozen)
  • Frozen string beans - $1.25 (1 lb)
  • Frozen broccoli - $1.25 (1 lb)
  • Red grapes - $1.98 (2 lbs)
  • Peanut Butter - $2 (16 oz)
  • Grape jelly – $1.50 (32 oz)
  • Whole wheat bread - $1.50 (18 oz)
  • Oatmeal - $3.69 (42 oz)
  • Thin spaghetti - $0.77 (1 lb)
  • Long grain white rice - $1.99 (32 oz)
  • Canned Tomatoes - $1.20 (28 oz)
  • Dried navy beans - $1.00 (1 lb)
  • Salt - $0.59
  • Pepper - $1.49
  • Vegetable oil - $2.50 (48 oz)
  • 1 mini York Peppermint patty - $0.10 at the register
TOTAL: $25

I figure I can deal with a lack of variety the first week, since I wouldn’t have to buy so many staples (oatmeal, oil, rice) the following week. That extra money would probably go towards onions, flour, sugar, and maybe some kind of meat (if there was anything left over).

What about you, readers? Do you agree with the list? What would you add? What would you leave out? If you’re making your own list, there’s no need to list prices – we trust you.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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Mindy Klasky said...

Around here (Washington DC area), the grapes will set you back $3.99 at a regular grocery store. A better bet, cost-wise, would be a bag of small apples, or a bunch of bananas.

I'd also splurge on cayenne as the spice o' choice, recognizing that I'll need to build a spice cabinet slowly...

Anna N said...

Hey, I like it! I would probably just shamelessly copy yours, with a few changes: bananas instead of grapes (usually cheaper per pound), strawberry jelly instead of grape (grape jelly in my oatmeal doesn't do it for me), brown rice instead of white if it's cheap enough, and cumin instead of black pepper.

Elle said...

I would skip the peanut butter and jelly and the red grapes. I would add oil or butter, bananas, and either garlic or siracha and if I had any money left I would also add broccoli and veg stock to make broccoli soup.

Lauren said...

I think this question is fascinating. I guess if I had your list as a guide, I'd probably go with that, altho I'd substitute the oatmeal for something else, maybe soymilk.

But if I had to come up with a list from scratch? Oh man that would be tough, to be limited to $25. I've been realizing lately how much I truly spend on food, not just eating out but also groceries, because I'm also a foodblogger and I like to cook and experiment. It's amazing what things cost these days too.

I know that I could not live without olive oil, bread, some sort of fruit, spinach, pasta, salt and black pepper. The olive oil alone would cost a pretty penny. I guess I'd be eating pretty much that for every meal, and maybe getting a bit of cheese or deli meat if there was any money left. I'd just eat like a poor Italian.

This post has really made me think I should try this on my own. Thanks!

miki said...

You're actually being hard on yourself, listing ingredients such as pepper and vegetable oil, when you could probably just count what you used, rather than what you bought.

What about a soup bone?

galnoir said...

Echoing the bananas—cheaper than the grapes, and more versatile, given that they play beautifully with peanut butter and oatmeal. I'd ditch the grape jelly, maybe in favor of a couple of pounds of carrots. Or a few onions and a head of garlic, to punch up the meals. Yeah, I'd swap out the jelly and the frozen string beans for carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic.

Liz Tee said...

I'd be tempted to get flour (ww or ap, either one) and yeast and baking powder, although I haven't priced it to see if it would work. Lots of stuff can be made from that - pasta, pitas, bread...

Maggie ~:) said...

The first things I buy when I'm sure I have to eat super cheap are:

Bag of new potatoes
broccoli and/or cauliflower
frozen greenbeans
sweet potatoes
butter or olive oil
cheap cheese
cheap salami
whatever melon is close to $2 if grapes aren't on sale.

Kris said...

Good calls, everyone. You're right about the carrots. I think I'd swap out the frozen string beans for a bag or two of fresh carrots.

I was all set to buy bananas, but the grocery site was only selling them for $0.49/each. Based on my own parameters, they would have been too costly.

A bag of potatoes (or yams) would have been a nice option, too.

limecloud said...

Haha I was about to say exactly what galnoir said - Carrots, Onions and Garlic -don't leave home without them. I was going to say I'd ditch the jelly , but that is the only sweet thing on the list and I don't know if I could go a whole week without something sweet.

Dominic said...

Interestingly, a similar subject has come across my mind recently and here's my list:
25lb bag of rice - $9.21
5lb bag of frozen vegetables - $6.49
5lb bag of potatoes - $0.99
1lb bag of onions - $0.79
Pork bacon - $0.99
Dozen Eggs - $0.99
Bulb of garlic - $0.99
24oz Ketchup - $0.99
Ground Black Pepper - $0.99
Clearance meat @ $0.79/lb [2 lbs]

- Preferably with bone in the meat to boil the bone for stock
- Save the rendered fat from the bacon/meat to be used as cooking oil

Example Planned Meals:
Day 1:
Breakfast - Eggs, bacon, rice
Lunch - Porridge, boiled potato
Dinner - Rice, cooked vegetable, meat

Sunfall_E said...

