What I Would Feed my Family on a Monthly Budget of $250

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*After you read this post, be sure to read the second post in this series, with thoughts on how I would improve upon this budget.*

I had way too much fun writing this post.

I hinted on Facebook last week that I was working on a post detailing what I would buy if I could only spend $250 a month for our family of 5 (we currently spend $450, although that does include some household goods/toiletries, which my $250 budget doesn’t).

My goal? To prove that you can still eat real, whole, nourishing foods even on a tight budget and while living in an expensive area.

A few caveats to help you explain what I’ve done here: 

  1. I used Canadian prices. I realize most of you live in the US. These prices should be encouraging, because they are generally more expensive than what you would pay in most US grocery stores.
  2. I did this based on an average, popular grocery store chain where I live (Extra Foods/Superstore). Not a discount chain, mind you, but just an average store with decent prices.
  3. I didn’t use all of the tricks that are usually a part of my repertoire. First, I wanted to see if I could do it with only careful planning and from-scratch cooking. No gardening, backyard chickens, food co-op, preserving, coupons, discounted/near-expiry items, shopping multiple stores for sales, etc. I didn’t even use my beloved produce market’s prices. I wanted this to relate to anyone.
  4. I didn’t include any food allergies or special substitutions, but I’ll address that a little bit in the next post.
  5. I did include eggs from a local hobby farm for $3 a dozen (these are the eggs I actually buy), as well as ground beef and beef bones from a local meat store that offers mostly grass-fed (grain-finished, but otherwise very clean meat) for reasonable prices. I considered using only grocery store meat offerings, but wanted to see if I could keep all of the meat sources (because it’s at the top of the food chain) a bit cleaner and most people could find a similar source of meat locally if they were to really look/ask around.
The gist of it is, anyone could eat like this. You don’t have to live on acreage, or have access to special stores, or be a master gardener or food preserver. You simply have to be willing to plan carefully, eat a bit less meat, and cook from scratch.
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Image by *clairity*

My $250 Budget Grocery Shopping List

Grains

  • Whole Grain Rolled Oats- 1 Kg ($2- sale x 2 = $4)
  • Organic Brown Rice Pasta- 2 454g packages ($2.79 x 2= $5.58)
  • Brown Basmati Rice 4.54 Kg (10 lbs) $12.99 (this would probably last two months)
  • Whole Wheat Flour 22 lbs $8.78

Dairy

  • Full (whipping) Cream 1 L $4.13
  • Whole Organic Milk (not raw) $8.50 per gallon (x2) = $17
  • Cheddar Cheese 907 g $8.99
  • Mozzarella Cheese 907 g $8.99
  • Regular Salted Butter 1 lb $3.29 x 4 = $13.16
  • Sour Cream (full fat) 1 L $3.88

Produce

  • 20 lb Russet Potatoes (local) $8.98
  • 5 lb Ambrosia Apples (local) $4.98
  • 5 lbs Carrots $3.48
  • 1 Large Celery $1.98
  • 1 Large Green Cabbage $2.34
  • 1 Broccoli Bunch (3 smaller heads) $0.96 (sale)
  • 2 Field Cucumbers (local greenhouse) $0.98 each = $1.96
  • 10 lb Navel Oranges $5.96 (sale)
  • 3 lbs Yellow Onions $2.48
  • Large Bag Baby Spinach $3.48

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Image by cookbookman17

Meat/Fish/Protein Sources

  • Dry Kidney Beans 450 g bag $2.58
  • Dry White Beans 450 g bag $2.28
  • Dry Pinto Beans 450 g bag $1.88
  • Dry Red Lentils 450 g $2.78
  • Canned Wild Pink Salmon 213 g $2 each x 4 = $8 (sale)
  • (Mostly) Grass-Fed Local Ground Beef 4 lbs x $2.50 ($10.00)
  • Whole Chicken (“free from” antibiotics, hormones, etc.) 1.93 kg (4.25 lbs)  $15.29
  • Eggs $3 per dozen x 5 = $15
  • Large Bag Local (Mostly) Grass Fed Beef Bones $5

Other Grocery

  • Organic Tamari Wheat-Free Sauce (like soy sauce) 296 ml $4.99
  • Natural Peanut Butter (no additives or sugar, but not organic) 750 g $5.19
  • Unpasteurized (but not local/high quality) honey  1 Kg. $6.00 x 2 = $12
  • Tomato Paste 13 oz. cans $1 x 2 = $2
  • Diced Canned Tomato 28 oz. cans $1 x 4= $4
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 L $8.99
  • Raisins 750g $4.28
  • Shredded Coconut 400g $3.38
  • Walnut Pieces 400 g $5.78
  • Bulk Flax Seed 500 g $1.20

