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25 January 2010

eating on $18 a day

baking with Lucy

We're pretty blessed around here. We know that. We may drive a 16-year-old car and buy our clothes at the island thrift store, but we feel rich with experiences and the community we have created.

Danny has a cooking job he loves on the island where we live.
Little Bean and I bake together nearly every day, blending gluten-free flours into something that becomes wonderful (or not).
We're working hard all week on the final copy edits of our cookbook.

There's no complaining here.

Lately, however, we have been worrying about money, for various reasons. We're a freelance writer and a chef, in this economy. Everyone is cutting corners, right? Also, we spend too much money on food. It's our work, we tell ourselves, as we drive to the grocery store again to pick up eggs for baking and leave with a full bag of foods we find inspiring. We really should stop.

Here is our chance to learn.

This week is the King County United Way's Hunger Action Week. From January 25th to the 29th (today through Friday), many of us food bloggers will be living on a bare minimum of food money each day, equal to the maximum food assistance available to an individual living in Washington state.

Here, in King County, that's $7 a day.

For a family of three, the maximum allowed is $18 a day.

That's a heck of a lot less than we have been spending.

As little as that sounds, there are people who are living on far less. I started talking about this on the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef Facebook page, as well as my profile page on Facebook. The conversation has been inspiring. Here's some of what you have been saying:

"I feed a family of 11 on $250 bi-weekly...That's $17.85 a day for the whole family... and we eat well!! Organic beef, organic chicken, organic home-canned veggies, home-canned fruits (organic when I can get them) and organic flours... 2 children do receive WIC (adopted foster kids) but that's it, no other "services"... Buy in bulk, buy local, buy in season... and then can, can, can!!! We also belong to a food co-op that offers all organic or all-natural foods in bulk." (Christie Siefer)

"Every now and then you buy a special ingredient until you have enough to make something. But the staples are rice and potatoes, not bread or baked or convenience foods. If you have a good blender you can make your own rice flour for a LOT cheaper." (Cassie McFadden)

"I often buy onions and carrots at Costco to bulk up our meals. Lots of vegetable soups from seasonal and (on sale) frozen veggies. And beans, lentils, and more beans. I haven't tried making my own flours, because I can get organic brown rice flour in bulk (25# bags) for about $1 a pound, which I think is about the same as the rice? We use a fair amount of masa and cornmeal too, because it is more affordable than many flours, and easy to find." (Laura Austin)

That's pretty much it: 'Buy in bulk, buy local, buy in season... and then can, can, can!!!' I also do hit the asian markets, and mexican groceries for GF flours on the cheap. Using every part of our meat and making stock from scratch in the crock pot helps too. And I only use homemade almond milk for baking or cooking now, instead of the store bought stuff, that's been a huge boon." (Bailey Witwer)

"We feed a family of 3 a gluten/corn/dairy/soy/MSG/beef free diet for about $100 per week. Costco bags of potatoes, rice, beans, frozen & fresh fruit & veggies, etc help us stretch our food budget." (Michelle Forsman)

Come join the conversation. Clearly, we have much to learn from each other.

Thomas Keller roasted chicken

We're not trying to pretend we are homeless around here. We're not trying to go hungry. We're certainly not going to deprive Little Bean to prove a point.

Yesterday, we talked for a couple of hours about how we eat, and what we could buy as staples for the week. We decided to buy as little food in packages as possible, something we naturally do anyway. (There goes the occasional small bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, which we seem to fall into once a month when we're in the city and at a gas station.)

We're out of smoked paprika, which I love, but we didn't buy any.

We kept our shopping trip to whole grains, healthy proteins, the staple produce we always have in the house, and some good fats (particularly for Little Bean. kids under 2 need lots of good fats for their development).

Here's what we bought:

brown rice (short grain, in bulk)
corn tortillas (we got about 100 in this package; buying the bigger package was definitely a deal)
a bag of puffed millet cereal (only $1.99. the sugar cereals were much more expensive)

celery (these three are always in our house. they make up mirepoix, the aromatic vegetables for homemade stock. each has other vital uses as well)
parsnips (it's winter. we love roasted root vegetables)
apples (Little Bean loves these. plus, they go great with pork. something for dessert)
russet potatoes (a five-pound bag cost an insane 72 cents!)

whole chicken (it's SO much more economical to break down a chicken than buy parts)
brown lentils (I love French du puy lentils, but these are cheap as dirt. and good.)
pork shoulder (with a big cut, we can make several meals)
eggs (best inexpensive protein there is)
bacon (not only for breakfast, but a bit of rendered bacon makes flavoring for other foods)
cheddar cheese (quesadillas; tacos; snacks for Little Bean)
whole milk yogurt, organic (our kid could eat her weight in this)

lactose-free milk for Danny (he doesn't do well with milk. this is expensive. for his coffee)
soy milk for Little Bean (she doesn't do well with milk either. takes after her papa.)

canola oil (olive oil is great, but this is more useful)
pepper (the challenge says we don't have to count these, but we did)
butter (for Little Bean's veggies and flavoring)
1/2 pound of coffee beans (we cannot survive without it)

We had a big bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer, so we decided to add the price of those into the total. Little Bean loves them, especially in smoothies with yogurt. We also added the price of a small package of raisins, one of her favorite treats.

Our total for the week so far? $72.37.

That leaves us with $15.63 until Friday. We are saving that — in cash — for daily purchases of vegetables and fruit at our local farmstands. Another tub of yogurt. Or, possibly more coffee.

What is not on that list? Chocolate. Seafood. Quinoa. Goat's milk powder. Sugar or any kind of sweetener. Almond flour. These are, normally, a regular purchase for us.

We decided not to eat any homemade baked goods this week, even though we have plenty of flours in the cupboard. We want to spend what little money we have left on produce and more protein, if we need it. Gluten-free flours can be expensive.

(Full disclosure here: we are baking this week. The copy edits for our cookbook are due back to the publishers on Monday. We don't want to send this to print without every recipe being right. However, after one taste to make sure the baked goods are great, we're freezing them for next week, or Danny is taking them to work to give to his co-workers.

We actually get all our flours through Amazon, from the small amount of money that comes to us each month through this website. Did you know that? If you click on this link of gluten-free groceries on Amazon (a good way to save money — buying in bulk) and buy something, we get a tiny portion of the price for being associates. That's true for anything you buy on Amazon. We almost always use that monthly sum to buy more flours and xanthan gum. Otherwise, I could not bake every day, testing recipe for this site. So, if you want to see more recipes here, feel free to shop.)

This means we are not having dessert, other than apples and raisins. We're not eating out. We're not sampling food from other people. We're going to do this as best we can.

So far, so good. Danny braised the pork shoulder with rosemary and thyme (we still have them growing in our garden), homemade chicken stock, apples, onions, garlic, and salt and pepper. After ten hours in the slow cooker, it smells fantastic. (In fact, I have to stop writing so I can eat.)

We'll have the leftovers of that tomorrow night, over brown rice with roasted carrots and parsnips. Danny will make a sauce by reducing the braising liquid. (We'll eat the last third of the tw0-pound roast as tacos for the next day.) The next night, we'll roast the chicken, using Thomas Keller's stunning method, which only requires salt and oil. (This is how I roast a chicken now, no matter what kinds of spices we have in the pantry.) We'll eat the roasted chicken legs and wings, with baked potato fries with cheddar cheese. After that, we'll enjoy the roasted chicken breasts sliced up over brown rice, again with roasted vegetables, or mashed potatoes, and maybe a salad with vegetables from the farmstand. On Friday night, we're having a lentil soup made with homemade chicken stock.

