Tag Archives: food budget challenge

Eat The Rainbow: Food Budget Challenge Week 4

So, this was Week 4 of my Food Budget Challenge, a month long challenge to eat healthy while on a budget. I was hoping to come out with some big celebratory post but we did not make my goal. However, while my family surpassed our budget limit of $497.30 for the month based on the average two person household on a Low-Cost Plan as according to the USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Report for August 2014, we have become a lot more conscientious about our food choices. Even though we did not make our goal, mainly due to the pitfalls of eating out Week 2, I am confident moving forward that we will be able to stick well within the Low-Cost Plan and, hopefully as we continue to learn through our successes and failures, to eventually get our own food costs to be within the Thrifty Plan of $390. But, for the months of November and December, since this is such a plentiful food based time of year for many Americans including my family, I will be focusing on eating healthy (not over indulging) while on a Low-Cost Plan. In the new year, I will get more thrifty. But, I will continue to provide tips and tricks about eating healthy while on a budget. So, for this week:

#1: Eat the rainbow

It is important to get a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Each has different important nutrients that you should try to get into your daily diet. An easy way to remember is by “eating the rainbow,” eating fruits and vegetables by color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo/violet (purple). You can easily attain this while on a budget. Here is how to plan your weekly shopping list and weekly meal plan:

1. While going through ads or using the apps that I have suggested in previous posts, look for the weekly deals on fruits and vegetables keeping in mind the rainbow of colors. These are usually fruits and vegetables that are in season. For example:

Red: tomatoes, raspberries, red apples, beets
Orange: carrots, oranges, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
Yellow/White: bananas, garbanzo beans
Green: broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, avocado
Blue/Purple: blueberries, eggplant, grapes, cabbage

2. Plan your daily intake incorporating these fruits and vegetables

Breakfast: vegan protein shake with berries and banana
Snack: apple with almond butter
Lunch: vegetable soup or salad
Snack: baby carrots with hummus
Dinner: 1-2 green side dish (broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts)
Snack: 1/2 c. frozen grapes

An easy way to accomplish this is by making a vegetable soup, stew, or chili that incorporates all of the colors that you can eat all week:

Eat the Rainbow Vegetarian Chili

Eat The Rainbow Vegetarian Chili

Red: kidney beans, tomatoes
Orange: butternut squash, carrots
Yellow: onion, pineapple, mushrooms
Green: spinach
Blue/Purple: black beans


1 butternut squash diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 medium onion
2 cans kidney beans
2 can black beans
1 can mushrooms
1/2 cup pineapple
3 tbs tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups spinach
3 cups vegetable broth
4 tbs coconut oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chipotle or chili powder
2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbs coconut sugar


1. In a large pot, sauté onions on medium-high heat in 2 tbs coconut oil until translucent, about 7 minutes
2. Stir butternut squash and carrots, stirring and cooking for 3-4 minutes
3. Stir in spices (cumin, chipotle/chili powder, salt, pepper, and coconut sugar)
4. Stir in beans, mushrooms, broth, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and pineapple
5. Once at a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the carrots and butternut squash can be easily pierced with a fork
6. Stir in spinach and continue to cook the chili on a simmer for 5 minutes
7. Taste for spice level, if too spicy, add in 2 tbs coconut oil and cook for 3 minutes. If not spicy enough, add in more cumin and chili/chipotle powder.


This will easily count as at least 2-3 servings of vegetables per bowl, but, remember to still get enough fruits and vegetables in other meals throughout the day.

Tips: You can experiment with the formula but make sure to get all of the colors covered. For example, you could use 3 sweet potatoes instead 1 butternut squash or any hearty leafy green like Swiss chard or kale.

#2: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Throw That Away!” – Jeff Yeager

So, you have cut up your butternut squash and now you have a bunch of seeds leftover. As Jeff Yeager, known as the “Ultimate Cheapskate” and one of my favorite people to seek budget advice from would say, “whatever you do, don’t throw that away!”

Butternut Squash Seeds


Instead, clean and rinse the seeds. Lay them out on a clean cloth or paper towel in a single layer and set aside to dry. Once they are dry, toss them in a tsp or so of oil and a pinch of salt (or whatever spices you would like). Finally, bake in the oven at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. They are edible just like pumpkin seeds.

Then, once you are full on chili and squash seeds, I highly recommend that you go check out Jeff Yeager’s YouTube Channel: The Cheap Life. I am far from mastering a budget lifestyle but I draw on him for inspiration. He has mastered living a thrifty (cheapskate as he calls it), happy, and healthy lifestyle. His videos are produced by AARP but his videos are awesome for all ages. He gives great advice with a sense of humor and lots of personality.