Grand total = $237.17 

I’ve purposefully kept the budget under $250, in order to leave room for more miscellaneous purchases like bulk spices, baking soda, yeast, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, tea, etc. Ideally, I would want to leave more like a $20-$25 buffer to do that. If I was utilizing some of the techniques that I will talk about in the next post, I could have brought this number low enough to have that kind of a buffer.
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Image by victoriachan

Meals That I Would Make:

Breakfasts
Oatmeal with milk or cream and honey, homemade granola with homemade yogurt, muffins (use flax instead of eggs to stretch eggs farther, with variations like orange, apple cinnamon, or carrot raisin), pancakes with honey butter syrup, eggs with homemade toast, spinach cheese omelet, waffles with homemade orange syrup, toast with peanut butter, dutch baby pancake with apples, baked oatmeal.
*I would repeat some of these items over the course of the month.
Lunches
Salmon melt on sourdough bread, orange or apple slices, carrot/celery/cucumber slices, leftover soups or other dinner meals, spinach salad with walnuts, raisins and apples, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, baked potatoes, fried rice with eggs and veggies, hard boiled eggs.
*Again, there would be repeats.
Dinners
Chili (1/2 lb beef) x 2, pasta with tomato meat sauce (1/2 lb beef), soup once a week served with bread or biscuits- chicken rice, lentil veggie, Spud Special, bean soup, beef stew (use meat off boiled bones), spinach and salmon quiche, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, salmon patties with homemade fries and cooked carrots, Bierocks, lentil rice casserole with cheese on top and spinach salad, meatloaf (with added lentils and veggies to make meat stretch farther) with mashed potatoes, beans and rice, soft tacos (homemade tortillas) with bean/beef mixture, chicken and broccoli pasta casserole, veggie stir-fry with last 1/2 lb beef over rice, baked potato bar with broccoli cheese sauce, chicken stew, lentil dahl with homemade roti (Indian bread) and rice, leftover night, waffles for dinner.
*This is 24 dinners. Some of the vegetarian ones would be repeated, and there may easily be more than enough for one leftover night.

Would there be much extra? Nope. By the end of the month, I would be down to slim pickings and creative cooking. Employing more of the techniques I talk about next time would help me to purchase a greater quantity and variety of food to make the cooking a little easier.

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Image by stevendpolo

Why I Chose These Foods

  • The meat is very minimal due to the cost of buying somewhat higher quality meat. So, I chose to go with the cuts that were the cheapest and would stretch the farthest (whole chicken, ground beef) and then also added beef bones. Between the whole chicken carcass and the bag of beef bones, there will be plenty of broth to have some at least once or twice a week, maybe more. This is important because bone broth helps to stretch out the amount of animal protein that is consumed (it has sort of a protein-sparing effect) and also offers valuable gelatin (for digestion) and plenty of minerals. The cooked chicken meat would be chopped and frozen in bags to be added to other dishes. The beef bones would also provide beef tallow (as well as some extra meat after being boiled), which can be easily rendered after making broth and saved for cooking purposes. It’s very nutritious and an extremely stable fat for high temperatures.
  • I kept the egg amount as high as I could (although our family would usually go through more like 7-8 dz in a month, not 5 dz). Eggs are such an amazing source of animal protein, good fatty acids (like omega-3) if they are from free-ranging hens, as well as other vitamins. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, but inexpensive in comparison to eating meat.
  • The cans of wild pink salmon are very important, as they would be the only source of seafood in our diet. Fatty fish like salmon provide crucial fatty acids, include DHA and EPA (SO important for pregnant mamas and developing children). We would also gain another varied source of animal protein, as well as minerals like calcium by crushing/eating the bones (which are so soft, they’re easy to crush and mix in- we never notice them and kids can easily chew them).
  • The butter is not organic, but it’s still a million times better than relying on any sort of vegetable oil or margarine. It’s still a stable fat, even if I would prefer a cleaner source of butter. This would be one of the first things that I would seek to get from grass-fed cows, because then it would contain Vit A and D and K, which are so important. Regular butter doesn’t contain these in high quantities (well, probably no K at all and little of A and D) because those cows aren’t on pasture eating fresh grass.
  • Olive oil is a nice all-purpose oil, and it is relatively inexpensive and readily available to anyone. But, one alternative to the butter/olive oil split I suggested is to buy a little less butter, a smaller amount of olive oil, and instead buy a jar of coconut oil with the extra money. Coconut oil is bursting with beneficial fatty acids that are very protective for the body, it has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, and it is also stable at high temperatures.
  • I went for produce that was mostly seasonal as I write this (January). So I chose root/cold storage veggies (onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage) that are cheap in the winter, particularly nutritious and that store well. Both spinach and cabbage are particularly nutrient-dense. The broccoli and cucumbers add some variety and were both on sale. Apples are fairly cheap (at least where I live) in winter because they are grown locally and store well. Oranges are imported, but they are seasonal during the winter, and are usually cheapest between Dec-Feb. They’re also a nice source of vitamin C when you aren’t eating tons of fresh produce.
  • The large amount of whole wheat flour is intended for making all baked goods from scratch. Ideally, I would make a sourdough starter for baking sourdough bread, so that are breads were as frugal and nourishing as possible. You could also use it for homemade soaked muffins, pancakes or waffles, biscuits, tortillas, etc. It would be even more ideal to purchase wheat berries in bulk instead, so that you could grind your flour fresh. For those with a grain grinder, this is the best option and esp. if you have access to a food co-op of some sort, you can even get organic wheat berries for only a little bit more money.
  • The 2 gallons of organic milk would be turned into 1 gallon of homemade yogurt and 1 gallon of homemade kefir. This re-introduces good bacteria and enzymes that are lost in the pasteurization process. Ideally, raw milk is best, but I couldn’t afford to buy raw milk on a budget like this, so making kefir and yogurt with organic milk would be my best compromise solution.

