Many of you have asked to see what we buy and eat on a $400 grocery budget for our family of seven. This year I’ve been sharing everything we buy and how much it costs, both in YouTube videos and blog posts, which you’ve said is helpful.
But there’s one component missing. I’ve been listening, and today I’m sharing what we make and eat out of the groceries we buy!
Nearly every time we sat down to dinner for a month, I took pictures of what we ate. I’ve stopped now, but my kids still ask if their plate looks picture-worthy and want me to snap a shot before they start eating.
I’m not a photographer (especially not a food photographer), so they’re not glamorous. Plus, there’s a hungry family behind every photo (“Hurry up and take the picture Mom so we can eat!”).
But there are LOTS of pictures in this post!
I feel a little vulnerable sharing this, but you are kind and understanding. I know you don’t expect perfection in photography or perfectly balanced meals, so here goes!
I’ll start with dinner since that’s what stumps most people. Then I’ll move onto breakfast and lunch.
In no special order, here’s what we’ve had for dinner lately. I’ll post each dinner with a short description below.
One of our go-to meals is mock lasagna. We usually make it with macaroni pasta, but this time we tried it with spiral pasta which was even better! We had a relatively boring salad on the side consisting of just lettuce and spinach. We usually always drink water at meals, but this night I made strawberry lemonade with some of our frozen berries, so that was a special treat!
This was one of our more random meals. We’re not usually seafood eaters, but I picked up some tilapia a while back and had it in the deep freezer. I baked it according to basic instructions I found online. It wasn’t a big hit. At all. We had some chips and salsa, cilantro lime rice, and salad to go with it. An odd meal indeed!
We’re big fans of breakfast for dinner. On this occassion we had scrambled eggs with cheese, fruit salad, pancakes, and bacon. No one ever complains about breakfast for dinner. We had friends over for dinner to share this with.
Remember when I bought the dehydrated potato slices in bulk? I used them to make a cheesy potato broccoli freezer meal. I made three pans for the freezer and we ate one the night I assembled them. This night we cooked and enjoyed one of the frozen pans. I think it’s actually best when it’s frozen, thawed, and cooked. We had a green salad on the side.
Years ago I would have prefered to go to bed hungry than eat something like this. It makes me feel kind of grown up that I actually like this red cabbage slaw. After trying some that a lady from church made, I was inspired to buy a red cabbage for the first time in my life. We had a plain green salad on the side. It turns out a great way to get kids to eat salad is to pair it with something that’s even “scarier” than the salad. Suddenly green salad sounds pretty easy to manage.
I made some egg rolls both to eat and to freeze. I put together some sweet and sour sauce and brown rice to go along with them. The egg rolls weren’t as good as I had hoped. Hubby ate them like a champ (he eats anything I make and never complains), as did my vegetarian daughter. No one else, including me, was really a fan.
One night we had grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread (they’re so much better that way) with leftover red cabbage slaw. That’s crunched up ramen noodle you see in the cabbage.
Hawaiian haystacks is another favorite staple. Our toppings vary depending on what we have on hand. It looks like we had chicken sauce, green onions, tomatoes, raisins, and chow mein noodles (we call them “crunchies”). I know we also had pineapple, but apparently it didn’t make it to my plate for the picture. We enjoyed salad and sweet potatoes on the side.
One night we ate a homemade lasagna that I had frozen previously. It tasted much better than it looks in this picture. You can see how I frugalize my lasagna here in one of my archived Instagram stories videos. There was green salad with parmesan on the side.
We had mock lasagna again with another shape of pasta. This time it was penne. We had a yummy salad on the side with strawberries, raisins, seeds, and parmesan.
On this night, we had pan-seared pork loin and green salad, with a delicious berry smoothie.
Salad, mashed potatoes with sour cream, and leftover pork loin.
Quinoa is another ingredient that is still pretty new to us. I found a recipe for a quinoa/kale salad to try. It was pretty good thanks to all the mix-ins. And the waffle was made of cornbread batter, so it’s a cornbread waffle, not your typical breakfast strain. I’m not sure that cornbread goes with quinoa/kale salad, but it worked for us!
