$35 Week Challenge

My Mom is a really good cook.  Some of her favorite dishes of mine growing up?

  • Chicken and Biscuits
  • Beef Stew
  • Steak and Baked Potatoes (that my Dad would butter, salt and pepper!)
  • Bacon and Mozzarella Open Face Sandwiches
  • Tacos!

Now that my Mom is retired and lives alone, I know she doesn’t do super complicated dishes just for herself, but she still meal plans every week.  If you were to look at her refrigerator right now, there would be a sticky note saying “Monday – chicken, Tuesday – out, Wednesday – chili, etc.  My Mom is also super active in her local food pantry.  Part of their supplies come from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and they get food delivered every Thursday.  Did you know that 860,000 people in Cook County alone have no idea where there next meal comes from?

She sent this email out to family over the weekend – I definitely wanted to share her challenge!

The $35 Week Challenge

 Several weeks ago, I learned of a challenge issued by the Greater Chicago Food Depository director to her staff.   For two weeks, they were to eat on $35/week/person – the typical amount provided to those on food stamps.  Without dipping into the freezer or pantry.  So I decided to try it for one week.

The first challenge?  Building a 21-meal menu and shopping list.  Aldi offers the most affordable prices, so that’s where I shopped.  My list included chicken, fresh vegetables and fruit, peanut butter, cheese, crackers, cereal, milk and eggs.  Even as I  tracked my spending, I had to modify.   Chicken breasts were out, even though on sale.  Chicken thighs were more than $2.50 cheaper for my week’s cooking.  Packaged deli meat for sandwiches?  Nope.    Fresh broccoli, green beans and snow peas were on sale, so into my basket they went.  My bill was $36.03, including tax.  Over the budget, but I knew that several items  – cereal, pasta, milk, peanut butter, bread and cheese  – would carry me into the next week.  Pro-rated, the bill dropped to $27.97.

So what did I eat that week?  Six big chicken thighs morphed into three dinners, two sandwiches, one stir-fry, and two soup servings.  Add homemade macaroni & cheese, fruits and veggies and food for snacks, eggs or cereal for breakfast, and it wasn’t that bad.   The seventh day dinner was crustless quiche with eggs, cheese, milk and zuchinni, and green beans on the side.

I always had hunger attacks mid-afternoon, so that’s when the crackers/cheese/ peanut butter kicked in.  I ‘cheated’ a bit though…  didn’t buy coffee, but used what I had for my necessary one cup in the morning; a bit of mayonnaise to make chicken salad; a tablespoon of butter for the mac’n’cheese sauce; and cooking spray for the grilled sandwiches.  I bowl on Wednesday mornings, treats are always there.  I scored two homemade chocolate chip cookies and rationalized “they don’t count”!  What I missed was variety.  I got tired of chicken, bored with flavors, and wished for more fruit.

All in all, I have a much better appreciation for the challenge that lots of folks face all the time, not just for one week.

So here is what she ate:

breakfast lunch dinner snack
Sunday cereal, 1/2 grapefruit grilled cheese, raw veggies roast chicken thighs, rice, brocolli crackers, peanut butter
Monday egg mcmuffin, 1/2 grapefruit 19th Century lunch canned soup/ added brocolli, cheese, chicken Triscuits & peanut butter
Tuesday cereal, 1/2 grapefruit chicken thigh, steamed vegs stir fry – chicken/carrots/peas/rice ??
Wednesday egg mcmuffin, 1/2 apple chicken sandwich, 1/2 apple chicken soup made from thigh bones/skin (broth,carrot,celery,onion,rice) celery, peanut butter
Thursday muffin, peanut butter, 1/2 apple grilled cheese, 1/2 apple, raw zuchinni macaroni & cheese, green beans cereal w/milk
Friday egg mcmuffin, 1/2 grapefruit chicken soup, grilled cheese sandwich chicken thigh, mac n cheese, green beans Triscuits, peanut butter
Saturday cereal chicken salad, carrots, last of soup, crackers crustless quiche (eggs, cheese, milk, zuchinni) and green beans. Triscuits & cheese

I agree that after a while chicken would get old.  But that’s basically how I meal plan.  If chicken is on sale, we are going to eat a lot of chicken dishes.  On average, Tony and I spend between $80-$100 a week on food.  Still probably too much, but you all know how I love to cook new recipes, which call for buying seasonings I might not have, etc.