What would you feed your family if you had to seriously cut back your budget? Which foods would be a priority and why?

Top image by USDAgov

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. This was a good post to get me thinking. My problem is allergies. My daughter is severely allergic to gluten – so the whole family has to go gluten-free to keep her safe. My baby seems to be allergic to dairy, soy, corn, eggs and bananas. I am trying to figure out what we can eat to keep our budget down. We do get WIC for the baby, but he can’t eat any of the baby foods they give us and neither can my daughter, but my boys (8, 10, 12) eat the baby food fruit jars as snacks :-) I have 5 children in all. I just started making my own yogurt using regular 2% WIC milk (that’s all that is allowed) and granola (gluten-free oats at about $3.35 pound). I want to switch to grassfed meat (baby reacts to normal corn fed meat), but the cheapest I can find here is more than $7/pound. I just found it for $4.99 on sale at a local store (the date was 6 months ago, but it was frozen), so I bought all eight pounds of it (that’s all they had). I am looking into buying a 1/4 or 1/2 cow as a possibly cheaper solution. You gave me a few good ideas though…

  2. This is an excellent list.

    We feed a family of 5 on about $200 a month. We do have a good-sized garden and suburban orchard, which is a huge help. Plus it insures we eat organic produce and a lot of it. In summer it’s not uncommon for us to have a meal that is almost completely from our garden.

    I shop at a restaurant supply for most of my baking ingredients and large sacks of beans and whole grains. It’s like getting Costco prices without the membership fee (or the temptation to buy stuff we don’t really need).

    I keep a sourdough starter and try to use it every week (I have some sitting on the counter right now waiting for the fermentation to make 2 loaves). Sourdough is more effective at disabling phytic acid than baker’s yeast. Phytic acid is the substance that binds minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc, and prevents our bodies from absorbing them.

    Great list, and good exercise in brainstorming how to feed your family well, while living on less.

  3. Alyssa Fridgen says:

    Hi – I noticed fresh garlic was not on your list, which has always been a valuable staple for me for enhancing the immune system as well as flavor in lieu of salt and other flavor options with minimal nutritional value.

    Also, I am wondering why this site is for the “Christian homemaker” – does it not apply to anyone regardless of religious beliefs? I would think food is the prime common ground for people of all beliefs to meet and share ideas.

  4. I love this! Thank you! But I have to ask – for lunches, where you list “orange or apple slices, carrot/celery/cucumber slices,…raisins and apples” – are those each their own “meal”? Like just fruit for lunch? or veggies? I don’t think my family would be filled on such a small item for lunch but wondering if you just eat really light on this budget?? TY!