This cheater stroganoff doesn’t look very delicious in this picture, but it was actually quite yummy. The pasta is radiatori which I had never bought before, so that made it extra fun. I’m noticing a theme here with different shaped pasta. Our salad was pretty low key with just lettuce and parmesan.
Spaghetti and salad. A quick, easy, and frugal meal! I made it a little more exciting by making some French bread to go with it. The kids would have been happy to just have the bread. It’s so soft and delicious!
I’m not sure if this was day two of the spaghetti previously mentioned or if this is another single incidence of spaghetti and salad. This time I used my homemade French bread to make garlic bread. The salad had strawberries, raisins, cheese, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and parmesan.
With the bagels that I bought on a whim, we made egg/cheese/spinach sandwiches. It may look like breakfast or lunch, but it was actually dinner. 🙂
My kids love tacos/burritos. We have both meat and beans available along with lots of other colorful toppings. It’s a fast meal to pull together, especially when the ground beef is already browned (and maybe even seasoned) and frozen.
The breaded zucchini fries I made were a hit with most of the family. I tried a few different seasonings. With apples, strawberries, and walnuts, I obviously put a little more effort into the salad than some other nights. 🙂 We had a some leftover pork loin (this was an itty bitty piece, but I ate more).
I didn’t always take pictures of breakfast because honestly it would be the same pictures all the time (list of our go-to breakfast foods below).
The times I took pictures were when we had something a little fancier which was usually when my hubby was working from home and we had a late breakfast after the kids were at school.
One of my breakfast favs is fried eggs with cheese, salsa, and avocado (or sour cream). And some apples and strawberries on the side!
Oatmeal is much more exciting with some interesting mix-ins. On this morning we added in strawberries, frozen blueberries, and homemade strawberry yogurt. We also had some fried eggs on the side.
These eggs were going to be an omelette, but they turned out more scrambled instead. They’re topped with cheese, peppers, salsa, and avocado. The homemade strawberry yogurt has sliced strawberries and almonds.
But like I said, our breakfasts are often much more boring. Our breakfasts rotate between the following (all with fuit on the side):
Cream of Wheat— I buy this in bulk at Winco, where it’s called “farina.” Hubby and the kids call it “bear mush.” We cook it on the stovetop and usually add in some brown sugar. We also often add in some milk and frozen berries or fresh banana to cool it down.
Oatmeal— We have lots of big eaters in our family so we usually make oatmeal on the stovetop rather than in the microwave. Brown sugar and raisins are normal oatmeal add-ins for us. We add in milk and frozen berries.
Whole wheat pancakes— I make 24 cups of homemade pancake mix at a time, usually when I’m grinding wheat for bread and we’re low on pancake mix. That way it’s available for making pancakes anytime. My 8-year-old (who is often the first one awake) loves to make them himself. For every cup of mix, you add 3/4 c. of milk and an egg. We make a batch of 4-6 cups of mix. Depending on if Dad is home or not, we may have some left over.
Eggs— Often fried, but sometimes scrambled, I usually put salsa, sour cream, and cheese on mine. I add avocado if we have some. I like to sautee some peppers and onions before I put the eggs in.
We’re pretty boring and predictable for lunch. We have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches probably 90% of the time.
Seriously. I send three PBJs in my husband’s lunch each day, make one for myself, and make one for each of the four big kids.
Sometimes I’ll pull out leftovers for one of us, but we eat PBJ most of the time. I didn’t take any lunch pictures because I’m pretty sure you’ve got a pretty accurate mental image of what a PBJ looks like. 🙂
Well friends, there you have it! That’s what we’re eating with the grocery hauls I’ve been showing you. I hope it gives you some ideas for frugal meals to feed your family, or at least some insight as to what I’m doing with the groceries I buy.
Without even thinking very hard, I know that some of our favorite meals didn’t get photographed. We eat taco soup pretty regularly as well as homemade pizza. We just didn’t have them during the month I took these pictures. We don’t really go out to eat or get fast food, but we will grab some cheap Little Ceasar’s pizzas once or twice a month on a busy night.
What do you think?
- Is this what you expected? What surprised you?