Here is a Picmonkey collage of my day:

PicMonkey Collage

In no particular order:  Subway flat out egg white wrap for breakfast; 40 minute swim! a shitty ass soup I tried to make over leftover refried beans – way too salty; before and after of my refrigerator – it was getting out of hand; Roz, a crazy carrot picture for you! have you noticed “sponsored” ads on Instagram? and a delicious taco salad for dinner.

I am just about to do Ab Intervals from T-25 before work – I already packed my gym bag and food last night so I have plenty of time this morning. :D  Make it a great day!

Question of the Day:  Do you meal plan?  How much do you spend on groceries and for how many people?

34 thoughts on “$35 Week Challenge

  1. In an effort to get our budget under control I recently added up our total spending on groceries. For a month I spent $460 on groceries, which averages $115/week. We are a 5 person household with 3 “kids” at home but they are 20, 21 and 23 and work and go to school so they aren’t home for every meal. We also spent $80 on meals out for the month period I used, but Valentine’s Day was in there so that is high for us. We probably only go out once a month and nothing terribly fancy.

    • I think that’s really good! I do plan on using a lot of my freezer/fridge/pantry stuff this weekend though – should be a “creative” menu next week!

  2. There’s almost always this constant meal-planning thing going on in my head. Now getting it down on paper, organized and matched with what’s on sale at the stores we shop at – that’s another story. We have been eating out more, instead of less, to save time and simplify things mostly while my Mom’s in the hospital. You know what the hardest thing is though — the sort of adult child moves out for 6 months and now has moved back in WITH the fiance. That sure throws a wrench into meal planning. UGH. I love love love them…but all the best laid plans just …. disappeared.

    • Hope your Mom is doing well! It’s funny because both our kids basically told us that once they left they would never come back – so far that’s true! Joe moved to Texas when he as 20 and Hannah moved to Chicago when she was 20!

  3. We spend about $160 every 2 weeks on a family of four. We are pretty strict about what we buy. I also meal plan – not day-to-day, but I have a set of meals in the house that I know we have ingredients for. I tend to make all my kids “snacks” from scratch – granola bars, cookies, etc. Then we stick to mainly cheese, fresh fruit and veggies for other fill-ins for them.

    • Yep, not buying the processed food makes all the difference doesn’t it?! I remember being behind a guy at the grocery store once, you could tell he didn’t normally do the shopping but at the end when the cashier said “that will be $279″ he nearly flipped out. But I looked at his cart and it was all chips, pop, cereal, frozen meals, etc.

  4. I spend between $400-$500 a month for the two of us. We mostly eat whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables which drives up the cost, I’m sure. For example, I do not use jarred or canned sauces, I make everything from scratch. Of course that amount also includes all our paper supplies, laundry supplies, etc. as well. We rarely eat out, including getting take-out. But, that number is also a bit off because really my husband only eats a banana (he eats one every day) and his dinner from home. He works in a grocery store with a deli and usually buys whatever he wants for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I do know that only a couple years ago I was probably spending 1/2 to 2/3 that amount but the cost of groceries has gone up so much in this part of the country I’m always saying I don’t know how large families manage.

    • I guess we probably spend another $100 or so a month at Sam’s Club for paper products, etc. I didn’t include that in my totals!

      Yep, my sister has three growing kids and no matter how much she makes, expecting to take leftovers the next day, it all gets eaten!

  5. Wow! Rocking job. I definitely meal plan but I spend a good bit on food. Its the one thing I’m really OK with splurging on a bit.

  6. Our budget has gotten really bad. We go in with a grocery list every week, but always seem to find something else to put in the cart that wasn’t on the list. That challenge sounds really tough!

  7. I definitely meal plan weekly and our grocery bill is usually about $90-120 for 2 people, sometimes even more if there aren’t any good sales. We try to buy organic, hormone/antibiotic free meats and those rarely go on sale. I also think groceries are a lot more expensive here than anywhere else that I have lived. I actually should try to keep track for a whole month of what we spend on groceries, dinners out and stuff like that.