Preview: No Electricity Required Hummus 

Next week, I will be sharing another recipe video. I just did not have it quite completed for this week. This video will cover a great way I discovered to make smooth hummus without a food processor or blender, no electricity at all so it would be excellent for camping or on the go. Hummus is another one of those foods that I love but have been unable to eat for a long time due to my garlic intolerance so I can never find it at stores or eat it at restaurants. And, I cannot make it at home because I lack a high-speed blender/food processor. Lumpy hummus is not delicious, there is definitely something about texture when it comes to hummus. So, when I basically stumbled my way into creating this awesome recipe, I could not wait to share.



Flexibility: Food Budget Challenge, Week 3

So, last week was the third week in my food budget challenge. I only had $40 left to spend for the two remaining weeks, week 3 and week 4. This challenge has proven much more difficult than my optimism led me to believe week 1 but I have learned some critical lessons, from my costly mistakes to my many successes, which I will definitely take with me to do better in the upcoming months. It takes a while to build consistency with any habit so I am still content in the fact that I am moving in the right direction. I hope that you have used some of the advice that I have shared and I plan to continue to share any tips and tricks that I discover on my own journey towards eating healthy on a budget. This week, I learned:

#1: Be creative with what you already have

My long time impulse for making food is to come up with ideas for what I want to make, figure out what I have already, and then go out and purchase the ingredients I need. Since I wanted to stay within my budget of $40 for two weeks, I resisted this urge. Instead, I took an inventory of all my food and planned a menu for the week of breakfasts, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks based on the food that I already had. This did not mean that I could not be adventurous with my cooking but that I had to be even more creative by trying to make the new recipes fit the ingredients that I had. For example, I wanted cookies for dessert since we no longer had any store bought desserts. So, I found some almond flour that we had stored away in the back of a cabinet, hidden by the food that we rotate out more often. On the back, there was this delightfully easy vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I did not have a lot of the ingredients listed but I got creative by substituting with ingredients that I did have.

Butter Pecan Cookies (Vegan and Gluten Free)
Adapted from Elana’s Pantry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe 

2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs. Butter Pecan Maple Syrup (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
1 tbs. coconut sugar (plus extra for cross hatch on top of cookie)
½ cup canned sweet potato puree (unsweetened) 
½ cup coconut oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together
3. If coconut oil is solid, heat coconut oil either on the stove or microwave. I did 15-20 seconds in my microwave. Mix remaining liquid ingredients into the coconut oil.
4. Combine liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1” diameter balls.
6. Dip a fork into some maple syrup and make cross hatches on the top of the cookies.
7. Sprinkle a tiny bit of coconut sugar on top of the cookies.
8. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Butter Pecan Vegan Gluten-Free Cookies

These cookies are not super sweet but they are great if you want to feel a little indulgent without feeling guilty. You can always add a little bit more coconut sugar or butter pecan maple syrup if you want it a little sweeter. You may be able to get a similar taste with traditional maple syrup but adding in chopped pecans. They have a great dose of protein from the almond flour and sweet potatoes. You can also freeze the dough. Since I was only sharing this with one other person, I split the dough in half. It thawed really nicely on the counter for a couple hours before I made the second batch.

#2: Do not just look at price when looking for the lowest cost

It is more than just price that must be factored in when considering buying an item. It is important to shop for items that will give you the highest caloric and nutrient bang for your buck.

For example, I had a choice between Luke’s Cheddar Clouds versus Beanitos (bean tortilla chips). Now, both are made from a minimal list of really high quality ingredients but one also acts as a serving of vegetables. If I eat the Luke’s Cheddar Puffs, I also have to eat an additional serving of vegetables. With the Beanitos, I get a delicious snack and a serving of vegetables. They both have the same calorie content and are roughly the same price but the additional price for another vegetable plus the convenience of not having to figure out another vegetable to eat makes the Beanitos a wiser monetary and healthy snack choice.

#3: Counting calories

So, I am going really strong with my trick of breaking up large bulk items into individual bags to save money and calories (plus, it makes it so much easier to have a grab and go snack), but now, I am having the opposite problem. Sometimes now, I find that I am eating too few calories a day. When I was eating out almost daily, I knew that there were a lot of calories in these meals. The nature of eating out generally, even if it is healthy, is that these meals are high in calories. So, as a Vegetarian now eating at home, I find that many of my meals are much lower in calories. It is important for our bodies to function properly that we get enough calories into them. As someone who has dieted, I have found that my best range is 1500-1800 calories per day but a couple of days I did not make it to my minimum. So, I have been employing a technique that I have used in the past in order to meet my daily caloric intake without going over, in addition to meal planning: a food journal. A food journal is a daily diary of the foods you eat and their calorie content. At the end of the day, you total the amount to see if you have hit your target. Many people use this technique for weight loss. It is a great way to maintain your own accountability. In addition to counting calories, I like to use my food journal to keep track of the amount of water I drink throughout the day as well as the number of fruits and vegetables I have consumed because these are the areas that I find that I do not always get enough of throughout the day. You can include anything you want to keep track of in your journal.