The oatmeal shouldn't cost that much, I'm thinking, unless you are getting Quaker. Try the bulk food aisle, or Aldi's. This is the only real quibble I had with your pricing, the rest of this comment is just prices in the Midwest. Bananas, instead of grapes, and carrots instead of green beans. I also get brown rice cheaper than your white rice. 1.29 for 2 pounds. Pinto beans would be cheaper than navy. Or lentils.

KitschenBitsch said...

I'm in agreement on bananas -- at my grocery store they are .49/lb and could be used with pb in the sandwich or put into oatmeal as a sweetener. I would probably ditch the eggs in favor of a five pound bag of potatoes (running about $2.45 at my grocery store), and our oatmeal is $2.49 for 42 oz. It's much easier to do in Raleigh, NC than NYC. I might also skip the bread, pasta and oil and buy shortening or cheap butter and a small amount of milk and flour for a pan bread like my grandmother used to make -- works for every meal. I don't generally use shortening, but if money was tight and I needed to get back on my feet, it would be open for consideration. Plus, I'd cry on day one because there's no way I could fit in my coffee. I'm spoiled.

Maggie said...

My first job out of college, I had a tight budget (not quite $25 a week tight, but tight), the nearest grocery store was 5 miles away and my only transportation was a 40cc scooter. So I'd go grocery shopping 2x a month while both trying to be uber-cheap AND trying to make everything fit in a very small space.

In general, I tended to buy:
peanut butter
saltine crackers
cheddar cheese
Generic version of Jimmy Dean sausage (I was just feeding myself, so one log = multiple meals)
Dried beans
Eggbeaters (More expensive, but also unbreakable)
Dehydrated soup mix
powdered pasta sauce mixes
sweet potatoes or red potatoes
frozen veggies

Not the healthiest I've ever eaten. But it got the job done.

Lizalopoli said...

I thought this was so interesting! I priced it out at my online grocery store and the same items in the same amount cost $31.78 - and that's eating the cheapest version of everything sans peppermint patty. As I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, this clearly isn't going to work for me. But in the same breath, I've found that actual store prices tend to vary from online prices, so maybe it would be cheaper in store.

Harper said...

$25 is twice my weekly grocery budget for my family (dh--who's 6'3" and 225 lbs--and ds--who's 1yo). Of course, I don't count spices or oil or any of that. If I didn't have anything in the pantry, I'd eat vegetarian for a week or two (lots of beans) just so I could focus on building up a little pantry.

My menus center on rice/barley, pasta, or potatoes. Then I buy whatever's cheap in the produce section. Then I "flesh" it out with protein, the type being determined by how much I've spent on other stuff.

For me, peanut butter is not a good buy when I'm really pinched for money, because it has to go with bread, and bread (homemade) just isn't as cheap as my primary starches when you consider how not filling it is.

I think your calorie count approach is an interesting one. I find that when I eat a "balanced" diet, it's really difficult for me (5'8") to force myself to eat beyond 1200 calories in a day. Eating junk food, though, I can easily top 3000. So while I keep nutrition in mind, I generally focus one feeling full and healthy.

wosnes said...

One thing I noticed about your list is that most of it is what I consider to be pantry, refrigerator or freezer staples. It's unlikely that I would need to buy all of them once -- even stocking up once a month. The exceptions are the grapes and frozen broccoli.

I agree about carrots, onions and garlic.

I do want to know where you shop! With the exception of the eggs (and the garlic that Dominic mentioned) there's nothing I can find as cheaply as the prices you give. I can't find prices like that.

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

My list would look similar to yours. I'd probably substitute one or two items to buy canned chicken so I could make chicken salad. I can eat that for several days a week on sandwich bread or crackers. I think eggs are the best choice since they're so versatile and be used for nearly anything. I think you did good!

Linda J-H said...

Where do you people live??? There is no way I could buy that much food for $25. A pound of onions for 79 cents? Peanut butter for $1.99? I live in Colorado and short of a food pantry, I would be set back a whole lot more than what is listed for every item mentioned.

wosnes said...

I have to say...I don't understand starting from scratch and spending only $25.

Jennifer said...

I just bought grapes for 99 cents a lb on a super sale, most of the time they are much more than that. But buying a lot of these things in the bulk section rather than packages could make them a lot cheaper. I also agree with everyone who suggested potatoes, cheap and pretty filling. They are pretty consistently cheap. If you can find bulk spices you could probably squeeze spices in without sacrificing much. Reduced produce (if available) if often a good deal too. I can buy all the single bananas repackaged for 49 cents a lb.

wosnes said...

Another thing I'd consider adding to the grocery list: cabbage. It's usually cheap, it's versatile and it keeps forever.