For breakfasts? Eggs and bacon. Warm rice with milk. Millet cereal. Yogurt and blueberries. Lunches? Quesadillas. Lentils cooked with onions, garlic, and bacon. Sauteed veggies with poached eggs on top. Snacks? Carrots. Apples. Yogurt and cereal with raisins. Roasted kale.

Actually, I'm really excited about this week. We're going to eat well. It will be plain food, no enticing ingredients or unexpected tastes. That's okay. We have enough to eat.

Besides, we could all use the reminder. After all....

There has been a 17% increase in people using food banks in the last year in King County.

According to the Seattle Times in December, “In the past two years… the number of people in Washington state receiving food stamps has soared by nearly 60 percent, about twice the national increase…. In October, a record 12.8 percent of the state's population — about 855,000 people — were on food stamps."

A 2009 USDA report revealed that 47 million Americans are “food insecure." 1 in every 7 Americans don’t have enough to eat.

The food insecurity is not just in this country, either. Someone from the UK left this on the Facebook page:

"On the UK news this morning, severe poverty was defined as having less than £20GBP ($32USD) per week to feed a family of 4. Figures show that 13% of children in England live in this level of extreme poverty."

Anyone who has enough food to write a food blog, or enough time to read a food blog, is pretty damned lucky. This week, we know that even more clearly than before.


At 1:09 AM, Blogger hihellonikki said...

I'm not sure what to make of this. My Celiac family of five has $175 a week to spend on groceries. Do food bloggers with bigger grocery budgets and the United Way feel sorry for me? I hope not.

My family is not hungry.
We eat a food that is fresh and nourishing.
We are content with what we have.

How do we get by on our budget? We plan our menu for the week, make a list and stick to it. We buy our staple pantry items in bulk. We belong to a CSA, and so we have fresh and affordable seasonal produce available to us. We are not vegetarians, but we choose to eat limited amounts of animal products out of concern for the environment. We eat our leftovers. We bring our lunches with us, because grabbing food on the go is expensive and unhealthy. We do not buy convenience foods, because they are frequently unhealthy, expensive, and have wasteful packaging. Most importantly, I am not teaching my children greedy and gluttonous eating and shopping habits.

We are certainly not deprived. In fact, our modest budget allows for occasional treats and splurges. This is much more that the majority of the world has available to them. I am grateful that I have a food budget no matter its size.

At 1:16 AM, Anonymous Rosie said...

You guys are lovely. Thank you for your wonderful blog, gorgeous food and, well... you.

At 3:48 AM, Blogger Jennifer Jo said...

We're in the middle of a spending freeze (an annual bet with my husband to see who can go the longest without spending money). It helps to stop the financial hemorrhaging and gets me to think inward, look at all we have (we can and freeze and butcher) and get creative with the old standbys.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Jules said...

Well put. I am a teacher living here in the UK and have absolutely no doubt that poverty and the consequent poor nutrition directly affect learning abilities and behaviour. For those of us interested in nutrition it is a levelling exercise to live on less and see what choices we still have.
I am not gluten-free but came to you site following the shocking diagnosis of my two year old son with Type 1 Diabetes. He has a higher chance of developing porblems with gluten than many and I have an interest in variety and alternatives to our gluten-based world. I love your writing, your passion and know how it feels to have to look after a little one with extra care.
But most of all I love your stance on apostrophes! Have you read "Eats, shoots and leaves" by Lynne Truss? You'd love it.
Keep writing ...

At 4:03 AM, Anonymous garance said...

Hi Shauna,
i really wanted to write for once to testify of my own experience on the subject even if i live far away from the US...(France-Provence)
I am a 45 years old french Food Lover , writer ,Stylist , photographer , Consulting chef and a Food Blogger.
I read your blog sometimes even if i am not gluten intolerant, i did write a book in 2007 about organic Food for Kids having Food allergies (les Toques Vertes Ed.Milan -France )
I saw once that you talked about Marcus Samuelsson who is a cousin of my extended swedish family , that was funny since i love his cooking(and i have lived 200 years in Sweden)
Anyway i find your Article very very interresting and would love sharing my own thoughts & experience since i do think very much like you do today...

How about sharing our mutual experiences around the World ?

i am not totally fluent in english but i do hope you understand what i mean...

let me know about how to do this and you could publish (and so will i ) the thoughts & comments about this on our respective blogs ...

here's my e-mail :

and Blog : Les Cuisines de Garance
i talk about Life & Home made cooking with simple products (i buy on organic market for instance)

Thank you for sharing & Have a great day !

Garance A.K.A Nathalie Ruffat Westling

At 4:06 AM, Blogger Martha said...

Thanks for posting. A group of personal chef friends (and I) have been doing a similar exercise for the past week (many of us are now on week 2); we're using what we've got and only buying fresh produce and dairy to supplement the meals.

This was all inspired by Tami Mitchell (her blog is )
We've found between the pantry and the freezer, we've got plenty of meals or parts of meals that are being ignored as we forge ahead each day making new recipes and trying new foods.

I realize this doesn't compare to the people who truly don't have enough to eat, or who have very little money to spend on food each week, but it does make me realize how fortunate we are and how we really could do with less more often.

This week's grocery bill for the 4 of us was about $50.

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Lori P said...

Very inspiring. I've been trying to do $100 a week for four. To me it becomes a bit of a personal challenge and I know I could do better if I put my thinking cap on. I think I'll put the thinking cap on and do better. :)

At 6:05 AM, Blogger allison said...

this is a great post and such a good reminder for those of us who don't have to worry about what we will eat today or tomorrow. unfortunately, so many people don't have enough and i need to remember to be thankful and help others when i can!

At 6:13 AM, Blogger Gar said...

It's a challenge to feed a family under a certain budget, but it can be fun to achieve this goal. Bravo to you and your commitment to create healthful and tasty meals for you and your loved ones.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Taylor said...

This is a great conversation! I live near DC, and it truly can be tough to eat gluten-free and organic and save money around here. Excited to see how everyone does!

At 6:24 AM, Blogger Iris said...

I normally spend about $50/month on food, which comes out to about $7/day, and that's just for me. So I guess that's not bad then right? This past week I've been buying everything organic as part of an elimination diet I'm doing, and my weekly cost has doubled. I was afraid to even look at my receipts at the end of the week! I'm going to have to go back to my normal shopping ways in order to keep on my diet. That means organic when I can, conventional otherwise. But I think it's frustrating and sad that so many people can't afford to eat organic at all. I don't know anyone who doesn't want to eat healthy and feed their kids healthy, but in order to get normal food, i.e. food without pesticides, you have to pay extra. That just seems wrong. Shouldn't food in it's natural state be more affordable? (Ok, I'm going to stop now, because I can go on forever)

At 6:26 AM, Blogger +jennifer+ said...

I'm so glad you've brought this up. I had the unpleasant experience of having two paychecks go missing recently, and had to live on about $40 for a week. I am gluten-, casein-, dairy-, and soy-free because of celiac disease and food allergies, and had a ball making this money stretch. I bought organic dried beans, and had fabulous meals from garbanzos, lentils, gigantes, black beans and pintos. I bought eggs and apple juice, and ended up using up lots of (fairly ancient) GF flours that had been languishing in my freezer. It made me so grateful, to be able to eat so well on so little money, and it changed me for the better.

At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Betsy Metcalf said...

It's so hard to eat gluten-free and economically. I will make a large batch of cornbread and a huge stew. Both of which I can freeze in smaller containers for later. Beans and lentils are great bang for your buck, esp. with nutrition in mind. Canned tomatoes can also be reasonably priced. What about jambalaya but going light on the meat? Or red beans and rice?

At 6:40 AM, Blogger FridaWrites said...

