How to Plan a Week of Healthy Meals for $60

Our guest blogger Elyse is an NYU student who just recently managed to free herself from the college dormitory system.

Me and My Grocery List
The one thing I never understood in college was how quickly people abandoned their meal plans. Why would a person choose to cook meals, wash dishes and, the worst part of all, go grocery shopping when they didn’t have to? At home, I used to love going grocery shopping for my mother. But when I left the dorms, I quickly realized it’s not as much fun when I’m the one creating the list and paying for the food. Yeah, the final price on the receipt can be painful at times, but the real torture comes from creating that list. I’m in no way going to say I’m an expert in menu planning, but I will tell you it’s the key to grocery shopping in the most efficient (and economical) way. You don’t want to buy a bunch of food that you don’t need, or worse, that will go bad before you can use it. What a waste!

To start, I always buy my staples: bread, milk, eggs, peanut butter and rice. Now, the trick is to make sure the rest of the food I buy is as versatile as possible. So I won’t just buy bananas because I like bananas. I can also make peanut butter and banana sandwiches with them. And I’ll make sure I also chose a brand of cereal I can put some banana slices in. Because it’s highly unlikely I’m going to eat a banana every single day, and that bunch I bought will go bad pretty quickly. Now say I’m debating between getting lemons or honey to put in tea. I go with the honey, because I already have everything I need for peanut butter sandwiches, and now I don’t need to buy any jelly. (If you’ve never had peanut butter and honey sandwiches, go try it right now.) I know it can get complicated. Just remember that every item you buy should be capable of being used in two or three different ways. I also try to only buy four or five items of produce a week and only one or two kinds of meat. And then exhaust every possible combination I can think of. A typical week for me would have: Bread, milk, eggs, peanut butter, rice, cereal, carrots, spinach, romaine lettuce, chicken, deli-sliced ham, hummus, apples, bananas, mozzarella cheese, almonds or cashews, pasta, tomato sauce, honey, salad dressing, mustard, and a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Now I can make a stir-fry with the chicken, nuts and vegetables. I can make Chicken Parmesan another night. I can mix the honey and mustard to make honey-mustard chicken over rice. I can make a salad with the spinach, nuts, apples and grilled chicken. I’ve got my peanut butter and banana (or honey) sandwiches or a ham sandwich with mozzarella cheese and mustard. I can also throw some ham and spinach into the Kraft macaroni and cheese. Plus carrots dipped in dressing or hummus, or apples with cheese or peanut butter as a snack. An entire week of three meals a day and I only spent about 60 dollars. (And that’s assuming I didn’t already have some rice or peanut butter or honey left over at home.)

Also, quick note on sharing with roommates. I, personally, don’t like to buy groceries as a group. It’s too difficult to distribute the cost equally. Imagine you all pay for a carton of orange juice and I drink a glass every day while Phoebe only has one or two a week. It just gets too complicated. Plus, in my apartment, we all eat different foods (right down to the milk we drink) so there’s really no point. But if I need a tablespoon of butter and Phoebe has a whole box of it, we have no problem sharing. I just need to remember to let Phoebe grab an egg when she’s baking a cake next week. We also see no problem in labeling our food, mainly so I know which bag of carrots is mine and don’t eat all of Rachel’s by mistake. It’s not an issue as long as you all decide to do it together and Rachel doesn’t come home to see my name all over the food in the fridge. That could be a bit awkward. It’s all about open communication, but everything involved with living with roommates is about open communication, isn’t it?

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