maybe one of the harder parts of being a mom for me is realizing every day that you are responsible for putting food on the table. forgetting meals or electing to have ice cream for dinner doesn’t really cut it anymore. the number of times i’ve had a sense of panic as i’ve realized i’ve done both, and my poor baby is still waiting on me for a meal, has made me feel miserable. being a single mama with only one baby throws another challenging twist at me, as i try to keep from buying and cooking too much, while also finding the motivation to put together a meal that i know in large part will end up on the floor. ;) i can’t tell you the amount of times i’ve pinterest’ed “meal planning for single moms” and found nothin'. i’ve had to figure this thing out by myself, so as i finally feel like i’m starting to get some sort of grapple on it, i thought i’d share and hopefully help out another single mama. although these ideas can totally be used for any family model, the simplicity, quickness, and frugalness is what makes these ideas perfect for a single mama.
i now have a few variations of this post to come since i originally wrote this. this week, i shopped for 2 weeks in advance, ringing up at $92; with a vegetarian, (mostly) vegan menu!! i am so excited about these next couple of weeks. once i make it through and can confidently count it as a success, i will write about it. if you'd like to be clued in to when that's posted, subscribe here to hear about it first!
the shopping list
as you can see from this list, i actually only spent $43.88, and easily made it through our week! this was the first time i had taken a stab at really buckling down with a budget and meal planning. read on for what we did for this week, with a few additional ideas i've learned over the weeks. keep in mind in addition to this list, i had a few stock ingredients on hand in the pantry and fridge. if you're starting from scratch, have patience. spend a few weeks building your stock with smart buys and soon you'll easily have well-rounded meals for incredibly cheap.
check your farmer's market for produce. it is often much cheaper, and allows the option to even barter for lower prices. however, make sure you're familiar with your local stores' prices. some items might actually be more. for instance, target sells avocadoes for $0.89, whereas at my market, they were selling for $2. also, don't be afraid to check out the dollar tree for stock pantry items! things that have a longer shelf life are great buys here. again, be familiar with store prices. many canned goods can be purchased for less than $1 at major grocers. lastly, when creating your own list, choose ingredients that overlap and compliment each other. this decreases the number of ingredients you need, and makes mixing leftovers or remaining ingredients to make a meal easier.
my focus in the morning is ease, speed, and nutrition. aidric fortunately gets breakfast at daycare each day, but it could be a couple hours before he’s fed, and i still like the peace of mind knowing i’ve sent my child off with something in his belly and a healthy start to his day. because of this, i keep it very small and simple. here are some examples of what we do:+ banana (.25 ea)
+ canned fruit - aidric’s favorites: mangos, pears, mandarin oranges ($1 or less per can)
+ multi-oat & nut bread (my son prefers his plain and untoasted, so that’s what he gets!) ($3.5)
+ scrambled eggs ($0.5 for 6)
+ oatmeal ($1.5 small cannister)
my breakfasts are always either avocado toast, topped with Sriracha and garlic salt, or yogurt and fruit.
i’m fortunate aidric’s sitter also provides lunch. i recognize this certainly helps to keep my grocery costs down, but i’m confident if you are using this meal plan and are providing lunch for your child, you could serve up some leftovers from dinner and get by alright. i will include ideas of cheap, nutritious fillers you can use to add to various meals to make them, and the budget, stretch at the end of this post.
for my own lunches, i have two solutions. i either live off of frozen meals for $2 a pop (that’s $10 for a week of lunches), or, if i am feeling ambitious, i will simply swap this to buy extra of dinner ingredients and meal prep, rotating my few planned meals between lunch and dinner.
for this particular shopping list, i found a few cost-effective, nutritious solutions. these were:
+ stir fry
+ chicken fajitas
+ pasta + broccoli
stir fry is simply steamed rice and frozen veggies with teriyaki or sweet and sour sauce. to make simple chicken fajitas, i saute frozen chicken with fajita seasoning, onion, and bell peppers, and serve on tortillas with salsa. it's delicious! similarly, i also love preparing taco meat ($3 1lb + $0.5 seasoning) in bell peppers because it is an easy, super tasty way to get a good serving of veggies in. i like to top with salsa verde and/or sour cream. i like to keep chicken and fish on hand in the freezer for an additional meal i can pull out in a pinch. i almost always keep a bag of chicken nuggets ($6) in the freezer for aidric, and serve with canned or frozen veggies.
i typically buy one bag of a snack for aidric (and me) for the week. this week was veggie sticks, but for similar cost you can do pretzels, animal crackers, or string cheese. i also keep fresh fruit or veggies on hand for a healthy snack in a pinch (say, during a tantrum while i'm trying to cook with a toddler attached to my leg), like carrot sticks, grapes, and apples.
while the grocery list in this week's example wasn't glamorous, it got the job done, and gave me a huge confidence boost that i could grocery shop on a budget; and keep it healthy, too. over the weeks, i've been able to use the few leftover dollars in our budget to buy ingredients that last us several weeks, and add wiggle room and variety to our meals. below are ideas of such items to 'splurge' on when the budget allows, and suggestions on how to stretch meals further, or just give a punch of nutrition where otherwise may be lacking.
nice to have's
+ salsa (verde is my favorite!)
+ sour cream
+ peanut butter (for pb&j's of course, and also a nutritious addition to fruit or toast)
+ ramen (not at all a splurge, but i love this for a pinch or a night aidric is being picky. i add frozen veggies to make it healthier)
+ chia seeds or ground flax (great to add to yogurt)
+ honey (great for yogurt, toast, or even to cook with for many asian inspired dishes)
+ condiments and sauces
+ sparkling water or pop
+ chips (i love getting tortilla chips, as i often cook fajitas or tacos, and compliment well of course)
i use these either when i feel a meal is lacking nutrition, need to stretch a meal that is running out, or for a side dish. they add nutritional value for a low, low, cost, and fill you up to stretch the more costly ingredients.
i love to add these to my stir fry. whole eggs have every amino acid we need. don't skip the yolk!
my favorite are black beans. they have a subtle, salty flavor. they're nutritious, and add easily to taco meat, rice to make a complete meal, or as i did in college, to eat plain with tortilla chips. ha!
i like to get brown rice for added nutrition. i steam some for a side, or add to taco meat to stretch it. i also grew up with my mom serving me some with butter, sugar, and cinnamon for breakfast. maybe not the most nutritious, but a good treat. :) cinnamon is great for us, so if you go easy on the butter and sugar, it really is not bad!
+ frozen or canned veggies
most bags are under $1. my favorite to get is broccoli and use to top on ramen, or as a side with garlic salt and pepper. aidric also loves peas. they are easy to mix into pasta as well.
again, this was my first stab at living on a tight budget. i've learned so much! this week, my fridge is full of produce, and my shelves are lined with sauces and spices. we have treats and snacks, and sparkling water o'plenty. i am in the trial phase of this week's menu, where i am giving veganism a test spin (my first try!). i am so excited to bring this meal plan next; for $92 for 2 weeks! if you're ready to hear this list, subscribe here to be in the know as soon as it launches. thanks so much for reading. i hope you've found at least a tip or two to help you stretch your grocery budget. xx