What a nice endeavor--we don't receive the maximum in our state (we'd be homeless if we did since we receive only half the benefits on a tiny unemployment income)--we get $75 a week for a family of 4, which includes two older kids. They do get free school lunches (but my autistic son, who's food picky and will truly starve himself often won't eat there) and we order from Angel Food. We've had to use the food pantry once. My family donated some *good* meat from a butcher, and other family have donated a lot of canned goods, rice and beans, etc. Otherwise this month, when we were out of a lot of staples, would have also been nearly impossible. I've gone back off gluten free--I don't think I have celiac (I tried it 6 months), though it does help some.

Yes, you can use staples in the pantry for a while, but eventually you run out, even after some very strange meals...

Beans, rice, and cornbread, no fruit/vegs--$2 to feed the family, if you have eggs and milk on hand. We truly have *no* money in our bank account sometimes but hope this changes soon.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger FridaWrites said...

Also, where I live, we can also only spend food stamps at specific places (grocery stores). We plan our menus around what's on sale--$2/lb for chicken, $1 a pound for corn, add some rice, fruit, or salad, skip bread, for example. We can usually get our meals to $10 a day, even with all the snacks growing kids eat--but it's difficult when my husband can't drive further away (lack of time because of my disability).

Anyway, this is a very noble project/great idea.

At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Chelsea said...

Growing up my mom raised and fed my brother and I, 1 - 3 university home-stay students, and any friends coming by, and she did it by herself. She told me her monthly budget I am so amazed and proud of her and we never went hungry and always ate well.
She taught me that when you have a family buy bulk, if you have the room buy a large deep freezer and she used to buy half a cow from a farmer, and all that meat could last us 6 months at a time or so. And if she found a good deal on meat or certain food would buy bulk, one year we had like 4 turkeys in the freezer, but she always liked to have extra, also she was very generous and having those extra turkey's meant that if she knew anyone without she would hand them one of our extra turkeys.
Even now just living with my husband and I we tend to buy bulk to make the dollar stretch farther.
Every year we give to the food bank in our family, because one thing my mother taught us was always to share our food, and it's so sad that so many people go hungry.
Thank you for your inspiring blog and wonderful food.

At 7:27 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

your list sounds very much like ours. we have a family of 5 & i budget $110/week. just one year ago i was spending $150/week. it feels great to cook a whole chicken & stretch it into several meals. tonight i'll be making lentil soup with the broth i made from the bones. it helps to have our garden veggies in the freezer. most years we have venison my husband has hunted in there as well. this year, we have a cow we bought from local farmers. we have our own chickens. we buy raw organic milk from a local farmer for $3/gallon. it's really not hard to save money & become more self supportive/supportive of local farmers. it's been so fun reading the tips that you & others have to share. thank you!

At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Rosita said...

I hope you post some of the recipes from this week. As much as I like the recipes you do post, a lot of times they are out of my budget.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger caroline said...

$7 a day doesn't seem that bad-- I just calculated my total and it's about $3 a day if I don't count the occasional times I prepare seafood or eat out. I'm not even trying to save money-- my shopping and eating habits just happen to be the most economical. Fruits, vegetables, and spices come from the local ethnic grocery, where these items cost a third of what they would at the big-name grocery stores. I supplement this with eggs, dried beans and lentils, rice, and plain yogurt. No meat, and I rarely buy cheese. I do cook with a few high-price items, such as extra virgin olive oil, but a little goes a long way and a bottle will last me a while.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

Our food bill is obscene! I'm embarrassed by it. I have a family of 4 and I spend 2x as much as some of the people on here. I try to menu plan to bring it under control, but I've not been very good at it. I think I'll try the $18.00/day rule for next week and see if I can make it work. Thanks for the suggestions and for the inspiration!!

What brand of corn tortillas do you use? I can't seem to find gluten free ones here but maybe I don't know what I'm looking for.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Mel's Kitchen said...

OH great post-- I try to be as frugal as I can, I make all my own stock, bread, etc. I buy gf flours for as little as I can, shop at Costco for bulk vegetables, etc.

But I do spend more than I should. As a foodie, it's hard! And then specialty foods for allergic and gluten avoiding kids and family are many times the cost of traditional in many cases. I do shop in at least 7-8 different stores- to find the best price, and TO FIND THE ITEMS WE NEED! PERIOD! So that means buying bulk/large quatities to save on gas money, time, etc.

I am inspired to look at my pantry a different way. And to further simplify my large larder, and streamline for optimal use & production.

I do buy prepackaged snacks for my kids.Allergies dictate that they must always bring their lunch to school. I don't like the way tortilla chips for example react to any packaging choices I might use/have tried. And then there is the peer pressure issue. Yes! It's there! Kids scrutinize what other kids eat, at least around here. Prepackaged snacks (though not always environmentally friendly)along with a homemade lunch seems to add normalcy to my kids lunches and acutally help cut way back on the teasing. (Yes, the teasing!It could get cruel... 12 years later, with my second, I've learned my lesson.) So that is a way I could spend less, and often do- by cutting back on these snack items. But I've made a conscious choice to keep some for strategic placement throughout the week.

Still, I'm inspired!

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this post is a thinking post. I do my best to spend as little as I can and still eat well. I think I spend about $50/week on two people. Sometimes it's less sometimes it's more but I try to stay within that amount. I am fortunate to live in an area where we have local/ethnic/bulk stores and I can benefit from their cheaper prices.

I have to thank my mom for my frugal ways. She taught me how to shop for the best prices and stretch my grocery dollar. That said, I love what you are doing this week and while I already live on a very small budget this makes me want to see what more I could do to limit spending. I don't necessarily think it has to be food related either. I am sure there are other ways I can rein in the little extras and get back to the absolute basics.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Hannah said...

Wonderful challenge, we will take it on.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Times are tough for so many of us! Thanks for this post as my dh and I are currently on temp. (we hope) layoff. I am celiac and that in itself poses a challenge to frugality. We eat lots of chicken vegetable soup, heck, lots of soup period. Filling and inexpensive. We have learned to live without bread. Currently trying to get the budget down to $15 a day so this post was quite a kick in the pants! I read this the other day - knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. It's from Romans, I'm not a bible thumper, just looking for a little hope!

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Daphne said...

It's so interesting to me what people spend on food. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area -- both a food mecca AND a very expensive place to live -- and spend about $50/week for two people, which includes all meals (including lunch for me). We are vegetarian and eat mostly in season, and never feel deprived. Since this bill includes non-grocery items as well (it's just the bill from the grocery store, I don't break out the food), I feel pretty good about it. I might buy a couple of things during the week if I forget... so let's round it up to... $5 a day per person? Not too bad. I cook every single day and we almost never eat out, but I make the yummiest food I possibly can so that we always feel like we're having a treat. Being vegetarian and not eating much dairy really helps.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Nurit - familyfriendlyfood said...

I loved to read your approach to the challenge. I'm taking it as well this week (again. Also did it last April) and blogging about it. We trade other luxuries like driving older cars, buying on sale, etc, to be able to buy better food. I'll check back to see your next posts.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Joan Silva said...

A friend of mine sent the link for your web page. I have found out that I am allergic to gluten and for a number of months have been learning how to eat gluten-free. At times it has been quite easy. Then I'd realize I was inadvertently eating gluten, wondering why afterward I felt poorly. I'd research it and find out the hidden elements in things that contain gluten or were made (processed) in a gluten environment. So much to learn.

I am pleased with your blog this week. So helpful to see how you can eat fresh and organic, yet gluten-free. Plus the added bonus of a reduced grocery budget. Such helpful hints and ideas. Thank you.

Joan Silva

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous La Niña said...