  8. when i was married, i was somewhat good at planning meals based on what was on sale at the grocery store. now divorced, my boyfriend is a picky eater and diabetic. we probably spend on average $80 a week at the grocery store. it could be less, but he eats only filet and chicken breast…. no sirloin or “fatty chicken thighs” for him. {….sigh…} :-)

  9. I definitely meal plan. I start with a menu which I then translate to a shopping list. I don’t designate a particular meal to a particular day but will have what I need to make a week’s worth of meals. My daughter and I will decide what sounds good from the list and that is what we’ll have either for lunch or dinner. Works for us. We spend about $100 a week too and we rarely eat out.

  10. I loved reading this and this would be something I would LOVE to get involved with when Beckett is out of the house a bit more. What a wonderful cause.

    I can not imagine $35 a week – I just can’t. It breaks my heart. Out grocery budget is out of control….we are probably around $800/month for 4, that includes wine which we drink nightly. I tell my husband often how thankful I am that I’m happy to go to nice grocery stores and not even think about what put in my cart. Of course I’m smart about it- I don’t buy things just to buy them, I do meal plan and think it all through – but my recipes can be expensive. Something I am proud of though you can tell when Saturday rolls around – our fridge and pantry is VERY low. It’s quite rare that we throw away food around here.

    • You are blessed not to have to pay attention to prices! Happy Friday – enjoy the weather today!

  11. I more than double what you spend…I either need to plan menus or find better sales!

  12. Wow, what a challenge. I managed to compile a spreadsheet of where all the money went last year (well, except for the big black hole that is ATM cah withdrawls). We spend quite a bit on meals out – you’d think our grocery expenses would be lower, but nope, they’re about $100/wk. We don’t meal plan.

    What’s Monday’s “19th century lunch”??

    • Tony (Mr. Biz Moto)

      Biz’s Mom Jerry was born in the 19 Century so she celebrates her birthday weekly.

      • Ha – no – do not listen to Tony! My Mom belongs to a social women’s club called the 19th Century Club. They do charitable services, their venue can be used for events and wedding receptions. Every Monday they have a luncheon and a show.

        • Ah ha. Thanks Biz. Though Tony’s explanation made sense – if you were that old and still alive and kicking, you’d be celebrating every chance you got. :-D

  13. This was a great challenge to do! Very interesting to see how you spent your money. I agree I would miss fruit!

    I do meal plan, and we typically spend about $100 for two people.

  14. Sunday I spent $317 but I won’t buy anything except milk for about 3 weeks – that is for 4 people. However, we buy a 1/2 side of beef every spring so I don’t buy beef – just chicken, pork and fish.

    • I’ve always thought of buying a bunch of beef like that, but I don’t think it makes sense anymore since it’s just the two of us.

  15. This is awesome. We were on a tighter budget b/c of a lower income, spending $50 or less a week on groceries for both of us, but lately I haven’t had to cinch my grocery budget at all b/c we’ve got tax refund money to help. It’s going fast and our grocery budget will likely go even lower than $50 so I’m definitely going to have to put more thought into it and get creative on how to feed us good healthy meals on so (what I would call) little. I think your Mom did great! Walking in others’ shoes helps you appreciate their situation in a way that only being aware of it can’t.

    • So true! Do you guys eat a lot of pasta then? I know my sister relies on that at least a couple nights a week because its so cheap.

  16. What a sad fact about the number of people not knowing where there next meal comes from. Note to self, get back to my volunteer schedule at the food pantry! Great challenge though, not sure I could do it. My meal planning as fallen to the wayside, just like everything else lately. Committing to getting back on it.

  17. This would be an interesting challenge to implement for my family both here and in my husband’s country when we visit. What drives our grocery bill up is our plant based diet. Most of what I buy isn’t even organic because that is just too expensive especially this time of year. I try to meal plan, but it’s a very loose plan.

  18. The organic prices here are nearly double for regular produce – and I just haven’t bought into the whole organic food trend yet.

  19. I do meal planning, I’ve been doing that since R. and I started living together 20 years ago this year. I do my grocery shopping once a week and because I work fulltime and I don’t want to think about what to eat and go to the store after work. Also meal planning is much cheaper than deciding what to eat every day.

    I think we spend about the same amount of money you do. I used to do my shopping at one store which is one of the most expensive grocery stores in the country but they have everything. Lately I am going to Lidl (same as Aldi that we have too but I like Lidl more). It’s so much cheaper and the products are good. I buy there what they have, after that I go to my other store and buy the things Lidl doesn’t sell. I’m saving at least 15 to 20 $ every week by doing this.

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