With my goal being as much produce (fruits and vegetables) as possible and enough quality protein for the week, I set out to stay within a budget of just $63 for the week (two adults and one child) to feed us all and not compromise our health with nutritionally inferior foods.
First stop, the online sale circulars for our local grocery stores. Most people get these each week in the mail or paper, but ours was already long gone, in the trash earlier in the week. After reviewing each, I compiled a list of foods on sale and then set to complete menus for the week to add what else I needed to the list I'd buy while shopping.
Once that was complete, it was off to the stores - first to one without an online circular - the grocery store in the northside of town, that bills itself the "discount" grocery store.
It was a good first place to start - I knew what the other stores had on sale, so if this store had things for less, I would buy them here. The first big savings was on green peppers - 4 for $1.00; followed by cantaloupe for $2.00 each (other stores were advertising $2.50); Kraft real mayo $1.50; and an assortment of canned beans and tomatos (paste, sauce, diced), ranging from $0.19 a can to $0.53. I also snatched up a one pound bag of frozen, peeled, deveined shrimp for $3.99 - granted they're uncooked, but this was about half the advertised price elsewhere for cooked shrimp.
In total, I spent $26.53 in this store.
Our next stop (I had my son with me) was my math adventure. The store had, in addition to their advertised specials, a number of manager specials screaming from bright neon orange signs lining the shelves. One in particular caught my attention - block cheese, 24-oz, for just $3.88 - or $2.58 per pound. It did look like a good deal, and unless you could do the math, might be tempting - it looked much bigger than the advertised 8-ounce block (obviously) and seemed like it might be less than the 2/$5.00 sale price on the 8-oz blocks. It actually cost $0.08 more per pound, so I chose the sale cheese over the managers special, spending $2.50 on a half-pound block instead of $3.88 on more cheese than we'll use in the week.
Here too was my best deal on the shopping adventure - wild salmon for just $3.49/lb (frozen) and was less than the $1.39/4-oz wild filets I intended to buy at the next store ($5.56/lb).
It was in this store too that I hit the mother-lode for spices - the health food section had bulk spices, sold by the pound. Garlic powder, ginger, italian spice mix, white pepper, and sesame seeds were had for just $0.65, and enough rolled oats for one breakfast was had for just $0.17.
In total, I spent $25.05 in this store...$51.58 so far, $11.42 remained with one more store to go. I suspected at that point that I was going to exceed the budget...but continued on.
Last stop, I was determined to stick with my list and not purchase anything not needed. Eggs, check; baked beans, check; yogurt, check; fresh tomatoes, check; frozen strawberries, check; ground turkey, franks on sale and ground beef, check.
After looking over my remaining things needed, I grabbed a jar of relish and headed for the salad bar - why? Here you can get fresh produce in very small quantity, often for less per pound than the produce aisles or deli counter. At $3.49 a pound, it was cheap to get baby spinach to add to the romaine I had. A 6-oz bag of baby spinach was being sold 2/$5, or $6.65 per pound - the salad bar was a better price...so I put together one small container of baby spinach. Next I put together a small container of red peppers and mushrooms. Red peppers were being sold for $3.99/pound whole, so here I could buy just what I needed and have no waste I paid for; and mushrooms weren't sold loose, but in one-pound containers for $3.29, and I didn't need a pound! I also added some pepperoni and roast beef strips to add to salads or omelets during the week. Salad bar items added $1.65 this way instead of more than $8.00 had I purchased these items stand-alone.
The last minute impulse buy took me over my budget - I grabbed three small bags of nuts (sliced almonds, pecan and walnut pieces) to add to salads, forgetting the one-pound of sunflower (hulled) I'd already purchased for $1.39 in the first store. At $1.43 per bag, this added another $4.29, and took me over the budget.
In total I spent $16.35 here, and a grand total of $67.93 - $4.93 over budget.
The budget over-run could be chalked up to the nuts, or the fact that I won't compromise with milk for my son - organic whole milk was on sale, but still more expensive than conventional milk and I spent $5.98 on his milk, $2.13 more than I would have if I'd picked up regular milk.
Had this been a real world scenario, I'd have put back the extra nuts to keep the organic milk since they alone make up most of the overage, along with condiments that it's unlikely one would need to buy all of in one week (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and spices, including iodized salt) since I'd think most people have these on-hand, or at least some of them, and buy as needed.
So, at the end of the day, my conclusion is that you can feed a family of three for just $63 without resorting to low-nutritional-value foods.
As you can see from the picture I took (post below) of my purchases, we have plenty of fresh produce, more frozen vegetables to add to those, fresh and frozen fruits, nuts & seeds, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and a wide selection of meat, poultry and fish.
The big question now is, will it last a week and will our meals be filling and nutrient-dense?