I grew up poor- my father ran off with my brother's first grade teacher and left my mom, who couldn't drive, with my brother, me, and a menagerie of pets. If it weren't for my Russian grandparents I wouldn't know good nutritious food. My grandmother taught me so much without trying, and now I smile whenever I take a whole chicken and use every little bit of it. There is a meal with potatoes and veggies, then a stock with the carcass, a soup with the stock, some of the chicken and leftover potatoes, and then some chicken salad. We can eat so many meals from one chicken.

I make my own granola and GF bread once a week, and we have the granola with yogurt every morning. We grow, we can, we dehydrate, we share and trade with friends.

We don't have to have a budget, thanks to our hard working lives and frugal natures, but we enjoy every morsel and celebrate our little repasts.

I remember my early twenties- when a bag of potatoes and a head of cabbage could make a week's food. One summer one of my roommates had a hankering for clam chowder, and she had an old beater car. We were living and waitressing on Martha's Vineyard, and Linda picked up hitchhiker's and asked each of them for one ingredient: milk, potatoes, etc...when they were dropped off- we had clams growing in the water in front of the shack we rented. It was like Stone Soup all the way!

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Shannon said...

We spend just under $18/day for 4 and eat as well as I know how.

Probably 95% organic.
Probably 80% local.
100% of our meat and eggs are grass-fed - and we eat plenty of it.
Our milk is raw and $7.50/gallon.
Our butter is grass-fed.
Our herbs, teas, coconut and olive oils are organic.
We take an expensive fermented CLO/butter oil blend.

The caveat is that I make *everything* from scratch. Yogurt, stocks, condiments, and beverages included. I can do this because I work from home with my two little boys. I wonder if it would even be worth it for me to have a full time job outside of the home (monetarily speaking). Our health would plummet and/or our grocery bill would skyrocket. We might break even, but our boys would miss out on so much.

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous garance said...

Oh My god i did write : 200 years in Sweden , sorry i meant : i lived 20 years in Sweden !

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Jenny said...

I've been reading John and Patricia's Hunger Challenge posts on CookLocal, and I'll be following yours all week too. I'm not ready to take the challenge, but I'm certainly very conscious of what's going in my tummy this week. Thank you for raising awareness, Shauna and Danny!

At 11:51 AM, Blogger kirsten said...

Thank you for writing this and for undertaking this challenge; it is a sobering thought to think that the need for assistance in our state has gone up so much. I admit, I have used my food allergies (gluten & dairy) to shop at the fancy stores and buy specialty items. It's pricey. This challenges me to look at our shopping list and our weekly menus in a similar way: how can we eat simply, eat fresh, and healthy (especially since I'm growing my own little bean right now).

Luckily we just found a great grocery outlet in our little Issaquah that has lots of gluten-free staples, spices, and other foodstuffs on the cheap (about half the cost, and sometimes less than that, of the same items at PCC, say). This should help us.

Here's to engaging more thoughtfully with my food purchases!! Thanks again.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous liveoncejuicy said...

I have a family of 5. We're in extreme rural Nevada--100s of miles from the nearest Farmers' Market or Whole Foods. (We're working on moving to Seattle in a year and a half or so. Farmers' Market here I come!)

We have a history of spending about $200 per week for the five of us (two adults, two teenagers, and a 5-year-old.) Recently we've reduced that to about $100 per week. We also do a twice a year stock up that, if you spread the cost over the year adds another $25 or so a week. If we spend more than that it's because someone decided to stop and get something treat-like. (We're still a work in progress!)

So $125 per week for five equals just shy of $18 per week. It doesn't feel like deprevation.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Human runner said...

$72 for the week is amazing! Wow... We went shopping on Sunday and spent $130 for the week, including chicken, beef, and fish, plus plenty of produce and some cheese. I keep trying to figure out where we could cut back. We plan our menu ahead of time, and we don't buy processed food (except for a pack of gluten-free cookies..)

At 12:51 PM, Blogger kate the bake said...

This is such a thought provoking post.
Since I read the facebook page which coincided with seeing the startling news of the level of child poverty in the UK, this subject has been at the forefront of my mind. It is hard to believe that 19% of children in London (UK) live in severe poverty.
For several years until very recently, we have lived on a limited income but food, or rather ingredients, would not be sacrificed. The fact that we made everything we ate permitted us to eat well and healthily within our budget. For now we have enough money but I still feel that same slight nausea when i get to the till at the store, do I have enough money?
An often forgotten aspect of living on limited means is the constant stress that accompanies the fear of debt. Good nutrition can help overcome that.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Anna said...

I am terrible at planning out a weekly menu, but I would really like to get better at it. I do try to make most things from scratch. Making yogurt is really easy and very economical. I buy a half gallon of local milk for about the price of a quart of plain yogurt and make two quarts. Just wrote about how to do it over at my blog if anyone is interested. Thanks to all for sharing their stories.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger mando said...

Wow... this post has really made me realise how wasteful I can be. I grew up the daughter of a chef, and I have never blinked at spending money on good quality food, as I think eating well is one of life's true pleasures. My husband and I are both blessed to be employed and earn good incomes. But we don't budget well, we grocery shop 3 - 4 times per week at least because we don't plan a menu or shop in bulk, and we let food go to waste (limp bags of lettuce and shrivelled, forgotten carrots abound in our fridge). We impulse buy, and we eat convenience foods when we are too lazy to prepare meals, which is neither healthy nor particularly enjoyable. We excuse ourselves of our wasteful behaviour because we're 'busy'. But who isn't? The truth is, we're not that busy that we couldn't manage to plan better if we wanted to.

At a time when so many people are struggling to even put food on their tables, your post has reminded me of how lucky I am. I am ashamed of how little thought I give to what I spend on food and how much I let go to waste. I will certainly be taking more care from now on.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I'm in awe of the people who can manage to eat local/organic/grass-fed on so little money each week as some of these posters. I would love to spend a week following gluten-free/allergen-free (I can't eat eggs, gluten, soy, or dairy) people who have delicious meals to see what the differences are between what we do and what they do.

We eat mostly from scratch, and I plan our meals and groceries weekly, but we spend a LOT of money on groceries. Probably like you and Danny--A LOT. And part of that is that organic is essential, absence of chemicals in stuff like canned tomatoes is essential (so we shop at health foods stores, WF, our coop, etc.), and local is very important. I always feel torn about this topic, because food is a deep joy, and there's nothing wrong with those of us who love food really enjoying in it and having lots of spices, interesting ingredients, etc. And I think many people in the US---people who can afford it---should probably be spending a greater percentage of income on food in order to have a greater likelihood of creating health. (Americans spend about 3-4% less of our income, on average, than people in other countries do on their food.) But lately I do feel, at times, like my husband and I spend too much on food when part of that money could go to better uses--including helping fill the food pantries that are running short here (and everywhere).

Definitely a post that's food for thought. Off to explore some of the other commenters' blogs now!

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Lisa said...

I think what you are doing is great, even if it is kind of an experiment. What if you found yourself in a position where you could only spend $18 a day? You might come up with some gf ideas that you haven't thought of yet, which might help out other people.

p.s. always love to see little Bean's chubby fingers!!! Just want to eat them up!!

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Marit Bockelie said...