    • PS: I did a “mock shop” with Stop & Shop’s online Peapod.com (Connecitcut) and tried as much as possible to match items and quantities. My cart came out to $336. I think I did have to buy more quantities of some items to get equal or greater than your list but… just FYI as it’s been interesting to read comments about pricing in various parts of the country. And also I wonder about how much 1 year later has affected food prices! :)

  5. Mary you don’t need to put vinegar in with the soup bones, the calcium comes out anyway, and be sure to include all the little gristle bits and the skin, and cook long enough for those to break down for really jelled broth. Then you cool, and skim the fat off. If you’ve got good quality chicken you can use the fat in cooking.

  6. I would add a lot more fruit, first, and vegetables if I still had money. And I’d go over the $250 a bit to achieve that, per person. Three fruits a day per person would be my minimum. I would also add coffee, and bacon for Sunday. :) The bacon would be the best I could afford, because as well as a treat on Sunday, I could use crumbled bits on top of soup, and I’d be keeping the fat for cooking.

  7. Thank you for the article! It is really inspiring.
    This year hubby started working a day less per week, and we thought it best to actually make and stick to a proper budget. Our system is simple. We made a list of the cheapest basic products (well like you did) and we always buy those. We also made an estimate of how much food we eat per day (protein, carbs, fats, fruits and veggies) and per week, and when we shop we try to just keep to those quantities.
    The key to our planning was to give ourselves a 2 euro (living in Europe here) break(bonus) per day we could spend on anything we wanted/craved. As in next to the basic list we could buy anything worth 2 euro for that day. So if we want beef, that’s like 4 euro more expensive per kilo than chicken (basic), so it’s worth a 2 day bonus. This allows for variation, and for small luxuries every now and then.

  8. Great article, very helpful!! I have a question, you mentioned buying the wheat berries and grinding them into flour… I am wondering with so many different types of wheat berries available which kind would work for most recipes (tortillas, bread, muffins, etc.) or do you need a few types? Thanks!

    • I would say hard white wheat berries. It has a milder flavor than hard red berries and has all the same nutrients. If you are primarily using the flour for baking cakes and cookies, then you could go with a soft white wheat berry as the texture is very light, fluffy and airy, but hard white wheat berries will still perform wonderfully for these baked goods as well.

      So for taste, texture and versatility, I would say the hard white wheat berries.

  9. When you are boiling the chicken carcass and beef bones for broth, if you add approx 1/4 cup white vinegar to the water while boiling, the vinegar will leech calcium from the bones, adding further nutrition to the broth. As it is cooked quiet a while, there should be no taste of the vinegar at the end.

  10. Thank you so much for this article! A friend just linked me to it, and I have to say…I am really impressed…I’ve read MANY posts and articles about eating on a budget, and I get so frustrated because we are trying to eat whole, real, unprocessed, truly healthy foods and healthy meats, and usually none of those things are addressed! We are currently on a budget of about $100 a week for a family of 6, so this was very incouraging! We do have a daughter with a milk allergy, so we do almond milk, and we currently can’t afford raw/organic milk…but I think that is going to be our next step. Trying to find quality beef has been my biggest challenge lately. Anyways, I am so excited to have some more meal ideas (too bad my hubby won’t eat tuna or salmon!)

  11. We eat simply… salads, pasta with veggies, a little chicken, baked potatoes, veggie soup, beans and rice, omelets. But we get so tired of the same things, no variety. So thanks for the ideas!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] no secret that you can eat cheaply – and not just cheaply, but healthily – and not spend a lot of money. And that’s why people (especially old people) raise their [...]

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  7. [...] winter I came up with a plan for What I Would Feed my Family on $250 a Month (that’s not our actual budget- it was more of a challenge to myself to see if I could do [...]

  8. [...] using this plan from Stephanie at Keeper of the Home as a rough guide for my grocery shopping.  She’s [...]

  9. [...] All, This is from the clever Stephanie from KEEPER OF THE HOME lovely blog. Our family use to live in the USA and we have vacationed in beautiful Canada and food [...]

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  11. [...] I have to say that Costco has helped with this. I also enjoyed reading Stephanie’s blog post here and here on spending only $245 per month on healthy food. I’ll be going back to those posts [...]

  12. [...] you can check out Stephanie at Keeper of the Home’s $250 (Canadian!!!) per month meal plan that includes all whole foods including a little grass-fed beef and raw milk, or Cheryl at Moms in [...]

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  16. [...] on February 7, 12in Frugality, In the kitchen, Real Food and Nutrition, RecipesI recently shared a very popular $250 sample grocery budget, and mentioned that one of the ways that I would stretch things out was with the use of vegetarian [...]

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