- What are you favorite frugal meals? I would love to hear your go-to meals so we can add them to our repertoire!
Thank you so much for posting this! I frequently feel guilty when I go to the grocery store, because we easily spend $200+ a week on groceries. I’ve even told my kids, “I read a blog where the lady spends this much a MONTH on her family’s food. We are spending too much!” Now I can see, though, that our portion sizes are much bigger than yours, and I buy more expensive ingredients. My husband is a big guy and likes hearty meals, plus the two kids are big eaters. I’ve been wondering how I could feed them for less, but after seeing your pictures, I realized those meals wouldn’t pass muster with my hungry crew. They want a lot of meat and second helpings. So….I won’t fret over my spending anymore — at least until I can get my family to eat more salads!
I am a visual learner so I love the pictures. Thank you for taking time to do this! My family loves breakfast for dinner! To get an idea the quantity of food you need for a meal; would you be willing to share how much of each food you would cook for the breakfast for dinner? Breakfast for dinner at my house is 2 dozen scramble eggs, 1 pound of bacon and 35 pancakes. Thank you!
I think you must live in an area of the country that has a much higher cost of living than I do, but that’s ok. I don’t even think about my meals really. When I leave for the day, I’ll just throw snacks in the bag. I work with elderly and disabled in their homes, and a lot of my clients insist I eat when they do.
Have you ever seen the rebate app called Ibotta? Download it and see- there may be items on there that you would normally purchase. “25 cents back on any item” comes up quite often as well. There are also a lot of rebates on fresh produce.
Tara P says
Your meals look awesome – SO many green vegetables! I am TOTALLY going to try your mock lasagna sometime soon – we are big lasagna fans generally, so I think it would be nice to try a different iteration.
We have a few go-to meal options. For lunch, I pack tuna salad (homemade, with canned tuna, mayo, mustard, pickles and onions) with cucumber slices at least once or twice a week. Other favs include frozen pizza (we find whatever one is the cheapest) and salad and Mexican haddock (we can usually get four fillets for less than $5, then we add salsa, cheese and crushed up corn chips and bake it) with fries. Delicious and affordable for us 🙂
I love seeing all these dinner ideas! We bought radiatori once. I dubbed it Radiator Springs pasta because I couldn’t remember the real name or how to pronounce it. 😀
What a great post! Loved seeing all the meals!
Now to respond to the actual post! Sorry for my thread-jack.
I really can’t believe the wonderful variety of meals you get for $400. We spend so much more than that on groceries (and we’re just a family of four!) Since we’re doing Sunday roasts this winter I’m trying to be better about using the leftovers. I can get at least 3 meals from a roast; sometimes I can get 4, if I want to use the carcass to make a soup. Roasts aren’t cheap; but by using the meat in 3 to 4 meals it spreads the cost so the meat for each family meal costs us, on average, around $3.35. (By comparison the cheapest price on the cheapest meat I can buy, $2.50 for a kilo of drumsticks, usually provides us with family meals 1.5 meals.) At the moment I have enough meat to see us through August, and with four more roasts still to go, I should have enough meat to see us a good way through September too. (I don’t like eating the same meat every day so I strip the roast and put it into meal-size portions in the freezer so that way we can mix it up, lamb one day, chicken the next, etc.)
I’m also trying to do better at having some meatless meals. I recently rediscovered dahl. Wow, why did I let that one drop from our rotation? If you have a steady supply of eggs, quiches and frittattas are both wonderful ways to use up extra eggs and extra veggies. I found some eggs marked down at the supermarket recently and plan to use them tonight for a quiche.
Loved seeing this Stephanie!! I wonder what it would look like at my house. I can tell you, I very rarely have pbj!
Do your kids eat PBJs Alysa? What do you have for lunch?! 😉
Thanks for sharing your menu! It is always most interesting to look in on how others are stretching their food budget.. It is just my DH and I now . we are empty nesters. I spend 400 for the month on the two of us. and pbjs are rare in our house and it would only be me eating them! I just shared this with my DDs who are now Moms….
I think having a hubby who is cool with PBJs is a rarity! 🙂 Thanks for sharing my post!