This is such a great post. And I really needed to read it. I just lost my job and now I'm in charge of our family's (my husband and I) budget. I love to cook, but I've been overwhelmed as to exactly how to rethink how we/I shop. I grew up below the local poverty line, so being frugal is second nature to me, but after having a pretty well paying office job (that was slowly killing my soul), I'm suddenly back to pinching pennies, and I'm happier! Just in need of resources and support. And that's just what I found here at today!
BTW, I just got my blooktest back today from my Natro (sent it in early December and I've been gluten free ever since because I felt SO CRAPPY after eating certain foods...). Turns out I'm not sensitive to gluten at all ~ it's the EGGS! And I have a super high sensitivity to them. Yikes. If you have any advice for the newly egg-free, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise I'll still be back because I love your blog, and I adore your writing. Thanks for reigniting my passion for food and taking care of myself!!!
~ Marit

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is so important (and indicative of our household) that I am just going to second it:

"How do we get by on our budget? We plan our menu for the week, make a list and stick to it. We buy our staple pantry items in bulk. We belong to a CSA, and so we have fresh and affordable seasonal produce available to us. We are not vegetarians, but we choose to eat limited amounts of animal products out of concern for the environment. We eat our leftovers. We bring our lunches with us, because grabbing food on the go is expensive and unhealthy. We do not buy convenience foods, because they are frequently unhealthy, expensive, and have wasteful packaging. Most importantly, I am not teaching my children greedy and gluttonous eating and shopping habits."

Yes, yes, yes.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Karla said...

I just loved this post. One thing I've noticed, especially since going GF is that I am always trying new recipes and at the end of the week, I wind up finding a little of this leftover and a little of that in the back of the fridge. And it gets tossed into the garbage, I'm ashamed to say. I love hearing about, talking about how to use every morsel. It's truly a matter of planning and creativity. Thanks for inspiring. Again.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Jenna said...

Kinda feel a bit odd... like several others who have commented, my husband and I live pretty far under the $7 a person per day line - and honestly, to hear that is considered so far under the poverty line makes my head itch. We eat gluten free (I'm the only one with celiac, but my sweetie bagged all the offending items into trash bags and dumped it off at the local foodbank the day the diagnosis came through) much is local, and almost 75% of our meat is grassfed as well. We eat a huge variety, I bake with the usual myriad of gf flours...

And I spend about $50 a week. For all meals - I pack his lunch for work. We entertain, and I've never sent anyone away from the table hungry.

Maybe its because I cook so much from scratch, or the fact I was blessed with a grain mill for my birthday this year? We live near farms, bulk food stores, and garden as much as we can - and can what we get.

Heck. I got a $10 bump UP when we found out about the celiac, and I'm still able to put bits away each week to put towards bulk buys.

And we're living under the line?

Something is screwy somewhere... and I'm honestly not sure where.

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Kristina said...

Shauna, have you tried making your own yogurt and/or soy milk? Making yogurt is extremely easy; making soy milk is pretty labor intense...but both turn out lovely products, and it's far more cost effective. Homemade soy milk is especially delicious- you won't go back to commercially-bought!

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I love the gratitude that comes through in your writing. You're an inspiration.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Amelia Prince said...

Oh, my little girl (now 10) had that Sandra Boynton book. That very sweet photo of your little one reminds me of how small my girl once was. Thank you. Your blog is wonderful.

At 3:29 AM, Anonymous Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Shauna -- We, too, pay a lot of attention to what we're spending on food, and we look to our seas, our woods, our garden, and our chickens for a vital assist. Even in winter, we have clams, mussels, and eggs in abundance. (Oyster season, alas, ended early this year!) We are lucky enough to be able to fish for trout in our backyard. We've bartered shellfish and eggs for venison from local hunters, and I'm working on my hunting license as we speak. Then there's what we grew, foraged, and fished over the summer, and put down. I've come to think of all this as "first-hand food," that which you grow yourself or gather from the world around you, and it helps make a food budget go a long, long way.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Kate said...

Our family did something similar near Thanksgiving....I had no idea how difficult it would be! Since then I have made an effort to impulse buy less and donate more locally. I hope that the first commenter didn't walk away angry from this post. I think it is good thing for everyone to realize that they can make do with less than what they are currently using...whether for environmental or social reasons, it is a good thing when we learb to use less and be more resourceful.

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how others do it, but i'll tell you how we do it. My husband and i eat on less than $10 a day. We have a combination of allergies and aversions between us- MSG, additives, food color, dairy(except yogurt), corn syrup, soy, etc. So we cook nearly everything from scratch and rarely eat out. We're also vegetarians, so that cuts down the grocery bills a lot. We mostly buy food in season and in bulk. We eat gluten, but in moderation.

Breakfast is Finger Millet malt; oatmeal, homemade bread and peanut butter, or grits; fruit; coffee or tea.

Lunch and dinner are rice or chapatis(Indian flat bread) or another kind of flat bread* with vegetables or beans, salad, yogurt and fruit.

We snack on nuts, fruit, dried fruit, carrots, sprouts, popcorn, puffed rice, tea, kefir, butter milk and homemade baked goodies.

So we are not deprived or malnourished. We eat very well, a varied diet, in season and local. We buy spices, beans and lentils in bulk from ethnic grocery stores because it works out cheaper.

Really, nothing that i've said here is new. To put it simply,
1. Avoid packaged and processed food.
2. Cook from scratch. If we're willing to spend hours on baking, there is no excuse to not spend far less time than that on cooking wholesome meals. Cook once a week and freeze if you're busy.
3. Anything expensive is a privilege or indulgence, not necessity. Millions of people live on less than $2 a day.
4. While variety is important, it doesn't justify spending big money on a new, rare or exotic food item. We can have enough variety on less.

--Sandy Kaapi

*Made with a combination of flours like sorghum, finger millet, barley, teff, rice flour & chickpea flour, salt, finely chopped onions & serrano chillies. Make a soft but firm dough, flatten with palm and fry on a hot griddle with a drop of oil.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Ali and Evan said...

Wow. Love this idea. Aside from being incredibly inspiring (to someone who spends all their "savings" on food related items), I love the simplicity of it all. The detailed forethought that goes in do the decision making. And let's get real: your planned meals sound A-mazing.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous molly said...

What a great, gritty post. I haven't parsed out our food budget this way for years. I feel often as though we eat well, too well, because most every meal is homemade, almost nothing is processed (well, canned beans, chocolate), and I really couldn't ask for more in our meals. And yet, at $200/wk, it often sticks in my craw. And yet, for a family of 5, it comes in under the mark. How is that?
Mostly fresh veg, and lots of it; wonderful meat, but only occasionally, and mostly as a condiment; and lots of beans and grains. And cheese. And coffee. Somehow it pencils out.
So thanks for the perspective. And for the sweet, sweet photo at the outset!

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My partner and I kept all our receipts over a 3 month period and our food bills averaged about $650 a month!We are both very active and have healthy appetites! I'm celiac and he has a severe nut allergy so we do make most of our food from scratch. We're both vegetarians so that's quite a bit of money for a no-meat diet. We considered trying to cut back on our food bill, but decided that we'd rather sacrifice other luxuries before giving up our special cheeses etc.
Looking forward to being inspired with your $18 a day recipes!
Vancouver BC

At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Unplanned Cooking said...

Our grocery bill lessened greatly when we stopped buying processed foods. I think the learning curve comes with learning how to cook, but, once you do it and plan ahead, you can get buy on less of a budget than you realize. Thanks for raising awareness.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think Jenna (and Nikki)'s comments above are incredibly important to note. It is possible to eat extremely well and extremely healthily on a budget that is considered 'below the poverty line'. The key to resolving this apparent paradox is education, education, education. Families need to be provided with the tools and the information to spend the money that they do have well. Buying processed, packaged or 'fast' foods means spending more, and getting less nutrition.

