When my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves by spending no more than $100 per week on all food and beverages, we were prepared for a rocky road. During our first week of the challenge, we sailed through- spending just $87 without feeling deprived.
I’d love to add some drama to this series by reporting that we failed in Week Two. Unfortunately, we didn’t! We actually spent even less, just $86. So now I’m wondering if our budget was challenging enough. And if we keep coming in under budget, what should we do with the difference? Stash it in our vacation fund? Donate it to an organization like Feeding America? (Of course, one of those options is a lot more fun than the other, but you know what they say about treasures in heaven…)
During Week Two, we maximized our budget by focusing on whole foods– unprepared fruits, vegetables, and grains. I’ve always heard that each time a food item is chopped, cooked, or otherwise prepped for you, you’re adding cost and calories and subtracting nutrients. So we’ve nixed a lot of pre-fab foods and replaced them with whole ingredients like dried lentils, which are superstars at creating healthy, inexpensive meals. An added bonus? My husband’s lost four pounds without feeling hungry at all!
I’ve been utilizing online resources like Epicurious to find cool, new recipes. A great score this week? Harira, a hearty Moroccan dish with chicken and rice. I subbed out some of the pricier ingredients (looking at you, saffron) and created a delicious curry with plenty to freeze for future meals.
One thing that just isn’t possible on this budget? Dining out. Once this challenge ends, I’m looking forward to supporting some of our favorite restaurants again, but I hope we’ll treat dining out more like a special treat instead of using it as a crutch. What about you? What’s the balance between dining out and eating in at your house? And how do you decide which restaurants are worthy of a splurge?
Lucie Amberg is also a contributor to Powder Room Graffiti.