Have you ever kept a food journal? Did it help you to meet your goal?

I hope you enjoy reading this week’s blog post and that both my successes and failures have guided you on your journey to getting healthy while trying to maintain a budget. As always, I love to hear from my readers so feel free to leave a comment below.

Food Budget Challenge Week One: 4 Discoveries

It has only been a few days into my Food Budget Challenges but I wanted to share some of the discoveries that I have made so far.

Discovery #1

One trick to save money on groceries that I have heard often is to meal plan. I think this is a good strategy. However, my strategy for this week was to find the cheapest healthy ingredients and, then, figure out what I was going to make with these ingredients. But, I am a bit excited because it will help me to expand my repertoire of foods and recipes. For example, I have rarely eaten eggplant in restaurants but have never cooked it at home. However, Sprouts Farmers Market was having a sale of $.88 per eggplant. So, I bought it. I ended up making an amazing pasta dish that I will definitely make and eat again. I will definitely post the recipe later on too. It was rather simple and made eight servings so it lasted a while for my two person household.


Discovery #2

I love discovering new items. This week I found a new favorite at Trader Joe’s: frozen Fettuccine Alfredo. I have an intolerance to garlic and so a lot of Americanized Italian food is not a possibility for me to eat. But, as I discovered when I went to Italy last year, Italians tend to use a lot less and, a lot of the time, they use no garlic at all. So, when I saw that Trader Joe’s imported their Fettuccine Alfredo from Italy, I was excited to look at their ingredient list. No garlic! It has been such a long time since I have had Alfredo that I knew I had to deviate from my list and splurge on this item.


The Fettuccine Alfredo was $3.99 for about 3 servings. Each serving was 370 calories. This would be a perfect economical dish for a busy single person because it is microwaveable and the package contained 5 little nests of frozen fettuccine with the Alfredo in little chunks so you could easily separate the bag into individual freezer bags of 2 nests each. If you purchased 2 bags, that is 5 meals for $1.60. Add in some frozen veggies to those bags and it would be a more balanced meal and still be under $2.

After grocery shopping, I could not wait to try the Fettuccine Alfredo so I made it for dinner that night. I made it according to the package directions for the stovetop but added in one serving (½ cup) of canned pumpkin ($1.99, 3.5 servings) and ½ package of their frozen organic broccoli ($2.49, 5 servings) at the end and cooked it for a few more minutes on low heat. Since I did it on the stovetop, I cooked the broccoli separately first. It was delicious! The pumpkin made it feel like an indulgent fall treat. After plating, I added a little sprinkle of parmesan cheese. We had gotten so busy with shopping that we had skipped lunch that day so we ate it all that night. Split in 2, it was about 607 calories per person but this could have easily been 4 servings.


$3.99 for Fettuccine + $1.25 for organic frozen broccoli + about $.55 organic canned pumpkin = approximately $5.80 ($2.90 per person)

 Discovery #3

As I said previously, I tend to overeat when I am going through difficult times. So, I knew I would be tempted to eat all of my snacks. And then, the bulk items would not be saving me money but making me fatter more quickly. A solution I found was to put serving sizes of the snacks (especially the ones that I would be more likely to eat lots of in one sitting) into Ziploc bags. This way I will not be tempted to eat as much and I will maintain my savings.

Discovery #4

I love tradition and rituals, not only the ones that lead to healthy lifestyle like meditating over lemon water (see previous post) but also ones that bring people together. So, I have a ritual with my Mom that we go out for bagels and hot chai and then sit in the park on Sunday mornings. It is a way for us to connect once a week despite how busy we might be the rest of the time. It is also our cheat day so we do not feel bad about eating an unhealthy meal. But, now that we are trying to stick within the Low-Cost Plan, we are more aware of the price tag for our little outing. We wanted to get the same emotional benefit without spending close to $20. Last Sunday, instead of buying hot chai with almond milk, we bought one Venti iced tea from Starbucks and brought a second cup to share. Then, we bought one bagel to split and brought another snack from home. We spent around $5. A savings of nearly $15! Plus, we saved some empty calories as well. We enjoyed our time together at the park just as much. I also kept the Venti cup to help me drink more water throughout the day. I have good intentions in the morning to drink water but my other glasses do not hold as much liquid so I will forget to fill it again. Now, I get three times the water in one glass. We are also limiting our “coffee runs” to once a week.

We also like to have dinner or lunch out once a week. We often spend upwards of $40-45 for one meal. When our weekly budget for the rest of the month will be $102.01, this is simply out of the question. My goal for this week is to discover a place where we can have the fun of going out without the hefty price tag. I would like to see if we can spend $10-15.

