$5 meals for the family

Could you make a fresh, healthy family dish for just $5? 

Our local YMCA, in a recent newspaper article, asked the community if they were able to cook for a family on just $5. (LINK to newspaper article)

I had a  discussion with a group of friends and we came up with meals that we thought we could make for a family of four for $5 or thereabouts. We decided that all the meals  needed to be made from scratch to keep costs down, using lots of in-season vegetables, bulked up by rice, pasta or legumes (as they are cheap and filling), exclude meat from several meals per week (we eat far too much meat as it is), avoid processed food (far too expensive and not heathy), look out for sales and eat everything in the fridge to avoid waste was the way to go. On our list we had: 

Soup (with lots of in season vegetables)
Stuffed baked potatoes 
Macaroni cheese with vegetables
Quiche and salad
Savoury rice
Spaghetti and meatballs 
Chicken bake
Coleslaw and chicken legs
Chilli beans nachos
Homemade pizza
Old-fashion stew (using stewing steak)
Curries (with lots of lentils and cheap cut of meat)
Shepard's pie

With a growing number of families on limited incomes this has become a real issue for many.  Sadly, at the same time, we also have the problem of less women able to cook from scratch resulting in more relying on processed foods when they least can afford them. We also have the problem of many families relying on quick take-away meals that are high in cost, high in calories and do not fill up the children so they are still hungry. 

My eldest son and his wife are very good at keeping within the food budget and I am often impressed by how they manage it all. They buy in bulk from Costco, buy lots of vegetables,   have a freeze full of frozen meals and avoid takeaways. I know when they start a family they will be able to keep within a smaller budget. 

I have to admit that I don't think too deeply about the cost of each of our meals as there is only 2 of us and we eat quite cheaply anyway. I am not one for spending big when it comes to food and tend to look out for bargains. I find eating lots of vegetables that are in-season and only a small amount of meat makes most of our meals quite affordable  I think at times my husband "thinks" he is eating much more meat than he really is! However I am trying to cut back on how much we spend on food and this has certainly got me thinking of ways to reduce our overall bill. 

What would you add to the list?

How have you managed to keep your food bill down?



  1. thanks for the inspiration. Food prices seem to have risen dramatically, and I am going to have to scale back. We don't eat much processed, but my husband and son are meat lovers. Have to make more meals with less meat!

    1. This article is very interesting as it explains why we need to eat less red meat. As I mentioned my husband thinks he is eating more meat than he really is!!!


  2. I am always looking for ways to cut spending, but can't seem to cut more. We almost always cook from scratch, and I doubt our meals are ever over $5 for the four of us. Of course we only buy the "cheap" meat, and in-season vegies, so that helps. Really, I wonder whether we create trouble for ourselves, in that we always want variety, and so this means we have to have different meats, different meal ideas, etc.
    Just been reading "The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder - most Westerners these days would die in preference to surviving on the diet they had during that long winter! It was unbelievable! So boring! =)
    We are spoilt for choice, and so we have to be realistic, and work within our limits.

    1. If you look through the old cookbooks the meals were very simple and do not contain a lot of ingredients - and what ingredients were listed could be found in any kitchen and didn't require a trip to the store. In contrast, many modern cook books contain recipes that are expensive to make and often have things that would not be in a standard pantry. In fact the other day in the newspaper a bunch of people made Jamie Oliver 30 min meals and some of the dishes were close to $70 once all the ingredients were purchased - and that was for one meal for 4. It is really silly.

      Our first world problem is that we expect too much variety - where as in the past meat and three veg was pretty standard day in and day out and no one complained. I try very hard to only visit the store once a week and if I am planning to make a meal from a recipe and I don't have the ingredient, I substitute. Families were also very happy to eat lots of bread (very cheap) to fill up on - these old fashion habits have disappeared. As kids we quite often had bread jam and cream for "dessert" and perfectly happy with that.

      As you know, families during WW2 ate very basic meals when on rations, but interestedly, their diet and their health was in fact very good, better than pre-war diets. We don't need lots of variety to live healthy lives.

  3. You've some good ideas. I agree about the old cookbooks and lack of variety.

    I wrote a 5 part series called 5 Days of Frugal Eating that you might enjoy. This is the first segment:

  4. Old-fashioned meals don't have to be boring, even if they are less expensive/frugal. I've been doing a lot more simple cooking, and I've been finding that what can really make a difference is adding herbs and spices - these don't cost a lot, but they add a whole world of flavours to simple meat and veg meals!
    And I agree - bread is a simple, inexpensive filler - even better if it contains good nutrition as found in whole-grain handmade breads (forget the cheap store-bought white bread - it really is devoid of nutrition!). Also, cakes and such that are made without sugar (using honey or other healthy & natural sweetners) and with decreased sweetness are also a good fillers that don't cost a lot.
    I also use lentils and pinto beans to provide protein, rather than relying solely on meat. We still eat red meat - it really is the best way to get iron that is most bioavailable (especially necessary for children and women in child-bearing years) - but we try to boost it and make it stretch with other ingredients (we make quite a bit of slow-cooker chili for that reason, because it can stretch a long way with all those beans added in!).
    And yes, I believe we have been blessed to the point of spoil. It's not good that we feel we "couldn't live" without all the variety we have today. :(

    1. I agree - and the same meal served with rice, pasta or potato can all taste different with a few changes - perhaps add sour cream, herbs/spices, some parmesan cheese or serve with tacos, baked in the oven, turn it into a pie etc... There are many things you can do with the same meal. It does take some effort to cook simply from scratch and sadly too many women don't have the basic skills or don't want to learn or say they are too busy. And in the process they spend far too much on food when they don't have to.

  5. Great post. There are only two of us but I try to keep it as frugal as I can so we can splurge when we want.
    Tonight was pasta with some discounts from our local grocery. I am planning a post on Thursday for letter G on the price war going on at our local groceries. We've been getting good deals lately. Since I am working now my favorite thing is weekly cooking. Doing a lot on Saturday so I only have to reheat during the weekend.
    Ground meat works great for tacos and spaghetti! You supplied some great tips and ideas.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ground meat is so handy as it can be stretched and used in so many things ! I often make enough for two meals and one I place in the freezer for those busy nights. I am finding, the more healthy and home cooked, the less you spend on food - it really is quite cheap to feed a family.

  6. Looks like you took our weekly menu :) How did you know? I will add lots of meals with beans!!! Bean burritos, bean soup with cornbread, beans over rice, taco salad with beans, bean nachos, you name it! Just add a green salad... Thanks for linking this up with the Art of Home-Making Mondays. I know we all enjoy meal inspiration!

    1. I'm all for stretching meals and beans are great and cheap. Soups is my other favourite meal, healthy and filling and can cost almost nothing :))


Post a Comment