How the ‘$1 Food Challenge’ Can Transform Your Food Spending

The “$1 Food Challenge” has been floating around on social media for a while, sometimes under the name of the “$21 Challenge.” Both names refer to the same challenge: Can you spend $1 per meal for a week? That adds up to $21 over the course of a week, with three meals a day for seven days. In other words, can you eat and drink well on $3 a day or $21 a week? (This is per person, of course, or else this challenge quickly becomes impossible for a large family.)

It’s a tough challenge, but if you can complete it for a week — or, even better, for several consecutive weeks — you can learn a lot about your food spending and discover some great ways to cut back on your expenses, even when you step back from the money challenge.

Ready to take it on? Here are some specific strategies to make the $1 food challenge work.

[See: 10 Big Ways to Boost Your Budget — Without Skimping on Your Daily Latte]

Remember That You’re Aiming for a $1 Average

There are a lot of meals out there that cost well below $1 per meal, but doing that for every meal for a week or longer can be difficult. You can eat some meals that are more expensive than $1 as long as you balance them out with meals below $1.

You Can’t Afford to Eat Out

The cost of eating out simply disrupts the $1 food challenge. You have to figure out how to prepare all of your meals at home. This might mean doing things like packing a lunch or taking leftovers to work, and both of those are great moves in this situation.

[See: 10 Expenses Destroying Your Budget.]

Basing Meals Around Inexpensive Staples is Key

Learn how to use ingredients such as rice, beans, eggs, chicken, pasta, cabbage, peanut butter, oatmeal and on-sale produce as the basis for meals. Those items are inexpensive and can be used in a multitude of ways.

Consider These Frugal Recipes for Breakfast

For a cheap breakfast, hard-boil and peel a dozen eggs and keep them in your fridge, then eat two of them for breakfast each morning. Buy a bunch of bananas and add that to your breakfast to make it more well-rounded and give it a total cost of around 50 cents.

If you need to prepare breakfast for the whole family, try cooking some plain oatmeal. Add a chopped banana to it, along with a bit of sugar, and you can easily keep the price of that breakfast below 50 cents per serving.

[See: 12 Useless Fees Draining Your Budget.]

Make These $1 Meals for Lunch and Dinner

Buy a whole chicken and learn how to cook it and cut it up yourself. Not only will it provide several meals on its own for a single person or a nice family meal, but you can take the remaining bones and bits and cook them in a slow cooker, then reserve the liquid for the basis of an inexpensive soup. Just take that broth, add a few inexpensive vegetables to it — a flash-frozen bag of mixed vegetables works — some finely chopped pieces of leftover chicken and a few dry egg noodles, and you’ll have a wonderful and incredibly inexpensive soup that will also cover several meals.

A box of spaghetti with a bit of olive oil, a few diced tomatoes and a few appropriate spices makes an incredibly inexpensive dinner for a family or for a single person with a few days of leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers, they’re key to this whole plan. Aim to minimize food waste and eat leftovers for lunch within the next few days. If you have a lot of leftovers, have a “variety plate” dinner to eat them up (and essentially have a “free” dinner).

If you use all of these strategies together, you can easily keep the cost of an individual meal below $1.

Incorporate What You Learn Into Your Normal Food Practices

You’ll likely find several super inexpensive recipes that you really like and will keep as a part of your regular rotation. You’ll also find low-cost ingredients that you like and can be used in a multitude of ways. You’ll also become much more familiar and comfortable with your kitchen, making cooking at home seem easier and less intimidating. Those three factors will cut into your food costs going forward.

Give a $1 food challenge a try and see what it can show you in terms of food spending. Not only will it keep food costs very low for a few weeks, you’ll also learn things that will permanently lower your food budget, even when you’re finished with the challenge.

More from U.S. News

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