How to feed your family for $20 a day


Twenty dollars: Depending on who and where you are in the world, this could seem like a whole lot or almost nothing. If you gave $20 to someone like Donald Trump, he’d probably use it to clean his shoes; but if you gave it to a woman in Niger—a country whose inhabitants survive on less than $1/day for the most part—she would be set for days.

Aside from the likes of The Donald, most of us here in the U.S. view $20 as, well, $20. It’s certainly not something you’d pass up; you’d miss it if it disappeared; but you probably wouldn’t walk across coals to get it.

It’s all about perspective.

So let me put this into perspective for you. What if I told you that with that plain, old, not too much, not too little $20, you could feed your entire family for a day? When you think about this in terms of Nigerians, with their much more meager budget, it seems like a lot. But in the United States, even in our current economy, $20 a day for a family of four is downright frugal. And you don’t even have to sacrifice health or taste to do it. Here are some ways how:

1)   Let’s start with some general advice: You need to make a plan. This is the first and most important step to saving money on your food budget. So, create a menu, write up a shopping list, and stick to it. According to Cooking Light contributor Allison Fishman, you can save about 20% just by planning out your meals.

2)   Rethink meat. We’re not saying you need to go completely vegetarian, but you’ll cut costs if you try some veggie options at least once or twice a week, since meat is generally the most expensive grocery. But if you’re just a carnivore at heart, there is another option: you can stretch your beef, poultry, and fish a little further. What I mean is, don’t use it as the “feature” of your meal, but spread it around and use it sparingly. You could throw a bit of diced meat into a veggie stir-fry, or just a few ounces of shrimp into your pasta. Just one pound of beef, at about $4.00 per pound, can feed a family of four if you slice it up and cook it with vegetables (and it’s healthier that way too!)

Also, about meat: while it might be more convenient to buy boneless, skinless chicken breast (which can be around $3.00 per pound), it’s much less expensive to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. This way it only costs about $1.00 per pound!

3)   Reuse those leftovers. You can be pretty creative with this and have some fun. For example, don’t dismiss using last night’s dinner vegetables for breakfast. You can mix them in with eggs and some shredded cheese, and have a big, family-sized breakfast scramble, all for just over a dollar! (A dozen eggs will only cost you about $2.00; a bag of Kraft cheese at about the same; and you certainly won’t use it all!)

4)   Buy in bulk. Buy the base of your meal, like whole grain pastas, brown rice, dried beans, legumes, etc. in bulk. Not only will you save money, but you can store these items without ever fearing they’ll go bad. And those beans I mentioned? They can be a frugal cook’s best friend. They’re delicious, nutritious (packed with fiber and protein, which will keep you full longer), and cheap! If you buy in bulk, you can get almost five times the beans as you would for the cost of canned!

5)   Buy seasonally. For example, in the fall, grocers have tons of squash, citrus, and greens like kale and chard. When there is a lot, you’ll find them for low, low prices—usually about a dollar or less per pound.

6)   And finally, a great recipe to leave you with: Rotini with white beans and escarole. It will only cost you about $2 per serving and it is healthy; the perfect dish for a family on a budget. Here’s a recipe to get you started.

If $20 a day still seems to good to be true, just check out this simple example. Follow it, alter it, swap this for that—how you stretch your $20 a day is up to you; the point is, you can do it.

Breakfast: Cereal and fruit. This is perhaps the easiest to prepare and least expensive of your day’s meals. With the milk, cereal, fruit, and even a glass of orange juice, this simple breakfast will still only cost you about $1.00 per serving.

Lunch: Sandwiches. Sandwiches are the staple of American lunches for a reason—they’re nutritious, delicious, easy to make, and easy on your wallet. An entire loaf of whole wheat bread will only cost about $2-$3, and you certainly won’t use the whole thing packing a day’s worth of lunch. A packet of lunch meat can be bought for about $2.00 as well, and that should be more than enough to cover everyone. From there, it’s up to you—mayonnaise, mustard, onions, tomatoes, lettuce… These things can all be purchased for very little, and those $3-$4 condiment jars will last your family weeks. Want a healthy and inexpensive side? Add some seasonal fruit and a side of beans!

Snack: Snack on seasonal fruit or some chopped up carrots and dressing (chopping up your own carrots is less expensive than the bags of baby carrots!) If you need something a little more substantial to get you to dinner, reuse some of those beans from lunch—they’re packed with protein so you’ll stay full longer. This afternoon snack will only cost about $3.50 for everyone!

Dinner: Try something a little different: Chicken lo mein at only about $1.20 per serving.

Dessert: Granted, I am a bit of a health nut, so a great dessert to me is orange slices sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon. If you’re hankering for a real treat, though, just buy a tub of ice cream that everyone can enjoy. It will cost about $5 for the gallon, but with 32 servings at only 15 cents each, this $5 is well worth it. So total for dessert? Just 60 cents!

Grand total for one day: about $17.00. That’s just $4.25 per person!


How much does your family spend on food per day? Does $15 seem doable?


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