Caroline Wick says
Thanks so much for sharing those pictures. Your dinners looked so yummy and so healthy. I love your salads with fruit additions. In fact you incorporate loads of fruit at dinner which is quite unusual but very exotic I think. I’m also Impressed with your portion sizes. Thanks for being so inspiring.
You made me smile Caroline! I never thought of anything we ate as “exotic”! Maybe if I tell the kids that they’ll be more adventurous eaters! 🙂
You had a lot of salads — do you have tips for keeping greens for salad fresh, or do you replenish during the month?
My kids used to love this quick lunch. Notice I didn’t say quick and healthy :
One box of store brand mac and cheese (I never bought Kraft, so to them, Kraft tasted funny)
An 8 ounce can of tomato sauce or a cup of leftover spaghetti sauce.
One-half pound of ground meat, crumbled and browned Italian seasoning mix (oregano, basil, etc.), about 1 tbsp if not using spaghetti sauce.
Cook the mac and cheese by package directions, but leave out the butter and milk. Add the tomato sauce to the drained mac and the contents of the cheese packet. Stir in ground beef and Italian seasoning mix. Salt and pepper to taste and heat gently until warmed through.
I’d usually serve a green veggie with it, but they loved this, especially on cool days. I found the store brand mac and cheese was cheaper than using plain macaroni and adding shredded cheese. That may not be the case anymore, but it was then.
We found red cabbage was easy to grow, but expensive in the stores. We grew some last fall and winter (we’re in the deep south) and the red grew better than the green. My husband is still leery of that pink sauerkraut I made, though.
Here are my tips on keeping produce fresh: https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/never-waste-produce-again/
That said, we often get more green on week 3 or 4 of the month.
Thanks for the quick lunch idea!
When we get all of our garden beds in (next year??) we’ll have to give red cabbage a try. It was more expensive than I expected.
I hope you and your family are safe from the fires. Really feel for everyone who has lost their home and truly hope there’ll be no further loss of life.
Thank you for thinking of us Holly! We are out of harm’s way right now. The fires are so awful and scary though, especially when they happen so fast with very little warning. We are updating our emergency kits today though to be as prepared as possible! And we’re praying for all those affected by and fighting all of the fires.
A word on emergency kits: We live in the Australian bush. About five years ago there was a fire about 500 metres from our home. I was at work; our oldest was at school; and my husband was home with our youngest. They had heard about the fire soon after it started and before it grew and were able to get out. We met up in town and spent a couple of days worried about whether or not we’d see our home again. As it turned out, the wind changed direction and the fire blew away from us. But about 12 families in our very small community lost their homes.
After that I got serious about our emergency plan. I decided that if we’d lost everything, there were some things that I’d miss and not be able to replace (family heirlooms, etc.) but there were some things that I could safeguard. I scanned all of our scrapbooks and albums. I digital scrapbook, and since then, every year, I update the emergency kits with all of the pages I’ve done in the past year.
I have three backpacks. One lives in the back of my car, one lives at my husband’s work, and one lives at the front door. Each backpack has a very basic 72 hour kit – these are not ‘bug bags,’ I’m not a survivalist and I’m not the least bit worried about things collapsing to the point where there are no banks or stores, so these are basic, like, socks, underwear, toothbrushes, the sort of stuff we wouldn’t want to have to buy just for a night. There is a bit of food, because what if the car breaks down and we’re stranded; but I went as basic as possible here. There are also enough flashlights for each of us, whistles for each of us, and some plastic garbage bags to act as tarps. Each year I check these supplies, replace socks and underwear as my kids grow, replace expired food, make sure the flashlights still work, etc. Each backpack has a thumb drive or portable hard drive with all of the important photos and documents. There are also two binders, one at my husband’s work and one in the kit at home, that have photocopies of all of our important documents. Every year I make sure these are up to date.