At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has me awe struck that people can feed entire families for a quarter of what I am spending on food. I am single, live alone and spend close to $200 a week at the grocery store. I am not a compulsive over eater or buying Cristal and Beluga Caviar either! Maybe it is the result of living in the NY Metro area where the cost of living is extraordinarily high. I find that since going GF, my food bills are a lot higher. For example, I could get Quaker Quick Oats for 99 cents, but Bob's Red Mill GF Oats run $6.99 a bag. Buying organic veggies, certified humane eggs and chicken and organic staples do add up. I do not eat a ton of prepared food but do find that since I am only feeding one, a lot of fresh ingredients go to waste if I do not use them quickly enough. If anyone has suggestions on how to rein this in, I would be very appreciative! Shauna, maybe a regular monthly post on "budget friendly meals" with your a fantastic recipe to accompany? There is an idea for you and the Chef for the NEXT cookbook :)

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Sho said...


The comments for this post are absolutely awesome!

The only thing I can add, that has not already been stated, is that I take advantage of our wonderful ethnic grocery stores in the northern Virginia area. I get great deals on grains, beans, produce, meat, poultry, and fish. The butchers and fish market at these stores are amazing. I am referring to the Spanish grocery and the Asian market. I am going to start going to the Indian grocery store more often.

Tonight, I am going to put grits in the slow cooker. We are getting a cold front, and it is going down to 20 degrees. The slow cooker warms up the house (which is why I won't dare use it in the summer. I don't want to put the a/c up more than we do already.) I think that the amount of electricity that is used by the crock pot it outweighed by the warmth that the food emits in the home. I could be wrong, but I think it helps to lower the heating bill.

Take care,


At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Natalie from MD said...

I haven't quite figured out how much my fiance and I spend on food, but I know it is 100 or less/week. The way we save money is by going to the grocery store often, for items that we need for particular meals, versus stocking up on items that may sit on the shelf for weeks, months, or years. I, unfortunately, fall into the category of wanting to buy exotic ingredients, often with no purpose. I'll try to work on this, and next week I'm going to attempt this challenge! Thanks for all the ideas commenters/Shauna.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Cyclist Kate said...

I love this post! Although I firmly believe that good food is worth spending some money on, sometimes the money just isn't there, or sometimes the money truly needs to go somewhere else. What has helped me recently is tracking on, because although I'll often make stops at the grocery store and justify it as "just $10," when I check online I can't deny that it all adds up.

What's been wonderful for me to realize is that often, the less I spend on groceries (now, I'm not talking uber cheap, necessarily, but $60/week for myself), the more satisfied I am. I think it's because the food thing becomes simpler...I can enjoy those roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts, the black bean soup, the yogurt and homemade granola, and an apple with that precious slice of parmesan so much more if that's all I have. There's less stress, less wondering "what's for dinner." There's less waste. And it's all good, wholesome stuff that reconnects me to what's so great food whose aim is to deeply nourish instead of impress.

So yes, I've taken to frequently taking the calculator to the grocery store. Sometimes that means taking the parmesan out of my cart, but then I appreciate it so much more the next week. There's no deprivation. There's always something to eat. And for that, I'm grateful.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I used to spend 20 pounds a week on food just for me when I lived in London and that was 8 years ago. I felt like I was so poor too. Gosh.
I'm trying to cut down what I spend too, out of necessity, but also out of awareness of wasting food.

Having a garden makes a difference and I vow to get better with that this year. Being able to pick as you need something drastically reduces the floppy mush in the fridge.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous candied said...

Hi GF girl, So glad to find you. This discussion has prompted me to add something from the farming point of view. My partner and I grow produce and feel that people spend too little on food! How's that for controversial.
In the past, a much greater percentage of our household income was spent on food, something like 30% in the 40s, compared to 7% now. Farmers today work very long physical hours, and hock their wares at a farmers market or to fancy restaurants, hoping at the end of the year, they make a profit. For some, selling out to big agricultural conglomerate makes the most sense.
Don't get me wrong. We love what we do. But the system of government subsidized crops, has radically skewed the system making food cheap and favoring big business. Relying on big businesses, who sell to Costco (even organic has mega-growers) and Walmart, for our food supply is a little scary.
All that said, it's always good to look at where we can make cuts in our own budgets. And I agree, organic should be less money than conventionally grown food. But, to get "certified" organic, there are many hoops, all of which cost money.
By the way, I am gluten and lactose intolerant and have been gluten free for probably 10 years now. It sure is easier now, than it was then!

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Great topic! Thanks for bringing it up and facilitating! It seems whether you are rich or poor, we should be looking at how you are being good stewards with our resources. Now, I love food. So, this is where I spend most all of my money. To be reminded and strive to live a whole and nutritious life, is inspiring!


At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny that you mention this topic. My husband and I have virtually quit eating out (maybe once a month) since September, to save money, but I find that I still purchase more than we need. We are a gluten- and corn-free family, and we have experimented successfully so as not to feel deprived. However, we've been a bit cavalier about our budget, so we're determined to eat what we have before we purchase more. For instance, we make stock of all our meat bones, and grow our lettuces and parsley, etc. As my parents did, we let little go to waste, and make much from scratch. We're making plans for our garden, and plan to add even more veggies and fruit. We are grateful to have the ability to purchase quality food, but now plan to be much more mindful of our purchases. Thanks for everyone's comments and your wonderful blog.

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Bossy Chef said...

Staying on a budget seems to be a trend for a lot of people these days. This is the first month I've ever tried to stay on budget and failed miserably. I'm stealing these tips for attempt #2(Feb)

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Cheryl Kohan said...

Great post. I love the challenge of making the most of what I have on hand. I think that once you start realizing that you can eat well on less, you are much happier on several levels. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Dream. Imagine. Happen said...

Wonderful post and timely topic, thank you! I'm enjoying reading all the readers' comments, too--thanks to everyone for sharing information, tips, ideas, and financial info.

After going through a dismaying audit of our food expenses Oct-Dec, I wanted the money back--and decided to start this year differently. We are lucky to have the choice. However, we also have mountains of student loans that I want to pay off at an accelerated rate...and trimming some of the (considerable) fat off our food budget was a great place to start.

The challenge is to eat gluten-free, organic, and locally delicious meals. One thing that has helped considerably is signing up again for Full Circle Farm's CSA delivery.

I've been writing about it on my blog ever since we got started. It helps me stay honest and keeps me inspired.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I'm Australian (from Melbourne) and I spend $200 AUD per week on food for my family of 5 people, which inclues 2 Coeliacs (myself and my 4-year-old). This is more or less $6 per person per day. At the current exchange I think that's about $5 US per day each.

Like a lot of others have said, I don't find it particularly hard or burdensome. Probably the fact that I cook 90% of our meals from whole foods (very little other than bread, breakfast cereals, pastas and ice cream are bought packaged) and we only eat red meat twice a week, and fish or chicken once or twice, helps.

I also do the buy-and-cook-in-bulk-to-save thing - I got 3kg of minced organic beef on super-special the other week ($15, pretty good huh?) and made a large two-meal lasagne, a large two-meal meatloaf, a big pot of bolognese sauce, a cottage pie and a few meatballs with it. That's a total of 9 family meals from $15 of mince. Granted I used lots of other ingredients (including a fair whack of pricey parmesan cheese and 5 tins of tomatoes!) but still it worked out very economical.

We don't eat takeaway food at all really. I budget for one family brunch out per month - we like to take the kids out for brunch and it is the easiest meal to cost-contain. (That isn't included in my $200 per week so perhaps I'm cheating there!)

I think it is doable. I think most people have to do it nowadays and can do it too. Yes, it does mean less fancy cheeses, less premium chocolate, etc. But it doesn't have to mean *none* - I buy one "special" food item a week out of my budget and we really enjoy it. Sometimes it's nice cheese, sometimes a block of chocolate, sometimes it's expensive delicious yoghurt. We enjoy the treat all the more for it not being endlessly available.

At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Stephanie said...