Dominic said...

25lb bag of rice, 5lb bag of frozen vegetables is from CostCo.

5lb bag of potatoes and onions from a local produce market.

1 Dozen Eggs, Ketchup [though could be had at 79 cents if you wait long enough] are common sales items at Jewels/Albertsons.

The bacon doesn't usually show up at that price till near the end of the day at Jewels/Albertsons when the meats are at clearance due to the expiration date nearing really soon.

Clearance meats that hit the level of 79 cents a lb can be found in dominics, again with the meat nearing expiration date. They tend to be fatty and/or have gristle if not on it but those can be used in either fat rending or making broth.

With the items listed, you can also make Vietnamese Pho, using rice to substitute for the noodles.

25 dollars is a bit extreme to start but going a bit extreme requires some extreme measures including not barring clearance racked food.

Laura said...

Without going to a grocery store and checking (so I'm just relying on my memory), here's how I'd price that list if bought where I live in NYC:

Eggs - $3.19 (1 dozen)
Frozen string beans - $2.29 (1 lb)
Frozen broccoli - $2.29 (1 lb)
Red grapes - $3.98 (2 lbs)
Peanut Butter - $4.99 (16 oz)
Grape jelly – $3.99 (32 oz)
Whole wheat bread - $3.99 (18 oz)
Oatmeal - $4.69 (42 oz)
Thin spaghetti - $2.49 (1 lb)
Long grain white rice - $2.49 (32 oz)
Canned Tomatoes - $1.99 (28 oz)
Dried navy beans - $2.00 (1 lb)
Salt - $0.99
Pepper - $0.99
Vegetable oil - $4.49 (48 oz)
1 mini York Peppermint patty - $0.25 at the register

Grand total: $45.10. WOW! I need to move :)

snowpeech said...

Haha. Laura is totally spot on! I'm in Manhattan too, and at that price it's almost cheaper (def. more convenient) to eat out once a day and save the leftovers.

Kris said...

@Laura @snowpeech: What neighborhood are you guys in? I'm in Brooklyn, but lived on the LES and EV for a bunch of years. Based on those prices, you might be able to go through Fresh Direct and save cash.

Laura said...

I live on the Upper West Side, and buy most of my groceries at the Western Beef or farmer's market - DIRT cheap produce (at least for NYC). Sometimes I'll venture down to Trader Joe's for a monthly run on staples, but I haven't done that in a while.

If I shopped at Gristede's, Food Emporium, Whole Foods, or Fresh Direct (like most of my friends), it'd probably be even double that! I definitely don't think Fresh Direct is cheaper.

Anonymous said...

This would cost about $50 in Canada lol.

Anonymous said...

i feed a family of 3 on 260$ a month ... its not easy thats about 21 $ per person per week ... sometimes we have top romen for supper ...but u gotta do what u gotta do ...im on ssi and food stamps so being disabled with very little income ..its good to see some posts like this to give a meal idea ..get tired of the same old thing

Anonymous said...

i live in Southeast Missouri and the prices on your list blew me away! I never realized how much more expensive things could be! Eggs went to $1.29 a dozen recently and I was shocked. I was used to paying less than a buck, and can still buy them from a local farmer for a dollar a dozen. My list would look similar except with the lower prices here i'm sure I could get more.
milk (skim, gallon)-$3.60
all purpose flour- $1.50/5 lbs
baking powder- $1.30
salt- $0.50
pepper- $1.40
sugar- $2.50/4lbs
dried beans/great northern/2lbs-$2.00
canned tomatoes/4 cans- $2.00
shortning- $2.00
These are current prices from my local aldi store. I am $0.10 over but lets pretend I found it in the cup holder. Plus I rounded up on these prices. Some examples of meals would be
cornmeal porriage

rice with beans
corn bread

mashed potatoes with white gravy

eggs and hashbrown
In about 4 weeks of shopping with only $25 bucks I could build a decent pantry. Thats why I went for staples and a semi bland diet the first week. Next week I would add olive oil, a roasting chicken, bananas, and cinnamon plus some of the things from last week. I have 2 light eatting girls and a husband that is only home on the weekends so obviously this is a bit easier for me. That combined with the lower prices in my area would make it easier for most. I think you are amazing especially considering the prices in your area. Oh ya in the summer I would cut cost by using fresh produce from my garden. That would definatly round out my choices. As I am trying to stay healthy the shortning I bought would be used in small amounts but I felt like it was the least expensive option for my tight budget. Thats for the post your great!

crafty said...

Great suggestions. I have agreed with many posts. For me a margarine or butter is a must, you can flavor so many things w it and also cook w it. I think that I agree w all of the healthy choices and I would want to subtract something and add bagels. Oatmeal is OK, but if a package of bagels happened to be cheap enough, that is what I would prefer. Potatoes also are versatile. Potato soup, potato w broccoli and cheese, hash browns,many things....