Each car also has a woolen fire blanket, and there’s another one at home. If you are driving and come across a fire and find you are trapped, the safest thing to do is to roll down the window facing away from the fire a little bit, to allow the nasty melting plastic chemicals to escape from your car, and huddle under a wool blanket. This won’t guarantee your safety; if the flames are higher than the roof of your car you’re toast; but it’s your best bet. Likewise, if you’re home and you can’t leave, the safest thing to do is to shelter in place under a wool blanket – wet if possible – until the fire front passes overhead. It is not always safest to leave – many people are killed trying to evacuate from fires because there are horrible traffic jams, car crashes, people get confused and make wrong turns, etc. Sometimes it’s safer to shelter in place, so your emergency plan has to consider what you’ll do then, too. (The advice from every firefighter I’ve ever spoken with: Wear natural-fibre clothes; wet your house as much as possible; as the fire front approaches choose a room with a window so you can monitor the conditions, choose a room that is as fireproof as possible; shelter under a wet wool blanket, and wait for it to pass. It’ll be terrifying but you’ll probably survive. Swimming pools aren’t always safe places to shelter because the fire sometimes heats them to boiling and you literally boil alive.)
I know this is already too long but it’s something I’m passionate about. So one other point: If your plan is to evacuate, draw up a “grab and go” list – things you’ll grab if you have 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc. Make separate “grab and go” lists for everyone in your family and keep them in your emergency binder so that you can pull them out at a moment’s notice. Now here is the important part: Make sure you also have them for your kids. I wasn’t going to bother and then I spoke with a firefighter who said that it’s important to have them for your kids because it distracts them. Your kids are going to be freaking out worried. By giving them simple but direct tasks, you help keep them calm and give them a sense of control.
There’s a lot more I can say about this, and I have a massive list of emergency management documents I’ve created if anyone is interested. I’m kind of a geek about this stuff now. I’m not obsessed; but I have a set time every year to go through and review everything – I time it with my birthday so I can’t forget!
One final story and then I’ll end (like anyone is still reading this, HA!) After the fire I found out something that I think is really inspiring and awesome. Kangaroos are social animals. They travel in groups called mobs, and they are very devoted to their mob. After a fire, there are many stray kangaroos who have lost their mob. Other mobs will welcome them in, and they will care for the sick or orphaned kangaroos. And here is the cool thing – the mob will slow down so that the sick, injured, elderly, or young kangaroos are still included. They will not move faster than the slowest member, because they want every member of that mob to feel included. In times of disaster it’s really important to have that kangaroo mentality. Be welcoming and inclusive and take care of each other, not just in your own mob, but in other mobs too.
This comment was so interesting. Stephanie you should contact this poster to do a guest post.
Love this, Becca! You always have such good stuff to share. I really appreciated the fire safety insights you emailed me last year! Such valuable information!!
And yes, Pamela, I totally agree! I’m planning on sharing our emergency kits here eventually, but I would welcome a guest post by Becca any time. She is a wealth of information and shares it well! 🙂
Jane | Has Debt says
I have never heard of a Hawaiian Haystack, but I am totally on board with trying it! One of my favorite sides is mushroom gravy over white rice. And your meals look delicious!
Two of our favorites are hamburger casserole and open faced tuna salad sandwiches (I’ll include links to the recipes if you’re interested). We make those pretty much every month because they’re so quick and easy and go over well with our toddler. (I also often will make them at the end of the month when I’m running out of groceries/grocery money and need to make meals from our pantry):
Also, I tried your creamy tacos casserole this last week (because we’d set a goal to not go grocery shopping the last two weeks of the month and needed a good pantry meal), and it was a hit!
Thanks for sharing Torrie!! I love quick and easy meals!
Creamy Tacos is a family fav around here too, I guess we didn’t have it during the time when I was taking pics though!
Oh thank you for this post! I’ve been so curious what your meals look like! I too live in California and am amazed at so low of a food budget so this gives me a much better idea of what else I can try! I think our major downfall is snackies. One frugal meal my daughter has especially loved since she was a toddler is beef & rice casserole from $5 Dinners cookbook!
Nancy K Sadewater says
I, too am an ingredient shopper and enjoyed your photos of meals. Thank you for sharing them.
Linda S says
I laughed at your mention of a “low-key” salad. We call that honeymoon salad – “lettuce” alone.
Ha ha! I love it Linda! Hubby and I are cracking up! We’ll have to adopt that!