What can you do when you just don't have money for food?
Family Food Crisis
by Gary Foreman
Easy Soup Idea
Slow-Cook Once for Multiple Healthy Meals
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I only have a little money to spend on food this month, about $80 for a family of 4. What kind of meal suggestions can you give?
Feeding a family of four on $80 is a challenge. But, for many families, it's a reality. And, although it is hard, it is not impossible.
Begin by checking your resources. You may have more resources available than you think. What do you already have in your pantry? Probably not a lot, but when you're struggling, every bit counts.
Check to see what other sources of food might be available to you. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Your local food pantry is there for a reason. Many churches and synagogues also have pantries. If you have trouble finding one, contact a couple of churches. They should be able to point you in the right direction.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) or as it's more commonly known "food stamps" is designed to help families who need assistance to buy groceries. Over 40 million people receive SNAP aid each month. You can find out more at the government website here.
If your children are in school, find out what lunch assistance is available. Knowing that they're eating well at noon will make your life a little easier.
You might also be able to trade some manual labor for food. Check with local farmers or fruit/vegetable stands.
Once you know what resources are available to you, it's time to think about what to buy. You'll want to shop the perimeter of the store. The cheapest foods (and often the healthiest) are usually found along the side and back walls of the grocery store. Avoid all the prepackaged and processed foods.
Rice, potatoes, pasta and flour are all relatively inexpensive and filling. Use these items as the foundation of your meals. They're easy to cook and can be used in a variety of ways. For centuries, they've been the main part of the working person's diet.
Every meal does not have to include meat. In fact, you'll need to resign yourself to the fact that meat will be an occasional treat during the month. Ask the grocery butcher when they mark down meat that's near its expiration date for clearance. That's your best bet for affordable meats.
Study depression era strategies. Basic, filling foods fixed in an engaging manner. One example is Clara Cannucciari. She's a great grandmother who has a video series showing depression cooking. You can find one of her videos here. See if your local library has older cookbooks or cookbooks with traditional recipes.
In-season vegetables offer nutrition and add flavor to your meals. Add them to potatoes, rice or pasta to create variety and interest to your meals.
Beans are an excellent, inexpensive source of protein. Not only are they cheap, but also they come in a variety of flavors. Buy them raw or dried and prepare them yourself. You can find instructions on the web or most cookbooks.
Also remember that soups offer a low cost meal. Start with whatever veggies you have and add potatoes, rice or noodles.
When you have very few dollars to spend, it's important to make your purchases count, so know how you'll use something before you buy it. Waste is not an option with a really tight food budget.
The task may seem very difficult, but be encouraged that others before you have successfully fed their families on a very tight budget. I'm sure that you can do it, too.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
Take the Next Step:
- For some meat-free meal ideas that will be both nutritious and satisfying, please click here.
- Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
- Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
Prices keep rising while my income remains stagnant and I worry I am heading for debt trouble. Tell us: Yes, I think I am heading for debt trouble and could use some help! or No, I am not in debt trouble but I am always looking for new ways to help keep my budget on track!
More Money-Saving Lifestyle Tips
- 4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life
- 6 tips for a fabulously free vacation
- Secrets to living luxuriously for less
- Money-saving secrets of the rich and frugal
- 4 secrets to being a frugal foodie
- 9 ways to extend the life of clothing
- 5 ways volunteering can benefit you and your community
- 10 free ways to rediscover everyday joys
- This week's Readers' Tips