Gourmet on the Cheap for $90 a Week

posted in: Cooking, Savory | 22

 pasta fagioli

As many of you know, I’m participating in the United Way Hunger Action challenge this week.  What does this mean? Well, since I have a family of three, in Washington State we would qualify for $18 per day in food stamps.  The goal of the challenge is to try and live on that amount for five full days, so my weekly budget is $90.  Throw in the fact that Wednesday is my husband’s birthday and I’m trying to make it special for him, which usually equates to an off-the-hook feast, and I’ve got quite the challenge.  I also plan to stick to my usual habit of buying mostly organic ingredients if at all possible; let’s see if it can be done.  You may think I’m lucky in that I can count three people yet Bentley is merely a toddler.  Not so, because he knocks back three gallons of milk a week, and at $5.00 a gallon (for organic) that drops my budget down to $75 right off the bat, not to mention the fact that he eats bananas like a monkey on crack- thank god they’re cheap! 

making pasta fagioli

This challenge has forced me to reexamine my shopping habits.  A typical day in the life of Salty Seattle consists of a nice long morning run around Seward Park with Bentley in a jogging stroller or at the gym if it’s crap weather,  followed by a trip to either Pike Place Market or Whole Foods (a necessary evil, I know).  Then we bring home the spoils of our shopping escapades and whip them into something elaborate and often excessive for family and usually several friends.  I often buy goods based on freshness, beauty, rarity, local origin, and organic status.  I do not often buy based on economics.  I also repeat this routine nearly every day of the week, which is a problem in that I don’t tend to plan meals that last a few days so I spend more each day.  First things first, I had to eliminate dinner parties this week.  Thank goodness we’re having the big birthday bash for Jonas on Saturday, as that wouldn’t have worked within the budget at all.  I go a bit crazy without lots of people around, but at $18 a day I have to watch how many mouths I can feed- whew, this is different. 

fagioli e carote

Luckily I don’t typically spend a lot on breakfast or lunch.  Bentley and I have cereal or oatmeal, then we snack throughout the day on leftovers from the night before or ingredients we’re prepping for dinner.  This week we’ve been keeping to oatmeal with brown sugar, prunes or bananas and pecans, and the cost for the family each day for that is $1.57.  That’s another $7.85 gone for the week, bringing us down to $67.15.  My Monday mission was to make something that would sustain us into Tuesday as well, and lo and behold, it provided lunch on Wednesday too.  I chose pasta e fagioli- Italian pasta and been soup.  It’s fricking fantastic, and not very expensive if you use dried beans, make your own bacon, and make your own pasta too.  I used only three ounces of homemade bacon, which equates to 75 cents, since my pork belly is $4.00 a pound.  I also grow my own herbs in the garden, so I factored in a miniscule amount for seeds and watering, but basically spent less than a quarter on parsley, oregano and bay leaves.  I also make my own salt, so the cost is nominal there.  Onions, celery and garlic are cheap, as are flour and breadcrumbs (leftover from homemade bread) from which I made the pasta.  Anchovies were a little expensive, but I only used three filets, so amortized the cost.  I found a screaming deal on organic 28 oz cans of tomatoes for only 99 cents at Grocery Outlet; in fact they are starting to stock quite a few organics- I will likely continue to use them as a resource. 


When the soup was all said and done I spent 7.32 assembling it, bringing my weekly budget down again to $59.83.  I feel pretty good about this because it fed the three of us for 2.5 days, but was mostly organic, very balanced from a food group perspective, and quite delicious.  Lesson One learned- make in bulk!  I did have to spruce up the soup with side vegetables for health and color, so I used carrot ribbons one day, and homegrown mache lettuce from the garden another. 

carrot ribbons

It’s now Wednesday, which is Jonas’ birthday.  The plan is potato gnocchi because it’s elegant yet spuds are cheap, even organic ones!  I’m going to splurge big time and make his favorite dessert of chocolate mousse, but I buy my chocolate in bulk 11lb blocks for $65 (since I tend to go through a ton making gelato) and I only need to use 6 oz, so it really equates to only $2.22 in chocolate, though it tastes so much more expensive J I will give a final weekly report in the next blog post, and in the meantime if you’d like to learn more, please visit the United Way website to hear about theYes We Can! Project.  Basically, they are trying to raise $10,000 to help fund a project where they rent out space at a local cannery.  With this cannery space, they are able to preserve food (veggies and other good things) that normally would go bad and distribute them to food banks.  It’s a great project that will help tons of families, will save food, and will help people eat healthier!

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  7. I always go for soup when I’m looking to cook on the cheap. Sounds tasty!

  8. It’s a great challenge and can’t wait to see how it works out. I’d love to try this challenge soon. Though it will probably be easier since it’s just a family of two for us here in Manhattan. It will definitely be a great learning experience.

    Best fo luck!

  9. I love what you’re doing, and it certainly doesn’t seem like shopping on a budget has hurt what you put on the table one little bit.
    I have something for you over on my blog..come get it.

  10. Wow! I’m impressed that you’re doing this challenge and doing it so well!

  11. Great job, Linda. An inpirational and humbling blog; makes us all rethink our purpose on this planet, and to be thankful for what we’ve got. Dinner for 3 last night cost around $20 and I thought that was extremely reasonable, but would quickly exhaust a budget like that. Thank you!

  12. Hello Linda

    I admire you for you are doing. It must be really hard to change your eating habits and shoping habits when you are in USA. I grew up in Africa so I apprecite what you are doing. A lot of my recipes are cheap and don’t cost a lot to me. Please take a look when you get a chance.


  13. Great job, Linda! Beans were a smart choice, I think, and what you’ve said about growing and making your own staples is very inspiring. Sadly I can’t make salt easily in Chicago, but you’re encouraging me to finally get around to trying to cure my own meats!

  14. You are doing a wonderful job on this challenge Linda – bravo! Inspirational.

  15. excellent post Linda! I have yet to check out “Gross Out”, but if they are stocking organic I will give it a go. West Seattle Farmers Market (Sunday morning) is great for in season, well priced produce. Let me know if you want to run up there this Sunday – I’ll go with you.

  16. Fantastic challenge and I can say from experience that the soup was outstanding! The time and effort you put into the individual ingredients came out in the depth of flavor. I need to get on the ball and do a post about our blogger lunch — apologies if it’s a week or so out, but I had an amazing time! Cheers to the birthday boy!

  17. Wow your daly indulgences sound like mine, only it is the Granville island market and the Vancouver Whole Foods. I will now be re-thinking my own spending habits!

  18. You poor thing. i just don’t know how you survived.

  19. Great challenge– makes you really stop and look at how you are spending $$ at the store. Good luck– sounds like you are off to a good start.

  20. That’s a great undertaking and I wish you the best of luck. I usually also cook in bulk, not only to save money, but also because I don’t have time to cook dinner or lunch everyday. Leftover dinners usually make a delicious lunch and are much better than a boring turkey sandwich.

  21. Sounds lovely! If you’re creative, eating on the cheap can still be quite tasty!

  22. Good on you. And what a week to take this challenge. I love the way you use your vegetables as well.

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