Real Food Rookies: Two People Eating For Less Than $25 a Week!

You probably remember that month-long spending strike that I did back in January, right? We learned a lot about our wants and needs, we realized we were a lot more creative and handy than we gave ourselves credit for. Our bank accounts also thanked us for a brief respite from spending.

One part of the spending strike that I enjoyed the most was menu planning using items from our deep freezer and pantry. It was really satisfying to know that I could create very nice meals (even for potlucks and parties!) from the items I have on hand.

I'm part of a network of bloggers who also value this type of frugal living, and recently learned of an interesting opportunity and jumped on board immediately.
The Inspired Bloggers Network issued a challenge. Could I build a menu, including three meals and two snacks for each day, with only $25 per person for an entire week?
Could I build and stick to a menu for $50 a week? Totally. But because the challenge is flexible, I decided to up the ante a bit. $50 for a week is too easy for us.

The challenge specifics:

  • There are two adults in our family; my husband (John) and I. 
  • We live in Eastern Iowa, so right now there is no local, fresh produce available. 
  • Our budget was $25 for one week, including dining out. This is lower than most bloggers in this challenge. We have a large food amount of food stores in our pantry (all are home canned or preserved from our garden!) and a deep freeze with local beef and pork from my parents' farm. I reduced our amount to $25 per week, because we did not purchase meat or certain canned goods.
  • We are striving to eliminate processed foods from our diets. You'll notice that in my shopping list and menu plan below. We have not, and probably never will, eliminate 100% of processed foods in our lives. We're totally fine with that! If you're interested in reading more about our initial experiences with real food, go here.

Eating from our pantry and deep freeze

In efforts for full disclosure, here's quick photo of items that were in our pantry and deep freeze during the week of the challenge:

A one-week, $25 shopping list

These items were on our shopping list:
  • frozen vegetables
  • black olives
  • all purpose flour
  • taco shells & tortillas
  • eggs
  • milk
  • butter
  • lettuce
  • sweet potatoes
  • fruit

I had more items on my list, but because of my strict budget, I wasn't able to get the following due to higher prices than I anticipated: 
  • whole chicken
  • feta cheese
  • blue cheese
  • pepperoni
  • heavy cream
  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • onions
  • shrimp
  • sesame oil
I did come away with a great haul that I can use in combination with the items in my pantry and freezers. In fact, if I really stretched it, I could cook many, many dishes from what we have on hand. It just wouldn't be much fun. 

The meal plan

I didn't get too creative with my meals this week because I knew I couldn't run to the store to grab something I forgot. Additionally, if I tried a new recipe and botched it, I would be wasting a considerable amount of my budget. What you see below does reflect anything I had in my deep freezer, pantry, or left over in my fridge from last week.

Here's what I made during this challenge:
Tuesday, March 11
Breakfast: toasted homemade bread with butter and home canned jelly
Lunch: leftover vegetable couscous from yesterday
Dinner: homemade sausage and vegetable pizza
Snack: carrots and hummus

Wednesday, March 12
Breakfast: toasted homemade bread with butter and home canned jelly
Lunch: leftover pizza from last night
Dinner: Out with friends ($3 taco bar and trivia night!)
Snack: peanut butter cookies

Thursday, March 13
Breakfast: fruit
Lunch: salad with veggies and hardboiled egg
Dinner: peach glazed ham steak with home canned peach preserves and homemade coleslaw
Snack: peanut butter cookies

Friday, March 14
Breakfast: fruit
Lunch: salad with veggies and diced ham, coleslaw
Dinner: cheeseburger (sans bun) with lettuce, onions, mushrooms and coleslaw
Snack: cheese

Saturday, March 15
Breakfast: A coffee date with Linsday and Emily to network and talk blog.
Lunch: meatballs and frozen peas
Dinner: cheese and vegetable quesadilla, coleslaw
Snack: cheese

Sunday, March 16
Brunch: eggs over easy and toasted homemade bread
Dinner: Family dinner with in-laws (I brought blueberry crumble bars)
Snack: leftover blueberry crumble bars

Monday, March 17
Breakfast: home canned applesauce
Lunch: salad with vegetables and hardboiled egg
Dinner: spaghetti bake with steamed broccoli
Snack: leftover blueberry crumble bars

Tuesday, March 18
Breakfast: home canned applesauce
Lunch: salad with vegetables and hardboiled egg
Dinner: Brats on the grill (sans bun) and frozen green beans
Snack: leftover blueberry crumble bars

Problems & Successes

This week was hard, but not because of the budget. It was one of the first nice weeks, weather-wise, in Eastern Iowa and I spent a great deal of time outdoors. Also, it seemed that I scheduled every meeting and appointment possible in the last 7 days. When I arrived home at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner, and then pack a lunch for the next day.

I was really thankful that I spent a good 30 minutes in the kitchen cutting fruit and prepping salads for the coming week. I'm sure you understand the innumerable benefits of prep work in the kitchen, and this week it was my saving grace.

My pantry with home-canned foods and deep freeze with more garden goodies, beef and pork really saved my butt during this week. I realize how lucky we are to have ample storage space, and the contacts to get locally-raised beef and pork in bulk. In the coming months I am going to make serious efforts to eat as many home-canned goods as possible to make room for the 2014 preservation season.

Wonder how everyone else is doing with this challenge? 
Check it out -- 


  1. Hey Kelli! Have you done a post on your deep freezer organization list? It looks pretty self explanatory but just curious. Can you wipe off the pen/marker marks or do you replace the plastic cover sheet as needed? I've convinced my fiance to make room for a deep freezer in our office room and I'm trying to think ahead of the best way to keep a running list of what will be inside of it.

    1. Hey Carmen :) I use a printable inventory sheet similar to this one ( and I put it in a plastic sheet protector. I usually use a dry erase marker on the plastic sheet, and it wipes right off. HOWEVER, I goofed and accidentally wrote on the sheet itself. I'll replace it eventually :)

    2. Thanks for sharing! I like the idea of being able to just erase your marks. I will keep it in mind when we finally get a deep freeze.

  2. Nice job Kelli! I would love to know how to can. We have so many tomatoes in the summer that it would probably be good to can them instead of giving them away!

  3. Wow. As someone who's never been in a position to grow my own food, has no canning/preserving experience, and has only in the past few years started thinking critically about my diet... I am so inspired to get on your level. And I'm gonna steal your idea and put an inventory sheet up on the back of my pantry door.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Epise Of Cake

  4. I am so bad at the weekly budget but I try to keep everything to a budget of $160 for all our household goods for the month. I averaged $94 per month last year and currently have January spending at $71.46. It is easy to use the things around the house and make a meal plan out of it. I think that many families would be able to do the same with using lots of the items that they have on hand to save spending some but it does sometimes end up being a lot of the same with pantries full of pasta and couscous :) I am trying to work really hard to use the things on hand and clear them all out so that we can move in a few months. Sadly, the meals got boring and we ended up eating out and not healthy so I went back to shopping again and so I went over what I was trying to spend this month. I am hoping to do some quick freezer cooking so that we have some meals in the freezer in a pinch. Great idea to try to do $25 for the week and see how far you can stretch it!! I might have to try a weekly total and see how it goes :)

    1. When you said you end up with a pantry full of pasta and couscous - that's totally me, too! When I get myself in a cooking funk I head to Pinterest and search for some new ideas. I have a feeling that's what I'll be doing tonight, actually...

  5. could you have managed without the full freezer and pantry?

  6. We know that food manufacturers use additives and processing methods to extend the life of the stuff they sell. Then they have to color it so buyers can't see how bad it looks when it gets old.


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