Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Feed a Family for $15 a Day

The average family of four spends upwards of $1,200 a month on food, or roughly $40 a day. But with smart planning and key ingredients, you can learn to bring that expense down to less than $15 a day. Cooking Light contributing editor and host of Yahoo's Blue Ribbon Hunter Allison Fishman stopped by my kitchen recently to show us exactly how, without sacrificing health or taste.
She says it mainly starts with some important prep work. "You can definitely feed a family of four for under $15 a day. The trick is you've got to plan for it. It's called 'intentional shopping,' which means make a menu, make a shopping list and stick to it," says Fishman. "Mapping out your meals can actually save you about 20 percent."
Next, she says, you want to rethink meat since it's the most expensive food item on most grocery bills. "Try vegetarian options once or twice a week," says Fishman. "That can make a big dent in your grocery bill." Or, another option is to stretch your beef, poultry and fish a little further in your cooking. For example, instead of making it the feature food of your meal, use it sparingly for flavor and texture, almost like a condiment. Fishman suggests tossing a small amount of sirloin into a vegetable stir-fry, or throwing a few ounces of shrimp in with a larger pasta recipe. A pound of beef, which costs about $5.99 per pound, can provide dinner for a family of four when sliced up and cooked along with vegetables.
And remember while it's more convenient to buy boneless, skinless chicken breast for $5 per pound, you can save a significant amount when you buy whole chicken and cut it up yourself. This way it only costs a little more than $1 per pound.
Repurposing leftovers is also a great way to save. For breakfast, Fishman likes to mix leftover dinner vegetables with eggs and shredded cheese for a family-sized breakfast scramble, all for just $1.12. For lunch, you can refresh leftover rice and take-out with a little onion and tofu to make a whole new homemade vegetable fried rice for a grand total of $3.13.
Next, opt for cheap, bulk ingredients as the base of your meal from whole grain pasta to long-grain brown rice. Dried beans and legumes are a frugal cook's superstars, says Fishman. "They're great in a variety of recipes and provide tons of protein and fiber. They're also cheap when you buy them in bulk. You'll get five times more beans for your buck compared to canned," she says. "The trick is you'll have to rehydrate them by either cooking them over the stove or in a slow cooker." Once they're ready for cooking, you can make chili, soups, baked beans and all kinds of healthy meals for very little cost. Best part about beans and legumes is that they're filled with protein and fiber so you'll stay full for a longer period of time.
Another bargain food staple is seasonal produce. In the fall, grocers carry tons of squash, citrus and robust greens like kale and chard. When there's an abundance, you'll find them at rock bottom prices, usually about a $1 less per pound.
Finally, one of Fishman's favorite dinner recipes for families, which costs just over $2 per serving: rotini with white beans and escarole. "It exemplifies what eating on a budget is all about. It's vegetarian, it's got pasta, it's got plenty of beans for protein, and it includes seasonal fall vegetables."
This article is part of a series related to being financially fit.

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