Hi Shauna,

I spend about $100 a week on groceries for a family of 3, which includes all of our meals. I have to eat gluten free and my one and a half year old has multiple food allergies which is making it tough. But, one thing you didn't mention in your post is shopping for sale items. On Wednesdays we get the fliers for all of our grocery stores, I look through them and see what is on sale. I am lucky to live in an area where there is a lot of gluten free, organic, and specialty food for allergies in the grocery stores. I look through the fliers for what produce is in sale and plan my meals around it. I stock up on specialty milks and flours when they are on sale. I can save around $30-50 a week by doing this, and I keep track of it to remind myself that it is worth doing. In the summer we get a CSA, which makes things easier, I plan my meals around what we get. Good luck with cutting your grocery budget, it is doable :) And thanks for the blog!

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First let me say that I LOVE your blog. I am a single mom, who has had to receive food assistance while I push through college. We now have $100 a week for groceries, about $25 more than what we've previously been living off of. I'm gluten free/msg/egg free, and my daughter is cow casein free.

And yet, we have always eaten organic. The trick is that we don't buy anything pre-prepared, and most of our meals are vegan. It also helps to get things locally and from nearby farms. I have aquired a grain mill and grind my own flours. I go picking in the summer and can or freeze a lot of produce, for winter when prices soar.

We can do it...and still save the planet. Good show girl, keep it up :)

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous AngAK said...

I'm single now, living on a single income too since losing my husband last year to cancer. I have made a pact with myself to buy only fresh items and try to use up things I have stashed away in the pantry and freezer. this budget living is a good exercise for us all. I'm puzzled though, if you have the flours in your pantry for baking, why not use those up? I would think using items from your well stocked pantry/freezer would be an acceptable thing to do.

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna,
I almost hate to make this comment, after everone else made such wonderful remarks. But I wanted to point out one thing. I'm really sorry to say this, but here goes.
Doritos have wheat in them.
There, I said it.
I'm a no-wheat-eggs-dairy-corn-soy person, and sometimes life can really be miserable when one more food is taken away from you.

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people haven't mentioned where they live in these comments, and local cost of living is a huge issue in grocery bills. I live in Durham, North Carolina and we spend about $60 a week on food for two adults. That comes out to $8.57 a day. That's for everything from the grocery store, toilet paper and dishsoap and stuff included. My friends in NYC have to spend at least twice that for the same amount of food- and food is likely more expensive on your island in Washington, too, especially if it has to get ferried in. Like everyone else said, we don't buy convenience food, not even bread or breakfast cereal. We do buy beer and wine. It's much cheaper to make bread than to buy it, but we do it because it is impossible to feel deprived when you eat bread hot out of the oven. Breakfast cereal in particular is very pricey for what you're actually getting- grain and sugar. We eat a lot of oatmeal instead. We do make crackers occasionally, but mostly we snack on nuts, fruit, and popcorn made on the stovetop. Popcorn is incredibly cheap, even the organic stuff. We buy masa, which is dirt cheap, and make tortillas, which are a million times better than anything you can buy in a package. I highly recommend it. A lot of people mentioned making yogurt- this is so much cheaper than buying it made, and delicious and really easy. We buy as much local, organic food as we can- we figured out that we could spend just $30 a week if we bought conventional food, but it's really important to us to support local farmers here. We try and balance not spending too much so that we can afford to give to help feed others with spending enough to support the local food infrastructure here. It's a difficult line to walk. We don't eat a lot of meat b/c we choose to buy the expensive local/organic meat. We use up every bit of the meat we do eat. So if we roast a chicken, we make stock from the bones and stuffing with the giblets. We save our bacon fat and schmaltz and use it to cook with. I think you can save a huge amount of money if you just never throw anything away, use all of your leftovers. You can come up with some crazy, surprisingly delicious food that way. CSAs are a great way to stay on budget, too- just commit to only eating what the CSA brings. I try to shop less often, too- the more you're in the grocery store, the more you'll be tempted by exotic delicacies. Sometimes we decide to or need to spend less on food, too- it was important for me to realize that not every meal has to be spectacularly amazing. It's okay to eat rice and beans for dinner some nights- most of the world does, after all. And it makes the special meals more special. I realize that this is different for you and your husband, because your livelihood really does revolve around you cooking amazing things all of the time. But for me, this was a helpful thing, and a pressure-relieving thing.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone for such an incredible response. We have read every comment and you have all inspired some incredible conversations in this house. (follow-up post on the blog tonight.)

For Nikki and all those who already live on a moderate budget, of course we don't feel sorry for you! We followed the $18 a day diet because that was part of the challenge, and what people on Basic Food in Washington State receive. But you, and almost every other comment here show that it's possible to live, with grace, on such a small sum. We've been changed by this week.

I wish I could comment on every comment, but there just isn't time. Besides, this isn't about me but about this incredible group.

But I do have to quickly say to Michelle: nope! you're not taking a food away from me. Cool Ranch Doritos are gluten-free. See here:

I don't know that I'll go back to the impulse buys any time soon, but if I do reach for one of those bags, I'll know that I'm safe.

Keep talking, everyone. This is wonderful.

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm am so sorry, the flavors that I checked were the few that did have wheat, so I painted them all with the same brush. Why does Frito-lay have to do that?
Thank you for setting me straight!

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous said...

This is a great post... .and as previously mentioned, the best way is to cook from scratch.. and load on other sources of proteins than meat and fish...
I just wish I could have my own garden to spend even less on fruits & veggies. Why is it that leeks cost so much??

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for this post and this wonderful blog :)

i am pretty crazy about coupons. most brands offer coupons on their websites - even allergen free foods! every little bit helps. i live off of a very low income. i've been ill for a little over a year and haven't been able to work more than a part time job. how do i live with a tiny grocery budget? coupons, grocery specials, and the combination of the two. i cook from scratch now and make sure to be very resourceful (if i only need egg whites, i save the yolks, and if i use 3/4 of an onion, i dice the rest and freeze it, etc.).

eating organic and allergen free food doesn't have to cost a fortune.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Jen Yu said...

Hi sweetheart. I applaud you and D for taking this challenge on! It was certainly eye-opening for us when we did the Eat on $30 challenge last year. I haven't had a chance to read through all of the comments, but... one thing I noticed here and also in comments during my Eat on $30 challenge is that many people say it IS cheaper to make food yourself. This is true... unless you don't have the time to make it which is probably the case for most people living on food assistance. I think time, knowledge/education, resources (cookware), and a financial buffer (being able to buy in bulk requires money up front for long term savings that people on assistance just may not have at their disposal) are in short supply for the very folks whose plight we are being made aware of. Shopping for bargains? That takes time and the ability to either drive around to various stores or take public transportation - both of which require money. I guess my point and the gist of what I learned from my experience is that it is easy to tout eating on less money when you have money, when you have resources, when you have time, when you have knowledge as most of us food bloggers/readers do. I think it would be a far more difficult challenge if we spent 14 hours at work each day, or owned only one measly cookpot, or didn't know HOW to cook, or didn't know how to calculate that the "sale" the local grocery store was advertising was actually more expensive per unit volume than the generic brand right next to it on the shelf.

It's a great big complex topic that pulls in social, economic, political, and educational factors - to name a few. Anyway, bravo, my dear. Bravo. xoxo

At 3:12 PM, Anonymous said...

Hmm, I wish I shared your joy of eating and never feeling deprived or sorry for yourself. I try.

I guess everyone's situation is different. I gave up meat 20 years ago because I couldn't stand to eat the animals I so loved. It was easy - I never missed it.

Two years ago I had to give up soy because my body wasn't tolerating it well. Yep, I am now a vegetarian that can't eat soy and I miss it dearly.

