Sixteen entrees, four appetizers, six desserts, and noodles and Naan bread to spare. Oh my. For less than $20.

The other day, I thought it was time for a new challenge. I decided to see what kind of food supplies I could muster for a week’s worth of entrees for two people for $20 total, or less. I posed the idea to the boyfriend and he was fully on board. (Keeping in mind that this total for many around the world is a complete luxury.)

Step one was cruising through the local flyers, which I don’t often do. I tend to usually just go and buy what I have in mind, while trying to find a reasonable price. But this time, I wanted to be open to specific ideas inspired by sales prices. But, my initial list didn’t actually alter after looking at the flyers as so many of the sale items were the more packaged and prepared items (eg. marinated meat) that weren’t going to make our most affordable list. The basic list of possibilities ended up being: meat, potatoes, vegetables, rice noodles, beans, and some kind of bread product, with the awareness that we would shop with open minds for great deals.

We proceeded to hit the stores like an episode of The Amazing Race and scurried by bike and on foot (okay, it was a relaxed kind of scurried) between four local stores. First, we hit Thrifty’s, where I go on occasion but where I’d say the name isn’t quite fitting. We did a full cruise around, comparing things like costs of cans of beans, almost buying a loaf of bread but holding off in case we found a better deal. Nothing really jumped out at us. Next was Save On Foods where we got a great deal on a 5 pound bag of potatoes for $2. (Good old Russets as opposed to the nice red thin skinned ones I’ve gotten used to.) And a solid deal on 500 grams of Naan bread for $1.99, for a total of $3.99 at Save On.

Joe’s Produce, the local small produce store, was next and we got a great deal on a substantial amount of prepacked chopped veggies (peppers, celery, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, onion) for $1.50. These would be from veggies that are passing their peak as far as being sold in their full context, like a head of broccoli. But the pieces that are in the package are in perfectly fine shape. It’s a win-win option for the store and the buyer. Less in the garbage, more savings in the pocket, and easier meal prep to boot. We also got a pack of rice vermicelli, a head of kale, a cooking onion (vs the usual red onions), and two yams, for a total of $5.93 at Joe’s.

And finally, we hit good old Walmart.

As one who pretty much never buys uncooked meat, I let boyfriend guide the way and he found a great deal on four pieces of quarter chicken for $4.13. We grabbed a can of six bean medley and a can of chick peas, two cans of mushroom soup, and a can of peas and carrots. We still had a couple of dollars to spare so as all our basic list requirements were covered, we grabbed a treat – a six pack of apple turnovers marked down to $2.12 as it was coming due the next day. With our total of $10.01 at Walmart, our grand total between the three stores was $19.94. Six cents to spare!

The other components of our cheap week were that we could use basic condiments that we already had (eg. butter, olive oil, crushed garlic, mayo, mustard, soy sauce, along with all the spices, but not including things like parmesan cheese or peanut butter). The first night, we cooked two of the quarter chicken pieces, with the canned veggies and sliced potatoes, and mushroom soup as a bonus flavouring. Our team work made up a pretty tasty and substantial meal, with tons leftover, making three entree servings total from that batch.

The next two nights were covered by a tasty bean, veggie, and potato soup. Along with Naan bread and homemade hummus. For the hummus, I couldn’t fall back on the peanut butter I usually add (instead of tahini), so I had to be a bit innovative with what was available, but it turned out pretty darn yummy. In total, we got five servings from the soup and the side dish.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying dessert for the first three nights. Okay, I don’t honestly know if there was much of any apple in that internal goop, but for about $.35 each, and a satisfaction of my sweet tooth, it did the job.

For the next two nights, we enjoyed stir fry with the veggies, vermicelli, and just one of the quarter chicken pieces chopped up efficiently. Of course, more time went into this than just buying meat that is already de-boned, chopped, spiced, and cooked, but the savings were significant. (If I just compare the amount of meat we got vs a precooked chicken, we saved about $6. And if compared with a cooked and spiced chicken, we saved another couple of dollars on top of that.) I took a healthy amount, and we both looked at the heaping amount on my guy’s plate, recognizing that substantially less than that portion would easily go for at least $12, even at the casual food fair in the mall.

For the last main meal, I had to get a bit innovative. Remaining, we had one piece of chicken, one can of mushroom soup, two yams, a small amount of veggies including kale, and Naan bread. Oh and lots of potatoes. I came up with the idea of potato pie and used the potatoes with olive oil, butter and seasoning, peeled, cooked, smoothly blended and pressed into a pie dish, and filled it with a blend of soup, chicken, yam, the last of the veggies, and spices. The only “cheating” I did was adding one mushroom and a tiny bit of onion from a different veggie batch. It worked out pretty well, giving us four servings. (The format was initially a bit sloppy on day one but by day two it was very compact and pie like!)

Total of meals was 16, along with six desserts, and five appetizers (stuffed potatoes), and some Naan and noodles remaining. If I only calculate the cost of entrees into the $20, it comes out to $1.25 each. Pretty darn good! The only change we thought we would make for next time would be to have more protein on hand, like a couple more cans of beans (instead of, gulp, dessert).

To put this little experiment into a bigger context, let’s look at average expenditures in Canada of about $200 per month per person for groceries or $50 per week or $7 per day. So spending just $1.25 for one’s main meal will leave lots leftover, and we can safely average out that each day’s meal and snacks can easily total $5 or less, or $150 per month per person, for a savings of 25%. In a year, instead of spending $2400 per person, you could spend $1800. For a family of four you could spend $7200 instead of $9600 for a savings of $2400.

What could you do with an extra $2400? Can you think of modest changes you can make that will have a substantial effect on your wallet but no deprivation of your taste buds? (If you feel you don’t have the time for cooking fully from scratch you can Google eg. “cooking from scratch in 15 minutes”.)

My new challenge this week is to use predominantly what I already have in my pantry and freezer and buy hardly anything. So the grocery list and flyers will be neglected, while my creativity and taste buds happily make their way, helping me save some serious cash.

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