Food Budget Challenge

I have been neglecting my blog and other social media for a few weeks now. When I started my blog, I had good intentions. I have many ideas and sources to share but the process of writing it all out has been challenging because I have been going through a difficult time in my life. My dog, Lizzy, who had been my constant companion for the last 16½ years passed away last week. She had been plugging along like she always had and then her health declined rapidly. I will be posting a little tribute video that I made from photos I had taken of her on my phone. There are many more over many more years but those physical photographs that are currently in storage.


She’s Inspiring…

For Lizzy’s whole life she was a trooper. When she was just a puppy, she was diagnosed with several skeletal issues. Our vet told us to be prepared to not see her live passed age five. She easily surpassed this milestone and, then, when she was fifteen, she was diagnosed with several organ issues. This time, our vet told us to be prepared for her to not live more than six months. She ended up living to 16½ so I was grateful for every extra day that I got with her but it still does not make the sting of losing her any less. However, she taught me to be grateful for every moment and to not let pain or any other obstacle overwhelm your life (she never once, until the end, let her pain show). However, these past few months, I have been focused on helping her so I neglected my self-care. Now, to honor her memory, I have decided to refocus my energies on being healthy. So, I decided to take on a personal challenge:

Food Budget Challenge! 

Often times when I am having difficult times in my life, I overeat and I do not eat the healthiest of foods. So, as a way to not overeat, I wanted to go on a diet, a wallet diet. I want to save money while in no way willing to sacrifice quality or nutrition. For a long time, I have been under the assumption that living in California meant that eating well and eating cheaply could not go together but I have been inspired by many bloggers and experts in the area to give it a shot. A further challenge is that we have difficulty buying in bulk or extreme couponing because we have a relatively small kitchen and a small refrigerator with no extra storage space.

In Comparison 

I know my blog is about living healthy on a budget but, when it comes to food, I am still a work in progress. So, I wanted a guideline as to what a reasonable food budget might look like for my family. I live with one female adult. So, I took my estimations from “USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Report for August 2014.” According to them, a family of 2 (male and female) between 19-50 years on the Thrifty Plan was $390.00 for the month and $497.30 for the Low-Cost Plan. By the end of the first month, I want my total food costs to be below the Low-Cost Plan. Then, next month and into the future, I want my target to be below the Thrifty Plan. Furthermore, my plan during this time is to share recipes as well as any tips and tricks that I pick up along the way.

 Starting Off…Week One Shopping 

I started this last week by combing through the ads that were sent in the mail. Based on the items I found in the ads and cross-referencing these with ads online from Oliver’s Market (a local chain grocery store), I created a list for the week. I wrote down all of the items plus their sale price. I also included any other items that I knew we would need for the week. Then, we went shopping at Costco and Trader Joe’s. I wanted to go to Costco and Trader Joe’s first because I wanted to see if the items on sale at the other stores were more or less than these two stores since I was unable to find prices at these two stores online. Some items were less expensive per ounce at Costco and others were more expensive. It was good to have my list to compare. The main items that were cheaper at Costco were POM Pomegranate Juice, Organic Strawberry Jam, organic pasta, and organic cereal. The items that were cheaper at Trader Joe’s were frozen vegetables, sunflower nut butter, and bread. Then, I went to Oliver’s and Sprouts Farmers Market. It was a lot of stores to visit and more expensive the first week but that was because we had not gone regular grocery shopping in months. We were either eating out or going to the grocery store to buy a few items every day. So, our cabinets and fridge were pretty sparse. But, we felt pretty accomplished for the space we have, the time it took, and the quality as well as quantity of items we purchased.

Grand Total 

For week one, we spent a grand total of $191.27 this is including prices for other food items that we had bought previous weeks but had not eaten a substantial amount of yet. This means that we have $306.03 left to spend for this month on groceries. This will average to about $102.01 per week. I am fairly confident that we will make within this budget because of how many staple items we bought this week that will last for the month.

Tips and Tricks! 

One of the tricks that I have discovered so far is definitely creating the list based on the ads. This worked very well but it was time consuming. I have the time right now but this may not be possible in the future. So, I discovered some free apps that are supposed to make this easier. I am going to be trying them out this month to see how they go. I will report back on how successful I was using them and if I will continue to use them in the future. These apps are: Grocery IQ, Shopkick, Favado, Ibotta, SavingStar, Checkout 51, and SnipSnap. I also started following some bloggers who do couponing that seemed promising. I believe that saving money
is important but also that time is money. So, in order to make the savings worth the time, it has to be easy and quick.



I will be posting throughout the month both my successes and the lessons learned from any failures. I definitely think it is possible to make healthy choices while also being aware of budget.

Do you have any tips and tricks? I would love to hear them.