And a few months ago I gave up gluten when my digestion went haywire and nothing else made sense. Boy that was hard. I don't like the taste of most gluten-free items (what is that odd taste anyway?) I am trying.

So now I stare down mealtime unable to eat meat, soy or gluten. Beans are okay sometimes but not every meal or even every day.

I am hoping one day I will be able to move beyond my grief and frustration over food and be grateful. Your attitude inspires me.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Cindy said...

A lovely post, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your experiences. Having only learned of the challenge mid-week, I missed participating. I'm working on reducing expenditures and appreciate all the tips and information.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I am also from Washington state - Pierce County - but am currently living in Taiwan. My husband and I (and our baby boy) are discovering that it is much easier to eat well here for less than it is in the U.S.

No, Taiwan is not a third world country; actually, most things here cost the same as they would in a U.S. city like Seattle. However, one thing they do right is that basic needs are extremely cheap. This way, everyone - from the poorest farmers to the richest CEOs - has no problem affording their basic living needs. For example, we are renting a four bedroom, three bath, three story apartment with a rooftop terrace for 300 USD a month. Our electricity bill (even during the hottest summer months and coldest winter months) never climbs above 30 USD. Cell phone bill? 12 USD. Public transportation is fast, cheap and reliable with buses, trains, a subway and taxis to choose from (even taxis will take you anywhere within a 30 mile radius for about 5 USD).

Now for the real subject of our conversation: groceries. The local produce here is amazing and cheap (even imports)! We get Washington apples that are more delicious and of better quality than the ones sold in Washington state - and at a fraction of the cost. Our weekly bill for produce alone (a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits) comes to about 7 USD. We can get our grocery budget down to about 30 USD a week if we eat rice with raisins and cinnamon or rice with coconut milk and fruit for breakfasts, and rice with tofu and veggies for lunches and dinners. We remember back in the states our produce bill being much higher than any of our other groceries, so this is exciting!

By the way, Shauna, thank you for creating this blog! I just discovered it through Bakerella last week. I recently discovered I need a gluten-free diet and I was already vegetarian, so that makes things twice as difficult. I love baking, so this gluten-free change was very sad for me. I've been using Pamela's Baking Mix for most of my baking and it works great! However, here in Taiwan, that is not available so I've been going crazy! After discovering your blog, I found that the different flours and gums are very easy to find here and very cheap! Yay!

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Rosie said...

I love this entry! I love the idea of everyone experiencing what it's like to live off of a food stamp budget - and it's great to see that it's possible while eating gluten-free. I do it every day, usually with success!

I linked to and referenced your blog on my most recent entry about living off of food stamps - Hope that's ok - I love reading your blog!

At 9:39 AM, Blogger nicole said...

thank you for a challenge. lately we have been cutting back on our food budget, or trying...i just blogged about it the other day...trying to stay in food budget for $100/wk for 4 people and not compromise our food choices...still eat mostly organic and local. i live in the sf bay area so local food is pretty easy to come by and often neighbors and friends share their plenty. i do not have a garden due to a certain 80lb dog but i do grow a few things in wine barrels. when i divide $100 by 7 days and per person it comes out $3.50 a person which is pretty tight, i think doable but tight. my husband is an athlete and plays basketball everyday and therefore eats quite a bit to replace those burned calories. i am going to try the $100/wk and be inspired by so many of your readers.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous selena said...

Have you seen the thirty bucks a week site? This couple, living in NYC (Brooklyn), spends $30 a week on groceries for BOTH of them. They shop mostly at their local co-op, often buy organic, and they are vegetarian. They share lots of tips and recipes for eating wonderfully and cheaply. They aren't GF but since they're using mostly whole grains and vegetables, there are a lot of naturally GF or easily adaptable recipes there.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Green Key said...

Wow! This is an amazing discussion. I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods. I cook almost every meal from scratch. I do eat meat, although not a whole lot, and I do buy cheese - that adds quite a few dollars I guess. I spend an average of $100/week. That's just for me - one person - with frequent guests on the weekend. When I try to cut back I notice that I often go for higher priced items because I know the quality is better.
By the way, here's a link to the Doritos site. Some Doritos are gluten free, some not. There are so many different flavors!

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous laboursoflove said...

Hi Shauna,

I have read your blog ever since I was diagnosed as a coeliac two years ago after years of the condition being ignored by doctors. I feel particularly compelled to write here about being on a budget as I am having a baby myself and have found the posts most useful.I don't know if you can get them over in the states but over here in England we buy meat boxes (my partner is a full blooded carnivore and insists we eat meat regularly) The out goings are a bit much at first here we have just bought a pig in the box for £80 but were refunded £20 due to a delivery issue, (v.convenient!) anyway, the point is that a whole pig came to about £ 2.50 a kilo. Which is great,we make our own sausages, cure our own bacon,and will make chorizo some time soon.For a whole product and the products that we are obtaining from it are terrific value.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger wirehairedrunner said...

Yogurt is another food that can be made at home for much less than purchasing ready-made. With either a yogurt maker or incubator (my favorite) it is very simple and economical to make. Plus, you have total control over the type and fat content of the milk you use to make the yogurt (dairy/non dairy, organic, percent of fat etc). We eat plain yogurt and give it the dogs daily. Since I make over 2 gallons of yogurt a week, we save a bundle by making it.

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments so far!

I think where you live isn't nearly as important as where and how you shop. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and spend just over $170/month on food for me alone. That's around $40 to $45 a week. But I cook from scratch, don't buy juices or milk or single-serving items, buy in bulk, and heavily shop the ethnic markets. I buy about half organic. I've developed this budget over years of refinement. I used to shop more thoughtlessly and spend a lot more. But I eat very well, and never feel deprived. Whether I am eating a pork belly curry, or South Indian vegetarian curries, I can make my ingredients go far.

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, your list of recipes for this experiment look a lot like what my mom made when we were growing up. She kept us very well fed even though my dad was military and didn't make much. It wasn't fancy, but it sure filled you up. I've been thinking of reducing what we spend on groceries (its my one area of indulgence) in preparation for when we're no longer on student loans. Thanks for the push!

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Raine Saunders said...

Hi Shauna -

Our family is going gluten-free immediately as I just found out I am probably celiac due to ongoing health issues (hypothyroidism and fibrocystic breast condition) I've had for years, and I've been tested for everything else and found to be negative.

We eat as frugally as possible, but it's tough. I am a traditional foodist and try my best to serve my family traditionally-prepared foods - which means fermenting, soaking, dehydrating, and sprouting. Here's the link to the post I wrote about how I save us money by stretching out our food.

You may notice in the post that we included Silver Hills bread in our meal - some of which are not gluten-free. This was before I discovered the possibility of celiac disease, but I plan to return to grains once we are all healed up in 3 - 6 months.

We won't be eating wheat, but we will eat traditionally prepared soaked, sprouted, and fermented grains that are friendly to our digestive tracts including teff, amaranth, some organically-sourced rice, and quinoa.

I'm interested to see how many others on this comment thread prepare their grains traditionally, as I really don't hear about it amongst the gluten-free crowd and am puzzled as to why this is not the case.

Traditionally-prepared grains are digestible, whereas flours (even gluten-free varieties) go rancid very quickly after grinding, and some of them have other issues as well such as genetic-modification and high levels of Omega 6 content for regular consumption.

I'm interested in hearing from anyone on this thread who has had success with these traditional methods of cooking and does not use flours out of the bag for their preparations.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Raine Saunders said...

Sorry! I posted the wrong link to my post about frugal eating - we normally eat grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry and eggs, raw cheeses, an organic fruits and vegetables when we can...


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